TSMV Bulolo & MS Malaita I & II

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With Reuben Goossens

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

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.

A fine artist impression from a Burns, Philp Travel Poster, featuring the - TSMV Bulolo

Also Featuring the SS Malaita I & MS Malaita II


Photographs on this feature are either part of the author’s private collection or as noted

Part One - Company Background:

Brothers James and John Burns arrived in Brisbane in December 1862. They decided to head into the country and after several of years working as Jackeroos (mostly outdoor & horseback workers taking care of cattle or sheep) at Springsure in Central Queensland. Eventually they left and headed for the Goldfield town of Gympie and became storekeepers there in 1865.

In the mid-1870’s James Burns and Robert Philp had become friends and they had gone into a business partnership in Townsville that included a shipping service to Brisbane and Sydney for the inter-colony and overseas trade. After 1876, James Burns worked from an office in Sydney, where Burns, Philp & Company limited was incorporated in 1883. Their business quickly expanded with new branches around the country and in the Pacific and there was an expansion with a new range of merchant activities as well as establishment of Pacific Island plantations and trading connections. Burns, Philp & Company was set to become a pioneer as well as an ambassador for Australia in much of the South West Pacific area, and in due time, a much-respected multi-national group of companies.

Between the 1880s and early 1970s, Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd., operated some thirty-eight ships as well as inter-island sailing and powered vessels. Although World War I physical impact on Burns, Philp's areas of interest was limited, sea-going raiders presented a constant hazard to its ships. Most significant was the experience of its steamers SS Matunga which was en route from Sydney to Rabaul, when on August 6, 1917 it was captured by the German raiding ship “Wolf,” and it sank the Matunga a few days later; the raider took the crew and passengers into captivity to Europe until the end of the war.

Between the wars Burns, Philp's ships became a household in Australia and South East Asia, as well as an indispensable link with the Pacific Islands, particularly appreciated by expatriate residents. Burns, Philp ships were easily distinguished by their black funnels with a black-and-white check band and their Scotch Thistle house flag. Their sustained service to remote locations as well as main cities and towns led to the Company sometimes being described as “The Hudson Bay Company of the South Pacific.”

Part two - The two Malaita ships:

Prior to building the TSMV Bulolo, Burns, Philp already operated the MS Malaita II on the mail service between Australia, Papua, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, etc. Malaita II had been named after the 1983 built Malaita I a ship Burns, Philp had purchased in 1905. What follows is her short story:

SS Malaita I - built as the SS Antilla:


SS Malaita I

From the Victoria State Library

SS Antilla was a small steamship of just 929 GRT (Gross Registered Tons), 200 ft long and a beam of 30.2 ft and she had a draught of 12.3 ft. She was an all steel ship built in 1893 by the Grangemouth Dockyard Company on the River Fourth in Scotland. She had been ordered and built for the Bahamas Steamship Co Ltd, Nassau. She had triple expansion engine with a single screw giving her a respectable 10 knots for her day. However in 1904 she was damaged by fire and she was placed on the market.

In 1905 she was purchased by Burn Philp and was fully reconditioned and renamed Malaita I. And she soon commenced to trade the Pacific islands service out of Australia. She operated this service until 1914 when she was sold.

She was obtained by another famed shipping line, Huddart Parker and converted her into a coal hulk, but she was later sold to Moreland Smelting Co Ltd., 1918 or 1919, towed to Melbourne where engines of the famed paddle steamer Excelsior were installed. She was reregistered in Melbourne by H. B. Black & Co Ltd. However on November 17, 1926, whilst in Port Phillip Bay whilst she was at anchor there was a storm and she was blown ashore and smashed against the South Melbourne baths. She was refloated, and moved to be partially dismantled and then towed to be scuttled in the ships graveyard, just off Port Philip heads, November 20, 1927.

MS Malaita II:


Postcard of the stately looking MS Malaita II

The new ship to be built and named after the first Malaita would be a motor ship and she was built by Barclay, Curle & Co., in Glasgow Scotland in 1933. She was 3,310 GRT, a length of 328 ft with a beam of 47.1 ft. She had B&W type diesel engines and a single screw giving her a speed of 12 knots (max 14.5). Malaita II accommodated 48 passengers in comfortable all First Class accommodations. Her regular ports of call were” Sydney, Brisbane, Port Moresby, Samarai, Rabaul, Lorengau, Lombrun, Madang, Lae, Sydney. She operated this schedule every six weeks.

Like most ships, the Malaita was taken into the service as a Transport ship and was transporting troops and war materials to Papua New Guinea she had an interesting time of it, for on August 29, 1942 a torpedo struck her amidships close to No.3 hatch and it exploded on the bulkhead between No.2 and No.3 hatches. The ship listed dangerously to starboard and it was thought at first that she would keel over and sink, but she survived. The HMAS Arunta was close by and came to her assistance. By August 31 HMS Malaita had moved to a safe anchorage and the crew has started to make repairs where required and patch up as much as possible of all the damage. In addition the engineers had worked hard to restore the ships power and she was fully operational again. Thus, on 15 September 15 the HMS Malaita II departed under her own power, but sailing at a reduced speed and she proceeded to Cairns Australia where she arrived on September 20, meaning she had steamed the 790 miles from Port Moresby at an average speed of 7 knots. In Cairns her hull was reinforces and she then sailed south to Sydney where she arrived on November 13.

However, having inspected the damage it was decided that it was too severe for repairs to be made at that time and nothing was done until October 1945. They were then undertaken and completed in April 1947 when she was ready again for commercial service and returned to Burns, Philp. She resumed trade to New Guinea with Burns, Philp.

She was sold 1965 to San Fernando Steamship Co (John Manners subsidiary concern) and was renamed MS Pilar Regidor. Three years later in 1968 she was sold to Jaguar Shipping Corp, renamed Linda JR and continued operations. She was finally scrapped at Kaohsiung Taiwan in August 1971

Part Three – TSMV Bulolo:

TSMV Bulolo seen arriving at Newstead, Brisbane being assisted by the tug Fearless

With the MS Malaita II continuing in operation, Burns, Philp realised that a new and a larger ship was required to enable them to operate a more efficient mail, cargo and passenger service. Thus with their designers having laid plans for a more modern liner, Burns, Philp ordered for their larger which was very much an updated version of the MS Malaita II. The result would be a 6,397 GRT, 240 Passenger-Cargo Liner, which like the Malaita II, would also to be built by Barclay Curle & Co, in Glasgow Scotland.

On May 31, 1938 the ship was officially named the Bulolo and she was launched and was towed to her fitting out berth.

Here we see the Bulolo at the Barclay Curle fit-out berth

Photograph originally distributed by Barclay & Curle & Co

When completed she made her delivery voyage to Australia and soon the Twin Screw Motor Vessel - TSMV Bulolo commenced the Burns, Philp regular service between Australia and Papua New Guinea ports, commencing on November 19, 1938. Her ports of call would be; Sydney, Brisbane, Port Moresby, Samarai, Lae, Madang, Rabaul. Samarai, Port Moresby, Brisbane, Sydney. Sailings operated every six weeks.

The wonderful TSMV Bulolo is seen here at sea whilst on one of her round voyages to the PNG

She would manage just eight round voyages before World War II commenced as Bulolo was taken over by the British Ministry of War Transport on behalf of the Royal Navy on September 22, 1939, and on October 21 she entered the shipyards for a comprehensive conversion to become an Armed Merchant Cruiser. Her makeover was completed and officially commissioned on January 4, 1940 as the HMS Bulolo – F82.

She was equipped with seven 6 inch as well as two 3 inch anti aircraft guns. There were also depth charges on board and a good variety of various smaller armaments and weapons. It had been worked out that if HMS Bulolo would cruise at 12 knots she had an excellent range of some 9,300 miles, however, when speed was of importance, she could sail at 15 knots, then her range would be around 7,700 miles.

HMS Bulolo (F82)

Photographer unknown - Please see Photo Notes at bottom of the Page

HMS Bulolo sailed on January 24, 1940 as part of Freetown Convoy Escort Group on escort duties between America, South Africa, and Britain. Her career over the next or so years was almost all in the Atlantic Ocean. She spent much of the time on escort duties travelling between the Americas, South Africa and Britain carrying mainly troops and supplies. Apart from her escort duties, the Bulolo, due to her armament and speed, was used to search for German Raiders and the recapture of “Vichy” French ships.

HMS Bulolo is seen here at anchor in the Medway, a river south of the River Thames

Photographer unknown - Please see Photo Notes at bottom of the Page

She was taken in 1942 to be converted into a Landing Ship and Headquarters (LSH). Thus HMS Bulolo, was stripped of all non essential equipment and refitted with communications equipment and control room facilities and she was completed or her new vital role in World War II in April 1942.

The busy Radio Room on the Landing Ship LSH Bulolo

Photograph IWM (A 13842)

She became the flagship of Admiral Sir Harold M. Burrough who was the Commander of the Eastern Naval Task Force during North African landings at Algiers in November 1942.

She then became the flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge in charge of “Force A” lifting the British XIII Corps onto the Sicilian landings in the Gulf of Noto in July 1943, and also “Task Force Peter” embarking the British 1st Division to Anzio in January 1944.

She was part of the strike force with Commodore Douglas-Pennant, Naval Commander in charge of Force G, lifting British 50th Division to land at Gold Beach at Normandy on June 6 1944. She was hit by bomb the next day, on June 7, 1944, but only minor damage but there were several injured and a reported death. LSH Bulolo was also the flagship of Rear Admiral. B. C. S. Martin for “Force W” off Malaya.

HMS/LSH Bulolo is noted as having been “Outstandingly successful” as her duties saw her in action at the North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Normandy and Malaya landings. In addition, prior to D-Day, HRH King George VI stood on her Bridge and from the Bridge wing, he took the salute from the passing invasion ships.

LSH Bulolo also assisted in evacuating Rabaul before the Japanese captured the port during WWII and she was used as a ship for Japanese surrender at Singapore in September 1945. A notable record for a small Australian passenger ship indeed!

Bulolo Times” - Homeward Bound edition

Provided by Mr Stan Evans

Her Naval service terminated on December 5, 1946, and she was finally handed back to Burns, Philp in 1948. Having had a comprehensive refit TSMV Bulolo resumed her original service on August 18, 1948.

TSMV Bulolo seen as she passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Photo by & Mr David Finch – Provided by Mr Stan Evans

Her refit had her passenger accommodations lowered, as she now accommodated just 180 First Class passengers, however she now offered a number of additional facilities added, making her an even better passenger ship!

Three Dinner Menus:

These menus were kindly provided by Margaret Flynn

On all occasions TSMV Bulolo was under the command of Captain W. Wilding



Above and below: Christmas Day Dinner 1949




Above and below: Christmas Day Dinner 1953




Above and below: New Years Dinner Day Dinner 1954



An Item of Memorabilia from the Author’s Collection:



Above & below: A Silver-plated souvenir cup obtained whilst on a voyage on the TSMV or just the MV Bulolo. The Badge has B.P for “Burns, Philp” as well as the ships name with the traditional company banner



The delightful MV Bulolo continued to undertake another 161 return voyages, therefore she made a grand total of 169 return voyages for Burns, Philp, as she made eight return voyages prior to her taken over in 1939 by the British Ministry of War Transport to be converted as an “Armed Merchant Cruiser” (HMS) and later in 1942 as a “Landing Ship Headquarters” (LSH).

*Bulolo seen in Sydney

Note the Burns, Philp Scottish Thistle House flag flying from the aft main mast

However, she did have one dramatic incident whilst she was in Sydney harbour on August 29, 1951. Somehow copra stored in her number three hold somehow caught fire and although the fire fighters commenced their drill immediately, it somehow managed to get out of control. Thus harbour authorities decided to beach her at Kerosene Bay and ensure that the fire was fully extinguished in order that the ship would cause no danger in the harbour. Thankfully, the damage turned out to be reasonably minimal, but it still took several months of repair work before she could return to service.

Tugs seen towing the Bulolo to Kerosene Bay during the fire in hold number 3

Photographer unknown - Please see Photo Notes at bottom of the Page



Above & below: Here are two superb photographs of the Bulolo’s bow and stern views, whilst she was in Lae PNG in 1957

Photographs are by & Peter Young




Built:                                          Barclay Curle & Co, in Glasgow Scotland.

Yard:                                          668.

Launched:                                   May 31, 1938.

Tonnage:                                     6,397 GRT (Gross Registered Tons).

Length:                                       127m - 412 ft.

Width:                                        18m - 58 ft.

Draft:                                          7.1m – 23 ft.

Engine:                                       Three MAN B & W (Burmeister & Wain) Diesel-electric type diesels.

Screw:                                        Twin.

Speed:                                        15 knots (max 17 knots).

Registered:                                  Sydney, Australia.

Passengers:                                 Originally 223 First Class passengers.

                                                  After WWII: 180 First Class passengers.

Career Details:

Maiden voyage from Sydney:          November 19, 1938.

Entered Naval Service:                  September 22, 1939.

Officially commissioned:                January 4, 1940 as the HMS Bulolo – F82.

                                                  In April 1942 became the LHS Bulolo.

Decommissioned:                         December 5, 1946.

Returned to civil duties:                 August 18, 1948.


*Wonderful memories of what was a fine, much loved and classic ship indeed

She was one of the last passenger ships sailing with an all varnished timber bridge!

Her Final Days:

In 1967 Burns, Philp decided that the Bulolo would be taken out of service and prior to her final voyage Papua New Guinea being very grateful to this fine ship, which had served the country so well, decided to issue a special commemorative stamp in honour of their beloved MV Bulolo.

Late in December, it was Captain Brett Hilder, who was in charge of the TSMV Bulolo as he took her on her final voyage sailing via her regular ports of course. Thus she departed from Sydney and headed to Brisbane and then she sailed north of Australia whilst passengers were able to enjoy Christmas at sea as she headed for Papua New Guinea and to Port Moresby where passengers would disembark as well as new ones would join the ship for the ten-day round cruise from Port Moresby and back! For this return sector she had 120 passengers.

Papua New Guinea’s commemorative MV Bulolo stamp

From Port Moresby the Bulolo then headed for Samarai, Lae (on New Years Day), Madang and Rabaul and returning via Samarai to Port Moresby again. This ten day round voyage from Port Moresby was a popular option as it visited such fascinating places and Australians and others would fly to Moresby and join the ship there and save the voyage to and from Australia! The Bulolo then returned to Sydney via Brisbane arriving early February 1968!

Having returned from her final voyage in February 1968, she was laid up in Sydney and was soon sold to the “China Steel Corporation” of Taiwan. The Malaita II had already been sold three years earlier, but she continued to operate with a new company and was not broken up until 1971. Yet, the delightful TSMV Bulolo served Burns, Philp proudly for a good thirty years and of course the main reason for the sale of their ships was the change in conditions, for cargo handling was rapidly changing to containerisation, and the passenger trade was dropping off rapidly due to the ever-decreasing airfares!

Still looking her beautiful self, the TSMV Bulolo departed Sydney, and headed for Taiwan and she arrived at her destination, the port city of Kaohsiung in Taiwan on May 24, 1968 where she would soon to be broken up.

However, this small passenger liner had achieved so much in her thirty years for she sailed around the globe and hosted more Admirals, Generals than any ship that were far greater in size than her, In addition, she had HRH King George VI standing on her Bridge and from the Bridge wing he took the salute from all the passing invasion ships! In so many ways, the Bulolo was remarkable, a hero and she did so much more than almost any of the other passenger ships in civil service or during war duties! It was said by crews and those who sailed on the Bulolo be it “when she was in commercial or naval service, the Bulolo did Australia proud.” - “We fondly miss this wonderful small white ship, with that green ribbon around her hull and that distinctive black and white checked band on that black funnel and the Burns, Philp Scotch Thistle house flag flying from the mast!”

The delightful Bulolo seen berthed in Sydney

I trust that you have enjoyed reading about the interesting Passenger-Cargo Liner, the TSMV Bulolo that also served King and Country during World War II and she accomplished some amazing feats to say the least! Bulolo will long be remembered in Australia’s Wartime history as well as being one of the fine Passengers ships of the world!

A Wonderful Memory of a Fine Small Liner

A fine photograph of the TSMV Bulolo seen on her portside sailing at full speed at sea

Photographer unknown - Please see Photo Notes at bottom of the Page


Also visit the 1911 built S.S. Montoro Feature

in 1948 renamed the S.S. Haven



 “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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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by; the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me (my email address may be found on www.ssmaritime.com only), in order that due credit may be given.

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