Grafton Rowing Club History: Early Shipping 6
Australian Rowing Professional
Flooding Grafton
Early Shipping on the Clarence

Early Shipping 6 - "City of Grafton", "Australian" & the sinking of the "Keilawarra"

The "City of Grafton" was on hand to assist survivors at the disastrous collision between the "Helen Nicoll" and the "Keilawarra" on December 7, 1886.

The SS "Helen Nicoll" cut through the passenger ship "Keilawarra" at full speed when the latter crossed the bows of the "Helen Nicoll", at night, near the Solitary Islands (between Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour). The "Keilawarra" sank and forty-eight lives were lost in the incident.

The sinking of the "Keilawarra" (left) after she was hit by the "Helen Nicoll"
(right - the crumpled bow of the Nicoll can just be made out)

The "Helen Nicoll" was also badly damaged and could only be saved by jettisoning cargo. The "Helen Nicoll"'s boats were lowered to render aid to the survivors from the "Keilawarra", until the "City of Grafton" and the "Australian" arrived to take the passengers from the "Helen Nicoll" and the survivors from the "Keilawarra", as well as some of the bodies recovered from the water. The two vessels then escorted the "Helen Nicoll" as she limped towards Sydney.

The ensuing Court of Enquiry found the "Keilawarra" to blame, but still suspended the mate of the "Helen Nicoll" for not reducing speed on first sighting the "Keilawarra". This collision also led to stronger safety regulations being placed on coastal vessels, including the provision of adequate lifeboats and lifebelts for all on board (a-la "Titanic"?).

Three years and one week later, the "Australian" performed another solemn duty when she carried the body of champion sculler, Henry Searle, from Sydney to Maclean for burial. The "Australian" was heavily draped with crepe from stem to stern whilst docked at Circular Quay to receive the body, and carried Searle's colours at half mast for the journey to his last resting place on the Clarence.

Early Shipping - Page 7