- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sleuth
- October 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
THERE ARE VERY FEW SHIPS AFLOAT that served in the Great War of 1914-18, and in Australia possibly the only one is a small fishing boat now under repair in Sydney. Her name is Aurore, although it is by the name Sleuth that she is remembered by naval minded people. A ship of many talents, she is now 81 years old, but it is hoped that she will be on the scene for a long time yet.
In 1901 a steam yacht named Ena was launched in Berry’s Bay, Sydney, for Mr. Thomas Dibbs, commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. A very handsome ship, Ena was typical of the steam yacht of her day, a clipper bow, a counter stern and a jaunty raked funnel gave her an air of dignity. She was a familiar sight on Sydney Harbour for many years. As an added bonus, Ena carried a lot of the teak fittings from the old ‘wooden wall’ HMVS Nelson, which ship was being broken up in Sydney at the time Ena was being constructed. Happy to say, much of this historic timber is still in the ship. Her construction was in good hands, as she was designed by the renowned Walter Reeks who gave us some of Sydney’s best known ferries, whilst the actual building was handled by Mr. W.M. Ford, regarded as being one of Sydney Harbour’s best small craft builders.
Ena is described as being of 60 tons, length 88 feet, beam of 16 feet 6 inches, and a depth of 8 feet.
Her engines were built by Chapman & Fox of Sydney and were of the steam reciprocating compound type, with a nominal 25 horse power.
She came in contact with the RAN during the Great War, when she was purchased for use as an auxiliary patrol vessel. Not a great deal of structural changes took place in the ship, apart from the fitting of a QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss gun forrard, and the shipping of a searchlight. She commissioned as HMAS Sleuth and began a career as a patrol vessel along the Queensland coast, eventually ending up as a tender to the Boys Training Ship Tingira. For more information on the exploits of HMAS Sleuth at this time, readers are directed to Lofty Batt’s Pioneers of the RAN, available from the Naval Historical Society.
After paying off from the RAN, Sleuth reverted to her original name of Ena, but she seems to have remained in Sydney for some years, as a well known photo of Tingira in Berry’s Bay after 1928 shows Ena laid up just astern. She was then purchased by a Tasmanian syndicate, headed by Captain W. Driscoll, so the little ship headed south to take up freighting work. As we can see, she was only a small ship, and had no great cargo capacity, but she could take from 1,800 to 2,000 cases of apples. Ena left Sydney on the 19th July 1933 and it was almost 50 years before she was to see her home port again.
It was not all plain sailing for Ena when she arrived in the ‘Apple Isles’ as a legal problem arose. It seems that the syndicate had owned a business concern known as the Bass Steamship Company, and had sold this prior to purchasing Ena. The purchaser had a clause inserted into the contract that the previous owners could not engage in trade in opposition to the purchasers. By the traditional method of nailing a writ to her mast, Ena was put out of business for some considerable time, as the new owners appeared to be in direct opposition to their old concern. Eventually the matter was cleared up legally, in favour of Ena, but the damage was already done. A few schemes were worked out for Ena, one involving her again being used as a training ship, but all fell through. She appears to have remained idle throughout WW2.
In the late 1940s Ena was purchased by the Roche Brothers, who converted her to a fishing vessel. Her old steam plant was removed, and a diesel engine fitted. In her new role she carried on for many years, her beautiful lines slightly marred by her new working gear. Her old bowsprit was removed and her stem slightly straightened, but she still was a ship of beauty.
The name Aurore was bestowed at this time. In 1974 she was purchased by Mr. Kevin Hursey, who put Aurore to work getting crayfish around the southern part of Tasmania. Another change of hands took place in 1980, when she was bought by Noel and Geoff Harper, who put her to work as an abalone boat. Her luck ran out shortly afterwards.
On the 4th March 1981, Aurore was returning to the fishing port of Margate, when she struck a submerged object, holing her badly. It seemed as though this was too much for Aurore (ex-Ena, ex-Sleuth, ex-Ena), and the old ship slipped below the waters of the Derwent. The hulk was abandoned to the underwriters, and the owners paid off. The spirit of adventure still exists, so the Harper Brothers bought the hulk back and after a lot of hard work, brought the old ship to the surface. The Harpers intended to refit the ship as a tourist attraction, but eventually sold her to a Sydney businessman, who had the old steamer towed back to Sydney. On the 23rd April 1982, the fishing boat Tasmanian Enterprise left Hobart with Aurore in tow. Tasmania was sorry to see the old ship go, but many people in Sydney (the writer included) were very happy to have her back home once more.
Aurore is presently occupying the berth vacated by the ex-Manly ferry South Steyne, with restoration work well in hand. From all accounts, the new owner intends to restore her to her original appearance, but no concrete knowledge of what machinery is to be installed is available at the time of writing. Her diesel engine was removed after salvage, and was not replaced.
Ena, Sleuth or Aurore, whatever name she is known by, is a remarkable little ship. For her small, even modest, dimensions, she was a remarkably good sea-boat. During her career, under both white and red ensigns, she made some very long trips, and stood up to some very bad seas. Even on her delivery voyage to Tasmania, she ran into a gale and hove to for at least seven hours, without suffering any lasting damage. Her civilian owners had taken her over to New Zealand, and the RAN took her as far as the Solomons where she stood up quite well to a hurricane.
Welcome back to Sydney, Ena.
NOTE: The editor is greatly indebted to Tasmanian member Jack Millar, who supplied so much information on this grand old lady.