Nemesis probe solves Australian wreck mystery

A ship that sank 120 years ago in Australia and was rediscovered in 2022 is now considered “highly likely” to be the long-lost British-built steamer Nemesis.

The upright wreck was found 26km off New South Wales at a depth of 165m by chance during a seabed survey by Subsea Professional Marine Services.

Initial ROV camera footage revealed damage to the ship’s midships and bow, but too little significant detail to enable positive identification. Now the results of further investigations carried out last summer have been released.

Scan of the Nemesis wreck (NSW Heritage)
Scan of the Nemesis wreck (NSW Heritage)

The 73m iron-hulled Nemesis was built at Whitby in 1881. Powered by a compound engine to reach speeds of 12 knots, she was registered by the Australian shipping line Huddart Parker, and started out carrying cargo between Melbourne to Sydney. 

The steamer operated out to Western Australia during the 1890s gold rushes carrying cargo and passengers, but in the final years of the 19th century was used solely for carrying coal and coke.

The Nemesis (NSW Heritage)
The Nemesis would be lost in a storm in 1904 (NSW Heritage)

On 8 July, 1904 Nemesis was on her way fully laden from the port of Newcastle north of Sydney to Melbourne when she ran into a southerly gale. 

The collier was thought either to have turned round or been driven back towards Sydney, because a vessel in distress was sighted off Port Hacking, Wollongong south of Sydney on the night of 13 July.

The ship’s Captain Lusher and his international crew of 32 were lost. Wreckage including part of a wheel and doors was subsequently washed ashore at Cronulla Beach, followed by a number of bodies.

Camera footage

Heritage NSW was able to inspect the site further in conjunction with Subsea Professional Marine Services last summer from the research vessel Investigator belonging to the Australian national science agency CSIRO. Further camera footage was collected and analysed.

View of the 165m-deep wreck of the Nemesis (NSW Heritage)
View of the 165m-deep wreck of the Nemesis (NSW Heritage)

A report by Heritage NSW’s senior maritime archaeologist Dr Brad Duncan last October provided preliminary findings, but the full report is out only today (26 February).

The wreck’s features align with historical photographs and sketches and, although it is considered “highly probable” that it is the Nemesis, a definitive identification proved difficult to obtain – mainly because so many Huddart Parker Line vessels were almost identical in design. 

Hull of the Nemesis. The sheer strake was considered distinctive (NSW Heritage)
Hull of the Nemesis. The sheer strake was considered distinctive (NSW Heritage)

However, the ship’s sheer strake had stood out to the researchers because it appeared to be either a repair or reinforcement plate. Strakes are longitudinal courses of plating that run the length of a hull, with the sheer strake being the uppermost. The arrangement on the wreck is described as “highly distinctive and unusual”.

The Nemesis sits upright (NSW Heritage)
The upright Nemesis (NSW Heritage)

The researchers believe that the ship’s engine might have been swamped during the gale, leaving it powerless, and that while drifting it had been suddenly overcome by waves before its lifeboats could be launched.

Further inspection of the site is still required, says Subsea, in the hope of locating nameplates or other relics carrying the ship or line’s logo – “or even the ship’s bell”.  

NSW Heritage Minister Penny Sharpe has appealed for relatives of the lost crew to come forward. “I hope this discovery brings closure to families and friends connected to the ship who have never known its fate,” she said.

Also on Divernet: Wartime mystery solved: Wollongbar II found in Tasman Sea, Australian WW2 sub victim found in 700m, Destroyer wreck-dive restrictions lifted, South Australia’s oldest wreck yields new finds

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