SS Nemesis: 120-year-old shipwreck mystery solved and search for relatives begins


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 three 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 the 9th of 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-metre-long vessel remained unknown.

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 kilometres offshore and approximately 160 metres 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.

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.

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