March  3 - 9, 2024: Issue 616


SS Nemesis: 120-Year-Old Shipwreck Mystery Solved -Search For Relatives Begins

SS NEMESIS, a 73m steamship that disappeared off NSW in 1904 with 32 lives lost. Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

The 120-year-old mystery of SS Nemesis and the 32 crew members lost at sea has been solved, with the accidental discovery and subsequent identification of a shipwreck in waters off Port Kembla.

With the wreck identified, the NSW Government is hoping to connect with relatives of the crew members, including 3 men buried in an unmarked grave in Woronora Memorial Park at Sutherland.

Heritage NSW says members of the lost crew came from Australia, the United Kingdom and one from Canada.

The SS Nemesis departed Newcastle on 9 July 1904, loaded with coal, and headed to Melbourne. It was last sighted in distress in rough seas off Wollongong by another ship also caught in the storm.

The loss attracted significant attention from the media and public. Over several weeks, bodies of crew members washed ashore at Cronulla Beach, as well as fragments of the ship’s steering wheel, doors and other floating wreckage. But the location of the 73-m-long vessel remained unknown.


(1904, July 16). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918, 1935), p. 33. Retrieved from

wreckage of Nemesis on Cronulla Beach. Image: SL NSW


Late on Monday Captain T. L. Webb, the director of Huddart, Parker, and Company, got word that a ship's boat, bearing the company's name, and wreckage, 'was coming ashore at Cronulla Beach. The captain promptly left by the 11.40 p.m. train for Kogarah, and from there drove to Sutherland. Finding he could not get across there, he drove round to Cronulla, and at daybreak yesterday was on the beach. He found the whole beach strewn with broken timbers, hatchways, fittings, lifebelts, and the remains of lifeboats. The wreckage extended as far north as Boat Harbour, a distance of five miles, and, although some hours were spent in turning over the wreckage, no absolute proof of the vessel's name could be found which might identify her, until the searchers discovered a big parcel box — a box into which parcels are dumped for carrying from port to port — on which were the words 'S.S. Nemesis' over Huddart Parker's stamp. 

Two constables of the district were on duty on the beech, as well as several local fishermen, and parties were, making a diligent inspection, from Boat Harbour to Long Nose Point in case anything further should be washed up. The set of the current so far has taken all the wreckage up north, and further south, at Jibbon Point, there is very little sign of wreckage, save, hene ma there, a few splinters. 

So far the most hopeful sign to the searchers was the fact that no coats, caps, or personal effects whatever had yet come ashore. Unhappily, though, many big hatch-covers have been washed up, and it is considered by those in a position to know that no vessel could have ridden out such a gale with the loss of these. 

The Nemesis was recently' re-fitted, and left Newcastle at midday on Friday, in command of Captain Lusher, and must have met the full force of the gale. The vessel has always borne the -name of being an excellent sea boat, and no fear was felt at her leaving the port, even though a moderate gale was then blowing. Unfortunately, the weather was so thick down the coast on Sunday that, so far as is known, not a living soul was near the beach all day, the first sign of wreckage being discovered on Monday. Captain Sangster, of the Navigation Department, has left for the scene, and should be on the spot by the time this is in print. THE S.S. NEMESIS. (1904, July 13). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931), p. 3. Retrieved from


The body which was noticed on Thursday floating in the ocean about 200 yards from the shore at Cronulla Beach was recovered yesterday morning, but so far has not been identified. There appears to be little doubt however, that it is that of one of the victims of the Nemesis disaster. The fact that the body was wrapped in oilskins further con-firms the theory advanced at the beginning that the Nemesis foundered suddenly, and that the unfortunate members of the crew had no opportunity to divest themselves even of the heaviest portion of their clothing.

During the course of Thursday night the body was washed up on the beach close to the Boat Harbour, where it was discovered at about 6 a.m. yesterday by a fisherman named William Gillan, who resides in the locality. The place where the body was cast ashore is within a few yards of the spot where the first body was recovered. The police were communicated with, and Constable Tugwell removed the remains, which were in an advanced stage of decomposition, to the Cronulla Beach Hotel.

The body had the appearance of having been in the water for a considerable time, and was much mutilated, evidently by fish. The fea-tures were beyond recognition, but a tattoo mark was found, which it is hoped will be the means of establishing the identification of the body. During the afternoon Mr. District Coroner Mackenzie held a magisterial inquiry at the Cronulla Beach Hotel, and gave an order for the burial of the remains. The funeral of the deceased will take place at the Sutherland Cemetery this morning.

The official description of the body is as follows:—About 35 years of age, 5ft 9½in in height, medium build, all hair missing, eyes and nose missing, tattoo mark on the upper right arm, representing clasped hands, regular teeth, one missing from the upper right jaw ; dressed in black oilskin coat, blue woollen guernsey, heavy grey woollen under- shirt, flannelette underpants, and cotton trousers, elastic belt round the waist. No property found on the body.  THE NEMESIS DISASTER. (1904, July 30). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved from

Painting (FL15987945) of Huddart Parker & Co's SS Nemesis steamship. Source: State Library of Victoria.

More than a century later in 2022, remote sensing company Subsea Professional Marine Services stumbled across the wreck while trying to locate cargo containers lost off the coast of Sydney. The ship was undisturbed, some 26 km offshore and approximately 160 m underwater.

NSW Heritage experts, who had spent years investigating and surveying the ocean floor, immediately suspected they had found SS Nemesis. But identifying it was a challenge as it was so far offshore, in deep, high current water. Additional underwater imagery captured by CSIRO provided the evidence needed to confirm the ship’s distinctive features aligned with historical photographs and sketches of SS Nemesis. Images show the iron wreck resting upright on a broad sand plain, with significant damage to its bow and stern.

Drop camera image from SS Nemesis survey by RV Investigator - View of wreck on seafloor. Image: CSIRO.

It also revealed a series of clues as to why the ship sank that night. It is thought the engine became overwhelmed in the storm, and when SS Nemesis was hit by a large wave she sank too quickly for life boats to be deployed.

Those with a connection to SS Nemesis are asked to contact Heritage NSW:

Minister for Environment and Heritage Penny Sharpe said:

'The loss of Nemesis has been described as one of Sydney’s most enduring maritime mysteries and has even been described by shipwreck researchers as the "holy grail".

'Thanks to collaborative work with CSIRO and Subsea, using modern technology and historical records, Heritage NSW has been able to write the final chapter of SS Nemesis’s story.

'Around 40 children lost their parents in this wreck and I hope this discovery brings closure to families and friends connected to the ship who have never known its fate.'

Federal Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic said:

'Every Australian should take heart in the curiosity and persistence our scientists have shown in this project, as they do in all their work.

'I admire how determined they were to solve a century-old mystery, demonstrating once again the value of working together and backing that up with the latest know-how.

'Everyone involved should be enormously proud of this discovery and the comfort it will provide to the descendants of the 32 sailors who died aboard SS Nemesis.'

Member for Wollongong, Minister Paul Scully said:

'This wreck is part of the rich maritime history of the Illawarra which ranges from shipwrecks to the Dalfram dispute, which influenced Australian foreign policy during World War II.

'With only 105 of the more than 200 shipwrecks off the NSW coast having been discovered this is an important find.

'The discovery of the Nemesis shows why Wollongong continues to explore its history in what is a proud port city.'

CSIRO voyage manager, Jason Fazey said:

'Our technical team aboard CSIRO research vessel, RV Investigator, did an amazing job in mapping the entire site and capturing very clear vision of the wreck using one of our underwater camera systems.

'Using RV Investigator’s advanced multibeam echosounders, we were able to create a high-resolution map of the entire wreck and measure key dimensions to aid in its identification.

'Everyone aboard was honoured to be able to contribute to this project and assist Heritage NSW’s maritime archaeology experts in the successful identification of SS Nemesis to help bring closure to another one of our nation’s maritime tragedies.'

Drop camera image from SS Nemesis survey by RV Investigator - View of wreck on seafloor. Image: CSIRO.

Ed Korber, Subsea Professional Marine Services said:

'It has been an absolute honour to have discovered this wreck which will now finally bring some closure to the families of its lost crew members.

'Our marine and remote operated vehicle team have navigated difficult challenges to get the first incredible footage that has allowed Heritage NSW to confirm this was indeed the Nemesis wreck.'

Seafloor mapping (bathymetry) of the SS Nemesis wreck (3D starboardside view). Image: CSIRO.