Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Colonna (ex Sierra Colonna) (17836)

Off Rock Dunder

Sierra Colonna was built by Richardson, Duck & Company (yard No. 246) for the Sierra Shipping Co. Ltd, Liverpool, UK, and launched on 18 April 1878. It had two decks, one bulkhead and was cemented. It had a poop 15.2 m long and a forecastle 11 m in length. The ship was used on the run from the UK to Burma. In 1903 it was sold to J.A. Henschien of Lillesand, Norway, and renamed Colonna. The last voyage under that company’s ownership was in 1914 with a cargo of timber for Port Adelaide. On arrival the ship was sold for use as a coal hulk. In 1917 the buyer, The Adelaide Steamship Company Ltd, took the hulk to Albany to replace the J.L. Hall. This had been condemned, stripped and then sunk by gunfire the previous year (see entry). The winches used to handle the coal on board the Colonna were powered by a 25 HP steam engine with a vertical boiler. The hulk was moored about 4 cables (730 m) from the end of the Deep Water Jetty.

During the early morning of 16 September 1943 the cargo of coal in the fore hold of the Colonna caught fire. There was a strong south-west wind blowing at the time, and this coupled with a lack of tugs meant that there was little chance of moving the hulk. The donkey boiler was immediately fired to get steam to operate the windlass if this should be required. At about 1.00 p.m. the harbour-master, Captain Griffiths, inspected the burning vessel and as the wind was lessening he decided to try and get the burning Colonna alongside the jetty. This would enable fire fighters to more readily fight the blaze. As there were still no tugs available some of the small motor launches such as the boom defence vessel, the Quarantine Department’s launch, the harbour-master’s launch and a private launch owned by Lionel Austin, were used. By 3.00 p.m. the wind had dropped sufficiently for the attempt to be made. The Colonna’s anchor was taken out close to the jetty, and by heaving on this with the donkey engine and windlass, and the aid of the launches, the hulk was brought alongside the jetty by 4.45 p.m.

While water was sprayed on the burning coal in the forward hold, two gangs of waterside workers began off-loading coal from the aft hold. This work carried on all night, considerably hampered by the volumes of smoke pouring out of the vessel. By the next morning so much water had been pumped in, that it was considered the Colonna would sink alongside the jetty. Lieutenant Hutcheson, the naval officer in charge at Albany, borrowed a pump from the Shell Oil Company depot which was used to pump out the water being poured onto the burning coal. Despite these efforts by the evening of 17 September the fire became more intense.

The following morning things were worse. Captain Miller, The Adelaide Steamship Company’s representative arrived by train from Perth, and by mid-morning had decided that the only course of action was to flood the Colonna. Consequently the anchor was taken away from the wharf, and again with the assistance of the small launches, at about 2.00 p.m. the pulling of the Colonna away from the jetty was commenced. At 5.30 p.m. a severe north-westerly squall struck, pushing the bow of the hulk, so that, dragging the anchor, it swung into a position approximately at right angles to the jetty, bow close to the jetty piles. Water was continually being pumped onto the burning coal, and at 8.30 p.m. the hulk settled on the bottom. There was still an estimated 2 000 tons of coal on board.

The Colonna had settled on an even keel, and being made of iron it was considered that, despite the fire, the hull was probably sound. The Commonwealth Salvage Board sent two petrol driven pumps to Albany from Perth but the owners decided to make their own salvage attempts. It is presumed that the company employed local people to undertake this task, as the Colonna was reported as having been salvaged by Lionel Austin, his son Stan Austin, and two divers, Nobby Pannet and Jack McBride. It then continued to serve as a hulk in Albany until 1952. On 31 October of that year, at the end of its useful life, the Colonna was towed to a position one mile west of Rock Dunder and sunk in 32 fathoms (58.5 m) of water by Mustang fighter planes of the RAAF using rockets and bombs.

A chest of drawers from the captain’s cabin of the Colonna is in private ownership in Perth. After World War II some spars and a section of one of the masts were used for derricks at the whaling station in Frenchman Bay.

Ship Built

Owner Adelaide S.S.Co.

Builder Richardson, Duck & Co, of Stockton

Country Built UK

Port Built Stocktonon Tees UK

When Built 1878

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Sinking By gunfire by aircraft from the City of Perth RAAF Squadron

When Lost 17836

Where Lost Off Rock Dunder

Latitude -35.03843

Longitude 118.1393783333

Position Information DGPS

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 72.02

Beam 11.58

TONA 1435.00

TONB 1499.00

Draft 5.95

Museum Reference

Official Number 78785

Unique Number 282

Sunk Code Scuttled

File Number 2010/0030/SG _MA-195/72

Chart Number AUS 1034

Protected Not protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected N

Date Inspected 2007/03

Confidential NO