The 1,160grt Pulganbar. (Sydney Maritime Museum, trading as Sydney Heritage Fleet)

On 31th October 1950 this item was published in the Brisbane newspaper Courier Mail:-


The trouble-ship Tamara, with a cargo of Chinese deportees from Australia, seven dogs, four cats, two monkeys and a gorilla, has dropped anchor at Hong Kong. The ship, on the Honduran register, has suffered an incredible series of adventures in the ten months it has taken her to sail from Newcastle, NSW to China. The normal time is three weeks. Now she is in Hong Kong, where everybody including officers, crew, dogs, cats, monkeys and the gorilla want to leave the ship. But there is still trouble. The port authorities insist that everyone but the captain must remain onboard.

The ship involved in this bizarre voyage was originally named Pulganbar, and for thirty years was one of the numerous small passenger/cargo ships operating along the coast of New South Wales. Pulganbar was built in Scotland in 1912 by the Greenock and Grangemouth Dockyard Co. for the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, which owned a large fleet running from Sydney to numerous ports in northern New South Wales, including Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. Pulganbar was designed specifically for the service from Sydney to Grafton on the Clarence River, 40 miles upstream from the mouth, but the vessel had to be strong enough to withstand the worst the sea could throw at it on the often rough voyage along the coast.

Pulganbar was 1,159 gross tons, 225 feet overall length, with a 33 foot beam, and on completion in March 1912 made the long delivery voyage to Australia, which took just over six weeks. Pulganbar entered Sydney Harbour for the first time on 15th May, and next day this description of the voyage appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:-

The vessel left Grangemouth on 30th March and met squally weather right away. The ship’s log shows that a strong ESE blow prevailed for days and that the steamer was pitching badly all the time Her steaming time to Port Said the first port of call was 13 days 13 hours 10 minutes or an average of 11 knots Then she made for Suez and covered 80 miles in seven hours under full speed The next port was Colombo and before reaching there a hard gale from the SSE set the steamer plunging badly and kept the engines racing but she averaged 12.47 knots over this portion of her journey. Between Colombo and Sydney a lot of bad weather was met especially one heavy gale from the WSW which kept things merry aboard. On 10th May a strong westerly gale was encountered with a high following sea and the weather was generally squally. The blow continued hard for days with a big sea but the Pulganbar behaved splendidly. Her steaming time over this long run was cut out in the creditable time of l8 days 3 hours 39 minutes or an average of 11.9 knots. Altogether the Pulganbar steamed 12,231 miles in 43 days 7 hours 53 minutes which shows an average of 11.76 knots. The vessels speed on steam trials was over 16 knots.


The Pulganbar at Yamba.

Once safely in Sydney Pulganbar underwent final preparations for its entry into service. There was great interest in the vessel in Grafton, and this description appeared in the local newspaper, the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, on Tuesday 21st May:-

There is accommodation for 100 saloon passengers on the main deck and in 10 deck staterooms amidship, the second class rooms being forward, with accommodation for 24 people. The dining room is amidship, an apartment finished in polished hardwood, artistically arranged. There is a bridge, sun deck, amidship, on which the life-boats are housed, and the master and officers are accommodated in comfortable quarters alongside their work. There are conveniences for carrying live stock and fish in the forward ‘tween decks where the ship’s sides are open for purposes of ventilation. There are two holds and two large hatches served by four winches for the expeditious working of cargo. There is a room fitted for the cold storage of butter, of which some 2000 boxes can be carried. The refrigerating machine is a 6 ton ‘Hercules’. The steam steering engine is of the latest type of Reid’s noiseless gear, as made for steam yachts. The machinery consists of a triple expansion engine with four cylinders, and four cranks balanced to eliminate vibration. The cylinders are 21, 34 and a half, 40 and 40 inches in diameter respectively, and the pistons all have a stroke of 33 inches. There are two boilers of the ordinary marine type, working pressure being 200lbs. The speed of the vessel is something over fifteen knots, and her carrying capacity is about 600 tons on a draft of about 11 and a half feet of water. The Pulganbar will leave Sydney at 7pm on Saturday and is timed to cross the Clarence bar on Sunday afternoon and to arrive at Grafton about noon on Monday.

As planned, Pulganbar left Sydney on time on 25th May on its first trip to Grafton, and crossed the notorious bar at the entrance to the Clarence River for the first time the next afternoon, staying over night at Maclean, and following morning continuing up the river to Grafton, where a large crowd gathered at the wharf to witness the arrival. Next day the local newspaper reported:-

The Pulganbar was piloted up the river by Captain Anderson, local branch manager, and snugly berthed at the Company’s’ new wharf shortly after noon yesterday. With her beautiful exterior lines and attractive, slate-coloured coat on, the vessel has a picturesque look. She is flat-bottomed, built expressly for the river trade, with a light draught. Her deck equipment comprises two winches, and two derricks at each mast. To be concise, the vessel is the acme of perfection in modern coastal ship-building. In this respect the style of build was well studied out, and the builders, the Greenock and Grangemouth Dockyard Co. Ltd., have left no room for complaint in regard to workmanship. Although the vessel is flat-bottomed, she has very fine ends, which is conducive to speed. Captain Hird speaks well of her sea-going qualities, which he describes as “wonderful for a boat of her class, and in a beam sea, swings easily”. The Pulganbar has three decks, one including a boat deck for passengers. There are two-holds of almost equal capacity. She can carry 128 passengers fore and aft, and from all accounts will prove a splendid acquisition to the already large fleet of vessels owned by the Company.

The Pulganbar at MacLean Wharf on the Clarence River near Grafton.


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