SS Nemesis: 120-year-old shipwreck mystery solved and search for relatives begins

The 120-year-old mystery of SS Nemesis and the 32 crew members lost at sea has been solved, with the accidental discovery and subsequent identification of a shipwreck in waters off Port Kembla.

Murky blue water with fish and scallops on the starboard side of the wreck of the SS Nemesis on the seabed

With the wreck identified, the NSW Government is hoping to connect with relatives of the crew members, including 3 men buried in an unmarked grave in Woronora Memorial Park at Sutherland.

Heritage NSW says members of the lost crew came from Australia, the United Kingdom and one from Canada.

The SS Nemesis departed Newcastle on 9 July 1904, loaded with coal, and headed to Melbourne. It was last sighted in distress in rough seas off Wollongong by another ship also caught in the storm.

The loss attracted significant attention from the media and public. Over several weeks, bodies of crew members washed ashore at Cronulla Beach, as well as fragments of the ship’s steering wheel, doors and other floating wreckage. But the location of the 73-m-long vessel remained unknown.

More than a century later in 2022, remote sensing company Subsea Professional Marine Services stumbled across the wreck while trying to locate cargo containers lost off the coast of Sydney. The ship was undisturbed, some 26 km offshore and approximately 160 m underwater.

NSW Heritage experts, who had spent years investigating and surveying the ocean floor, immediately suspected they had found SS Nemesis. But identifying it was a challenge as it was so far offshore, in deep, high current water. Additional underwater imagery captured by CSIRO provided the evidence needed to confirm the ship’s distinctive features aligned with historical photographs and sketches of SS Nemesis. Images show the iron wreck resting upright on a broad sand plain, with significant damage to its bow and stern.

It also revealed a series of clues as to why the ship sank that night. It is thought the engine became overwhelmed in the storm, and when SS Nemesis was hit by a large wave she sank too quickly for life boats to be deployed.

Those with a connection to SS Nemesis are asked to contact Heritage NSW:

Quote attributable to NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage Penny Sharpe:

'The loss of Nemesis has been described as one of Sydney’s most enduring maritime mysteries and has even been described by shipwreck researchers as the "holy grail".

'Thanks to collaborative work with CSIRO and Subsea, using modern technology and historical records, Heritage NSW has been able to write the final chapter of SS Nemesis’s story.

'Around 40 children lost their parents in this wreck and I hope this discovery brings closure to families and friends connected to the ship who have never known its fate.'

Quote attributable to Federal Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic:

'Every Australian should take heart in the curiosity and persistence our scientists have shown in this project, as they do in all their work.

'I admire how determined they were to solve a century-old mystery, demonstrating once again the value of working together and backing that up with the latest know-how.

'Everyone involved should be enormously proud of this discovery and the comfort it will provide to the descendants of the 32 sailors who died aboard SS Nemesis.'

Quote attributable to Member for Wollongong, Minister Paul Scully:

'This wreck is part of the rich maritime history of the Illawarra which ranges from shipwrecks to the Dalfram dispute, which influenced Australian foreign policy during World War II.

'With only 105 of the more than 200 shipwrecks off the NSW coast having been discovered this is an important find.

'The discovery of the Nemesis shows why Wollongong continues to explore its history in what is a proud port city.'

Quote attributable to CSIRO voyage manager, Jason Fazey:

'Our technical team aboard CSIRO research vessel, RV Investigator, did an amazing job in mapping the entire site and capturing very clear vision of the wreck using one of our underwater camera systems.

'Using RV Investigator’s advanced multibeam echosounders, we were able to create a high-resolution map of the entire wreck and measure key dimensions to aid in its identification.

'Everyone aboard was honoured to be able to contribute to this project and assist Heritage NSW’s maritime archaeology experts in the successful identification of SS Nemesis to help bring closure to another one of our nation’s maritime tragedies.'

Quote attributable to Ed Korber, Subsea Professional Marine Services:

'It has been an absolute honour to have discovered this wreck which will now finally bring some closure to the families of its lost crew members.

'Our marine and remote operated vehicle team have navigated difficult challenges to get the first incredible footage that has allowed Heritage NSW to confirm this was indeed the Nemesis wreck.'