State Metal Quarries, owned by the state government, ordered the construction of a ship to transport blue metal from the Kiama district to Sydney. Selected to carry out the work was Henry Robb Ltd, located on the River Forth in Leith, Scotland.
In 1924, Henry Robb purchased a shipyard and started his business, building dredges and coastal steamers. The vessel SS Bombo, was 154 feet long, 30 feet in breadth, 540 tons and fitted with a triple expansion 117hp steam engine. She was fitted out with two large twin cargo holds and a large crane with a grab bucket, which could hold one ton of metal.
The ship was completed at the end of 1929 and in February 1930, trials for worthiness and speed took place on the Firth of Forth. It was estimated, at that time, that a round trip of 130 nautical miles from Bombo quarry to Sydney and back would take 22 hours. With a grab bucket on a winch crane, it was estimated that 90 tons could be offloaded in an hour.
The ship left Leith on February 11, 1930, under the command of Captain William Manning, who had been engaged by Pedder, Mylchreest and Co of London to deliver his 12th ship to Australian ports. The vessel handled well, striking bad weather only twice on the voyage, arriving in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday April 23, 1930. A Yorkshireman, Captain Arthur Robert Bell, aged 45, was given command of the ship as soon as it was placed in service.
On the evening of Sunday October 7, 1934, while the SS Bombo was tied up at the metal wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, she was set adrift in Sydney Harbour by some young boys seen playing on the deck. It was only when she was seen drifting near the rocky wall of the baths that the Water Police was called in. They summoned the fire tender Hydro to tow the vessel back to her moorings.
In February 1937, when the coast was being battered by heavy seas, the fully laden Bombo was on her way to Sydney. She encountered such bad seas that waves crashed on to the deck, completely submerging her up to the weather rail. Almost 12 months later there were treacherous seas again and not long after leaving Kiama the SS Bombo developed a severe list as the blue metal load shifted. In both instances she made it safely to her port of destination.
In March 1938, the State Metal Quarries was sold off. The crew of the SS Bombo were paid off and were then immediately engaged by the new owner, Quarries Pty Ltd.
The last voyage Captain Bell took on the Bombo was into Kiama on February 20, 1941. He was taken into the Royal Australian Navy as a temporary Lieutenant on April 7, 1941, where he served on the Wongala, formerly known as the polar explorer Wyatt Earp.
The Royal Australian Navy requisitioned the SS Bombo and commissioned her HMAS Bombo. Fitted out in May 1941 with a mast, two heavy machineguns, a 12-pound gun and four depth charges at the stern, the ship was placed into service as an auxiliary minesweeper.
In 1943, the vessel was relocated to Darwin. In 1944, she was converted to a stores ship and shortly after the end of World War II was located at Koepang (Kupang) in West Timor, participating in the recuperation process after the Japanese surrender.
In fact, Lieutenant Commander Donald McLeman, naval port director at Koepang, did not have any trouble getting the reluctant Japanese prisoners of war to work on the Bombo - he just pointed to the ship with one hand and placed his other hand on his gun. The ship was released from naval services in February 1946. Next week the story of the tragic loss of life when the Bombo foundered.
Information courtesy of Carol Herben OAM. Call 0409832854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org