ps Ballina (1865-1879)
This graceful iron paddle steamer, plied the coast of NSW for 14 years. Built in Northumberland, England, the vessel later underwent major refitting during its service life in Australia.
The Ballina, (Official Number 52707), was built by Low Walker and Company, and was completed on 8 June 1865. The vessel was 179.4 feet long, 24.0 feet wide and 9.6 feet deep. It was 300 tons gross. Originally rigged as a two masted brig, the Ballina was propelled by two oscillating engines giving a total of 80 horsepower.
The Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Company Ltd, had the paddle steamer designed with a shallow draught for its intended use in river entrances with sandbars, characteristic of the NSW North Coast. Steam winches on deck allowed for rapid discharging of cargo. The Ballina could accommodate 36 passengers in the poop with steerage accommodation for 19 in the bow.
Ballina engine. Model by J Riley
The Ballina arrived in Sydney from England on 25 October 1865, and commenced service in December, following trials and maintenance. The steamer frequented most of the ports on the North Coast of NSW during the next 13 years. Regular cargoes to Sydney included agricultural produce, livestock, timber and even gold to Sydney. Other cargoes included oysters, bacon, tobacco, tallow, wool, potatoes and pigs. Return cargoes from Sydney included manufactured goods, alcohol and general merchandise.
In 1877, when travelling south from the Macleay River and Port Macquarie, the Ballina struck the barque Sylphide off Dee Why, Sydney. The Sylphide sank without loss of life.
The loss of the Ballina
View towards the northern breakwater at the entrance to the Hastings River at Port Macquarie. The wreck lies towards the centre of the photo near the breakwater. Photo: D Nutley
The Ballina was lost on 13 February 1879. Moored at Port Macquarie, the vessel was due to depart with a familiar cargo of wool, cedar, maize and other agricultural produce.
When attempting to leave the harbour, the vessel became grounded on a sand spit to the north of the channel. The passengers and part of the cargo were taken off. Weather conditions deteriorated that evening and at 2 a.m. the Captain and crew were forced to cling to the rigging. By morning, the Ballina's keel was broken and the crew were forced to abandon ship.
The wreck of the Ballina remained visible for several years and became a navigational hazard in 1908 when extensions were made to the harbour entrance. Dynamite was used in 1910 in an effort to reduce the height of the wreckage.
Ballina location map
The Ballina wreck lies on the north side of the entrance to the Hastings River at Port Macquarie. The area is subject to strong tidal flow and diving is only possible during a short period either side of the turn of the tide. Check local dive stores for further advice on access.
Wreck site condition
Site plan of the p.s. Ballina. Drawing by T. Smith
The remains of the Ballina lie in five to six metres of water. Despite the dynamiting operations in 1910, major features of the vessel survive. These include the engine room and boiler which can be readily located. The two cylinder engine records the dying stroke. Portions of the port and starboard paddle wheels lie alongside. Aft of the main body of the wreckage, the counter stern lies updside down with the rudder visible. The site has become extensively covered in conjevoi which has obscured details of the wreck structure.
The solid engine components are still fairly intact. Photograph: D Nutley
Portion of one of the Ballina's paddle wheels at the mouth of the Hastings River. Photograph: D Nutley
Importance of the ps Ballina
The remains of the Ballina illustrate important stages in the development of maritime technology during the late nineteenth century. The story of the Ballina documents the history of the North Coast trade and the economical, technological and social development of the region during the 1860's and 1870's.
The ps Ballina is a protected Historic Shipwreck under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The listing applies to the shipwreck and all relics associated with the shipwreck.
- Heritage Office, NSW Shipwreck database, accessable through the Australian National Shipwreck Database on the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology web site.
- Sydney Morning Herald 19/6/1877, 5/3/1879, 15/3/1880, 15/7/1890
- Illustrated Sydney News 21/7/1877
- Department of Navigation - Register of Wrecks for 1879
- Port Macquarie News 2/6/1995
- Register of British Shipping, Sydney
- Shipwreck Atlas of New South Wales (3rd ed) 1996, NSW Heritage Office
Page last updated: 31 August 2012