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The Signal Came Too Late To Save Yougala

By James Donahue

The 358-foot-long steamship Yongala was still in sight of the lighthouse keeper on Dent Island when word came via the newly installed Australian wireless service that a cyclone was building in her path. The ship, which was not yet equipped with wireless, could not be warned and steamed into the storm never to be seen again.

The eight-year-old Yongala, Captain William Knight at the helm, was on what was to have been a routine trip from Melbourne to Townsville when it foundered in the storm on March 23, 1911. The ship’s crew of 79 and 49 passengers perished in the disaster.

Unfortunately, a wireless system was ordered for the Yongala and was being sent from the Marconi Company in England.

The Yongala was a steel passenger and freight carrier built in England for the Adelaide Steamship Company. It was launched in 1903 and brought to Australia to serve what was then a busy passenger route linking the gold fields of Western Australia.

It was the ninety-ninth trip for the popular passenger liner and Captain Knight. The owners were planning a special champagne celebration for passengers when Yongala sailed her hundredth voyage from Cairns back to Melbourne the next week.

Since there were no survivors, no one knows what happened on the ill-fated steamer while it battled the cyclone. When it failed to show at Townsville a fleet of vessels conducted an extensive search. Wreckage that included cargo and parts of the ship washed ashore at the Cape Bowling Green and at Cleveland Bay. There was speculation that the ship had struck a rock and it had ripped the bottom of Yongala open.

It wasn't until 1947 that the wreck was located by the survey ship Lachlan. The vessel recorded a large wreck that could have been the Yongala lying off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland. Then in 1958, divers George Konrat and Bill Kirkpatrick dove the wreck and indentified it as the Yongala.

The wreck has since become a popular visiting site for sports divers since it lies in about 100 feet of water. Most of the ship remains intact.

The ship was named after the South Australian town of Yongala. The name in the Nadjuri language means "good water."