Wyatt Earp, A Ship of Several Names and a Lifetime of Adventure.

The ship with four names. Fanefford, Wongala, Wyatt Earp, and Natone.
The ship with four names. Fanefford, Wongala, Wyatt Earp, and Natone.
Built as Fanefford, in Norway in 1919, this single decked motor ship was 150 feet long and when fully loaded drew between 16 to 17 feet, her tonnage just 402 tons.

Her Baltic timbers were 5 feet thick, and her two masts carried fore and aft auxiliary sails, consisting of a jib, stay sail, main and mizzen sails.

One tall thin funnel was placed well aft.

Early life.
Initially she spent 10 years fishing for herring in the North Sea, and then was operated by a sealing company around Greenland.

Sir Hubert Wilkins, the Australian explorer bought the ship, having been commissioned by the American, Lincoln Ellsworth to find and buy a vessel suitable for the Antarctic.

Use in Antarctica.
Ellsworth gave her the first name change, to Wyatt Earp, after the famous Tombstone Sherrif.

Ellsworh was an avaitor with a driving ambition to become the first flier to cross Antarctia by means of an aeroplane.

He needed the ship to transport both him and his aircraft to a position where he could take off to achieve his aims.

English oak, and steel plating were used to sheath Wyatt Earp’s hull, so she may be used in an ice breaking role

In November 1935, the ship transported Ellsworth and his aircraft to Dundee Island, about 500 miles south of Cape Horn, and Ellsworth crossed the 2,000 miles between the Waddell Sea and Little America on the Ross Sea.

From 1934 to 1938, this ship made four more visits to the polar regions of Antarctica.

Bought by the Australian Government.
In 1939, the ship was sold to the Australian Government, to be used by Sir Douglas Mawson on an expedition to Antarctica, but WW2 intervened, putting an end to this plan.

WW2 years.
Wyatt Earp in WW2, served as a naval vessel in the Royal Australian Navy, cable laying in Darwin, then a spell at Port Adelaide in South Australia as an examination ship, then as a guard ship at the port of Whyalla.

Post war.
Under another name, this time as Wongala, she was loaned by the Commonwealth of Australia over 1946/1948 to the South Australian Scouting Association, and used to train Sea Scouts.

Australian Scientific activities at Macquarie and Heard Islands.
When the Commonwealth Government decided to set up scientific stations at both Macquarie and Heard Islands, Wongala was selected to transport three groups to their destinations.

The ship now reverted to her Wyatt Earp name and was refitted at great cost, being practically rebuilt, a new 450 Horse Power, 8 cylinder Crossley diesel engine was installed, accommodation for 30 people upgraded, radar fitted, and modern equipment to measure cosmic rays and make magnetic observations was installed.

Even a Sikorski-Kingfisher float plane was put onboard.

Not withstanding spending vast amounts of money, the ship was believed to be too old, too small, and too slow for modern polar exploration, she did deliver scientists to both Heard and Macquarie Islands.

One of my Naval College term,  Norman White, as a Lieutenant RAN, was the Navigator onboard Wyatt Earp for the trip south with all the Australian scientists, he had survived the sinking of HMAS Perth by the Japanese in the Battle of Sunda Strait in March 1942, and being a Prisoner of War for over three years, he went on to attain the rank of Commodore in the Royal Australian Navy, and still thrives.

Wyatt Earp, when in the southern seas, developed a serious leak, and was forced to return to Melbourne having failed to break through the Antarctic ice.

Wyatt Earp sold by Australian government.

Amidst a furore about the amount of money wasted in refitting the ship, the government offered her for sale, and in 1948, the Argo Shipping Company of St. Helens in Tasmania bought her for coastal tramp duties, and once more she became Wongala.

For eight years this old vessel roamed the eastern and southern coasts of Australia, carrying a variety of cargo, then in 1956, the Ulverstone Shipping Company bought her for trading around the Queensland coast.

The ship was renamed Natone, after a potato growing area around Ulverstone, on the 23rd. of January in 1959 she steamed out of Cairns southbound for Brisbane.

She carried a crew of 6 Europeans and 12 native Papuans, during a cyclone, the ship developed leaks that the pumps could not accommodate, and the engine room soon flooded, the auxiliary sails were hoisted, and Natone sought to run for shelter.

During the night she ran aground near Mudjow Rocks, 110 miles short of Brisbane, and became a total loss.

Thus a vessel that had sailed under four different names, in both the northern and southern hemispheres, had been involved in a multitude of shipping activities, including making aviation history in the Antarctic, finally came to a sad end on a dark and stormy night off the coast of Queensland Australia.


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