SS Clan Ranald
‘One of the most terrible shipping disasters in the history of South Australia,
The ship in question was the 355 feet long, 3,500 ton steel screw turret deck steamer SS Clan Ranald built in 1900 by W. Doxford & Sons at Sunderland, England. She was loaded at Port Adelaide with wheat by the Adelaide Stevedoring Company under the direct supervision of Captain W.H. Langford. She would leave for South Africa and take mail as well. After checking she left Port Adelaide with a crew of ten officers and 54 men on 31 January 1909 at 7.30 in the morning. Although listing to starboard she was allowed to leave after a further inspection.
The officers of the Clan Ranald were Arthur Sherwood Gladstone, Captain from London, age about 48 years, Frederick Hill Rose, First Mate, J.D. Campbell from Edinburgh, Second Mate, T.P Wilson, Third Mate, W.R. Stewart from Greenock, Chief Steward and William Shaw, carpenter about 60 years old. Shaw came from Port Patrick, Ireland and had been sailing since he was 24, or for 36 years, eight of them on the Clan Ranald. This was his first maritime disaster and luck being with the Irish he survived it.
Survivors Shaw, Fordyce, Wilson and Rose
Among the engineers was John Stewart, First Engineer from Roseneath near Greenock, Thomas Fordyce from Glasgow, Second, Alexander Walls from Merry Hill near Glasgow, Third, and James S. Paterson from Thornybourne near Glasgow, Fourth Engineer.
All went well until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. When near Troubridge Hill, the ship suddenly lurched onto its starboard side, probably because the load had shifted during the deteriorating weather. She became unmanageable and lost two of her life boats. The two remaining boats couldn’t be launched because of the listing of the ship.
In a desperate attempt to attract help, rockets were fired from the ship between 8 and 10 pm but no rescue party was launched. Gottlieb Hermann Preuss, who had seen them, was the first to alert the ship’s distress to the harbour master, F. W. Allen, in the hope of getting the Warooka out to help, but to no avail. The passing ship Uganda also failed to assist and just sailed by.
At about 11 pm the Clan Ranald rolled over and sank, taking forty crew members with her, making it one of South Australia`s worst maritime disasters. She settled about 400 yards from shore at a depth of three fathoms. Shortly after the ship went down an upturned lifeboat came ashore with ten men clinging to it. Only thirty-six bodies were ever found and buried at the Edithburgh cemetery. All bodies found on the beach had lifebelts on but were badly bruised from being dashed against the rocks.
Great efforts were made by the locals to help those washed ashore and clean up the bodies of the death before they were buried. On the beach the locals had lit fires to guide and warm the survivors and they had brought along plenty of fresh water, bread and brandy to make them as comfortable as possible. Gottlieb Preuss had brought warm rugs and a bottle of brandy.
Within a few days 24 bodies had been recovered, 21 seamen and three officers. They were buried at the Edithburgh cemetery on 3 February. Another 12 bodies, including the Captain’s, washed ashore at Port Moorowie, a few days later. The remains of three officers were first buried. ‘After a wreath of wild flowers had been placed on each coffin, they were lowered into the grave, one on top of the other’. The burial of the first 21 Lascar seamen took place in a separate pit, which had been dug at the other end of the cemetery. Their coffins were lowered and stacked into two tiers.
Surviving Lascar seamen on the beach
With the White Australia Policy in full force the officers were referred to as whites, European or British whereas the men who had signed on at Calcutta for a period of one year, were variously called Asiatics, blacks, coloured, Indians, Lascars or coolies.
The British officers were buried in the main part of the cemetery but the bodies of the thirty-one Lascar crew members went to the rear of the cemetery in a mass grave. Full details of those were known to the authorities but only a small plaque on it said '31 unknown Asiatics'. Recently a new plaque has been erected naming all 34 Lascar seamen who perished. The bodies of three Lascars were never recovered.
The sinking of the Clan Ranald also demonstrates the workings of the White Australia Policy. Although the men were rescued and looked after, regardless of colour, by members of the local community, the authorities went by the law. Despite being battered and bleeding when they reached shore, the Lascar crew members, were seized, handprinted and later deported by the Commonwealth for being illegal immigrants.
Locals involved in the rescue
The 20 surviving Lascars were taken to Port Adelaide to the Prince Alfred Sailors’ home. Within a couple of hours £26 was collected for them. W. Mussared of Port Adelaide and W. Cornell of Adelaide donated a liberal supply of tobacco for the men. The men were also visited by Lady Dudley. The Poret Adelaide Customs officials imposed no restrictions on the men’s movements, nor did they enforce a £100 surety for each one of them as required by law. However they made sure that the men left as soon as possible. They left Port Adelaide within a few days on the steamer Riverina for Melbourne where they would be transferred to the Clan McLachlan to bring them to Colombo on 8 February 1909.
The four officers who had survived were taken to the Royal Arms Hotel at Port Adelaide. They each received £10.13.6 from the Mayor, A.W. Brown, which had been donated by the Port Adelaide people as a token of their deep sympathy with them in their loss of their ship and comrades. A further £5 was given to T. Fordyce by the Marine Engineers’ Institute as a token of the members’ sympathy with him in his trying ordeal.
At the subsequent Marine Board Inquiry, to establish the cause of the disaster, it was found that no one was to blame. The shifting of the cargo was mentioned several times but hotly disputed. Captain Langford stated that the ship had been loaded properly and was in good trim.
A diver who had inspected the wreck of the Clan Ranald had found no damage and its propeller was in good order. This meant that the ship had not hit any rocks. As for the failure of the Warooka to help it was stated that she was not insured, the night too dark and the Clan Ranald too close to shore to get to her. After several days the Board concluded that it could not find any valid ground for suggesting charges against any officer. The reason for the sinking remained unresolved.
A few months later a letter was received in Edithburgh from the Rev. Alfred Warr of Roseneath who had written on behalf of his many parishers who knew and loved the late John Stewart. They desired to send their hartfelt thanks for the 'loving, tender reverence and care towards the bodies of our dear departed'. He went on to say that their 'kind letter to John's parents, sister and widow had given them the greatest comfort'.