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Steve Tranter, President of the Clarence River Historical Society along with several members, proudly display the brass bell of the SS Induna, an iconic vessel which operated on the Clarence River for several years. The brass bell has recently been discovered and returned to the Clarence Valley. Image: Emma Pritchard.

Historical society ringing with excitement

Emma Pritchard


It all started with an email.

And then, questions started being asked. They didn’t even know if it was real, or possible. But it was. And now, a priceless piece of local history has returned home. As members of the Clarence River Historical Society proudly display the newest addition to their collection, it’s hard to believe it’s acquisition almost didn’t happen. But it did, thanks to that email.

Earlier this year, the Clarence River Historical Society was contacted by the curator of a Newcastle museum, citing a topic which may be of interest to them. An old brass bell had appeared in a Hunter Valley op shop, and it was suspected it had a strong link to Grafton, and the Clarence River. The evidence was boldly engraved across the front of the brass bell. It read, SS Induna, 1891, Aberdeen.

Although it now rests on the south bank of the Clarence River, a rusty relic of its former glory, the SS Induna was one of the most iconic vessels to sail across its waters. In 1899, a young Winston Churchill boarded the SS Induna for the last leg of his escape from the Boers in Portuguese East Africa (now the Republic of Mozambique), and spent three days on the vessel before disembarking in Durban.

In the 1920’s, the SS Induna was purchased by the NSW Government and converted for use as a train ferry, carrying steam engines and freight between the north and south banks of the Clarence River, prior to the construction of the first Grafton Bridge in 1932. After more than 40 years in service, it was officially withdrawn from operations, dismantled, and had several of its features, including the brass bell, claimed by antique dealers and members of the public.

While it is currently unknown how the SS Induna’s brass bell ended up in an op shop, its mystery appearance has lead to it’s return to the Clarence Valley. After some initial investigating, President of the Clarence River Historical Society Steve Tranter was able to confirm the bell’s identity and negotiate its passage home.

Mr Tranter said when the manager of the op shop decided to hand the brass bell over due to its historical significance, arrangements were made for it to be delivered to the Newcastle depot Clarence Valley trucking company Herb Blanchard Haulage operate from. Earlier this month, they delivered the SS Induna’s brass bell to the society’s collection at Schaeffer House, where it will now be displayed alongside other artefacts from the vessel.

“We’re thrilled to have it as part of our collection and these are the moments which you treasure, because their mind numbing,” Mr Tranter said. “Things like this don’t happen every day. “It’s such an important part of our local history and we feel very proud to have brought it home where it will be displayed only a few kilometres from where the SS Induna rests today.”

Mr Tranter also wished to acknowledge Herb Blanchard Haulage for their kind assistance in transporting the brass bell.

  • Schaeffer House is open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 1-4pm. The museum will also open on May 20 between 9am – 4pm to coincide with the National Trust’s heritage month.