Donovan Family History  


       S.S. Orizaba    

1886 - 1905


Publisher: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Image number: 61342
Source:  New Zealand Marine News 1963-64 Volume 15 Number 3   Pages 3 - 11 ( Reference ID 1503002 )
Title: Orient Line; A Short History of the Orient Steam Navigation Co Limited  ( Laxon, W A )
Abstract: In the dying days of sail in the 1870's, two companies: Anderson, Anderson & Company, and Frederick Green and Company, both of London, combined to experiment with using chartered steam vessels operating to Australian destinations. Initially as a trial they chartered 2 in the mid 1870's from Messrs Watt Milburn and Company. In 1877, they took advantage of an oversupply of vessels belonging to the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, which dominated the trade between Europe and South America's west coast, and arranged to set up a monthly service to Australia using 4 of the surplus vessels. This venture was so successful, in 1878 the vessels were purchased outright, and the Orient Steam Navigation Company Limited was constituted as their owner, with the 2 partner companies as joint managing agents. The relationship with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company as a source of vessels was to continue for the next thirty years. Some details of the latter company are given and its influence on the design of the Orient Line's house flag described. The article goes on to describe the various vessels leased, or built for the company over the decades, many of the latter having innovative technical or design features. The impact of the two world wars on the company is discussed in some detail, and the article closes in the period of the late 1950's. Any connection of the company to New Zealand is touched upon by the author, beginning with the visit to New Zealand of the then Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later King George & Queen Mary), in 1901, on the OPHIR, an Orient Liner that had been selected as the Royal Yacht for their World Tour, and was the first of the company's vessels to visit New Zealand.


Vessel Name: ORIZABA
Vessel Type: Steamship
Tonnage: abt 6,000 tons
Owner: Pacific Steam Navigation Company
Built: 1886
Builder: Barrow Shipbuilding Company, Barrow
Abstract: Brief mention. ORIZABA was especially designed for the Australian trade and managed by the Orient Line, who offered a passenger service and held New South Wales government mail contracts.




Where built: Barrow, England

Rig type: screw steamer

Hull: iron

Tonnage: 6 077

Length: 140.2 metres (460 feet)

Breadth: 15 metres (49.3 feet)

Depth: 5.9 metres (19.4 feet)

Port from: Schooner

Port to: Sydney

Date lost: 17 February 1905

Location: Five Fathom Bank between Point Peron and Garden Island

Chart number: DMH 277

GPS position:

Latitude 32 16.9780 ' S

Longitude 115 37.5950 ' E

Finder: R. S. Barnett

Protection: Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (gazetted 1994)

MA file number: 441/71

ASD number: WA 819

Signficance criteria: 1, 4, 5, 6


A wreck inspection on SS Orizaba .



The bell from the SS Orizaba .

Lifebuoy from RMS Orizaba .



The vessel

The SS Orizaba was built by the Barrow Ship Building Company for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and was used for the Royal Mail service. Designed for the fast trade, the vessel was considered to be a great improvement on existing designs. It had three decks, was fitted with a triple-expansion engine of 7 000 hp and was capable of a speed of 14 knots. The vessel could carry 126 first-class, 154 second-class and 400 steerage-class passengers. It was one of a number of vessels that established the tradition of Orient Line ships on the Australia run and had names that began with 'O'. Detailed plans of the vessel are available and reprinted in Engineering, October 8, 1886.

On 15 February 1905 SS Orizaba was 529.1 kilometres (286 nautical miles) south of Rottnest Island, under the command of Captain Archer. The following day thick haze was hanging over a calm sea and the vessel was on a course toward Fremantle of south 70 east, at a speed of 14 knots. Aboard the vessel were 160 passengers and 2 500 tons of general cargo. By 9 a.m. on the 16 th Rottnest Island had still not been sighted. When land was sighted through the haze it was taken to be Buckland Hill, lying to the north of Fremantle. At 11.20 a.m. breakers were seen off the starboard side and when the haze lifted land could be seen on both sides of the vessel, although Fremantle was nowhere in sight. The ship was stopped and soundings taken all around which indicated a depth of between 6 and 8 fathoms. A new course was steered as the vessel sought the open sea (Wolfe, 1986:2).


The wreck event

Just as the passengers were preparing for lunch SS Orizaba came to a sudden halt, grounding on Five Fathom Bank. The engines were immediately put full astern but the vessel stuck fast with its midship section resting on a sand and limestone outcrop. Message of the wreck reached the harbour-master and the tug Gannett arrived and took the passengers off, together with the luggage and mail. The remaining crew and Captain Archer were all off the vessel by 21 February.



Salvage operations were begun immediately. The engine room had been flooded but the holds had remained dry. On Friday, 18 February, 875 tons of dry cargo had been removed from the wreck. On the following Monday, however, the watertight bulkheads gave way and further salvage had to be undertaken by divers

On 28 February an auction of the cargo was held. Items included 60 cases of drapery, one case of electrical goods, 9 cases of merchandise and one case of bicycles. Machinery, varnish, chemicals, glassware, books and tea were also sold. The goods fetched 1 600.

Examination of the hull revealed that it would be a difficult process to get the vessel off and the representative for the underwriters thought there were insufficient resources within Western Australia to attempt such a full salvage operation. In 1907 the remains of the hull were still visible on the reef top.

The remains of the vessel were sold at auction for 3 750 and the remaining cargo for 500. The present owner of the site is R. S. Barnett, who purchased the wreck in 1970. He recovered the ship's bell in the same year.


At the inquiry into the stranding Captain Archer was charged with having committed an error of judgement in attempting to take the vessel over Five Fathom Bank. He was censored and ordered to pay half the cost of the inquiry although the court noted that the haze and strong current had contributed to the wrecking.

Site location

The site is on Five Fathom Bank between Cape Peron and Garden Island.

Site description

The wreck lies with its bow out to sea on a north-west by south-west axis, in a depth of water ranging from 4 to 7 metres. Parts of the site come within 3 metres of the surface. The area is subject to heavy swell and diving conditions on the site can be hazardous. Three boilers are still intact although one is gradually losing its shell. The boilers are the most imposing feature on the site with the crank-shaft and conrods lying exposed on the reef top.

The vessel's floors are still evident although all plating upwards of the bilge has disintegrated. In the midship section the steering gear remains obvious (McCarthy, 1980c:1).

Statement of significance

Historical and technical

The wreck site is of historical significance as the remains of a vessel involved in the transference of mail from London to Albany, and it was owned and run by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. It is representative of many general cargo and pasenger vessels operating in the trade to Australia during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The vessel's design is of particular significance. At the time of its construction it incorporated several new features including the triple-expansion engine. A type of steel known as 'Siemens Steel' was used in the construction of the boilers.


Detailed plans of the vessel were made at the time of its construction. However, examination of the remains could lead to a re-evaluation of the historical record. The site could also be viewed in comparison to the remains of wrecks of similar design found in other parts of Australia including Gulf of Carpentaria, which sank at Wilsons Promontory in 1885, Catterthun which sank in 1887 off Seal Rocks in New South Wales and Riverina, wrecked off Ram Head, Gabo Island in 1887.


Engineering, October 8, 1886.



McCarthy, M., 1980c, SS Orizaba, unpub. Wreck Inspection Report, Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, no report number.



Wolfe, A. 1986, SS Orizaba, Graduate Diploma Course in Maritime Archaeology Report, Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum.




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