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RFA NUCULA leaving Sydney

Date: 7 January 1931
Overall: 82 x 103 mm, 2 mm, 0.04 kg
Medium: Emulsion on glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Photographer Frederick Garner Wilkinson
Object Name: Glass plate negative
Object No: 00037671
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    RFA NUCULA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship) is pictured leaving Sydney on 17 January 1931. This photograph was taken by Frederick Wilkinson while travelling on a ferry between Bradley's Head and Rose Bay.
    SignificanceThe print is part of the F G Wilkinson Photograph Collection, comprising more than 700 glass plate negatives of ships in Sydney Harbour between 1919 and 1936. The collection provides an extensive and well-documented coverage of the changing styles of shipping in the port of Sydney before the decline of the coastal trade. The backgrounds also reveal the changing face of the city and harbour foreshores.
    HistoryRFA NUCULA, a tanker was built as the SS HERMIONE and completed in Newcastle by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co in September 1906 for C T Bowring & Co Ltd of London. She was completed as coal burning but converted in October 1907 to oil-fired. By April 1908 she was sold to the Japanese company Toyo Kisen Kaisha and her name was changed to SOYO MARU when Bowring had a new tanker named HERMIONE completed. She carried oil from California to Japan.

    In 1915, she was passed back to British service and the Admiralty gave her the name RN Oiler No.73 and she served as a fleet tanker in European waters. In 1917 she was bought by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum (now known as Shell Oil) who changed her name to NUCULA as it was their practice to name their ships after seashells. She remained in commercial service until 1922 when she became a Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the civilian crew were replaced by RFA personnel. RFA NUCULA was posted to the China Station as a Fleet Attendant Oiler based at Hong Kong. From September to November 1923 she was based at Nagasaki to act as a base oiler during the earthquake relief operations.

    With the change from coal-powered to oil-fired warships the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy required replenishment support for its new cruisers HM Ships DIOMEDE and DUNEDIN. With the imminent arrival of HMS DUNEDIN on station in 1924 the New Zealand Government negotiated for an oiler to enable navy controlled supplies of fuel oil. On 27 May 1924 RFA NUCULA was transferred to the NZ Division control as a Fleet Attendant oiler and hired by the New Zealand government. The formal handover took place at Suva where she had stopped on a voyage from Singapore to Auckland. RFA NUCULA arrived at Auckland on 5 June 1924. Due to her design, she could not undertake replenishments at sea or underway oiling. She would act as a supply ship for the sloops HM Ships WELLINGTON and LEITH along with the two cruisers. When they would depart on the island cruises, a feature of the interwar period in the South Pacific, NUCULA would refuel the vessels in sheltered ports and anchorages.

    Her designated task was to maintain supplies of fuel oil at the naval base at Devonport, Auckland. To do so, she undertook two to three seven-week voyages to California a year to load supplies of fuel. In 1934 three voyages were made to Abadan in the Persian Gulf. Some oil was also supplied to the Royal Australian Navy base at Sydney. In June 1934 during one of the voyages back to New Zealand NUCULA nearly sank in huge seas off the south-eastern coast of Australia during a cyclone. She suffered damage to the superstructure that needed extensive repairs upon reaching Auckland.

    The second task the NUCULA was hired to complete was to extend the range of the cruisers' operation from New Zealand into the South Pacific and so there were refuelling rendezvous with DIOMEDE and DUNEDIN at such ports as Suva, Bora Bora and Apia. During the Depression of 1930 it became necessary to man the NUCULA with a Royal New Zealand Navy crew to collect another supply of fuel oil.

    When DIOMEDE and DUNEDIN left New Zealand service it brought about the redundancy of RFA NUCULA. Her last voyage from America with a cargo of oil was completed on 10 June 1937 and so she was laid up as a storage hulk with effect from 5 July 1937 in Shoal Bay, Waitemata Harbour. NUCULA remained in this role through out World War II. She was sold for disposal in March 1947 and was partially dismantled. On 24 October 1947 she was towed to a position eleven nautical miles ENE of Cuvier Island in the Hauraki Gulf where she was scuttled in a depth of 183 m where she remains to this day.

    (Information supplied through

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