A Port Adelaide Dredge’s Forgettable Career

In the early morning of 2nd October 1979, the night watchman on the dredge H.C. Meyer, Wally Patro, contacted the signal station at Outer Harbour advising that the vessel had developed a dangerous list and that he was about to abandon ship.  The 452 tonne bucket dredge, built in Port Adelaide in 1965, had been working on deepening the channel near the Port River’s ICI Wharf, which is now the Penrice site.  (Unbeknown to the dredge workers, one of the dredge’s buckets had dragged up a sharp object, during the day’s dredging and breached the hull as it was pulled from the water).

While the night watchman hurried aft to a tethered dinghy, the dredge suddenly lurched dangerously, then capsized, leaving the unfortunate Wally trapped under the surface.  For several days boats searched for any trace of the missing person, but to no avail.  Some weeks passed, then one day the surge from a passing freighter heading down the river dislodged the trapped night watchman’s body and it was at last recovered.  A common theory was that he had become caught under a canvas canopy during the capsizing and had now been shaken free.

After four months, the dredge was eventually salvaged and on 8th February, 1980, was towed to the Department of Marine & Harbours dockyard at Glanville. But the dredge’s ill-fated career was not over.  Now as the barge Master Jack, in 1985 it broke its tow from the tug, E.H. Price, off Cape Spencer on a passage to Whyalla.  Initially, it grounded on Emmes Reef on 8th May, 1984.  Later, after drifting free, it was taken in tow by the fishing boat Marian H., but on the 10th the towline once again parted and this time the barge finished up way to the south on rocks at Cape Forbin, on the north-west side of Kangaroo Island.  The rusting wreck of its hull can still be seen there to this day, a sad testimony to an ill-fated career.

In the featured image, the salvage tug Tancred, alongside H.C. Meyer, guides the dredge to the DMH dockyard.  The tug, Bareki, leads the way and the Apanie, (skippered by the now Maritime Museum volunteer coxswain, Hank van de Water) brings up the rear with a pontoon loaded with salvage equipment. (Of note is the Maritime Museum’s historic ketch, Nelcebee, berthed in the background).

The below image shows a model of E.R. Bayer (No. 6 Dredge), a self-propelling single-screw bucket dredger built in Osborne, SA in 1962 by Poole & Steel. The 1:32 scale full-hull model was built by Gilbert Steer and John McNair in 1980 to the builder’s plans and is part of the South Australian Maritime Museum Collection (HT87.215).  It is sheathed in hundreds of matchsticks.

Blog post submitted by SA Maritime Museum Curatorial and Vessels Volunteer, Dave Rickard


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