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A Russian Visit

A Russian Visit

Newcastle may once have been concerned that the Russians were coming … but this news article from 1888 details the visit of HIRMS Rynda – a Russian warship that came in to the port of Newcastle to take on coal.

This article from The Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate (Extract – 1888).


HIRMS Rynda (Russia) visiting Newcastle in 1888

More than usual excitement was manifested in Newcastle yesterday afternoon, about 4.30 o’clock, when the signal of a man-of-war was run up at Fortification Hill, and people wondered what armed vessel the stranger could possibly be, as she hailed from the northward, and many were of opinion that she was an addition to the Australian squadron.

The German ensign was hoisted at the Signal hill, the officials evidently being under the impression that this was her nationality, but as she entered the port, about half-past five, it was seen that the stranger was a Russian man-of-war, and her name turned out to be the Rynda. The stranger signalled for a pilot, and Pilot Melville proceeded off to her, and piloted her safely to No. 5 horseshoe buoy, where she was moored.

HIRM Ship Rynda is a steam corvette, carrying twenty-three guns, ten large forty-pounders and thirteen of small calibre, and has come on here for the purpose of replenishing her bunkers, which are rather empty, although a quantity of coal was taken in at Port Moresby (New Guinea), where the vessel called. The Rynda is the first Russian warship that has ever visited Newcastle.

The Rynda is certainly not a very formidable looking vessel externally; in fact she has more the appearance of a pleasure yacht; still, for all that, she is said to be a first-class weapon of war, and one that would prove a formidable rival in the event of her services being called into requisition, as the best of material has been used in her construction, whilst she has been built on the most improved principles, as far as purposes of defence are concerned.

Dr Morgan, health-officer, proceeded onboard, and after inspecting the stranger, granted her pratique, as there was no sickness onboard. Captain H. Newton, Harbourmaster, visited the Rynda in his Government steam launch, and waited upon Captain Avellan, proffering him his services and officially welcoming him to the port. The ship Lancaster Castle, which is lying in the Horseshoe, saluted the stranger by dipping her flag, and the compliment was immediately responded to.

The Rynda is almost a brand-new vessel, only having seen two years service. She was built in St. Petersburg, in 1885, and has a net register of 1,800 tons and a gross measurement of 3,000 tons. Her dimensions are: Length 365 ft; beam 42 ft; and depth 18½ feet. The engines are of the most modern construction, of 3,000 horsepower, and are capable of maintaining a speed of 16 knots per hour on a moderate consumption of coal.

The Rynda is barque rigged, and is said to be able to sail 14 knots per hour under canvas. Her guns are of Obonhoff cast-steel. The Rynda has an elliptical stem and straight stern.

Her full complement of officers and men numbers 350, the former as follows:- Commander Berkmann, Lieutenants A. Ebeling, C. Niloff, Count N. Tolstoy, J. Lang, Prince M. Pontiatine; Sub- Lieutenants G, Falk, Count M. Apraxine, P. Tirtoff, V. Thatelaine, J. Kolnstrom, Prince S. Shihmatoff, A. Astasheff; navigating Lieutenants B. Jakubovsking, V. Grogorieff; chief engineer, J. Boleslavskin; lieutenant, A. Fedoraff, L. Strathonovich, J. Ossossoff; physician, P Bourtzoff; and clergyman, P. Agathangel.

The arrival of the Rynda can certainly be considered otherwise than an important event, from the fact of there being onboard the cousin of the Czar of Russia, the Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovich, son of Princess Olga, who holds the position of Lieutenant. His Imperial Highness is a wellbuilt young fellow, twenty-two years of age, exceedingly good-looking and of dark complexion. He stands about five feet ten inches in height. The Grand Duke speaks English sufficiently well to converse in that language, and is of a most unassuming and quiet demeanour.

There are also, as mentioned previously, several Russian Princes and Counts, acting in the capacity of officers. The Rynda is fitted up in splendid style, and her saloon is an elaborate apartment, under the poop. The officers and crew are comfortably quartered in various portions of the vessel, and the most rigid discipline is observed.

There is a brass band, consisting of twenty performers, and shortly after the vessel moored they struck up several favourite Russian selections, which were listened to with rapt attention by hundreds of persons on shore, great precision being observable. Simultaneously with the band striking up, a band onboard a small steamer, which had been up the river on an excursion, passed under the stern of the Rynda playing the ‘National Anthem’, which was succeeded by ‘Rule Britannia’, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and those onboard the warship listened to the music with great interest.

The Rynda is from Vladivostock, via Yokohama, Japan, Hongkong, Manila, the Dutch Island of Amboine, and New Guinea. She left Vladivostok three months and a half since, and is on a pleasure visit more than anything else. At Port Moresby, she remained four days, and the officers and crew had a chance of going on shore, where they inspected the place with a great amount of interest, and saw large numbers of New Guinea natives, who were very quiet and did not seem to think much of Rynda’s arrival there, probably because so many men-of-war have visited New Guinea.

The Rynda left Port Moresby eleven days ago, and had a fine weather passage throughout; in fact, nearly the whole voyage since leaving Vladivostock has been characterised by fine weather, the vessel making use of both steam and sail. The Commissioner of New Guinea, Mr. Rowley, treated those onboard the Rynda with the utmost courtesy.

The Rynda will take in about 300 tons of coal here, which will be shipped onboard from lighters, and she will probably remain here until Monday or Tuesday next, when she will leave for Sydney, where she is to remain some time, proceeding thence to Melbourne, and then back to Vladivostock, probably via New Zealand.

His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke will most likely be the guest of Lord Carrington during the Rynda’s stay in Sydney waters. He is now on his first voyage in the Rynda, but has seen service in several other Russian men-of-war. Every morning it is the custom of the band to play the Russian National Anthem, whilst at evening during prayers, the band discourses the March of the Emperor Nicholas I.

The Rynda is provided with two steam launches and ten ordinary boats. She is fitted up throughout with the electric light, and there are 150 burners for this purpose, whilst oil is also used.

In consequence of the uncertain state of the diplomatic relations existing between the various European Powers at the present time, and the many statements that war is imminent, many timid people ran away with the idea that the Rynda had come here with some wicked design to blow us all up, but their fears were soon allayed in this respect.

Large numbers of craft put off yesterday evening to take stock of the stranger. The Rynda is not on a very heavy draught, only drawing 18½ ft aft, and 15 ft forward, so that she was able to cross the bar in perfect safety.

The Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate (Extract – 1888)

Newcastle Rocket Brigade

Newcastle Rocket Brigade

Newcastle has a long maritime history, but sadly part of that history includes a coastline that is now littered with numerous shipwrecks that cost many lives. But sometimes, the hardworking lifeboat crews and rocket brigades were able to save the lives of passengers and crew of ships wrecked on our coast.

The Newcastle Rocket Brigades were in operation from 1866 until 1974, often working alongside the lifeboat crews, and were a crucial part of trying to save the lives of those on board vessels that foundered along our coast.

The job of the Rocket Brigade was to attach a line from the beach to a distressed vessel in order to enable a ‘breeches buoy’ or other device to be hauled to the ship and return passengers and crew safely to the shore.

“If the ships were too close to the shore, the lifeboats wouldn’t be able to get to them. So if a ship was beached but there was still so much water raging around them, people couldn’t get off safely.”

The Newcastle Lifeboat Service operated from 1838 until 1946, but the Rocket Brigade was still in service until 1974 and was last used on the Sygna. Indeed, one of my volunteers was trained around 1965.”

Deb Mastello says Newcastle was an incredibly difficult port, “It was so dangerous to come in here, especially before the breakwater was built. Ships that tried to come in between Nobbys and the mainland – that was just craziness.”

There are over 200 shipwrecks that are known of around our part of the coast and Deb assumes there are more, “They’re just the ones we know of. Who knows how many left and were never seen again. We have records of some of those.”

Many of our local beaches gained their names from shipwrecks, Susan Gilmore Beach at the northern end of Bar Beach is just one.

“The Susan Gilmore was coming north on the 4th of July in 1884. She ran into a bit of trouble and they tried to tow her in but the seas were too rough and it came ashore.”

“A couple of our steam tugs attempted to pull the Susan Gilmore off the beach but couldn’t do it, so the Rocket Brigade was called in to action.”

“Depending on which beach, they would have to pick up all of their equipment – it wasn’t just the rocket, it was stands, tripods and ropes – and they’d have to carry it all to the beach. If they were lucky they might have a cart they could use to load up and have the equipment horse-drawn to the beach, but they were probably exhausted by the time they got there.”

“They would have to find the shipwreck on a dark and stormy night, because these things never seem to happen in the middle of the day, and they would have to fire a rocket to the vessel.”

“Attached to the rocket was a light piece of rope and they’d have to fire it over the ship – bearing in mind they were dealing with storms and perhaps 100km per hour winds. All being well, the light rope would be secured to the ship and a heavier rope would be pulled from the beach up to the ship.”

“Then, a pulley would be pulled up and attached to that would be a ‘breeches buoy’ which was large lifering with a big canvas bag in it and two holes in the bottom for your legs. So you got into it and it was a sort of flying fox arrangement, in a storm in the middle of the night to the beach.”

“The wife of the Captain of the Susan Gilmore actually got dunked a couple of times but all people on board were rescued including two dogs, a cat and a canary.”

The rocket that Deb Mastello brought in from the Newcastle Maritime Centre collection came from the southern Rocket Brigade, there was another Rocket Brigade on Stockton, “Our rocket cart was also used down at Catherine Hill Bay.”

Some of the vessels attended by the rocket brigade

Susan Gilmore

At 11pm on 4th July, 1884, the Susan Gilmore struck a short stretch of sand beyond a ring of rocks – Bar Beach. The seas were too rough for the lifeboat to venture near so the Rocket Brigade fired a line over the wreck, and with a breaches buoy hauled in the Captain’s wife and son, the some of the crew. All were saved.

1888 Wreck of the Berbice on Stockton Beach. Photo. UoN Cultural Collections.


On the night of 5th June, 1888, the weather was bad, seas enormous. The Berbice, heavily loaded, foundered near the present Stockton Surf Clubhouse. With seas pounding and waves sweeping over her, the Rocket Brigade went to assist. The first 2 rockets that were fired from the Rocket Cart missed the ship; a third went over the rigging where the crew sheltered. The rescue task was extremely perilous but all the crew was brought ashore in a breeches buoy, dragging each man through the raging surf to the safety of the beach.


Early in the morning of 27th December, 1895, the Barque Durisdeer, was wrecked off Stockton Beach. The tug’s towline parted near the heads and it is believed that the line fouled on one of the many wrecks in the area. In the early hours of the morning the brigades fired a line over the wreck and, despite all odds were successful in bringing all 18 crew members ashore. Captain Webster was the last to leave.

Wallarah – Catherine Hill Bay, 16 April 1914.


The collier Wallarah was wrecked in Catherine Hill Bay April, 1914. The Rocket Cart, drawn by four horses, left Stockton with eleven men to travel the twenty six miles through the bush of Charlestown and the rough country to the south. Upon arrival eleven men were already ashore, but the remaining six were rescued by rocket apparatus in less than half an hour. The Government employees were docked a day’s pay for being absent from work although they received sevenpence for brigade duty.


In June, 1928, the coastal steamer Uralla was caught in a storm damaging her steering. She ended up wrecked on Stockton Beach. The Rocket Brigade was called, but the crew was already safe.

The ‘Pasha Bulker’ Storm – June 2007

Most people in Newcastle and the Hunter were looking forward to a relaxing long weekend, planning a few days off. As we now know it was anything but a relaxing long weekend.

The Newcastle and Hunter Region will never forget the weekend when storms and floods closed down the heart of Newcastle, the Pasha Bulker went aground on Nobbys Beach and the levee system around Maitland was pushed to its limit.

On Thursday night, June 7, 2007, the Bureau of Meteorology warned of potential extreme weather conditions with a low pressure cell developing just north of Newcastle.

Over the next 12 hours this low generated gale force south easterlies that buffeted the city until midday on Friday, June 8, redeveloping in the middle of the afternoon as a line of thunderstorms that ceaselessly battered Newcastle throughout the evening, causing life threatening flash flooding in low lying area.

There was disastrous damage caused by the flooding but more was to come. At 2am on Saturday, June 9, a second low hit the city.

A family of four and a nephew were killed when a section of road collapsed under their car as they drove along the Pacific Highway at Somersby on the Central Coast. Two people died when their four-wheel drive was swept off a bridge by floodwaters at Clarence Town and a man died near Lambton when he was swept into a storm-water drain.

The following day, a man died when a tree fell onto his vehicle at Brunkerville. Another man died during a house fire that, it is believed, was started by a candle being used during the blackouts caused by the storm. The total death toll rose to ten.

The ABC Newcastle documentary is available below.

Medical Journal of Australia – Mitigating the health impacts of a natural disaster.

CoastalWatch – Analysis of a storm

The Wreck of the Adolphe

The Wreck of the Adolphe

The French barque Adolphe is just one of many shipwrecks that litter the entrance to Newcastle Harbour, yet 110 years after the disaster, this vessel is still one of the most visible. Carol Duncan spoke with Deb Mastello of the Newcastle Maritime Centre. [ABC Radio 2014]

A walk along the 2km stretch of Stockton Breakwall known as the Shipwreck Walk will allow you to see the remains of the Adolphe – yet the remains of The Sygna wrecked in 1974 are expected to be gone within the next decade.

Having sailed from Antwerp, the Adolphe was ultimately heading for Sydney to load wheat, however in large seas the ship came to grief on Newcastle’s notorious ‘Oyster Bank’ in 1904 after colliding with the wreck of another vessel, the Colonist, whilst being manoeuvred in to port by the tugs ‘Hero’ and ‘Victoria’.

Listen to Carol Duncan’s interview with Deb Mastello here.

The terrible irony of the story of the Adolphe is that it shouldn’t have actually come in to Newcastle at all.

In 1904 there were competing tug companies working in the port and the company that had chartered the Adolphe used its own operators.

The location of the Adolphe.

When the Adolphe arrived off Newcastle, the captain waited in vain for the tug operators to arrive.

Eventually, the Adolphe was readied to be brought in to port by a competing tug company and it was on the way in that the message was seen at Nobbys Signal Station from the owners of the Adolphe to NOT enter Newcastle, but to continue straight past onto Sydney.

In large seas, the Adolphe was hit by three waves – the first of which broke the rope securing the Adolphe to the Victoria; the second save pushed the Adolphe toward the Oyster Bank (already littered with wrecks); and the third wave lifted the Adolphe and deposited the ship on top of several other wrecks including the Colonist, the Wendouree and the Cawarra. The Cawarra disaster in 1866 itself remains one of the worst in Australian maritime history.

While the loss of the Adolphe was a terrible loss for the company, all 47 persons on board the ship were safely removed and indeed the Australian Consul-General for France came to Newcastle to officially recognise the work of the lifeboat crew.

The rescue of the ship’s crew has gone down in local maritime history as one of the most remarkable in local waters.

The wreck of the Adolphe – Google Earth Image
Henry Martin – Victoria Lifeboat crew member

Henry Martin – Victoria Lifeboat crew member

Henry Martin - Victoria Lifeboat crew

From Lost Newcastle member, Robyn Jeffries:

Pleased to be able to share – my great great grandfather Henry Martin, far right, holding the boat.

This is taken in the water around the Pilot Station where he worked as crew of the “Victoria” Lifeboat. (Olive Hoggan’s (also her gr.g/father) photo.)

Henry Martin d.1899, No 2, Pilots Row, Newcastle, now called the Boatmens Cottages on Nobbys Rd. opposite Fort Scratchley. The 1st rescue while working on the “Victoria”, we have record of, is the “City of Newcastle”.

The little boy in the photo is Charles Henry Martin, son of Henry Martin, so dates the photo to approximately 1880.

Ralph Snowball Collection

Ralph Snowball Collection

Anyone who is keen on Newcastle’s history owes a great debt of gratitude to Ralph Snowball.

End of Dyke, Newcastle, NSW, 19 July 1900

End of Dyke, Newcastle, NSW, 19 July 1900

Thousands of his glass negatives have been preserved and digitised by the University of Newcastle Archives and Cultural Collections and browsing through them on Flickr is bound to lead to hours disappearing down this fantastic historical rabbit-hole.

Photo: Ralph Snowball collection held by the University of Newcastle

Photo: Ralph Snowball collection held by the University of Newcastle