Garry Vidler, of North Casino, found the bell from the tug Protector off Lennox Point. The tug sank trying to cross the Ballina bar in 1901.
Garry Vidler, of North Casino, found the bell from the tug Protector off Lennox Point. The tug sank trying to cross the Ballina bar in 1901. Cathy Adams

Sunken Protector's bell finds home

WHEN Garry Vidler found a brass bell half buried in the seabed off Lennox Point a couple of years ago, he had never heard of the tug boat Protector.

The vessel sank in heavy seas while trying to cross the Ballina bar on New Year’s Day, 1901, with the loss of all five crew on board.

With the help of diving mate Des McDonald he brought the heavy bell to the surface and took it to his North Casino home to clean it up.

“I have dived in that area for more than 50 years and must have swum over that spot a hundred times and never noticed anything before,” Mr Vidler said.

“This time the sand must have shifted and exposed the bell.”

Even when Mr Vidler had cleaned off more than a century’s worth of grime from the bell and could see the name Protector and the date 1885, the significance of his find still didn’t register.

It was only when The Northern Star ran a story about the Protector that the bell tolled and he realised his find may have some historical importance.

“At first I didn’t think it was really anything much at all,” Mr Vidler said.

“I stored the bell in the shed and didn’t really know what to do with it until I saw a story about the Protector and what happened to it in The Northern Star.”

Based at Ballina, the tug Protector – which had distinctive paddle wheels – went down while trying to cross the Ballina bar in heavy seas.

It had been returning to Ballina – after going to the aid of the Oakland, a Sydney boat, which had lost its propeller off Byron Bay in the heavy seas – when disaster struck.

“No bodies were recovered, however, a foot wearing a sock was reportedly washed up at Byron Bay a few days later,” Mr Vidler said.

Since learning about the Protector and its fate, Mr Vidler has decided to give the historically significant bell to either the Richmond River Historical Society or the Ballina Maritime Museum.

“From what I understand, the Richmond River Historical Society has a painting of the Protector and a few other artefacts. The Maritime Museum doesn’t have anything,” he said.

“I’ll talk it over with Des before I decide.”

Meanwhile, Mr Vidler is assuming strong currents and heavy seas over the years helped carry the brass bell to its resting place off Lennox Point.

“That’s not a bad effort, given the distance from the Ballina bar to Lennox Point,” he said.



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