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Diver on the wreck of the Bulli

Diver on the wreck of the Bulli

The steamship Bulli was built by the firm of Stockwell and Lewis at Greenwich, England, in 1872. The steel hulled vessel was powered by twin compound steam engines and rigged as a three masted topsail schooner. The Bulli measured 180' x 23.2' x 15.9' and was 486.77 tons gross and 337.06 tons net. The steamship was first registered in January 1873, Official No. 64409, at Sydney, New South Wales, to the Bulli Coal Mining Company.

The Bulli was proceeding with a cargo of coal from Newcastle to Launceston in June 1877 when heavy southerly gales forced Captain Randell to shelter at Erith Island in the Kent Group. At around midnight on the 28th conditions appeared to have improved sufficiently for the vessel to get underway. However, after again encountering rough seas after leaving the shelter of the islands the Captain decided to return to the former anchorage at West Cove. While rounding Erith Island the Bulli struck a submerged rock and began to leak heavily at the bow.


The steamship Bulli
(State Library of Victoria)

The steamship reached West Cove where the crew attempted to throw the cargo overboard, but despite their efforts the vessel foundered when the forward bulkhead failed. The 27 crew safely abandoned the Bulli and proceeded to the nearby Deal Island lighthouse, where they were later taken off by the steamship Tararua. On 6 July the steamship Williams left Melbourne for the Kent Group with an inspection team on board, including a diver. Upon returning to Melbourne on the 10th it was reported that the wreck was lying upright with the top of its funnel still visible.

A subsequent Court of Inquiry found that the master had committed "two grave errors in judgement " by firstly steaming too close to Erith Island and secondly by not beaching the vessel upon returning to West Cove. Despite these criticisms, the Marine Board decided that no penalties were to be imposed on the master and crew.

As the Bulli was a relatively new vessel that had actually suffered little damage prior to sinking considerable efforts were made to salvage the steamship. In 1879 Mr E. Dottrel of Sydney formed a company to refloat the vessel. After two years work and close to success a gale in March 1882 destroyed the lighters brought to the Kent Group and the syndicate was reported to have lost over £10,000 in the salvage attempt.

The Site

Although it is located in an isolated part of Bass Strait, the condition of the wreck and the sheltered nature of the site makes this one of the most attractive and interesting dives in Tasmanian waters. At the northern end of West Cove the Bulli lies with its stern to the northeast in 16 metres of water and the bow to the southwest in 13 metres of water. The wreck is remarkably intact and stands up to 5 metres off the flat sandy sea floor, being visible from the surface on clear days.

Most of the surface area of the hull is covered with marine growth which partially obscures a number of the features. Although the bow has collapsed the remaining two thirds of the hull is intact up to the upper deck. The most interesting features are the remains of the bridge and engine rooms and the intact rudder and propeller at the stern. No small artefacts remain on the site and all larger items such as deck fittings and portholes have been removed. Care must be taken with the anchoring of boats near to the wreck as some damage has been caused to the site in recent years. The wreck of the Bulli was gazetted under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 on 23 October 1989.

Further Reading

Hobart Mercury 9 August 1877