The history of the Chandris Lines SS Australia 1967 to her tragic end in 1994

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author & Lecturer

Please Note: All ssmaritime as well as my other related maritime & cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960, but although retired and unwell, I occasionally attempt to write an article now and then, in order to bring enjoyment and pleasure to ship enthusiasts past passengers and crew.

 

 

Both ships were sold in 1964

Blue Funnel Line Background:

Alfred and Philip Holt established the Blue Funnel Line (BFL) in 1865 to operate vessels, which were powered by Alfred's own design of compound steam engines, between Liverpool to Asia.

Although originally a good number of problems occurred, but these were soon overcome and the BFL achieved success especially when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. Obviously the Suez Canal reduced those long voyages and gave their steamships an advantage over all other companies that continued to use sailing vessels, and these vessels could not use the Suez Canal as the canal could not handle them, and thus they were forced to go around the Cape.

In the 1870s the Alfred Holt Co developed the service further with the assistance of Butterfield and Swire, agents in Shanghai, who were instrumental in establishing the “Far Eastern Conference” in 1879. Alfred Hold’s Blue Funnel Line continued to expand, for example, into Sumatra and they obtained the tobacco trade, and they later established a Dutch subsidiary, the “Nederlandsche Stoomvaart Maatschappij” was established to operate a direct service from Amsterdam to Indonesia.

By 1901 a direct UK to Australia service commenced and within the next ten years Blue Funnel Line acquired ships from its past competitors and in 1911, they owned around seventy ships.

However, World Ward One saw Blue Funnel Line lose twelve ships and in the 1920s changes came about with the Australian trade, which meant a loss of some services, therefore a temporary joint service was organised with the White Star Line.

In the 1930 Alfred Holt (AF) acquired control of the Elder Dempster Line in 1932, followed by the Glen and Shire Lines, and in 1935 the Straits Steam Ship Co.

But sadly World War Two was extremely costly for the company for they lost an astounding forty-one ships. Peacetime services utilised Liberty Ships for many sailings until A-class replacements were delivered between 1946 and 1953.

The Blue Funnel Line maintained its dominant position in Asia until the 1970s, their stability due, in part, to participation in the Overseas Container Lines consortium, set up in 1965. Blue Funnel changed its name to Ocean Transport and Trading Co. in 1972. Further developments included the takeover of the Cory Fuel Distribution Group, the creation of Ocean Inchcape Ltd., the operating of off-shore supply vessels and the purchase of bulkers, tankers, gas carriers and the Barber Blue Sea transpacific service.

On the Australian service, there were quite a fleet of passenger-cargo liners that go way back the a vast list of ships including the previous Gorgon 1, and Charon 1, and of course the; Centaur 1, Centaur 2, which became a hospital ship during WW2 and sadly the AHS Centaur was brutally torpedoed close to Moreton Island just off the coat of Brisbane (the Capital of Queensland Australia) by a Japanese submarine at approx 04.10 a.m., on May 14, 1943 and she sank within a few minutes with the loss of 268 precious lives. Then there was the ships of this feature, the M.S. Gorgon (2) and the Charon (2) operated with the Centaur (2), until her loss, but she and the two aforementioned ships were replaced by the very last everBlue Funnel Passenger-Cargo liner built being the ultra moder, for her time, the M.S. Centaur (3) which served from 1964 until her final departure from Fremantle on September 15, 1982, which is recorded in Australian maritime history as the being “the very last ever liner departure out of Australia.” And almost the end of the Blue Funnel Line!

The all new M.S. Centaur is seen berthed in Western Australia in 1964

and she would replaced both M.S. Gorgon and the Charon later that year

 

“Blue Funnel Line” Funnel & the “Alfred Holt” House Flag

Ship One - M.S. Gorgon (II):

The 3,533 GRT (Gross Registered Ton) M.S. Gorgon (II), was constructed by “Caledon Ship Building & Engineering Co,” Dundee in 1933 for a 50/50 joint operation between “Ocean Steam Ship Co,” and “West Australian Steam Navigation Co,” (Bethell, Gwynn & Co,) in 1933.

She had a length of 336ft, a beam of 51.2ft and a draught of 20.7ft. Her machinery consisted of six Cylinder B&W (Burmeister & Wain) type diesel engine 4,000 BHP, Single screw; service speed 13 knots and maximum 15 knots. There are five holds, with No. 3 being fully insulated, as well as part of No. 2 lower ‘tween deck. Insulated capacity was 19,007 cu.ft., whilst the rest of the ‘tween decks were arranged to carry cattle, sheep or cargo as needed depending on the bookings on each voyage.

The M.S. Gorgon seen in her early days

M.S. Gorgon had accommodations for 162 passengers utilising all beds and berths, with the vast majority residing in First-Class and just a small number in Second-Class. Her cabins were very comfortable and were known to be very up to date and beautifully furnished.

A luxurious Main Lounge was located far forward on Promenade Deck with the Smoke Room being aft of the deck, whilst the best of the ships superior accommodations were located amidships. The main Dining Saloon was located far forward on Shelter Deck (directly below the Main Lounge) with the balance of the ships cabins being located on Shelter Deck.

Besides being built as a comfortable passenger-cargo liner, she proved to be exceptionally notable as she had number of new innovative systems installed, and just several of these were; 1. a fire and a smoke detection system and, 2. a lifeboat muster alarm system. The aforementioned were operated directly from the Bridge and these became well known as being a maritime first, and they were history making.

Considering the M.S. Gorgon as well as her newer sister the M.S. Charon (II) which would be completed in August 1936, were designed to operate on the Singapore and West Australian (WA) ports, they were given special strengthened hulls, the reason being that at some Western Australian ports at extreme low tides the ships would be left sitting high and dry on the sand/mud, until they refloated at high tides and were able to depart.

This is the newer M.S. Charon seen high & and dry at the port of Derby WA

This new ship Gorgon would join several older ships including the 2,720 GRT SS Minderoo completed in 1902, as well as the 3,222 GRT MS Centaur (II) having been completed in 1924, and both of these ships ship were already on the Fremantle to Singapore service.

 

Above: A Postcard of the S.S. Minederoo - Below: A Photograph of the MS Centaur (II).

 

On August 22, 1933 the almost completed M.S. Gorgon was launched and towed to her final fit out berth were the final touches were completed and soon she undertook her deep-sea speed trials, which was successful and she was delivered to her owners. And in October she departed the UK bound for Fremantle (Perth) Western Australia, arriving there on Tuesday December 12, 1933.

M.S. Gorgon seen arriving at her berth in Fremantle harbour

This photograph was in an extremely poor state and it has been

restored using Photoshop as best as was possible by the author

Photograph provided by Tim Baker, but taken by a previous family member in the 1930s

As she departed the UK bound for Fremantle, she arrived there to a warm welcome as she was considered as a very special and one of the most modern and up to date ships to enter the Australia to Asian service.

On December 17, 1933 the Perth - Western Australia, “Sunday Times” featured the following headline.

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Blue Funnel Line

 

THE NEW GORGON

 

Modern Vessel for the North-West

“The new motorship M.S. Gorgon, of the Holt Blue Funnel Line, arrived at Fremantle on her maiden voyage on Tuesday December 12, 1933. Captain J Ward-Hughes, who had been for some time in charge of the motorship Centaur, will have command of the Gorgon, which embraces many modern features that are illustrative of the vast progress made in ship-building in recent years. The Gorgon, which is of the same name as the vessel which was withdrawn from the service several years ago was built at the Caledon Shipbuilding Yards at Dundee.

The Gorgon has accommodation for 138 first-class and 24 second-class passengers, and the cabins are comfortable and up to date. A lounge on the forward portion of the promenade deck and a smoke-room is aft on the promenade deck are other attractive features.

Of chief interest are a lifeboat muster alarm and an elaborate fire detection system, both of which are operated from the bridge. The presence of smoke in a vital part of the ship is instantly recorded by means of an indicator which operates in a cabinet from which connecting tubes run to all vital parts of the ship. The fact that the indicator, under a test revealed that a person was smoking in one of the hatches, testifies to the delicacy and efficiency of the apparatus.

The Gorgon is scheduled to sail for Java and Singapore at 11.00 a.m. today (Sunday December 17).”

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Considering the Gorgon received such a great review in the above article, but also in other reports, as she was indeed considered the ship of the future with many new innovations and a well equipped ship for passengers travelling in style! The Gorgon soon became a popular ship and her bookings were sold well in advance and many of these were for round voyages.

In 1937 schedules were generally as follows, as printed in the “Western Australian Newspaper” of Perth; Geraldton, Carnarvon, Onslow, Cossack Roads, Port Hedland, Broome, Derby, Java, Singapore, Port Swettenham (today’s Port Klang) and Penang (Malaysia), Belawan (optional), & monthly calls to Makassar (Indonesia) “if sufficient inducement.” Passenger fares were from 19 to a maximum of 47 Australian Pounds per person one way.

On her return voyages to Fremantle she would visit the relevant North-West Australian ports and load cattle or sheep, and having arrived in Fremantle, after passengers had disembarked, she would move to the “Robb Jetty” to unload the livestock for the nearby abattoir. She would then return to her regular Fremantle berth to unload and take on new cargoes as well as passengers for her next round voyage.

She operated for the next six years, but then the war commenced, and it was on March 29, 1940 MS Gorgon was officially requisitioned for Government service, and she would be used as a troop transport ship as s other duties

The Gorgon’s War Service Record in Short:

She served well during the war, for late in January 1942 the HMTS Gorgon joined convoy MS1 sailing from Melbourne filled with troops bound for Singapore where she was subjected by Japanese air attacks, but luckily, she escaped any serious damage. Then on February 3, she departed Singapore filled with 358 refugees, and that was just four days before Singapore surrendered to the Japanese.

Then on February 12, the Gorgon was attacked by high flying Japanese bombers on six occasions and she received two direct hits which set the ship ablaze, one of the fires being adjacent to the ammunition store. I was told by a crew member son that; “the ships Chief Officer, ‘J. Bruce’, discovered a third bomb that apparently had not exploded, but it was embedded in a large bag of flour. Thus, he aided by two brave soldiers removed the bomb very carefully and it dumped over the side of the ship”.

Then on April 4, 1943 when she was at Milne Bay, New Guinea she was again subjected to bombing by Japanese aircraft. Apparently this attack was an act of retaliation following the first Allied success of the war when Australian forces prevented the Japanese army from reaching Port Moresby. During the attack six of Gorgon’s crew were sadly killed, the ship was set on fire and after the fire had been extinguished, it was noted that this time the damage was so severe, that she had to be towed to Brisbane as she needed extensive repairs. To the ship's (captain’s) credit, two Japanese planes were destroyed.

Post War Refits & Services:

The M.S. Gorgon had served her country well during the war, and thankfully she survived and having been returned to her owners, she was given an extensive refit restoring the ship to her beautiful self and she returned to her regular passenger-cargo services.

Here we see the post war M.S. Gorgon around 1949

Photographer is unknown - Please see photo notes at the bottom of the page

 

A popular Blue Funnel Line poster

 

Specifications M.S. Gorgon as Built 1933 & 1958:

Official number: 162391

Owners: 1933 - “Ocean Steam Ship Co,” & “West Australian Steam Navigation Co,” (Bethell, Gwynn & Co,).

. 1936 - “Ocean Steam Ship Co,” (“A. Holt & Co,” come “Blue Funnel Line”).

. 1964 - Leung Yau Company” Hong Kong.

Port of Registration: Liverpool, GBR.

Launched: August 22, 1933.

Completed: October 1933

Builder: Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd., Dundee.

Yard: Stannergate.

Yard No: 344.

Tonnage: 3,533 GRT - 2,120 NRT.

1958: 3,967 GRT - 3,125 D.W.

Length: 336 ft - 102.41 m.

Breadth: 51.2 ft - 15.60 .m

Draft: 21.6 ft - 6.55 m.

Engine: Burmeister & Wain Diesel, Copenhagen.

Engine Detail: Oil 2SCDA 6 Cylinder (450 x 1200mm), 4,000 BHP.

Propeller: 1 screw.

Speed 13.5 Knots, 15 Knots maximum.

Accommodations: 138 First Class and 24 Second Class.

1958: 73 First Class only.

Crew: 134.

 

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In Conclusion:

The M.S. Gorgon and her almost identical sister M.S. Charon served on the Fremantle to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia service right up to July 1964, and the M.S. Gorgon being well over 30 years old girl of the sea was with her sister the Charon highly respected by the Industry and Passengers alike! Before WW2 they served along with the delightful M.S. Centaur (2), which was tragically torpedoed near Moreton Island close to Brisbane, the Capital of the State of Queensland, Australia. There was a mass loss of crew, with only a small number of survivors.

Apart from their peacetime duties, both the Gorgon and Charon had also served bravely during WW2 and even sustained damage and sadly suffered loss of life as we have read earlier.

The Closing Chapter:

The M.S. Gorgon made her last sailing from Fremantle on July 21, 1964 and she was sold in August to be broken up at Hong Kong.

The M.S. Charon was sold to the “Malayan Shipbreakers Ltd” of Singapore in August 1964 also for demolition, however she was due to face the torch in August 1965 she was resold several times and was renamed “Seng Kong No.1.” Nothing much is known of her future, but I believe that she was broken up no that long thereafter, at least within one or two years!

Although these remarkable ships with their special strengthened bottom hulls, were replaced by the remarkable new and very modern and stylish M.S. Centaur (3) in 1964, which was a fine ship indeed setting new modern passenger standards, but past passengers felt that she did not have the dignity and cosy classic style of her earlier sisters, that held so many memories for so many who sailed on them and loved these ships with an absolute passion!

Remembering Two Fine Blue Funnel Line Ships

A delightful view of the M.S. Gorgon during her final days.

 

Visit the new 1964 MS Centaur II Two page feature

This page also has some information on the discovery of the Centaur I

 

 

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“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.

 

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