The wreck of the SS Dandenong off Jervis Bay on September 11, 1876, was one of the worst early shipping disasters to strike the NSW coast, resulting in the deaths of 40 people.
The passenger steamer left Melbourne on September 8 under Captain Irwin, with about 53 passengers on board.
The chief officer later told a court of inquiry that the vessel struck gale-force winds off Jervis Bay and began taking on water after the propeller shaft broke, knocking a hole in the bottom.
‘‘Bedding, blankets and everything else available were used to stop the leak,’’ the chief officer said.
But all attempts failed and she began to settle by the stern as water extinguished the boiler fires and the pumps failed. The cargo of tea, malt, rice, kerosene, iron and furniture was jettisoned, but the inrush of water could not be stopped.
‘‘Captain Irwin ordered the lifeboats to be got ready and everything put in proper order for leaving the ship.’’
At 2.30pm, the barque Albert William saw the Dandenong’s distress signal and ‘‘hove to’’. At the same time, the first lifeboat was launched, the chief officer taking charge.
‘‘The sea was terrific but five adults and eight children succeeded in getting into the lifeboat,’’ the chief officer said.
‘‘But on getting alongside the Albert William, the barque rolled so heavily she struck her and split her in two, precipitating all aboard into the water.’’
One child, two men and the chief officer were saved, the rest drowned.
A second boat successfully carried many to safety, however a collision between this and a third boat cost more lives, and when darkness fell more than 30 still remained aboard the doomed vessel.
The Albert William, having rescued 28 passengers and 12 crew, stayed alongside the sinking steamer throughout the night, but at daybreak no sign could be seen of the Dandenong. The scene at the time of the rescue was described as ‘‘heartrending’’. A little girl who had been saved lost her mother, father, three brothers and two sisters. One boy saved lost his mother.
As soon as news of the tragedy became known, several boats were dispatched to assist, including one belonging to the Bulli Coal Company. Telegrams were also sent to Wollongong and Kiama, asking if vessels could join the search and rescue.
A Court of Inquiry found that the captain, officers and crew did all in their power to save the ship.
The wreck of the Dandenong has never been found.