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Shipwrecks of Buffalo City: SS Orient

The S.S. Orient was a Russian vessel which called in at East London on 29 July 1907, sailing from South Australia with a crew of 21 and carrying a cargo of wheat.

The ship sailed that evening but ran aground on what was then known as the Sandy Beach. During the night the force of the waves slowly moved the stranded vessel further onto the shore.

By morning news of the incident had spread through East London and crowds swarmed down to the beach and out onto the pier to get a better view.

The captain took the logical decision of jettisoning his cargo in order to make the ship lighter. By noon on 30 July, the East London Stevedoring Company had gone into action with lighters.

Speed, however, was essential and soon the wheat sacks were being ripped open and the grain poured overboard into the water. By 9.30 that night, when operations ceased, nearly 400 tons of wheat had been dumped.

In the meantime, the two tugs Annie and Buffalo got hawsers attached to the vessel and took up pulling, attempting to prevent the Orient being washed further ashore, and more especially to stop her from being swept onto the nearby rocks.

They were initially successful but, with the turn of the tide, the hard work was negated. During the night, the Orient began to take in water and started listing. It was becoming clear that she was there to stay.

Rigs were thereupon set up between the beach and the ship to recover the remainder of the cargo and a temporary railway track was laid from the harbour to the beach to speed up operations.

The fate of the Orient was sealed as early as 15 August when an auction was held on the beach to dispose of the ship and its cargo. Although a great crowd turned up, most were interested spectators.

The sale was therefore disappointing. The first bid for the ship itself was for a mere £25. The ship was eventually sold to WJ Ellis for the grand sum of £130.

Further attempts to free the Orient failed. Her remains still lie beneath the waters off the quay and can be seen on calm days at low tide. The Sandy Beach itself soon became known as the Orient Beach.

Source: Dr Keith Tankard, East London historian and academic

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