Bellubera
Bellubera

Type :
Steel screw steamer
Launched  :
26/04/1910
Builder :
Mort's Dock
Woolwich, NSW
Gross weight :
499 tons
Dimensions :
64.00 x 10.00 x 3.75 (metres)
Passenger capacity :
1318
Speed :
14 knots/ 16 after conversion

Bellubera was the third ferry of the so-called 'B' class of ferries built by Mort's Dock between 1905 & 1922.  On 26 April 1910, the Bellubera was launched at Mort's Dock, Woolwich, Sydney, the largest and fastest Manly Ferry built to date. She was 210 feet (63 metres) long and 32 (9.75 metres) feet wide with a gross tonnage of 499 tons. Two boilers provided steam for the two triple expansion engines which drove the single props at either end of the ferry.

When she entered service, she became the seventh ship of the PJ&MSS Co & it was declared that with the arrival of these new ferries, the paddlewheelers would soon be relegated to history. The Manly Argus of the day described her as 'a floating palace'.

During her 63 years of service, she led an eventful life & due to her many misfortunes, was nicknamed the 'hoodoo ship'. The Bellubera had collided with at least four (possibly five) vessels, sinking two of them, seven persons had died through direct association with the ferry and at least seven people had fell or jumped off the ferry in mid-Harbour.

Bellubera had two conversions done, the first when she had her open promenade deck closed in (leaving an open fore & aft deck similar to the Baragoola's) & her single funnel replaced by two (for appearance, one was a dummy). In 1936, her original steam engines were replaced by diesel & finally in 1954 she was taken to the Newcastle State Dockyards where she was partially replated, repainted & re-engined.

For the first two years of her life, she was the fastest ferry on the harbour until the Balgowlah came along in 1912.

Bellubera's life was plagued with problems, beginning just after her launch when on the 10th of May, 1910, whilst fitting out, chains holding a 40 ton boiler broke - the bolier smashed down & did a large amount of damage to her frames. Apart from sinking a tug a few years later, she led a quiet life, until 1936, when disaster struck. From then on, Bellubera was hardly out of the news.

For four years she managed to avoid any trouble, but all that ended on the 2nd of April 1914 when she carved into two pieces a tug towing a barge full of explosives. the tug, Kate, had already had been sent to the bottom 14 years previously when Narrabeen struck her near Fort Denison. This time she was a write-off. The only damage to the ferry was some scatched paint, after arriving at Circular Quay (festooned with debris from the tug), she returned back to Manly having missed only one trip. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

For the next twenty years, things were quiet for the Bellubera, until in 1935, she was taken off the service to be re-engined. Bellubera was only the second British dominion ship to be converted to diesel-electric, the first being a Hong Kong ferry, Electric Star. When she returned to service, it was noticed that she suffered from vibrations that caused the doors & windows to rattle. The conversion also increased the speed of the ship to 16 knots. As a result of the conversion, she could also be started instantly (as opposed to the two hours previously needed to bring her up to steam) & she only needed to be refuelled every fourteen days. She was returned to service in her new configuration on 28/06/1936, from then on, everything went downhill.

On the first trial run one engine broke down near Chowder Bay, on the way back, a second engine failed. The decision was made to return her to Kurraba Point, but en-route, the third engine broke down. just as she pulled in to dock, the fourth engine failed. Needless to say, company officials were furious with Harland & Wolff who had supplied the engines. The engines were overhauled & she again returned to service. Frequently on her trips the engines would need to be stopped for emergency repairs, it wasn't unusual for her to only operate on two engines.

Part of the problem with the engines was due to a rigged plate that had to be used to hold in four springs on the starter, the springs used to break so the plate was put into place to prevent this happening. The plate was the cause of the first death in a sequence of events for the Bellubera. Engineer John George Doran cut his finger on the plate & two weeks later died of blood poisoning.

Around 3.30pm on the 16th of November 1936, fire broke out at the Kurraba Point depot while workmen were repairing a steel plate on the roof of the promenade deck. Molten metal & sparks set alight the leather seats in the saloon & within five minutes the entire ship was ablaze. Four men were trapped below decks. The Dee Why which was lying alongside after completing her days' work fortunately still had steam up & she was able to be moved to safety. Of the four trapped in the ferry one died that night in hospital & a second a few days later. Another spent 21 months in hospital after his legs were burnt to the bone.

While the Bellubera was being rebuilt at Cockatoo Island, the company was forced to press the retired Burra Bra back into service. During reconstruction of the ship, the engines were overhauled although they still kept on causing trouble until they were finally replaced in 1954.

Things stayed fairly quiet for the Bellubera after returning to service in 1937, but in 1941 the first of a series of strange events took placed that earned her her nickname. If there was something on the harbour to be hit, then it was a surety that the Bellubera would be there to hit it, indeed, some commentators noted that she had 'the kiss of death'.

On the night of 9th of September, 1941 near Circular Quay in a heavy rainstorm, Bellubera struck the launch Sydbridge, dragging it under & killing the pilot. His body was found nine days later. The captain of the Bellubera was absolved of blame, the court of inquiry findinding that the launch's mast light did not come on until the ferry was nearly on top of it.

Four years later on the 6th of February, 1945, Captain Wally Dorhn suffered a heart attack & died on the bridge, he was 67.

In September 1945, a female passenger who was feeling seasick leaned over the side & fell into the harbour at almost the same spot Captain Dohrn had died. Fortunately she was saved by two other passengers who jumped in after her. She was wearing only her underwear, she claimed she had taken off her clothes so she could swim better.

Shortly thereafter, a young man who had been jilted by his lover jumped overboard, shouting that he wanted to die, a lifeboat was lowered & he was rescued. On the 31st of January, 1946, another man fell from the top deck of the Bellubera near Clifton Gardens, although the ferry stopped & a search was ordered, his body was not found.

On the 17th of August, 1948 during a night trip, the Bellubera suffered it's strangest event. The ferry was near to the same spot at which Wally Dohrn had died when passengers reported  hearing loud moans coming from the water, although a search was done of the area, no-one was found. The captain later reported that the passengers were fearful & agitated for the remainder of the trip.

Almost a year later (16/08/1949) at the same spot, Dee Why recued a Naval stoker who had fallen overboard from the Bellubera 15 minutes earlier.

On the 18th of October 1950, Bellubera collided with the feighter Taurus off Bradleys Head. Although no one was injured, the force of the impact rolled Bellubera onto her side. She continued to Circular Quay under her own steam.

For the next ten years things stayed peaceful for the Bellubera until the evening of 25th of June, 1960 when she struck what was later thought to be a log drifing across the Heads. Disabled, she began drifting towards the rocks towards Smedleys Point. North Head rescued her passengers in dangerous conditions & managed to tow her to deeper water where a tug took her back to Kurraba Point. Later that year, she again broke down between the Heads & had to be towed to Watsons Bay. On the 3rd of February 1961, Captain Albert Villiers suffered a heart attack and died whilst berthing the ship at Kurraba Point.

Once again, on the 13th of December, 1961 she broke down near the Heads while carrying a load of morning commuters. She was towed to safety with the help of the Dee Why, but thousands of commuters were stranded at Manly Wharf.

She then remained quiet until her final fling when, on the 28th of February, 1970,  she took aim at HMAS Parramatta. Bellubera suffered minor damage to her bows & rudder - not so the Parramatta which suffered a rather large hole. The navy was less than impressed & covered the hole with a tarpaulin to prevent the press from getting pictures. The navy prevented the crew from talking about the incident.

Bellubera was taken out of service on 29th November 1973.

The Bellubera almost managed to kill one more person as she was being broken up. The vessel had been purchased by a company named "Trouble Shooter", run by a Dutchman called Jensen. He had purchased her so certain equipment could be stripped from her and installed into an ex-RAN minesweeper, the former HMAS Gull. The Gull (renamed Trouble Shooter, with its hull painted bright yellow) was to become a rescue vessel of some sort, but at the time was a hull in the water with no engines. Bellubera's English Electric diesels were removed and provided to the Public Transport Commission to help keep the North Head and Baragoola in service. In exchange, Trouble Shooter was given a pair of engines (presumably by the PTC) for installation into the ex-minesweeper. What subsequently became of this minesweeper is not known, but during 1980 it sat in Cockle Bay next to Bellubera, and across the bay from the South Steyne which was at that time also in a neglected state. Part way into the stripping of the vessel, large sections of the teak decking were removed whole. The steel deck stringers were cut with an oxy torch and then an entire section of decking lifted out by crane in one piece (presumably for sale). It was a faster way of removing the decking timber, because the company had a deadline from the Maritime Services Board (1 August 1980) for the hull to be scuttled. Things were done in a hurry. One of these sections was removed at the bottom of the aft stairway. Directly below this lay the gearbox for two electric motors to drive the aft propellor. This gearbox had also been lifted out of the hull, leaving a number of large threaded rods in rows sticking up vertically (it was these that "bolted" the gearbox to the hull). One of the employees had skidded down the wet stairway and gone straight through the big hole where the decking used to be. He landed on the bed where the gearbox used to be, right between two rows of these tall threaded rods. Had he landed slightly to the right or the left, he would have been impaled.

She was scuttled at Long Reef 1st August 1980, today the Bellubera rests on her side in two pieces in 45 metres of water. The wreck is about 65% complete.


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