s.s. Dromana was built at Williamstown in 1919; length 100.9m, 3350 gross tons. Photo: Allan C Green, 1878-1954; State Library of Victoria
While cruising on Port Phillip on Saturday, August 9, 1919, the newly completed steamship Dromana wrapped up her running and speed trials. A group of politicians and guests were aboard to celebrate the first Australian-built steamship to be commissioned into the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers. On the following Monday, The Age newspaper reported: “Except for a portion of the steel and some oregon timber for decking purposes, the vessel is entirely of Australian manufacture and material”, and also that “particular approval was expressed at the men’s accommodation, which is situated aft, instead of in the bow”.
During World War I, Australian Prime Minister WM Hughes had seen the need for the nation to own its own ships. While in the UK in 1916, he purchased 15 tramp steamers to transport Australian products to overseas markets. These ships, with the 23 ships of German and Austrian ownership captured in Australian ports at the outbreak of World War I, formed the beginning of the government-owned fleet. After the end of the war, 26 ships were built for the Line at Australian shipyards, which brought the fleet to more than 60. Between 1921 and 1922, five passenger liners were also built in the UK for the Australia/UK service of the Line. When Mr Hughes lost the election of 1923, the new government decided to dispose of the fleet. Ships were sold over the following years and the final sale was made to the White Star Line in 1928.
The s.s. Dromana was a typical steel, coal-burning tramp steamer of her time, with a single screw driven by a triple expansion steam engine. Compared to the huge ships of today, she was quite small, having a length of only 101m. In 1926 she was sold to the Melbourne shipping company Howard Smith, which sold her in 1935 to a Shanghai company, which renamed her Yih Hsing. Bought in 1935 by the Dutch-owned Java Trading Co, she was renamed Beatrice. When captured by the Japanese in 1941 she was renamed Biwa Maru, and she sank on November 1, 1942, after a collision in the Karimata Strait west of Kalimantan.
President, Peninsula Ship Society