Jul 1 2011 by Edwin Lawrence, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
ONE of Australia’s most searched for shipwrecks has finally been discovered.
And it’s a ship that was built in Troon a century ago, in 1911.
Now the TSS Coramba will feature in an Aussie TV series.
The ship was built by Ayrshire’s famed Ailsa shipbuilding company.
It sank in Australia’s Bass Strait during a hurricane in 1934, with all 17 hands lost.
And Coramba’s final resting place became one of Australia’s great maritime mysteries.
The ship was was en-route from Warnambool to Melbourne with a cargo of condensed milk and wool, when the hurricane blew up.
Captain John Dowling attempted to find shelter in Westernport, but his ship was swallowed by huge seas which also swamped much of the Victoria mainland on November 30, 1934.
The Coramba’s sinking was a huge blow to a state already reeling from a crippling depression.
Relatives received little compensation and many children grew up in poverty after losing their family breadwinner.
Divers have been searching for the wreck for over 70 years.
But back in 1935, legendary salvage diver John Johnston claimed to have found it near Seal Rocks, Phillip Island.
His claim was accepted by a marine inquiry at the time. But the wreck’s discovery on May 29 this year places Coramba many miles to the west of Johnston’s co-ordinates.
Australian TV documentary producer Terry Cantwell happened to be filming divers when they made their discovery.
Archaeological divers Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE) made the dramatic find.
SOE has painstakingly searched for the wreck for eight years, covering almost 15 square kilometres of Bass Strait.
Chief researcher Peter Taylor, acting on a hunch, changed the search grid.
He said: “This is absolutely wonderful. There have been many days when we’ve returned from a Coramba search very despondent.”
Author and maritime historian Des Williams, who wrote a book titled The Ship that the Sea Swallowed, has has been searching for the Coramba since the 1980s.
He said:”The Coramba has been a big part of my life for the past 35 years. I’ve searched for it on many occasions, written a book about it and have become very close to the families of those who drowned.”
The TSS Coramba (Twin Screw Steamer) was originally built for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, Sydney, by Ailsa Shipbuilding Co Ltd of Troon.
The 160ft, 531-ton vessel was launched on August 15,1911. She had two steel pole masts, and a cargo capacity of 402 tons.
The Belfast and Koroit Steamship Navigation company bought the Coramba in 1932 to serve Victoria’s western district ports.
She replaced the Casino, which had served for 50 years before being wrecked with the loss of 10 lives.
The two shipwrecks, claiming a total of 27 lives, were the death knell for steamship services to the western district, with railways and road transport taking over.
Ailsa Shipbuilding traces its roots to Archibald Kennedy, the 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, in 1870.
The Marquess was a famous yachtsman who designed and built many of his own yachts, starting at Culzean and Maidens.
Building was switched to Girvan for a few years, before moving to Troon in 1886.
In 1902, the company also took over the Ayr shipyard of S McKnight & Co Ltd which had been founded in 1883.
Activity in Ayr ceased after the First World War, but was revived briefly from 1945 until 1947 when the yard was sold to Ayr Engineering & Construction Co Ltd.