SS Clan Ranald (1900) facts for kids
SS Clan Ranald was a two decked, turret deck ship, which sank on 31 January 1909 in the Australian state of South Australia off the coast of Yorke Peninsula near the town of Edithburgh. It is the only turret ship to have been lost in Australian waters, and therefore represents a unique part of Australia's maritime history. The bulk of crew were Asian sailors (lascars). Clan Ranald is considered one of the worst shipwrecks in South Australia (SA) where only 24 survived out of the 64 crew members.
SS Clan Ranald was built in 1900 by William Doxford & Sons in Sunderland, UK, as a turret deck ship for the Clan Line Steamers of Glasgow. The ship measured 355 ft in length and had a net tonnage of 2,285 tons. The turret deck ship design was a modern idea for the beginning of the 18th century, as it was considered seaworthy and economical for carrying bulk grain cargoes. The sides of the vessel curve inwards after reaching the widest point; this creates a semi-ledge that sits about midway up the vessel's hull. The purpose of this construction, together with increased storage capacity, is to make the cargo so compacted that it would have minimal shifting during transportation. However, the main advantage of the design is the cost reduction of port charges. Turret ships offer lower tonnage per ton (which could be up to 10%) and that the narrow turret deck enabled a reduction in Suez Canal dues where charges were based on deck width and the net tonnage.
Clan Ranald departed from Mauritius on December 24, 1908 arriving in Port Adelaide on 15 January 1909. At Darling’s Mill, the ship took on 39,862 bags of wheat and 28, 451 bags of flour. A large amount of coal (638 tons) was also loaded, with 170 tons on the top decks. On the 31st of that month, despite a 4° list to starboard Clan Ranald left the Semaphore Anchorage, bound for South Africa with a crew of 64 people. The ship's crew consisted of four Manilamen, sixteen Calcuttamen and 34 Lascars.The ship was commanded by Captain A.S. Gladstone.
At 2 pm the ship was south of Troubridge Island when it suddenly shifted onto its starboard side at a 45° angle. The crew rushed onto the deck whilst leaving the engine running. The starboard deck was submerged and this caused the ship's rudder to sit out of the water. At 4.30 pm a rough wind blew the ship towards Troubridge Hill. Due to rough seas, the ship's lifeboats had been smashed and the vessel was driven near the cliffs. In their desperation to escape, the crew attempted to construct wooden rafts from debris. Distress rockets were fired after seeing a nearby ship, the SS Uganda, but strangely they never sent assistance. At 10 pm the Clan Ranald capsized and sank in 20 metres of water about 700 metres from the shore, pitching the crew into the sea. Many were sucked under as the ship sank while others who swam to shore died when they reached the steep cliffs and jagged rocks that were nearly impossible to climb to safety. Others perished after being subjected to the freezing elements all night. Even though the distress rockets were overlooked by the SS Uganda, some of the Troubridge locals saw them. They rushed to the beach and gave assistance to many of the surviving crew. The locals also began searching for other survivors on the beach and were shocked by the terrible loss of life they found along the shoreline. Some bodies that were found were battered beyond recognition. Only 36 of the missing bodies were found, which were buried in Edithburgh Cemetery. The five British officers were buried in the main section and the 31 Lascar crew were buried in a mass grave at the rear of the cemetery.
At daylight, the 24 survivors were taken to Edithburgh to return to Adelaide. Out of the 24 survivors four of them were British while the other 20 were lascars. The four British officers were taken to Woodcock’s Royal Arms Hotel, while the lascars were placed in the basement of the Prince Alfred Sailors Home. As part of the White Australia Policy, the lascar survivors had their hand print taken and were given a dictation test, which was fixed for them to fail. As a result, the men were treated as illegal immigrants regardless of their recent tragedy. This was due to the terms of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 which is related to the White Australia Policy. Due to this, they were promptly sent to Melbourne to board the Clan McLachlan bound for Colombo.
However, the lascar survivors were not treated badly, they received support from the people of Adelaide. The survivors were given food, clothing and cigarettes whilst they were in custody. Even before departing the Mayor of Adelaide presented each with a monetary gift and wished them well.
Questions were raised on why the SS Uganda did not come to give assistance when the distress rockets were fired. The captain of the ship, Captain Kilpatrick, stated that he thought the lights were from Troubridge Island Lighthouse, and were not distress signals; as a result, he continue on according to procedure. This excuse was challenged by the fact that the locals nearby could see and identify the lights as distress signals. Furthermore, one of the survivors stated that the SS Uganda did answer the distress signal by replying with an answering light. This suggests that they knew what it was but did not came to help them.
The cause of the sinking of the Clan Ranald is still undetermined. Many theories have been put forward to try to explain it. One of these theories was that the vessel struck Marion Reef. However, this was dismissed, as an inspection of the hull revealed that there were no holes that indicated that the vessel hit any underwater obstruction. Other theories include the water ballast tanks were not emptied or that the sea cock was opened throughout the journey. Some even suggested that most of the crew were drunk at that time.
Salvage of the SS Clan Ranald
There was never any formal salvage of the site. However, since the invention of recreational SCUBA diving in the 1960s, looters have been frequenting the site and noticeable materials have been removed. Such materials that have been targeted are non-ferrous materials, such as copper alloy piping off the boilers and any interesting personal artefacts. Looters have also used explosives on the site, including destroying the propeller blades.
It is also rumoured that the cargo manifest of the Clan Ranald is in the hands of a resident of Edithburgh who recovered it from the beach after the loss.
The Clan Ranald site was located in 1962 by the South Australian Museum Underwater Historical Research group, a volunteer organisation. At this time the site was deemed to be in a remarkable state of preservation. The site lies off the southern coast of Yorke Peninsula about 14 km (8.7 mi) southwest of Edithburgh and 1.25 km (0.78 mi) west of Troubridge Hill. The wreck site is officially located at Coordinates: .
Soon after the wrecking, an inspection was carried out by Marine Board Diver C.Olsen, this inspection found that the Clan Ranald was lying on its starboard side with the top of the turret deck on the seabed and the port side of the hull a dominant feature. The vessel was almost lying bottom up on the sea floor. A quote from the 1909 Register stated that:
"The highest part of the ship is her port bilge [sic] keel and the starboard bilge keel is about 9 ft. off the bottom. The starboard top sides and the top of the turret had sunk aome distance in the sand. There is a considerable quantity of coal scattered to the eastward of the ship."
The Clan Ranald was lying on an ESE-NWN axis with the bow pointing ESE.
Presently there are still considerable remains of the Clan Ranald left on the site. Almost the entire hull has collapsed, except for a portion that is held up by the port side boiler. The double hulled bottom of the bow is standing vertical and the bow section has collapsed forwards and downwards into two parts. There are still enormous boilers that remain on site, approximately 2-3 times the size of a diver and provide a spectacular site for anybody who visits the site and the port main boiler has rolled out and is free of the hull remains. Underneath the collapsed hull, the engine still remains relatively intact.
Other interesting features of the site include:
- The Propeller: This still remains on the site. However, illegal salvage using explosive destroyed and removed the blades. The propeller shaft is still visible under the collapsed hull.
- At the bow area, the windlass and a large mound of chain remain.
- The rudder also remains on site, although it has been detached from the stern, possibly as a result of explosives used to remove the propeller blades.
- The highest part of the wreck sits 6 meters above the seabed, the port bilge keel and the double bottom hull which is resting on the starboard main boiler.
Despite the large amount of wreckage, the Department of Environment and Water (DEW) which manages all protected shipwreck sites in South Australia has classified the site as poorly preserved. DEWNR described 'poorly preserved' as signifying that the hull is still intact to the turn of the bilge. The frames and plating/planking of the hull have collapsed. The stern and bow may still be intact and the vessel's boilers or engines are still in their position in relation to where they were originally on the vessel.
Conservation of the Site
Management of a site, conservation, is determined by the level of threat to the site. This can be from human interaction with the site or natural conditions such as water currents and silt movement. The DEWNR report on the condition of the Clan Ranald site outlined these risks.
- Human impacts - High. This was discerned by the remaining artefacts such as ship's fittings and personal possessions of the crew that are still visible and could be pilfered from the site. Also damage from dragging anchors is highly likely.
- Natural impacts - Low. The environmental state of the site is in a relatively stable condition. However, the large, upright remains, such as parts of the bow and stern and the wreckage surrounding the boilers, are in a higher risk of deteriorating. Illegal looting and salvage has destroyed large sections and markedly increased the rate of deterioration of the site.
The wreck has deteriorated in the past few years due to damage done by mooring anchors of the remains, but also the depletion of marine life in the area due to overfishing.
Assessment of Significance of the SS Clan Ranald Site
The Clan Ranald is one of the most tragic and unique shipwrecks in Australian waters. It represents one of the worst shipwrecks in Australian history with a massive loss of life. Combined with the grave sites of the officers and the crew in the nearby Edithburgh Cemetery, the Clan Ranald is a somber reminder of a huge tragedy. For this reason, the wreck site and the event itself is very important to the community of the lower Yorke Peninsula, not only because of the disastrous loss of life, but also because they played a major role in aiding the survivors. Even to this day, if you visit the graves, there are fresh flowers near the headstones.
The following is a poem written about the wrecking event.
The Wreck of the "Clan Ranald"
Down the Port River, on a mid-summer day
The steamer, Clan Ranald, swept proudly away.
Bound for the Cape, with a light-hearted crew
What was in store for them God alone knew.
At ‘four bells’ she was struck by a big angry sea,
She listed right over; her decks washed a-lea.
She was crippled — and signalled for help to the shore,
But ere it arrived the ship was no more.
Down went the Clan Ranald, a most sad disaster,
For forty poor souls were called to their Master.
Rescuers on shore all help they were giving,
They were risking their lives for the sake of those living.
For, in utter darkness they were battling that night
In surf they were rushing to save, black and white.
Let us pity those living, and pray for those still,
Who were washed to Eternity off Troubridge Hill.
Archibald Deacon, 1909
The remains of the vessel provide a haunting and fascinating dive for anybody who ventures onto the site, the large boilers and remains of the bow and stern also create a unique and interesting dive. The remains are such that one only has to have little knowledge of the vessel to understand what features are present. On top of this, the site is significant simply as a dive site, the abundance of marine life that are present and the features provide a wonderful and popular dive.
- Dive Information
- Depth: 18m
- Visibility: 10m
- Bottom Type: Sand
- Best Diving time: February–April, when northerly winds are prevailing.
Study of the remains of the Clan Ranald would be useful because this type of vessel, the turret deck ship, was unusual and only featured in maritime designs for a short period. This is possible because of the state of the remains and the visible structures and features of the vessel on site.
Archaeological study into the personal possessions that remain on the site could reveal great amounts of insight into the class of British seaman, often neglected and seen as an 'underclass'. Furthermore differences between the officers and the predominantly Lascar crew would make an interesting study, especially in comparison with other notable wrecks, such as that of Sydney Cove, which also had a predominantly Indian crew.
Legal Status of the SS Clan Ranald
Clan Ranald was discovered in 1962 by the South Australian Museum Underwater Research Group. This group then purchased the remains from the Clan Line of Steamers in London. The motive behind purchasing the wreck was to stop divers from accessing the site and therefore reduce the deterioration of the wreck site. In 1988 ownership was handed over to the SA Government.
Clan Ranald is protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This means that the site and all of the artefacts associated with the site have been declared historic and protected. No artefacts should be removed from the site and damage to the site is illegal.
Due to its location within a marine protected area, the Troubridge Hill Aquatic Reserve which is an area of approximately 4 square kilometres (1.5 sq mi) established 1983 under the SA Fisheries Act 1982, the wreck site receives secondary protection as activity to remove marine life from its surfaces and the adjoining seabed is prohibited.
Most importantly, the Clan Ranald is a main feature of the DEW Investigator Strait Shipwreck Heritage Trail; this means that along with other significant shipwrecks, the Clan Ranald is promoted to the public as a way of educating them in the importance of Australia's historical shipwrecks.
SS Clan Ranald (1900) Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.