The steamship S.S. “Ballarat” was a cargo and passenger liner built in 1911 by Caird & Company in Scotland for the P & O Company and sailed the route from Britain to Australia.
The “Ballarat” was one of the many passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty and converted for war service during the First World War. The ship initially served as an Indian transport vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops to Britain.
In February 1917, the “Ballarat” left Melbourne in Australia en route for the port of Devonport in the UK, with 1,602 Australian troops who were reinforcements from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades. She also carried a general cargo which included copper and bullion. The voyage was the ship’s thirteenth, which caused concern amongst some of the troops on board.
On 25th April, as she reached the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day. At 14.00 hrs, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a hole in the starboard side of the ship and the “Ballarat” started taking water. Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody saw the U-boat UB-32 approach and fire a torpedo.
Vessels were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking vessel and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. The “Ballarat” was taken in tow but sank in the early hours of the following morning, approximately 9 miles south of Lizard Point, Cornwall, UK, where the wreck still lies.
The Captain of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, RNR, DSO, received the congratulations of the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.