The Last Wright-Ship Built in Tuncurry
With the recent passing of Max Wright, life member of the Great Lakes Historical Society and great grandson of John Wright, founder of Tuncurry, we are reminded of the heady days when ship-building was such an important part of the local economy.
John Wright started the sawmilling and shipbuilding enterprise at Tuncurry.
The last ship built was known locally as the Santa Cruz, but she was never registered under that name.
Work commenced in 1946 under the supervision of Ernest Wright, manager of John Wright and Co. Ltd.
Not long after construction began, Ernest Wright died, with work being continued by Arthur Wedlock (manager) and Frank Avery (foreman).
After World War 2, John Wright Jnr. took over management of the company with construction of the Santa Cruz taking eight years.
The origin of the name Santa Cruz is unknown but it may well have been linked to the islands of that name in the Solomon Islands - a location where John Wright Jnr. served in World War 2.
Launch of the Santa Cruz
After numerous stops and starts, the Santa Cruz was finally completed and launched on September 16, 1954 by Elizabeth Wedlock, daughter of Arthur Wedlock and great grand-daughter of the late John Wright.
Towed to Ballina
Although the owner was reportedly F.E. Crouch, who planned to use her as a pleasure launch in the South Pacific, there is no record of the purchase.
On November 30, 1954, the Santa Cruz crossed the Wallamba bar under her own steam, and was afterwards taken in tow by the steamer Bonalbo to Ballina to be fitted.
Registered as Norfolk Whaler in November 1958
Name: Norfolk Whaler (later Arcturus)
Official Number: 199178
Registered 15/1958 Sydney (November 14, 1958)
Length: 119.95 ft
Breadth: 22.6 ft
Depth: 10.15 ft
Tonnage: (nb one shipping ton = 100 cubic feet)
Gross: 217.47 tons
Net: 91.43 tons
Engines: Motor 440bhp 2x 6Cy.5"-51/2" General Motors diesels
The supervising naval architect was Arthur N. Swinfield A.M.I.N.A.
Owned by S.G. White Pty Ltd? - Registered by North Coast Whaling Pty Ltd
There is no record of the transaction but it appears that S.G. White Pty Ltd effectively became the owner circa 1956 - perhaps the result of a settlement of debts incurred in the fitting out.
In early 1957, under the supervision of Jim Hammond, she was fitted out as a whaling vessel by Ballina Slipway and Engineering, the business name of S. G. White Pty Ltd.
She underwent sea trials in 1957 but it was not until November 14, 1958 that she was registered as Norfolk Whaler by the North Coast Whaling Pty. Ltd.
Whaling at Byron Bay and Norfolk Island
The whaling station owned by Byron Whaling Company Ltd was located at Byron Bay.
Initially two Fairmile cruisers (Byrond I and Byrond II) were used as whale chasers.
In 1954, after the first year of operation, the whaling quota was set at 150 whales per year.
The following year a whaling station was constructed at Cascade Bay on Norfolk Island with operations commencing in 1956.
From 1957 on, the Norfolk Whaler was used as the whale chaser - apparently leased from North Coast Whaling Pty Ltd, Ballina.
The Norfolk Whaler was assisted by two 30 foot whale spotters, Kingston Whaler and Cascade Whaler; both vessels were built at Ballina by Ballina Slipway and Engineering.
End of Career as a Whaler
Norfolk Whaler's career as a whaler ceased in 1962 when only two whales were caught.
North Coast Whaling Pty Ltd sold Norfolk Whaler to S.G. White Pty Ltd on February 3, 1964.
New Career as Survey Vessel in Western Australia and the Northern Territory
On the January 19, 1964, the Norfolk Whaler left Ballina for Port Hedland, West Australia, where she surveyed a channel for the 4000 ton ore ships which were intend to operate in the area.
After completing survey work in Western Australia she operated around Mornington Island and Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, before returning to Thursday Island on July 3, 1964.
Move to Territory of Papua and New Guinea and re-named Arcturus
In 1965, the Minister for Territories announced that the Australian Government had purchased the Norfolk Whaler and renamed her Arcturus.
She was refitted at Ballina as she was intended to be used to train Papua New Guinean merchant seamen.
A certificate of survey dated October 1965 indicated that the modifications increased the tonnage and the registration details were amended as follows:
Gross tons: 234.72 tons
Net tons: 103.91 tons
The Australian Shipping Register was closed on December 13, 1965.
She was assigned to the administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea - arriving at Port Moresby in January 1966.
She was then assigned to the Papua New Guinea Register and assigned the number 5256018.
Nautical Training in Papua New Guinea
Before 1961, there was no formal nautical training in Papua New Guinea.
A few seamen were sent to the Netherlands Training School in Holland and to the Nautical School in Honiara, but vacancies there were limited.
On May 8, 1962, in response to the obvious need for training facilities, the Administration Nautical School was opened at Napa Napa with 12 trainees, a staff of three and two small boats.
Over the next five years the school expanded considerably.
Arcturus Shifted to Napa Napa to Take On Training Role
The Arcturus was registered in Rabaul in New Britain but for many years she was located at Napa Napa (over the bay from Port Moresby) and it was some time before she was used for the intended purpose.
The engines were replaced with two 6L3 Gardner marine diesel engines.
In 1965 the school took delivery of the Arcturus.
By this time the school was taking up to 50 pre-sea trainees and also conducting courses for Master of a Coaster.
An ambitious program was planned for the Arcturus, with a three-year cadet course on board.
But it was not to be. Staffing problems and shortage of space hindered the establishment at Napa Napa while the Arcturus was dogged by mechanical and other problems, necessitating long periods on the Napa Napa slipway.
Arcturus Involved in Bizarre Claim on a Wrecked Japanese Fishing Trawler
In June 1969, the captain of the Arcturus claimed the wreck of the Dai Maru on behalf of the TPNG Administration - about 120 miles south-east of Port Moresby.
No one was left on board the Dai Maru and the wreck was claimed by two other men who also did not leave a man on board.
The claim of both parties was deemed invalid.
Shift to Madang - Removal of Wartime Bombs
In March 1972, she finally left Port Moresby to take up an active role in training at the new Nautical Training Institute at Madang.
In the interim, however, she was used by the Australian Navy to clear unexploded bombs, as explained in this extract from the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier Wednesday, June 14, 1972:
"A naval clearance team is removing hundreds of wartime bombs from the seabed off the Lae Yacht Club.
"The bombs are obstructing the main approach to the club's anchorages.
"They were dumped into the sea after the war ended.
"The bombs were only discovered late last year when an R.A.N. patrol boat ran aground on the pile.
"The RA.N.'s Naval Clearance Diving Team 1, operating from the MV Arcturus began clearing the bombs last week. They completed the task on Monday."
Later that year the Arcturus towed an illegal Taiwanese fishing vessel into Wewak and later Madang.
Final Days in Madang
The Arcturus remained an important component in the training institute, but in the late 1970s she was deemed to no longer be of use and was advertised for sale at Madang as follows in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier on Friday, July 13, 1979 :
"Offers are invited on an 'as is where is' basis for the following:
"Motor vessel M.V. Arcturus wood training vessel formerly Norfolk Whaler built 1954.
"Length 36M, Breadth 6M, Gross tonnage 236 tons. Engine 6L3 Gardner.
"The successful tenderer must remove vessel from mooring within one month from date of advice.
"Hull to be destroyed after removal of machinery and fittings.
"The vessel may be inspected, at the Nautical Training Institute."
It has been reported that the two 6L3 Gardner engines were salvaged and used in another ship.
Full details of this famous vessel can be found here.
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