Small ships at Ulverstone 
 Tasmania in the early 1960s
Some History of Bass Strait Shipping

Nairana:  Brief History   Taroona: Brief History   New Era: Bass Strait Shipping

     During the 1830s and early 1840s, the days of early European settlement in Victoria, most regular traders were sloops and schooners of around 12 to 25 metres, carrying everything from sheep, cattle, timber and general cargo; and in the early days, all the passengers and mail.

SS Oonah
Tasmanian Steamers Pty Ltd was formed in 1921 and Oonah was operated along with Loongana and Nairana by that Company until 1935 when Oonah and Loongana were replaced by the new Taroona.
Passenger, mail and important cargo services, were gradually taken over by steamers, and the sailing craft continued carrying timber and lower-value goods across Bass Strait, and also between Tasmanian ports and Bass Strait Islands, until after World War II. Typical of the later, was the 143 gross ton, 33-metre brigantine Woolamai, built in 1876 which carried timber around the southern Australian coastline until being wrecked at Apollo Bay, Victoria on 4 June 1923, fortunately without loss of life.

In 1842 regular steam services between Launceston, Melbourne and Sydney commenced first with Benjamin Boyd's wooden paddle steamer Seahorse, replaced in 1843 by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company's iron paddle steamer Shamrock. Although under 50 metres in length, these vessels provided reliable transport and soon carried most of the passengers and mail between the colonies. In 1851 the first full-time Bass Strait steam ferry service commenced with the wooden screw steamer City of Melbourne. With the onset of the Gold Rush later in the year, large numbers of steamers arrived from the U.K., many taking up running across Bass Strait.

The Tasmanian steam Navigation Company was formed in 1853 to operate steamers between Sydney and Hobart, but in later years ran several well-known steamers on the Bass Strait ferry service, including the Derwent, Flinders and Pateena. After being taken over by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand in 1891, that company operated the Rotomahana across Bass Strait from 1894. The 1879-vintage steamer, well-remembered for its clipper bow, graceful lines and later modifications that allowed up to six cars to be carried on deck, remained on the run until 1921.

Another well-known vessel from the period was the former Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co. Oonah, which was transferred from the Sydney-Hobart service to the Bass Strait service.

 Of 2448 tons, Built 1904 by William Denny and Brothers Dumbarton. Was 300 feet long and 43 feet wide. The first turbine steamer to operate in the Southern Hemisphere. Scrapped in Japan 1936.
In December 1921, Huddart Parker and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, formed a new company, 'Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Limited', to run a joint service between Melbourne and Tasmanian ports. Loongana and Oonah were provided by the Union Company, and the new Nairana by Huddard Parker. The early 1900s had heralded a new era in fast and comfortable sea travel, The Union Steamship Company's Bass Strait ferry Loongana (1903), was the first turbine steamer to operate in the Southern Hemisphere, and could operate at a speed of 20 knots. She maintained an average speed of 22 knots when racing across the Strait in 1912 with Melbourne fire-fighters hoping to assist in a disaster at the Mount Lyell Copper Mine on the State's West Coast. The ship was sold to Japanese shipbreakers in 1935.

Nairana: A brief History

Huddart Parker & Co. Ltd of Melbourne, was an operator of Bass Strait ferries from the 1890s onwards; and had been formed into a public company back on January 1st 1912.
In 1915 a new turbine steamer Nairana was under construction for Huddard Parker, and nearing completion, at the yards of William Denny & Brothers at Dumbarton Scotland. Before it was completed, the First World War broke out and consequently the British Admiralty ordered the cessation of the building of merchant ships. In 1917 however, the Admiralty took over, and Nairana was completed, but as a sea plane carrier. It then became part of a battle cruiser force, based on the Firth of Forth, and Nairana was utilised in 1918-1919 in the White Sea.

In 1919, Nairana saw action at Archangel. The fort at the entrance to the harbour was bombed by her seaplanes. She continued as a seaplane carrier until Armistice, and was then reconstructed at Devonport before being handed over to Huddard Parker in December 1920. She then served on the Bass Strait run for the rest of her commercial career. Her owners recieved a brass plaque from British Navy authorities commemorating the ship's war service. It recorded that Nairana was instrumental in the capture of Archangel in 1918, and that she engaged six batteries at the mouth of the river with her guns and played a prominent part in the destruction of Bolshevic forces; and that bombs and gunfire from a aeroplane sent up from Nairana, destroyed an armed vessel on which the Bolshevic Chancellor of the Exchequer was attempting to escape with portion of the treasury. This brass plate remained affixed in her salon, throughout her Bass Strait crossing career informing passengers that Nairana was once a fighting ship.

Nairana was a twin screw turbine steamer of 3042 tons and able to pace it out with Loongana with which it shared the run until Loongana and Oonah were retired in 1935. During World War II when Taroona was on war service duty in the North, Nairana was the main link and being in high demand, operated three return trips per week with military personnel being given preference over ordinary passengers. Nairana's maiden voyage to Tasmania, was in April 1921. Heavy weather was encountered in both directions which limited the average speed to 16.75 knots outward, and 15 knots on the return. The Melbourne Argus of the time however, described her second return trip as a "smart voyage", as after having passed Low Head at the entrance of the Tamar River at 5:30PM, she reached Port Phillip Heads at 3:30AM eventhough a strong north-west wind and choppy seas were encountered for some five hours into the voyage. She had maintained an average of 18 knots.

Nairana berthing 
 slip of 1941
Nairana berthing slip 1941
Nairana experienced perhaps its roughest crossing of Bass Strait on January 24 1928. With an unusually large number of pasengers, she was soon steaming into a head wind which gained intensity until it became a howling gale. The seas were buffeting the ship so much that Captain G.B.Bates reduced speed to half. At the height of the gale, a huge wave hit the ship abeam nearly capsizing her. Passengers were thrown from their bunks and those attempting to sleep in the smoking room on the lounges were bowled onto the floor, one being thrown down a companionway. Unfortunately, a woman passenger who was sick when she boarded, died at 1:30AM. Dawn brought calmer weather but all were relieved when they finally sailed through the heads and into Port Phillip Bay.

September 15 1934 was another occasion which saw saw Nairana battling heavy seas; and Captain John McIntyre, who was feeling unwell before the ship left Launceston, collapsed on the bridge while his ship was entering Port Phillip Bay. He had retired to his cabin after clearing Low Head, but came onto the bridge to navigate the dangerous waters of Port Phillip heads. The engine room was called on for more steam and it was claimed Nairana reached speeds exceeding 20 knots steaming up Port Phillip Bay for medical assistance, eventhough into the northerly gale. When Nairana berthed in the Yarra, the Captain was rushed to hospital. Fortunately, his health recovered.

On April 3 1936, at 7:30AM, and in relatively calm conditions, Nairana, under command of Captain McIntyre, was approaching Port Phillip heads with a full load of cargo, while most of the 88 passengers were either in their cabins or having breakfast in the dining saloon. A few passengers were on the deck to experience their passing from Bass Strait into the Bay. Suddenly, and without warning, a huge wave rose up from the calm waters and and struck her starboard quarter. She rolled over to such an extent that the water came up to the boat deck, more than 40 feet above the water line.  A passenger named Parsons, his wife and 20 year old daughter were swept from the promenade deck and were never seen again. (A fleet of small craft later searched). Robert Gillow, another passenger, was killed when the wave smashed him against the ship. His wife and infant daughter had a narrow escape as did stokers in the boiler room who became pinned against the bulkheads by barrows, shovels, and loose coal. Many passengers received injuries while in the dining room, food and crockery were thrown around and some were scalded by hot water.

The helmsman on the bridge, was taken by surprise and was wrenched from the wheel and thrown into a corner. Still steaming ahead, the ship was for a short time, out of control and slewed about, travelling on its side. It was feared it would capsize. There was 100 tons of cement in the hold and if it had shifted, recovery would have been more difficult. (A later inspection found the cement had not shifted; the Tasmanian stevedores had done their job well). Captain McIntyre managed to grab the spinning wheel and take control and slowly, Nairana righted itself.

After the World War II, Taroona returned to the run to Launceston while Nairana returned to the run Melbourne-Burnie, and Melbourne-Devonport.  Increasing competition from airlines was amongst reasons Nairana was withdrawn from service in 1948.  She was sold to Williamstown firm, W. Mussell Pty Ltd and broke away from its moorings at Williamstown in a 70 mile per hour gale on February 18 1951, and was driven aground just west of Princess Pier Port Melbourne.  It was finally scrapped at that location during 1953-1954.

Taroona: A brief History

Taroona departing 
 Station Pier Melbourne
Taroona departing Station Pier Melbourne
Taroona was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons of Glasgow for Tasmanian Steamers Pty Ltd, which was the company formed in 1921 (as mentioned above) by former rivals, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, and Huddard Parker to run a joint service between Melbourne and Tasmanian ports. (Huddard Parker and Company had been formed into a public company in 1912). It was announced in September 1934 that a twin screw, oil burning express turbine steamer was being built for the Bass Strait service. Its name would be Taroona  which is an aboriginal name meaning 'seashell'. She would be capable of 18 knots when required, with 16 knots a speed for better fuel economy. The new Taroona, of 4,286 tons, arrived in Melbourne in March 1935. It originally had two funnels as did Loongana and Nairana, however one of the funnels was removed during an overhaul after World War II and the remaing one lengthened. The 1921 amalgamation of Huddart Parker and Union steamship Co., resulted in the the red funnel with the black top of the Union steamship Co., and the plain yellow funnel of Huddart Parker, being consolidated into a funnels of yellow at the bottom, red in the middle and black at the top. Also, the green hull of the Union Steamship Co., gave way to to the black livery of the Huddard Parker hull. Taroona was in later years, had its hull repainted in a dark green and had a yellow band. Taroona had accomodation for 450 passengers, some 30 motor vehicles which were loaded by ship's cranes foward and aft, and carried refrigerated and other cargo.It cost some 350,000 pounds ($700,000), and gave magnificent service over 24 years.

In May 1936, while at 7 North Wharf, a fire, the damage of which cost 10,000 pounds ($20,000) to repair (which was quite a sum in the depression years of the 1930s), broke out amidships, and spread through A deck destroying furniture and fittings. The fire destroyed the smoke room and many cabins, and also damaged the upper deck which bulged in several places. Windows and portholes broke in the severe heat. It was fought by crew with ships hoses, and by men from three fire brigades.

After being repaired, Taroona continued on the Bass Strait run until requisitioned for service as a troopship in World War II. She carried troops from Auckland New Zealand to Suva in January 1942, and in March 1942, she was taken over by the Australian Navy for service in the North of Australia and New Guinea. First trip was to Port Moresby with 480 military personnel and 190 tons of cargo. It unfortunately ran aground on Nateara reef when leaving New Guinea on March 26 1942, near the Basilisk Beacon Port Moresby where it was stuck hard aground to the bridge. Attempts to refloat her failed and Japanese bombers on their way to attack Seven Mile Aerodrome outside Port Moresby passed over on two occasions. But the reason why they did not attack Taroona helplessly grounded on the reef is a mystery, especially as reconnaissance planes preceeded the bombers and surely would have reported Taroona's situation. Finally, three other navel vessels helped Taroona free herself. She refuelled in Port Moresby and headed back to Townsville and provided a shuttle service to various locations to the North. After her war service, Taroona arrived back in Sydney on February 4 1946, bringing back 644 troops. During her war service, she carried some 93,432 troops, sailed 204,535 miles on 94 trips.

She again took up running across Bass Strait in October 1946 after an overhaul in which she lost one of her funnels (as mentioned above). Her companion on the Bass Strait run, Nairana, which had handled the Bass Strait service single handedly during the war in Taroona's absence, was taken off in 1948 because of mounting running losses, and Taroona was then alone on the Bass Strait run. Nairana had operated from December 1947 to February 15 1948 under a guarantee of reasonable profit to Tasmanian Steamers by the Victorian government. In 1959, Taroona was replaced by the drive on drive off Princess of Tasmania operated by Australian National Line. Taroona was sold to the Typaldos Brothers Steam Ship Company, Athens, was renamed Hellas, and survived in the Mediterranean and in Greek waters until the early 1990s.

Click here for a scanned pdf of a 1946 Tasmanian newspaper cutting of the Taroona at Devonport after resuming the Bass Strait run

Taroona Information Wikipedia -

The New Era of Crossing Bass Strait

Princess of Tasmania 
 at Webb Dock Melbourne
Princess of Tasmania - ticket cover
The first Bass 
 Trader at Webb Dock Melbourne
TOP: Princess of Tasmania at Webb Dock Melbourne
MIDDLE: A "Searoad" ticket for Princess of Tasmania
BOTTOM: Bass Trader at Webb Dock Melbourne
By the 1950s an increasing number of tourists were travelling to Tasmania, and many wanted to drive their own cars. The Taroona could only carry a small number, which were loaded on board by the ship's cranes. In Europe meanwhile, the ferry business was being revolutionised by the introduction of Roll-on/Roll-off ships, into which cars could be driven directly on and off. The Federal Government agreed to built a number of such vessels to service Tasmania, to be operated by their Australian National Line. First of these revolutionary new ships was the motor vessel Princess of Tasmania in 1959.

Princess of Tasmania could carry 333 passengers and 130 cars. The Bass Trader, a smaller vessel that only carried heavy vehicles and no passengers, soon followed her. They each operated a regular service between Melbourne, Burnie, Devonport and Bell Bay on the Tamar River north of Launceston. In 1969 they were joined by the much larger Australian Trader, which operated mostly on the preferred Devonport-Melbourne route. In 1972 the Empress of Australia, originally built for the Sydney-Hobart run, also entered the Bass Strait trade, and the Princess was sold. Nearly thirty years later Tasmania's pioneer RO/RO ferry is still in service in the Middle East. The Australian Trader was later sold to the Royal Australian Navy for conversion into the training ship Jervis Bay, leaving just the Empress on the Melbourne-Devonport run

In 1985 the Australian National Line decided to pull out of the Bass Strait Ferry service, and the Federal Government, as part of a compensation package for not allowing the Tasmanian Government to build a hydro-electric scheme on the Gordon River, funded the setting up of a new Bass Strait ferry service. The new TT-Line is owned by the people of Tasmania, being operated by a Board of Management that reports directly to the State Government. The first vessel to be acquired was the former European ferry Nils Holgersson, renamed Abel Tasman. She maintained a regular and reliable service until being replaced by the much larger Spirit of Tasmania in 1993. From its beginning in 1985 when TT-Line was a department of the Department of Transport Tasmania employing 250 ship and shore-based staff, the company became a corporation in 1993 and now provides many more hundreds of jobs. In addition, it provides significant indirect employment in a wide range of industries.

From the 1998/1999 summer peak season, TT-Line also provided a faster Bass Strait crossing service with the Tasmanian-built catamaran Devil Cat. In just six hours, the wave-piercing catamaran travelled from George Town in north west Tasmania to Station Pier in Port Melbourne. The Devil Cat operated for the fourth consecutive year in 2000/2001. but with the introduction of the Latest Spirit of Tasmania I and II vessels, the 'Devil cat' service was discontinued.

Princess of Tasmania
 at Devonport
Princess of Tasmania at Devonport Terminal
( Click on picture for a view of Princess of Tasmania arriving at Devonport )
Built at Newcastle New South Wales Australia, Princess Of Tasmania pioneered the drive-on drive-off "Searoad" service across Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania in 1959

Other Pages
Bass Strait Passenger and Vehicle Ferries
The Port Welshpool - Georgetown Seacat
Hobart Star aground Princes Pier Port Melbourne 1963
Pulling up the old Central Australia Railway
Edith River Railway Bridge Works Northern Territory
60 pictures of New South Wales Railways in the 1960s
Tasmania's Last Long Distance Passenger train
The L class Electrics of the Victorian Railways
Some Steam trains of Australia
Marree Pictures: Outback Australia + Railway History
The abt Wilderness Railway West Coast Tasmania
How an abt Wilderness Railway Steam Locomotive works
Back to the Top of Page

eXTReMe Tracker