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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author


Burns Philp Shipping Company

TSMV Bulolo

Also featuring the SS Malaita I & MS Malaita II


An artist impression of the TSMV Bulolo

Part One - Company Background.

Brothers James and John Burns arrived in Brisbane in December 1862. They decided to head into the country and after several of years working as jackeroos (mostly outdoor & horseback workers taking care of cattle or sheep) at Springsure in Central Queensland. Eventually they left and headed for the Goldfield town of Gympie and became storekeepers there in 1865.

In the mid-1870’s James Burns and Robert Philp had become friends and they had gone into a business partnership in Townsville that included a shipping service to Brisbane and Sydney for the inter-colony and overseas trade. After 1876, James Burns worked from an office in Sydney, where Burns, Philp & Company Limited was incorporated in 1883. Their business quickly expanded with new branches around the country and in the Pacific and there was an expansion with a new range of merchant activities as well as establishment of Pacific Island plantations and trading connections. Burns, Philp & Company was set to become a pioneer as well as an ambassador for Australia in much of the South West Pacific area, and in due time, a much-respected multi-national group of companies.

Between the 1880s and early 1970s, Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd., operated some thirty eight ships as well as inter-island sailing and powered vessels. Although World War I physical impact on Burns, Philp's areas of interest was limited, sea-going raiders presented a constant hazard to its ships. Most significant was the experience of its steamers SS Matunga which was en route from Sydney to Rabaul, when on August 6, 1917 it was captured by the German raiding ship “Wolf,” and it sank the Matunga a few days later; the raider took the crew and passengers into captivity to Europe until the end of the war.

Between the wars Burns Philp's ships became a household in Australia and South East Asia, as well as an indispensable link with the Pacific Islands, particularly appreciated by expatriate residents. Burns Philp ships were easily distinguished by their black funnels with a black-and-white check band and their Scotch Thistle house flag. Their sustained service to remote locations as well as main cities and towns led to the Company sometimes being described as “The Hudson Bay Company of the South Pacific.”

Part two - The two Malaita ships.

Prior to building the TSMV Bulolo, Burns Philp already operated the MS Malaita II on the mail service between Australia, Papua, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, etc. Malaita II had been named after the 1983 built Malaita I a ship Burns Philp had purchased in 1905. What follows is her short story:

SS Malaita I

Built as the SS Antilla


SS Malaita I

From the Victoria State Library

SS Antilla was a small steamship of just 929 GRT (Gross Registered Tons), 200 ft long and a beam of 30.2 ft and she had a draught of 12.3 ft. She was an all steel ship built in 1893 by the Grangemouth Dockyard Company on the River Fourth in Scotland. She had been ordered and built for the Bahamas Steamship Co Ltd, Nassau. She had triple expansion engine with a single screw giving her a respectable 10 knots for her day. However in 1904 she was damaged by fire and she was placed on the market.

In 1905 she was purchased by Burn Philp and was fully reconditioned and renamed Malaita I. And she soon commenced to trade the Pacific islands service out of Australia. She operated this service until 1914 when she was sold.

She was obtained by another famed shipping line, Huddart Parker and converted her into a coal hulk, but she was later sold to Moreland Smelting Co Ltd., 1918 or 1919, towed to Melbourne where engines of the famed paddle steamer Excelsior were installed. She was reregistered in Melbourne by H. B. Black & Co Ltd. However on November 17, 1926, whilst in Port Phillip Bay whilst she was at anchor there was a storm and she was blown ashore and smashed against the South Melbourne baths. She was refloated, and moved to be partially dismantled and then towed to be scuttled in the ships graveyard, just off Port Philip heads, November 20, 1927.

MS Malaita II


Postcard of the stately looking MS Malaita II

The new ship to be built and named after the first Malaita would be a motorship and she was built by Barclay, Curle & Co., in Glasgow Scotland in 1933. She was 3,310 GRT, a length of 328 ft with a beam of 47.1 ft. She had B&W type diesel engines and a single screw giving her a speed of 12 knots (max 14.5). Malaita II accommodated 48 passengers in comfortable all First Class accommodations. Her regular ports of call were” Sydney, Brisbane, Port Moresby, Samarai, Rabaul, Lorengau, Lombrun, Madang, Lae, Sydney. She operated this schedule every six weeks.

Like most ships, the Malaita was taken into the service as a Transport ship and was transporting troops and war materials to Papua New Guinea she had an interesting time of it, for on August 29, 1942 a torpedo struck her amidships close to No.3 hatch and it exploded on the bulkhead between No.2 and No.3 hatches. The ship listed dangerously to starboard and it was thought at first that she would keel over and sink, but she survived. The HMAS Arunta was close by and came to her assistance. By August 31 HMS Malaita had moved to a safe anchorage and the crew has started to make repairs where required and patch up as much as possible of all the damage. In addition the engineers had worked hard to restore the ships power and she was fully operational again. Thus, on 15 September 15 the HMS Malaita II departed under her own power, but sailing at a reduced speed and she proceeded to Cairns Australia where she arrived on September 20, meaning she had steamed the 790 miles from Port Moresby at an average speed of 7 knots. In Cairns her hull was reinforces and she then sailed south to Sydney where she arrived on November 13.

However, having inspected the damage it was decided that it was too severe for repairs to be made at that time and nothing was done until October 1945. They were then undertaken and completed in April 1947 when she was ready again for commercial service and returned to Burns Philp. She resumed trade to New Guinea with Burns Philp.

She was sold 1965 to San Fernando Steamship Co (John Manners subsidiary concern) and was renamed MS Pilar Regidor. Three years later in 1968 she was sold to Jaguar Shipping Corp, renamed Linda JR and continued operations. She was finally scrapped at Kaohsiung Taiwan in August 1971

Part Three – TSMV Bulolo.

TSMV Bulolo


*TSMV Bulolo seen arriving in Brisbane

With the MS Malaita II already operating, but Burns Philp realised that a new and much larger ship was required to enable them to operate a more efficient service. Thus Burns Philp ordered a larger and an updated version of the Malaita. The result being a 6,397 GRT 240 passenger liner that was also to be built by Barclay Curle & Co, in Glasgow Scotland.

On May 31, 1938 the ship was named Bulolo and she was launched and was towed to her fitting out berth. When completed she made her delivery voyage to Australia and soon the Bulolo commenced the companies regular six weekly service between Australia, Papua and New Guinea ports on November 19, 1938.

*Bulolo seen in Brisbane

She would manage just eight round voyages before World War II commenced as Bulolo was taken over by the British Ministry of War Transport on behalf of the Royal Navy on September 22, 1939, and on October 21 she entered the shipyards for a comprehensive conversion to become an Armed Merchant Cruiser. Her makeover was completed and officially commissioned on January 4, 1940 as the HMS Bulolo – F82.

She was equipped with seven 6 inch as well as two 3 inch anti aircraft guns. There were also depth charges on board and a good variety of various smaller armaments and weapons. It had been worked out that if HMS Bulolo would cruise at 12 knots she had an excellent range of some 9,300 miles, however, when speed was of importance, she could sail at 15 knots, then her range would be around 7,700 miles.

*HMS Bulolo (F82)

HMS Bulolo sailed on January 24, 1940 as part of Freetown Convoy Escort Group on escort duties between America, South Africa, and Britain. Her career over the next or so years was almost all in the Atlantic Ocean. She spent much of the time on escort duties travelling between the Americas, South Africa and Britain carrying mainly troops and supplies. Apart from her escort duties, the Bulolo, due to her armament and speed, was used to search for German Raiders and the recapture of “Vichy” French ships.

She was taken in 1942 to be converted into a Landing Ship and Headquarters (LSH). Thus HMS Bulolo, was stripped of all non essential equipment and refitted with communications equipment and control room facilities and she was completed or her new vital role in World War II in April 1942.

She became the flagship of Admiral Sir Harold M. Burrough who was the Commander of the Eastern Naval Task Force during North African landings at Algiers in November 1942.

She then became the flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge in charge of “Force A” lifting the British XIII Corps onto the Sicilian landings in the Gulf of Noto in July 1943, and also “Task Force Peter” embarking the British 1st Division to Anzio in January 1944.

She was part of the strike force with Commodore Douglas-Pennant, Naval Commander in charge of Force G, lifting British 50th Division to land at Gold Beach at Normandy on June 6 1944. She was hit by bomb the next day, on June 7, 1944, but only minor damage but there were several injured and a reported death. LSH Bulolo was also the flagship of Rear Admiral. B. C. S. Martin for “Force W” off Malaya.

HMS/LSH Bulolo is noted as having been “Outstandingly successful” as her duties saw her in action at the North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Normandy and Malaya landings. In addition, prior to D-Day, HRH King George VI stood on her Bridge and took the salute from the passing invasion ships. LSH Bulolo also assisted in evacuating Rabaul before the Japanese captured the port during WWII and she was used as a ship for Japanese surrender at Singapore in September 1945. A notable record for an Australian passenger ship indeed!

“Bulolo Times” - Homeward Bound edition

Provided by Mr Stan Evans

Her Naval service terminated on December 5, 1946, and she was finally handed back to Burns Philp in 1948. Having had a comprehensive refit TSMV Bulolo resumed her original service on August 18, 1948.

TSMV Bulolo seen as she passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Photo by & Mr David Finch – Provided by Mr Stan Evans

Her refit saw her passenger accommodations lowered and additional facilities added, thus she now accommodated just 180 First Class passengers.

Three Dinner Menus

Kindly provided by Margaret Flynn

On all occasions TSMV Bulolo was under the command of Captain W. Wilding



Above and below: Christmas Day Dinner 1949




Above and below: Christmas Day Dinner 1953




Above and below: New Years Dinner Day Dinner 1954


TSMV Bulolo continued to make a further 161 round voyages making it a grand total of 169 round voyages for Burns Philp, that is including the eight voyages prior to her being taken over for the war effort.

*Bulolo seen in Sydney

Note the Burns Philp Scottish Thistle House flag flying from the aft main mast

However, she did have one major incident whilst she was in Sydney harbour on August 29, 1951. Somehow copra in her number three hold had caught fire and although the fire fighters commenced their drill immediately, it could have gotten out of control. Thus harbour authorities decided to beach her at Kerosene Bay and ensure that the fire was fully extinguished and that the ship would cause no danger. The damage in the end was reasonably minimal, but to took a number of months of repair work before she could return to service. However very early in 1967 it was decided that the Bulolo would finally taken out of service and prior to her final voyage Papua New Guinea Issued a special commemorative stamp in honour of her.

PNG commemorative Bulolo stamp


Tugs seen towing the Bulolo to Kerosene Bay during the fire in hold number 3

She was finally sold in 1968 to the China Steel Corporation Taiwan arriving at Kaohsiung Taiwan on 24 May 24, 1968 to be broken up just aged 30, but this small ship had done some incredible sailing around the globe and hosted more Admirals, Generals and had the King of England on her Bridge mind you, than almost any of the other passenger ships in service. Both in commercial and naval service the Bulolo did Australia proud and we all fondly and miss this white ship, with a ribbon around her hull and that distinctive black and white check band on that black funnel and the Burns Philp Scotch Thistle house flag flying from the mast!


Built: Barclay Curle & Co, in Glasgow Scotland

Launched: May 31, 1938

Tonnage: 6,397 GRT (Gross Registered Tons)

Length: 127m - 412 ft

Width: 18m - 58 ft

Draft: 7.1m – 23 ft

Engine: Three MAN B & W (Burmeister & Wain) Diesel-electric type diesels

Screw: Twin

Speed: 15 knots (max 17 knots)

Passengers: Originally 223 First Class passengers

After WWII: 180 First Class passengers

Career Details:

Maiden voyage from Sydney: November 19, 1938

Entered Naval Service: September 22, 1939

Officially commissioned: January 4, 1940 as the HMS Bulolo – F82

In April 1942 became the LHS Bulolo

Decommissioned: December 5, 1946

Returned to civil duties: August 18, 1948


*Wonderful memories of what was a fine, much loved and classic ship indeed

She was one of the last passenger ships sailing with an all varnished timber bridge!

I trust you have enjoyed reading about these interesting passenger cargo liners and ships that have served King and Country during the Great War and World War II. If you have sailed on any of them I would like to hear your story relating to your time on these ships. Also should you have any photographs or memorabilia I would greatly appreciate scans of same, especially those of the interiors and out on deck. Please email Me – see “Photograhs” how to reach me.

The delightful Bulolo seen berthed in Sydney



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