Thursday, August 4, 2011

The tug boat Hero

The tug boat Hero
To Australia in a tug under sail.

Shieldsman 's story of an adventurous voyage.
The tug "hero"which opperated in Sydney Newcastle and Port kembla from 1892 to 1960, was driven ashore during a gale at Port Kemblain July of last year,becoming a total loss.
The following account of her voyage from England to Australia,under sail,in 1892 by a member of her crew,was published in the "Shields Gazette" of 27 June 1932 and maybe of interest.

On a dark night in the month of July,40 years ago, a little vessel dropped down the Tyne. to engage on a voyage in which many people believe at the time to be a forlorn hope.
She was the "Hero", a sturdy little screw tug built and engined by Messrs.J.P. Rennoldson and Sons.South Shields for a service in Sydney harbour.New South Wales her destination.
She had previously run her trials under steam with satisfactory results and afterwards was converted into a sailing vessel by the riggers in the employ of her builders under the supervision of the foreman rigger, Mr Adam Fleck.
Her rig was of the topsail schooner style and her sails filled with the favouring breeze she looked as pretty a picture of a sea bourn craft as one could wish to look upon.
Her propellor had been unshipped and lay securely in its fastenings below,and the vacant arch under the stern was filled with wood, giving the vessel a clean heel.
She was manned by a crew of eight-six men and two boys George Forrest,a local skipperwas in comandand his chief officer was Crofton Elliott. who held a captains ticket. His bosun was Jim Mackay; there were A.B.'s George Taylor, Tom Watson and Peter Bjorkman (a Scandinavian). and two boys.George Halliday and W. Johnston, the latter a relative of the skipper.
There was a slump in shipping at home in consiquences of the Durham coal strike and sailer were plentiful. Excepting Bjorkman - who had sailed the seven seas-the whole of the crew were chosen from Shieldsman.
There were affectionate adieux to say before the little ship was finally cast off by the tug incharge,for many of the crew had there friends on board.There was much hand shaking and exchanging of godspeed before the visitors were taken off by the tender,and the last parting farewells were shouted from the deck of the returning tug as the "hero" set sail on her long adventurous voyage.
Captain Crofton Elliott (of Woodlands Terrace) a surviving member of hero's crew, has has retailed to a "shields Gazette" representative many interesting reminisences of that memorable sea passage.which took 156 days to complete
It was on the Saturday night, I remember-he said-when we passed out of South Shields harbour into the open sea We hoisted our sails to a southerly wind, the captain deciding he would go north about to start the voyage. We set the cource accordingly, but after making 150 miles the wind chopped right round dead ahead. We  then decided to square away to the south, as the breeze seamed promising. and we made good progress back over the cource we started on. In three days we passed the mouth of the tyne again, and we had favourable winds all along the coast.
We struck strong westerly winds in the channel.The vessel behaved splendidly and established our confidence in her sea qualities. Her bottom was covered with white lead and tallow to keep the barnicles and sea growth off,and she slipped threw the water in fine style.
We kept steady on our course and had a good runand then came into the north east trade winds. many sailing ships were in sight-as many as twenty were seen at one time. A big German four-masted ship signalled us in the straights of Gibraltar.
"Where bound? they asked.
" To Sydney."
"What route?"
"By the ordinary safe eastward."
They sent us there good wishes.We were evedently an object of curiosity.
After we got out of the North east trade winds we set a new course and crossed the equator 22or 23 degrees West long.
The days passed uneventfully and happily, for we were a cheery family.
When in the "doldrums" a calm belt which extends from 10 degrees North to 10 Degrees south of the equator,we had a lively time chasing the winds. We trimmed the sails to capture every cap full of wind but often we lay becalmed. The sea was dead calm, and the heat intense.
One day it was my watch, below I hear a splash in the sea. when I reached the deck I saw half the crew swimming in the water. We were all swimmers. I went overboard too. That was our only dip, for the next day a big shark was lying under the counter- that is the after part of the ship. He followed us for some time and then disapeared-evidently nothing doing. But it was not worth taking risks afterwards.
We "baffled"about for a number of days.On another calm day we put the boat out and painted the ship round in green colours. We were then 35-40 days out.
Eventually we picked up the South east trade winds which gradually worked into fair winds and we stood away to the west ward. Trinidad island in the south Atlantic bearing to the west six miles distant.  After running into the prevaling westerlies in those latitudes we stood across towards the Cape of Good Hope. It was not long before we encountered heavy seas, but the little craft behaved splendidly. running like a duck on the crest of the seas. But we had to steer with great care owing to the big mainsail,and the danger if jibing.
There was some dirty weather ahead and the seas swept our decks and flooded the well of the ship.There were anxious moments.but the vessel shook herself clear each time.
We were now shaping our course for towards the Tristan de Cunha groupe of islands between the Cape of Good Hope and South America. We  were getting on well with the journey and were clear of accident up to this time, save that we had to give attention to torn sails.
We made a brave fight with the big seas and our progress was maintained until we finally sighted the islands. One big sea was shipped which smashed threw into the engine room. As we had to turn over the engines every morning this was a unfortunate mishap and the captain decided to run for Table Bay to see that the vessel had not strained herself and to replenish food supplies. We remained there for three or four days and we had not long resumed our passage when a severe squall struck us. We had great difficaltity getting out to sea, but we managed it safely. and shaped our course for the south of Agulhas Banks.
A strong wind was blowing from the west and a big sea was running,and we ran south to get arround the Banks. Captain Forrest had a peculiar knowledge of thes treacherous waters from a previous experience out there. We got safely round the banks and set a course eastward and thus entered along the last long run from the Cape to Australia.
The prevailing winds were westerly ,and terific squalls occasionally burst on us. Tremendous green seas chased along behind us ,and it was fortunate that the man at the wheel could not see them. The ship rose to the crest of the waves , which swept us along like an avalanch for a considerable distance for a time. Skillful and careful steering saved the ship broaching too.We had four A.B.'s but I had to take a spell at the wheel.
We shipped one huge wave which washed Mackay along the deck and bashed him against the bulwarks. When we recovered him we found he fractured his ribs and the skipper and I had to doctor him. It was a trying ordeal for Mackay ,for he lay in a pitch plaster for ten or twelve days. His injuries healed but the pitch plaster adhered to his skin and its removal was a painful operation, but he was ultimately restored to his normal self. and to active duty again.
On another day the boy Halliday was knocked overboard with the flap of the foresail He had a miraculous escape . He was standing on the top of the little house and in the act of reeving the fore bowline when the flap of the sail pitched him into the sea.The vessel was going only three or four knots at the time. The little fellow held onto the bowline , and by that means we were able to pull him threw the seething waters to safty on board the ship again.
We ran into worse weather , with the wind coming too much from the quater we kept her to the southward to keep her before the sea . seldom ,indeed we sighted anything just an occasional sail. A close look out was kept for the sight of land . It was in the early morning with a high westerly wind blowing ,with a following sea and clear visability that I got the first glimse of the Australian continent. The news was recieved with great joy by my shipmates. It was just a dirty mark on the ocean. but we afterwards found it was Cape Banks on the South Australian coast.
There was a lot of hard weather in store for us still but we got down to Botany Bay and arrived in Sydney Harbour after a sea voyage of 156 days.
Our appearence excited a great stir amoung the people But our orders were emphatic to allow no one on board. We carried out the instruction even to excluding the the owner's son.-until his identity was firmly established. The Hero entered Sydney Harbour in perfect conditions, as tight a little ship that ever crossed the ocean. Captain Forest remained by the vessel . Halliday went up country. Bjorkman got a charge job in tugs and Mackay settled as a deck hand in Sydney where he married. I remained there for a little while sailing the coastal vessals but returned to my home town.
Captain Elliott , the narrator of the story was in later years in comand of vessels belonging to the Stag line before going into the business of his father inlaw John Reed , a well known sail makerin South Shields.  . 


  1. "....On a dark night in the month of July,40 years ago, a little vessel dropped down the Tyne. to engage on a voyage in which many people believe at the time to be a forlorn hope..."

    40 years ago ? I don't think so !