The four-masted steel barque, Norma, was designed to carry large cargoes for Britain’s colonial trade and experienced numerous incidents as it sailed to ports around the world.
On its maiden voyage, under Captain D. McDonnell, the Norma carried 8,500 tons of coal from Glasgow to Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately a revolution broke out while the barque was unloading its cargo and, in a very nasty experience, the hull was marked all over by bullet splashes. To escape the flying bullets, the crew had to constantly take refuge under the hatches. There were no causalities amongst the ship’s company but, unfortunately, a ballast lighterman was killed by a rifle bullet. On one occasion, a shell burst overhead with a piece weighing about kilogram falling on the Norma’s deck.
In another incident, in 1903, the Norma arrived at Newcastle (NSW) in a gale and attempted to sail into the port without the assistance of a tug. The barque came too close to the reef at the north end of the entrance and had to put down two anchors to avoid running onto the rocks. Luckily the anchors held, but by then the vessel was washing over the reef. The Newcastle lifeboat went out, but the Captain, William McLaughlin, refused to abandon his ship and signaled for a tug.
Several tugs went out and, although hawser after hawser was made fast to the Norma, the towing lines held and, with the lifeboat alongside, the barque lay in the broken water of the reef all through the night. The next day the powerful tug Champion arrived from Sydney and was eventually able to drag the Norma out of the surf and to a berth in the port. As the two vessels passed by, other shipping in the port cheered.