The First Australian Wreck
The first ship
to be wrecked on the Australian coast was, as far as the
records show, the first English ship to catch sight of the
then unknown shoreline of the Fifth Continent.
It would not
be surprising if, earlier than the wreck of the Trial,
in 1622, there had been many other wrecks unrecorded; for the
Australian coast is from the navigator's point of view a most
inhospitable and dangerous shore. Its northern flanks are
guarded by treacherous reefs and shoals while its southern
coasts are swept by fierce seasonal storms. The surface of its
surrounding seas is often calm and tranquil, beautifully
deceptive, like soft lips hiding sharp and terrible teeth.
navigators suffered much on the then unnamed Australian coast,
and left their bad impressions to posterity.
his first experience of it in 1688, wrote of it as a land most
undesirable, peopled by “dirty, fly-blown creatures.” Captain
John Daniel, who had seen it six and a half years earlier, had
nothing better to say of it. And the little ship Trial,
most probably first British ship to see it at all, remembered
it as a bone-strewn strand, a coast of tragedy. She, despite
the skill of her master, John Brooke, was smashed to matchwood
on the rocks of the north-west Australian coast.
In the year
1622 the Dutch explorers' work was bearing fruit; the
Netherlands Indies were already sending their rich booty to
Europe, when the ship Trial left London on an
expedition to Java, with an eye to trade.
and refreshed, she left the Cape of Good Hope on March 19,
1622, and two months later ran to her doom on a shelf of rock.
Of her company of 143, 97 men were lost- the others, but for
whom the story would never have been known, made a most
remarkable escape in two small boats. The letters written by
Thomas Bright, who was fortunate enough to be in one of those
boats, are still preserved in the India Office, London; and it
is to them and the letters of John Brooke, master, that
posterity owes this first authentic record of a shipwreck on
the Australian coast.
from Java, nearly three months after the wreck. The Trial,
he said, had a good run across the Indian Ocean, and finally
sighted land in 22 degrees of latitude, on May 1, on her
forty-second day of open sea voyaging. To the skipper the
distant land appeared to be an island; but it has since been
identified by historical researchers as Point Cloates, which
is practically the most westerly point of the Australian
mainland, just south of North-West Cape.
It was not
Java: that much John Brooke knew; so the Trial stood
to her course, the “island” dropping down to the south-east
horizon. But north and north-east winds sprang up, and between
May 5 and May 24 the little ship made scarcely any headway;
but these circumstances were all in the life of a mariner in
sail days, and when the wind veered to the south-east on May
25, the Trial's luck had changed, she took a northeast
tack and bade fair to continue her interrupted voyage.
The night of
May 25- like so many other nights of coastal tragedy in the
Australian annals- was calm and clear. The setting sun dyed
the sea with a translucent crimson blush, the sky was
tranquil, the water almost still. There was no sign of land,
no weed or mud stirred in the water, no creamy comb of spume
betrayed a reef or sunken rock.
and smoothe watter - the shipp strooke," wrote Brooke with
dramatic simplicity, in his letter. For it was on that perfect
night, under a dark, star-studded sky, that the Trial ran
without warning upon a point of rock and shuddered to a
standstill. So contrary were the surrounding signs that even
then some of those experienced sailors refused to believe they
had been wrecked. But there was no doubting it.
“I ran to the
Poope and hove the leads," Brooke wrote. “I found but three
fadom watter, 60 men being upon deck, five of them would not
believe that she had strooke, I cryinge to them to beare up
and tacke to westward.
“They did ther
beste, but the rocke being sharpe the ship was presentlie full
of watter. For the most part these rocks lie two fadom under
watter. It struck my men in such a mayze when I said the ship
strooke wid they could see neyther breach, land, rocks, change
of watter nor signe of danger.
Thomas Bright observed that the “hold of the shipp was full of watter in an instant."
wind freshened and the Trial swayed and struck the
second time. Brooke hurried about his business, making every
possible effort to save the ship. He sent out a skiff and put
members of the crew to sounding about the vessel in the
darkness to ascertain the exact condition of the water.
discovered that the ship had been caught on a sharp sunken
rock half a cable in length, and was pierced astern. There was
no surrounding shallow; these teeth of rock rose like the
spires of a deathly cathedral from some much lower
foundations; and there being no surrounding shallow, the task
of the shipwrecked was made the harder.
“I made all the waye I could to gett out my long boate, and by 2 of the clocke had gotten her out and hanged her in the tackles over the side," wrote Brooke.
instructed Thomas Bright to supervise the handling of the long
boat- “the hold of the shipp was full of watter in an instant…
128 soules left to God's mercye, whereof 36 were saved,"
Keen as were
both men in their powers of observation, they were swift to
work. Bright had the long boat hanging in readiness for a
little while before the men in the skiff reported, as a result
of their examination, that there was no hope at all of saving
The wind was
freshening minute by minute, which rendered it still more
dangerous to cling to the wreck; and Brooke, “seeing the shipp
full of watter and the wind to increase, made all the means I
could to save as manie as I could. The long boat
put off at 4 in the morning. Half an hour after the fore part
of the boat fell to pieces."
orders Bright lowered the long boat and took into it as many
as it would safely accommodate 36, he estimated, was the
maximum. Then he and his fortunate fellows pushed off from the
wreck, feeling their way through the darkness and rowing
slowly, lest the smaller vessel too should be cast onto some
similar needle point of rock.
near the shipp until day," he wrote from Java later, “but the
sea was running soe high that we durst not venture near."
seeing the hopelessness of trying any movement at all for the
benefit of those remaining on the wreck, Bright conceived it
his duty to save as many as he could of the men in the long
boat; so they began to row in earnest, watching the hulk of
their ship grow smaller in the sea as they made their way in
the general direction of Java. They were commencing, from the
first recorded Australian wreck, the first of many notable
long voyages performed in small boats- the first, but by no
means the unhappiest, of those small boat voyages.
The long boat
came to an island (since identified as Barrow Island) where
the men went ashore in the hope of increasing their scanty
supply of provisions. There was but one barrecoe of water and
“a few victuals" in the long boat- not nearly enough for the
voyage they hoped to make. And Barrow Island proved a barren
island, with “no watter except what the good, Lord gave per
rayne," and no birds, animals or vegetables which could be
used for food.
after the long voyage- across the Indian Ocean, and the
exciting escape from the wreck, the sailors were glad enough
to feel land under their feet again, and spent seven days on
the island. It was a small, rocky place from the pinnacles of
which other low-lying islands could be seen.
himself, although he was “alone on the wide wide sea", with
very little prospect of ever reaching civilization again, and
with every possibility of shortly starving to death, preserved
remarkable calmness. He seems to have kept perfect discipline
among the men, as well- which is equally a tribute to Bright
and to the character of the men, as the records of sea-horror
show all too clearly. Maybe, too, in those days before
psychology was a science, Bright had a clear appreciation of
the value of work; for he spent part of his time preparing “2
draughts" of the group of islands, mapping in other islands
visible from the one on which he was, for the time being,
He also wrote
a description of the archipelago in which he stated that there
were other islands everywhere.
and his men were thus safely ashore and calmly engaged, John
Brooke was fighting out his own destiny; for he had realised
the hopelessness of sticking to the ship any longer, and had
prepared to make an attempt, in the small skiff, to reach
Java. He also came across “a little, low island"- probably
another of the archipelago Bright had struck- and he also
remarked upon the barrenness of his discovery. He kept his
course, however, and on June 8 sighted the east end of the
island of Java, after a voyage of 14 days.
The skiff was
better equipped with provisions, having “one barrecoe of
water, 2 cases of bottles, 2 runnets of aquavite, 40 li.
bread." For four days together there was continuous rain, so
that the men in the skiff ran no danger at all of perishing
from thirst. And having reached Java they pushed onward in
their little boat, reaching Batavia on June 26, getting a good
reception, and settling down to write a letter which, when
delivered to the London office perhaps three months later,
would tell the owners of the Trial that they had lost
their vessel long ago.
He was in no
position in that letter, however, to give any assurances on
Bright's behalf; for Bright and his long boat moved on from
their desert island and they, too, arrived safely in Java.
They did not attempt to reach Batavia, so Bright's letter,
written independently from Java, told the story of the 36 who
were saved, making no reference to the good fortune of the
captain and his nine companions.
The fate of
those who were left on the vessel may be imagined; it will
never, mercifully, be described.
Brooke left he had seen the fore part of the vessel tear away
from the hull and crash into the sea; and that sea was already
marked by flashing fins. The remainder of the ship could not
have lasted long. The sweeping seas would batter it
mercilessly, wrenching planks from their ribs, crumbling the
sodden timbers under the feet of the wretched men for whom
there was no hope. Hunger and thirst would begin to prey upon
those men as they waited, helplessly, for the coming of death.
they were finally thrown into the sea, the swift attack of the
shark, or the suffocation of the waves, was relief from their
last hours (or were they days?) upon the Trial.
vessels put back into that uncharted sea on the off-chance of
finding the unknown rocks; and had they done so they would
have been too late to succor the men of the Trial. By
the time Brooke reached Java every man left behind must have
gone to his sailor's grave; and Brooke, who seems to have been
blessed with a share of common sense as well as of humanity,
did not try anything so crazy as sending living men after dead
the story of the Trial became known in London,
attempts were made to locate the rocks which had caused the
wreck. Thomas Bright's charts, so calmly made between a
dangerous past and an uncertain future, reached London safely,
but were either too crude to be useful or were lost after
In spite of
many searches the rocks were not definitely recorded as seen
again, until 1819 when the Greyhound reported passing
them. In the following year Lieutenant P. P. King, in the Mermaid,
identified them with the Monte Bello group, and a perusal of
the extant facts of the Trial wreck led these islands to be
identified as Trial Rocks.
rich in so many dramatic ingredients, is strangely short of
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Indian Ocean seemed
to hold all the necessary units for piracy- except pirates.
The heavily freighted galleons that took silk and spice and a
multitude of rich merchandises from the Dutch East Indies to
Europe, were stowed especially to be pirates' prey, if you
have that romantic turn of mind. They sailed down a lonely sea
lane, past the rocky coasts of unknown islands but no skull-
and- crossbones fluttered from the mastheads of the raiders as
they shot out from behind a bald headland and fired the
warning shot across the bows of the merchantmen. The tactics
of the West Indies of the period did not penetrate to the East
Indies. Providence and the Spanish Main, Morgan and Kidd, are
without their counterparts in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Australia did have her buried treasure. Just one.
It is possible
that, apart from the fabled caches of a few bushrangers, there
are other lost treasures about Australia, of which history
makes no mention. Spanish and Portuguese and Dutch mariners
did record their contacts with the mainland. De Quiros and
Torres scraped the north and left their names upon its map
until this day; Dutch Jantz Tasman skirted the south and named
the bit he saw after his boss, Governor Antony Van Diemen.
Houtman was shipwrecked on the west and the rocks responsible
are still charted as Houtman's Abrolhos.
In the main,
the Dutch touched the west and the Spaniards the east, and
this is easy to understand. Holland had settled in the East
Indies, carried on a regular trade with vessels sailing round
the Cape of Good Hope, and thus had a regular trade route
almost along the Australian west coast. The Spaniards were
long settled in South America and had interests in the
Philippine Islands, and their ships crossing the Pacific had
not to be blown far off course to get tangled up in the Torres
Straits Islands or spitted on the sharp submarine points of
the Barrier Reef. Don Jorge de Menenis in 1526 saw New Guinea-
and named it Papua (from a Malayan word meaning “fuzzy”,
because of the hair of the natives). Two years later Alvarez
de Saavedra touched the same shore and called it Isla del Dra,
which is good Portuguese for Isle of Gold. Yuigo Ortiz de Retz
sailed two hundred and fifty miles along its coast and called
it Nueva Guinea, in 1545.
So there were
fairly good chances of some high balconied galleon well
ballasted with pieces of eight and ingots from the land of
riches, to run to ruin around the Barrier and lay their
treasures submissively on the seabed of the ocean that had
beaten them. If that happened, it constitutes the story of
Australia's unrecorded hidden treasure; for the Spaniards left
behind them no clue to posterity as to where any shipwrecked
fortune might be found.
If one pillar
be able to support this dream of unknown treasure, it exists
in the strange “Mahogany Ship" discovered half-buried in the
sand of a Victorian beach, preserving enough of its shape to
be identified as a Portuguese galleon, or a similar ship, said
to be of Spanish origin, buried in the swamp behind the dunes
of Stradbroke Island off Brisbane, Queensland.
Yet it is to
the Dutch that Australia owes her one authentic buried
treasure; and on their authority one can say that on the
north-west coast of Australia, at 30 degrees 40 minutes of
latitude approximately, there are 78,600 guelder, or golden
dollars, awaiting the lucky seeker. They were left there after
the wreck of the Vergulde Draeck.
Draeck (which means Golden Dragon though it has often
tricked people, by its look and sound, into wrongly calling it
the Golden Drake) was equipped by the Chamber of Amsterdam (a
commercial institution) for a voyage to the rich East Indies.
It sailed from Holland on October 4, 1655.
disposed to quarrel as to whether there were 193 or 195 people
aboard, though the point is not vital to the story. On the
night of April 28, 1656, when the long journey seemed almost
at an end, the ship ran on a submerged reef sticking one and a
half miles out from the coast; and the Vergulde Draeck
became a wreck.
There is happy
agreement among the authorities on the point that 75 of the
ship's company came safely to shore and that they brought with
them provisions to last for a spell of Crusoeing, and the
78.600 guelders which were to earn the name. picturesque and
fitting, Dollars of Death. R. H. Major errs in saying as he
tells the story, that “nothing was saved from the ship but
provisions." The records clearly show that the treasure was
brought ashore and buried for safely.
Among those rescued were the under-steersman and the ship's master, Captain Pieter Alberz (also spelt Albert and Alberts by various and varying chroniclers).
ship's company was temporarily safe, every endeavor had to be
made to reach Batavia; so it was decided that the
under-steersman should take six sailors with him on one of the
Vergulde Draeck's boats and endeavor to add yet another
open-boat voyage to Australia's long list. Captain Alberz
remained in charge of the survivors.
With them he
something of a mystery about the disappearance and there is no
room for a wisecrack about it being easy to understand why 68
men should disappear when there was 78,600 guelder anchored in
The truth of
the matter is that the under-steersman brought his vessel
safely to Batavia, unfolded the fate of the Vergulde
Draeck, and aroused the immediate interest in the
bringing back of the bullion. Two yachts, the Goede Hoop
and the Witte Valck, left Batavia on June 8, to look
for the remains of the wreck. They sailed into a spasm of bad
weather and were separated.
the coast looking for 30 deg. 40 min. on the coastline, the Goede
Hoop saw signs of life, put inshore, and sent a boat.
Three men struck into the virgin wilds of Australia to follow
up the signs, and were lost in the bush. When they failed to
return, eight more men went in search, of them, and these,
too, failed to return.
freshened, the water rose, and the boat which had taken them
ashore was smashed. The Goede Hoop wrote off eleven
men as a trading loss and prowled further along the coast.
Finally, the captain concluded that an extension of the search
would be fruitless, and put about for Batavia.
following year, however, another vessel, the Wincke
(wrongly spelt Vinck by some, on account of its pronunciation)
was sent after the lost treasure ship. That trusty old
Australian historian, Ernest Favenc, let himself down for once
when he wrote in the Sydney Evening News of September 1, 1906,
that the Wincke “searched vainly.”
Wincke saw signs of the wreck on June 8, 1657. But as she was
searching almost twelve months to the day after the Goede
Hoop, she ran into similar bad weather, and instead of
investigating the hopeful signs she saw she scudded before a
strong wind for three days, from June 9 to June 12. Then, with
the lightening of the wind, she managed to change her course
from south to south-south-west, then to south-west, and
finally back towards Batavia.
Her arrival on
June 29 with the news that there were signs of the Vergulde
Draeck along the coast was the necessary stimulus,
however, for yet a third search-party.
Day, 1658, was the starting point. The ships were the Waeckende
Boey and the Emeloort. They sailed in company
as the Goede Hoop and the Witte Valck had
done, became separated at sea in the same way and fell in with
each other before returning to Batavia.
Boey skirted the coast, landed at intervals, kept up a
steady fire of signal guns, but attracted no response from the
elusive Crusoes. At one point the search of the Waeckende
Boey ran parallel to that of the Goede Hoop to
the point of fatality. The Waeckende Boey sent a boat
ashore with fourteen of the crew in charge of the upper
steersman, and both boat and crew were lost, reducing the
little vessel's original crew of 40 and adding to the
death-roll of the dollars.
In the coastal
waters and along the beach, however the Waeckende Boey
found definite signs that it was on the right track. Planks,
blocks, a piece of mast, a taff-rail, and staves from casks,
were seen scattered, and were fairly definitely identified by
the seekers as all that was left of the object of their
were, however, of little help, and the poor Waeckende Boey,
having lost its companion vessel and fourteen of its company,
turned again home.
About the only
bright spot in a bald and uninteresting voyage occurred when,
on April 14, she fell in again with the Emeloort,
which had a more incidental, if not more enlightening, story
smaller of the two vessels, the Emeloort sailed with
a crew of twenty-five, under the command of Aucke Pieters
Jonck, and sighted land on March 8, at 30 degrees 25 minutes
latitude, some fifteen minutes, which is roughly fifteen miles
north of the locality given for the wreck of the Vergulde
On this same
day the Emeloort’s crew saw smoke on the land, and
fired signal guns without getting any answer. During the night
the search ship stood by off the coast and saw fires; but the
fires disappeared before dawn.
following morning, March 9, a boat containing nine men went
ashore and began a search of the locality where the fire had
The search was
fruitless, and the men came back to the beach to the boat.
They were only four in number.
The four men
had stories to tell. They had found the remains of three huts,
and these huts they presumed to have been built by shipwrecked
sailors, most likely those whom they sought.
They had seen
something else. Coming into a clearing in the scrub they faced
five men “of gigantic stature,’ black men “who resembled the
natives of Africa.” From before these apparitions the hardy
sailors fled. It should be noted here again that historian
Favenc falters with his capable pen, in recording that the men
of the Emeloort saw “five immense blacks, but did not
land and look at them.”
is all the news that the Emeloort had to bring back.
Intimidated by the loss of five men, disheartened at getting
no response to their signal, discouraged by their impression
of the black giants who inhabited the shore, Captain Aucke
Pieters Jonck turned back towards Batavia, and on April 14
fell in again with the Waeckende Boey.
vessels together could only say, in cold effect, “We saw
flotsam from the lost ship; we saw smoke and fires on the
shore; we saw the remains of three huts, five discouragingly
Of all this the flotsam is about the only conclusive
piece of evidence. The “huts” may well have been native
gunyahs, which impressed the seamen as being tumbled-down
white men’s dwellings. The smoke and fire might as easily have
come from an aboriginal camping ground as from any marooned
whites. In fact, the evidence of the Emeloort that
the fire on March 8 at night died down before morning is what
could naturally be expected of a campfire.
So the fate of Captain Pieter Alberz and his sixty-seven survivors and his 78,600 dollars of death (which I forgot to mention were packed in eight cases) remains a mystery.
In fact, its claim to being in our history at all crumbles a little before the battering-rams of imagination. The story is that the dollars were buried for safety. Maybe they were before the boat left for Batavia. But what if the survivors divided the spoil and got away on rafts? Was there a clique formed among some of the men avaricious for the treasure, which murdered the rest and got away with the gold? Did they try to carry the gold inland in hope of escaping?
Maybe yes, maybe no. The idle thought is invited by the fact that a long search failed to reveal even the bleached bones of the shipwrecked sailors, and by the fact that the treasure of the Vergulde Draeck has never been located.
And the final death-roll of the tragedy:
at the wreck
lost (including Captain Pieters)
the Goede Hoop
the Waeckende Boey
“I hope, sir,” the seaman said, ‘you do not think me so
mean as to be guilty of stealing.”
He said it humbly, with a kind of repressed
self-respect, as he stood sycophantly before the commander of
The naval officer was the harshly independent type of
man, the autocrat who loved to issue orders and to see them
obeyed speedily; but he did not love sycophancy among his men.
As he looked at the seaman his lip stiffened and his eye
“Yes, you bloody hound, I do think so,” he snapped.
Perhaps his tone was dictated as much by contempt for the
sailor as from conviction that the man was a thief.
The atmosphere was tense on the gleaming deck of that
215-ton vessel as the crew, lined up for enquiry, watched the
conflict between the spineless man and the disciplinarian
The officer ran his eye along the muster line.
“You bloody rascals, you are all thieves alike!’ he
shouted “You all combine with the men to rob me. I will flog
you and make you jump overboard before we reach Endeavor
Red in the face be turned to his clerk.
“Mr. Samuels,” he ordered, “stop the villains' grog and
give them only half a pound of yams tomorrow.”
He turned brusquely on his heel and walked away.
Slowly and sullenly the crew shuffled from their line
and returned to their usual duty. The man who had been singled
out for special mention was scowling and muttering as he moved
away. He was not a handsome man, neither was he in good
health. About five feet nine inches in height, he was of dark
and sallow complexion. He looked older than his twenty-four
years. As he walked for'ard along the deck tears started from
He was unashamedly crying when the ship's carpenter
asked him what was wrong.
“Can you ask me, and hear the treatment I receive?" he
The carpenter tried to cheer him.
But the sailor was scarcely conscious of the
carpenter's words of simple, sea-born philosophy. He was not a
man in normal health; he had not that quiet, philosophic,
good-humored temperament which is common to sailors the world
over, when their health is good and their conditions fair. Nor
was this sailor fitted for the life of the sea in the year
1789: he should have stayed ashore. If his commanding officer
was rapturously in love with strict discipline, this was one
man who had no stomach for discipline, who could find no
vicarious pride in being one of a well regimented line: there
was something pathological about his sensitiveness; and out of
that pathological sensitiveness arose resentment. The
unhappiness of his position, his quarrels, with his
sharp-tongued commander, the imagined disgrace in the eyes of
his fellows of being told he was a suspected thief, all bit
into his mind like acid into a zinc plate; and those resentful
feelings etched there the pattern of mutiny.
The seaman mourned his helplessness in being confined
to a ship 94 feet long, half a world away from his homeland,
in an unknown and un-civilised hemisphere where land had
barely been discovered . . . His mind shot off at a tangent.
Land had been discovered! The ship was not very far from land
now. Why not slip overboard- desert the ship and trust to
being picked up by a native canoe?
So the poor, unsteady man made his way to his cabin. He
took from his sea-chest the curios he had collected from those
brilliant and lazy Pacific Islands where the ship had called,
and these trophies he distributed to his shipmates. Later, in
the luminous darkness of the tropic night he was seen standing
in the ship's fore-chains, tearing up letters and papers and
throwing the scraps overboard.
Then he sought out his sympathetic friend, the ship's
“Purcell, can you give me some nails?”
“Take what you want from the locker.”
He helped himself, stuffing them into his pockets.
Ready with ditty bag packed, to act on the inspiration
of the afternoon, the unhappy sailor waited patiently and
cunningly through the first and middle watches.
The master yielded the first watch to the gunner and
the gunner was dishearteningly watchful. That night, of all
nights, everybody seemed to be moving about the deck, eyes
seemed to be everywhere. But the deserter waited shrewdly for
his chance . . . He threw himself down in his hammock, but he
could not sleep. The night wore through, the morning stars
were visible. At four o'clock, just before daybreak, the
discontented would-be deserter was called upon to take the
He went on deck and took up his station, and watched
the mate of the watch stretch out on the arms-chest to take a
nap. As he waited in the darkness before the dawn he realised
that the other midshipman of the watch had not made his
appearance. The poor mind which had seethed all the previous
afternoon and evening, which had planned and waited all night,
and had been frustrated in its intention of escape, received a
violent, sudden twist. With the officer of the watch asleep-
his fellow watcher not on deck- this unhappy sailor was in
control of the ship.
Why not remain in charge?
Why not displace the commander whose harshness and
rudeness of tongue had caused the trouble?
His grievances justified the crime in his eyes, though
he knew how many sailors had swung grotesquely from a yard-arm
for trying the same thing. His bitterness of mind, the
desperateness of his plan of desertion, the quietness of the
ship, all emphasised the simplicity and the advantages of his
plan. In contrast to his earlier bitterness there came a
sudden vision of himself in charge: of himself in the place of
that disciplinarian whom he hated and feared yet whose
self-confidence and firmness he envied; psychologists know the
kind of reaction; it is standard in this type of situation.
That vision of authority, coupled with the comforts of
the ship and escape from the dread rule of the commander,
swung the tortured man's decision. Instead of being a deserter
at the mercy of the waves, he would be a captain on his own
Fletcher Christian was not the only man on the ship who
suffered from resentment against the captain. Once the seeds
of mutiny had germinated in his mind, he knew where there
existed fertile soil for their growth. He hurriedly found two
seamen who had been flogged, and suggested his plan. They
agreed, and found two more seamen who readily joined the plot.
Three others, likely prospects for such a venture, were
All of this took, actually, only a few minutes. Then
the impromptu conspirators were presenting themselves to the
ship's armorer, asking him for muskets to fire at a shark
which was cruising through the dawn water beside the ship. The
arms were issued to them, and carrying them openly, the
mutineers went on deck. Members of the crew who knew nothing
of the impending trouble were looking over the ship's side at
His face no longer sullen, the leader of the trouble
beckoned another seaman to follow him. His eyes gleamed
excitedly, and perhaps a trifle madly, as he and his companion
made their way towards the cabin of the commander. Fletcher
Christian threw open the cabin door. William Bligh was asleep
on his bunk.
It was ridiculously simple to make a prisoner of the
commander. He was hauled, ignominiously, out on deck, and he
stood there in the cool dawn of April 28, 1789, shivering in
his nightshirt, his hands bound behind his back.
“What is the meaning of this violence?” he asked.
“Hold your tongue or you are a dead man,” was his
That insolence brought the old tone of authority
ringing in William Bligh's voice. A seaman thrust a bayonet
against his chest. “If you don't hold your tongue you'll die
this instant,” the seaman answered shout with shout.
The armed men were in command of the ship.
It seemed impossible that the wild scheme hatched in
one poorly-balanced mind could be so quickly and so utterly
successful. Yet it was, and in view of the unstable character
of the ringleader and his henchmen, it is likely that only by
its unpremeditated rapidity it could have succeeded, for it
seems certain that these men could not have kept a secret
among them for any length of time.
There is reasonable certainty that Fletcher Christian,
the author of the mutiny, was never a robust type of
mentality: there are records extant to show that he suffered
from syphilis and had received treatment for that disease more
than once. The play of syphilis on the mentality was not
understood in those days as it is now: but the facts as
recorded, examined in the light of modern knowledge, make it a
reasonable suggestion that the mutiny of the Bounty had its
origin in the venereal affection of Fletcher Christian's mind.
The records are preserved so completely that the
dialogue in this account is mainly in the actual words
recorded by Bligh and others as spoken on the deck on that
fateful day. It seems in the interest of historical truth to
set out the events and their very important medical background
(on Fletcher Christian's part) as they happened. The
dramatisation and the badly- informed accounts of this much
told story have thrown the weight of responsibility perhaps
rather too heavily upon Bligh. His strictness, amounting at
times to ruthlessness, is well known; and without doubt his
quick tongue and temper contributed their share to the
flare-up, as the scene shows. Nevertheless, in an attempt to
assess the blame for the Bounty mutiny, it must be
acknowledged that Bligh, though a hard man, tried to be
fair-minded. Insisting on strict discipline was, he conceived,
no more than his duty; and if he was- as his own record of
utterances seems to show- a man of quick and stinging tongue,
he was also a man of quick and generous friendship. Had this
not been so he could not have called Fletcher Christian a
“thief” and a “bloody hound” in one breath, and yet invited
him to sup in the commander's cabin.
The desire to pin the blame for such an event upon a
single person is a rather unscientific, emotional demand to
have a real episode cut and dried with hero and villain. But
very rarely is anybody completely a hero, or completely a
villain, in life. On the Bounty there is no doubt Bligh's
peculiarly complex personality aggravated the men; nor is
there any doubt that Fletcher Christian, syphilitic and
sensitive, was especially susceptible to irritation,
especially resentful; nor is there, again, any doubt that the
members of the crew, long away from home and living with
memories of seductive Tahitian women, had a strong, general
desire to return to their Paradise Island and the amenities of
love, rather than live the iron-bound life of the ship and
were consequently especially susceptible to any suggestion
which would give them the more luxurious life. If it be urged
that Bligh's harshness aggravated this desire of the men to
return to Tahiti and its women, then a fair answer is a
comparison between Bligh's treatment of his crew and the
severity with which other naval ratings in other ships under
other commanders were treated at the same period- from which
it can be inferred with certainty that Bligh did not appear
such a gorgon in his own company as he may appear among the
naval officers of today.
To return to the thread of adventure, however: the mutiny, quick and simple and singularly lacking in sensationalism, was the beginning of two epic stories- the foundation of a unique island settlement, and a record open-boat voyage.
Although the mutineers of the Bounty won the day without a
struggle, the ship's company was by no means unanimously
against Bligh- and it argues something in his favor that, when
the crew divided on the point of loyalty, there were eighteen
who elected to remain with Bligh to face the open sea in a
small boat, while twenty-five threw in their lot with
The leader of
the mutiny himself dictated the terms- Bligh was to be cast
loose in a small boat, and any who chose to go with him were
free to do so: no man was to be compelled to join the
mutineers. So Bligh and the eighteen loyalists climbed over
the side into a 23-foot launch and floated away from their
ship into a merciless sea and a future of greatest peril.
contained food for only a few days; some of the men were
neither able nor experienced seamen; the launch was so low in
the water that it had to be baled out most of the time; the
men could only lie down in watches; many things had to be
thrown overboard; and the man in command of this party, Bligh,
was never gifted with tact or patience in the handling of men,
even under ordinary circumstances.
evaluation of this party's chance of making safety would have
given pretty long odds; but Bligh was not to be
under-estimated. He was, above all else, a man of great
resourcefulness and determination. It was true to say of him
that, whatever adverse traits showed in his character, he did
not know the word or the thought of failure.
All that first
day the boat held steadily on its course blown by a light
breeze. At seven o'clock in the evening, just after darkness
had fallen, it came to the island of Tafoa; but the shores
were steep and in the darkness no landing place could be
found. On the 30th, however, a cove was found on
the north-west of the island where the boat was beached, and
until the 2nd of May the party roamed the island
trying to collect food. At first the natives left them alone,
remembering that the white men in their experience had used
noisy and harmful methods of self-protection; but when they
discovered that the white men had no firearms they attacked
with clubs and stones.
Bligh's men were hurt; John Norton, who had been quartermaster
of the Bounty, was killed. The rest of the men retreated in
orderly fashion to the beach and put out from land in the
boat; but the natives once seeing their foe in flight, jumped
into canoes which they loaded with stones, and followed,
pelting the unfortunate and unprotected white men. It is
characteristic of Bligh that in recording the episode he paid
tribute to the “force and exactness” with which the natives
threw the stones. The coming of darkness, with tropical
swiftness, saved further injury to the party.
Bligh made up
his mind to go to Tongatabu, in the south of the islands, to
look for King Paulehow, in the hope of enlisting the imperial
darkie's aid; but the bad reception he received at Tafoa led
him to expect that there would be little help from him, and to
become more than ever convinced that the white men had in the
past owed their safety to their firearms and the native fear
of firearms. Under these circumstances Bligh feared that far
from coming to any diplomatic arrangement with the king, he
might find himself robbed of his boat, and so be unable to get
away from the islands.
of the crew ran along the same lines. They did not relish
trying to settle, even for a time, on the island; and any
fascination the dark women had exercised over their
imagination in the safety of a hammock on the after deck, had
evaporated. They were continuous in their request that Bligh
should take them towards home which, when all the
circumstances are considered, was quite a tribute to their
commander's skill in navigation.
“When I told
them that no hopes of relief remained for us but what I might
find at New Holland until I came to Timor, a distance of 1200
leagues, they all agreed to live on one ounce of bread a day
and a gill of water. I therefore, after recommending this
promise forever to their memory, bore away from New Holland to
Timor, across a sea but little known and in a small boat
loaded deep with 18 souls, without a single map of any kind,
and nothing but my own recollection and general knowledge of
the situation of places to direct us.” So Bligh describes in
his report the beginning of the voyage proper- a brave bid,
made with cool decision after the factors had been carefully
Early in the
voyage they sustained a loss which, in the circumstances, was
a heavy blow, when some of their provisions went overboard.
They faced the greater part of the journey still, and for
their sustenance had only 20 lb. of pork, 3 bottles of wine, 5
quarts of rum, 150 lb. of bread and 28 gallons of water.
Day by day
Bligh took bearings with his quadrant, kept to a course he had
determined by means of a compass, reckoned his bearings with a
gunner's watch and an old book of latitudes and longitudes,
and checked up with the data furnished by his own remarkable
memory. And day by day, while he knew that the guidance of
these meagre instruments was insufficient to guarantee him any
degree of real accuracy, he cheered the crew, through fine
weather and bad, by holding high courage and a sort of cool
decisiveness, as though everything were going according to a
Many of the
men in the boat were useless. Four of them became definitely
mutinous. The rest, owing either to their idleness or
inexperience, could not be looked upon as able seamen.
Food began to
run low; Bligh kept stricter supervision than ever upon it,
and finally improvised a pair of scales to divide it fairly in
the sight of all the men. For weight in the scales he used a
25-bore pistol bullet, which was known to weigh 272 grains;
and by this ingenuity he managed to divide the food with
unscrupulous fairness. He showed up, too, as something of a
storyteller, keeping all hands interested by describing the
situation of New Guinea and New Holland, and telling them all
he knew of these strange seas.
received other instructions as well, which served the double
purpose of killing dull time and making them capable of
carrying on should they be left leaderless. They were, for
example, taught to make a log line, and to count seconds until
they could do it with a fair degree of exactness- an
accomplishment they found very useful when the
not-too-reliable gunner's watch stopped. In short, the little
party was a very busy party as their boat ploughed through day
after day of unbroken sea; and the spectacle of their
employment makes anybody familiar with the ghastly fate of
similar voyagers feel that much of the horror of the open-boat
trips has been due, in no small measure, to lack of
discipline, lack of foresight, and idleness.
At last, on
May 28, after twenty-six days of continual travelling, the
boat sighted the coast of New Holland. They found a break in a
reef and entered it at a bearing which Bligh carefully,
recorded and kept. They followed the coast carefully, going
north-ward, and putting in at places which Bligh “found
convenient” to refresh “my people by the best means in my
power”. They found oysters and a few clams, which they ate
joyfully, and “they were greatly benefited by them and a good
There was no
dallying nor idling, however. The pauses having served their
purpose, the little boat was again loaded down and put to sea.
The most northerly peak of New Holland was reached and rounded
and the course set for Timor. On June 12 Timor was sighted, “a
happy sight for every one, particularly several, who perhaps
have existed a week or a day longer.”
The boat was
over the worst of its ordeal. The men were wan and
hunger-ridden spectres; they were sunburned and blistered,
bearded, and longhaired; but they were well, they had some
strength, they had been spared the exquisite agony of acute
hunger and burning thirst. They were overjoyed at seeing the
land which Bligh believed was Timor, and kept watching it
eagerly as the boat followed the contour of the island until,
on the 14th in the afternoon, they took a Malay
aboard to guide them to Koepang.
“On the next
morning before day I anchored under the Fort,” Bligh records,
“and at about 11 o'clock I saw the Governor, who received me
with great humanity and kindness. Necessary directions were
instantly given for our support, and perhaps a more miserable
set of beings were never seen.”
Yet many more
miserable sets of beings had been and were to be seen along
the coast after shipwrecks. For when the boat finally
anchored it had still enough supplies to feed the men (on the
rations they had been having) for another eleven days. And
amazing as it may seem, this little boat was, after all its
hardship, able to contribute a gift in return for the
hospitality of Koepang. Timor had quite run out of chalk, and
there was a small store of chalk in the launch which Bligh was
able to give to the Dutch.
voyage was safely over- one of the most amazing journeys
history can record, carried out with a calmness and precision
which eased its tough spots and while robbing the voyage of
drama, was actually the most dramatic aspect of the whole
story; for there is something strong and fascinating about the
calm, well-ordered conduct of an apparently impossible feat.
considered this to be only the first part of his duty. He had
to return to England; he had to take his men home. And he had
to look after them. He refused to be separated from them while
he was in Timor, lodging them all with himself and dividing
his house there between them, and supervising their habits of
eating and drinking and resting, fully realising that if their
health were to be preserved, they must exercise restraint in
adopting a full diet again.
The conclusion of the adventure Bligh puts pithily:
“I found three
vessels here bound for Batavia, but as their sailing would be
late I considered it to the advantage of His Majesty's Service
to purchase a vessel to take my people to Batavia before the
sailing of the fleet for Europe in October, as no one could be
hired but at a price equal to a purchase. I therefore gave
public notice of my intent and assisted by the Governor I got
a vessel for 1000 rix dollars and called her the Resource.
We have not yet our health perfectly established. Four of my
people are still ill and I have had the misfortune to lose Mr.
Nelson the Botanist, whose good conduct in the course of the
whole voyage, and manly fortitude in our late disastrous
circumstances deserves this tribute to his memory.”
Batavia on October 1, and was stricken with a bout of
headaches and fever. He received medical attention, and got
his men on the home-bound ships; but these were so crowded
that the party had to be divided, and the Resource was
sold by Dutch auction for 295 dollars to an Englishman,
Captain John Eddie, who commanded an English ship from Bengal.
The launch was sold as well, separately; and Bligh revealed an
unexpected streak of sentiment when he wrote, “The service she
had rendered us made me feel great reluctance at parting with
her; which I would not have done if I could have found a
convenient opportunity for getting her conveyed to Europe.”
from the packet at Portsmouth on March 14, 1790, knowing full
well that the four men who had died in Batavia were the
victims of the tropical conditions rather than of his
carelessness. His story excited widespread interest, but even
more intriguing was the fact that the Bounty and its mutineers
could not be traced.
Lieutenant Bligh, the hero of the episode, was to be Governor of N.S.W. when, in 1808, the mutineers were found on Pitcairn Island.
launch had cast off from the Bounty to make this amazing
voyage- perhaps the most remarkable of the many small boat
voyages associated with the Australian coast- the pathological
Fletcher Christian found himself with his impulsively-sought
ambition on his hands. He was promoted by his resentment from
seaman to captain, and had not only the glories and the
authority of the ship, but the responsibility.
Christian lacked confidence he did not reveal the fact. He
immediately gave orders to alter course, and set the Bounty
running for Tubuai, in the Austral Islands, 300 miles south of
Until May 25,
1789, when it came to anchor in the island's lagoon, the
Bounty had an uneventful voyage; the intention of the
mutineers was to settle down on the island and yield to the
very impulses Bligh's men had dismissed- the lazy, luxurious
life of tropical idleness.
food presented pressing problems, however, and though the
Bounty's captors, like Bligh's companions, regarded it as
highly dangerous to return to Tahiti, they went and secured
their supply of animals and food without trouble.
It is an
interesting sidelight that the Bounty men gave as their reason
for fearing to return to Tahiti, that Bligh was not with them,
and Bligh would be a certain guarantee of security, as he was
known there- while Bligh hesitated to return without the
panoply of the big ship and firearms. From the reception the
mutineers received, it appears that both parties could have
gone back safely!
took its food supplies back to Tubuai where the mutineers
commenced to build for themselves a fort; but the natives
turned a jaundiced eye on these signs of settlement and became
hostile. The builders abandoned the idea, and made another
trip to Tahiti.
mutineers broke up- sixteen men decided they would stay at
Tahiti and join the first British ship that should come along,
telling the story of the mutiny and disclaiming any
responsibility for what had happened. The other eight elected
to sail with Christian, who had heard of Philip Carteret's
discovery of Pitcairn Island in 1767, knew that the island was
deserted and far from shipping routes, and therefore
comparatively safe, and so decided to settle there. Six Fijian
men and a dozen women joined the party, and the Bounty, after
a long and worrying voyage (the position of the island on the
charts of that day was 200 miles out) safely reached its
There is not
room to detail the attempt made to settle the island; the
island was divided into nine lots, on which houses were built.
Then Williams, one of the white men, lost his native wife, who
fell over a cliff while collecting birds' eggs. He took one of
the natives' wives, the natives conspired to kill the white
men, but the women betrayed the intrigue and two natives were
murdered. And thus began a guerrilla war between this pitiful
handful of settlers, which ended in all the mutineers but two
(Young, who died of asthma, and John Adams, who died a natural
death) being murdered by the natives.
(properly named Alexander Smith) was the sole survivor, all
the others being dead by 1800. He, with the women and children
(the first-born being Fletcher Christian's son, a boy called
Thursday October) lived on Pitcairn, became religious (owing
to a dream, he said) and brought up the growing community in
the light of the strictest Christian principles. This
remarkable community remained secret from the world until an
American ship, Topaz (Captain Folger), put in at the
island and answered the question, long puzzling to England, as
to the fate of the Bounty's impromptu mutineers.
The Walking Sailors
Damoclean sword of doom had been suspended over the ship Sydney
Cove for twenty-three days, it fell on the grey morning
of February 9, 1797. The vessel, running before a gale, slid
slowly onto a sandbank in 19 feet of water within sight of
Preservation Island in the Furneaux Group, Bass Strait. Thus
commenced a heroic two-month walk of great hardship and a dear
price in human life, a dramatic and tragic story of human
suffering which had as its grand anti-climax the discovery of
the extensive coalfields of the South Coast of New South
of this fateful story-the actual “commencement of hostilities”
in this battle between frail men and nature- was no surprise
to the company of the Sydney Cove: they had felt its
nearness for weeks, and when the blow fell they could have no
other reaction than thankfulness that the inevitable had
occurred within sight of land. As they ran from the Indian
Ocean into the Roaring Forties doom had threatened them
repeatedly; as they nosed their way into the fierce summer
gales of the low latitudes, they had not found a single cause
for optimism. From the time of their leaving Calcutta,
November 10 of the year previous, there had been fair voyaging
until January 13; then, as a result of the continuous
battering by strong-running seas, the ship sprang a bad leak,
and fear became a member of the ship's company. A thrummed
sail was put over the starboard bow and passed under the
bottom of the ship in an effort to minimise the damage- and
though it stemmed the leak, the bad fate which had commenced
sailing with the Sydney Cove continued to produce a
succession of minor tragedies.
On January 25
the second mate was washed from the yard-arm by a great,
curling cream-crested wave. The gale increased, rain
commenced, the weather, in spite of the time of year, became
bitterly cold. The Lascar crew, shipped in Calcutta, the
ship's port of origin, was too affected by the cold to be able
to work the pumps. The British crew was so weakened by
privation, by extreme weather, and by almost incessant working
at the pumps, that it could not keep the water down.
On the eighth
of the month the ship rounded Van Diemen's Land and nosed her
way into a hurricane.
three on this afternoon a fresh leak appeared and a great deal
of cargo had to be thrown overboard in a last effort to make
the ship live. The damage was, however, too severe; and it was
as she settled lower and lower in the water, the leak beating
the pumps, that she nosed her way firmly into a sandbank. Thus
it was that the only feeling of the crew was one of
thankfulness; for after the desperate struggle against the
cruelty of the sea, it was in their eyes nothing short of a
miracle that this foreshadowed wreck should occur within sight
On the ninth
of February all the ship's company was landed safely on
Preservation Island. A well was dug to seven and a half feet
in the sand, and provided drinkable but brackish water, the
first essential to survival. From their place of safety the
men could see the wreck, wallowing and swaying under the
hammers of the ocean, but held by the sand from sinking
Hamilton, seeing his ship lost and his men saved, took stock
of the position, with a view to discovering how best to get
assistance. He was on the uncharted southern coast of
Australia; the English had not been ten years settled at Port
Jackson; there was little chance of rescue, as George Bass had
only just discovered the existence of Bass Strait, and
shipping in its normal course was wide of the scene of
So the first
sixteen days of this stormy exile were spent in equipping a
lifeboat which would go out and seek help; and on February 27
this frail craft was ready to sail under the charge of Mr.
Hugh Thompson, the Sydney Cove's chief mate. The supercargo, a
man named Clark, acted as Thompson's second in command, and
the lifeboat was given a crew of three Europeans and 12
The story of
the Sydney Cove becomes, from this time on, mainly the
adventures of these seventeen men. The men remaining on the
island were safe, and when the hurricane abated employed
themselves in transferring cargo from the wreck, and settling
down into the existence of so many Robinson Crusoes- a life
monotonous but spiced with storms.
was the fate of the lifeboat. The malign fate which had been
the unseen member of the ship's company seemed to sail in the
small boat as well, and two days after it left the island, Mr.
Thompson doubted whether his boat could weather the storm that
Land was in
sight, but a forbidding surf rebuked all thoughts of landing;
two anchors were put out for the night, and through long hours
of darkness the little boat tossed dizzily, quivering again
and again as sheets of water hammered her frail sides or
crashed down upon her.
dawning of the day it was decided to try and make the beach,
in spite of the rough surf; and as it headed shoreward a great
comber picked it up and swept it in. The timbers groaned and
began to part. The men bent every energy to pushing with their
oars through the barrage of boiling waves. As the lifeboat
grounded on the sand it fell apart; the men jumped into the
swirling foam, picked themselves up and battled ashore against
safe- safe and stranded. In the dawn light they could see a
seemingly interminable stretch of surf-washed sand, curling
away to the north, losing itself in the mistiness of the grey
horizon. They knew that somewhere beyond that horizon lay the
newly settled Sydney Town; that somewhere in the murk behind
them their comrades were clinging to life and trusting to Hugh
exhausting events were, however, only training for the real
ordeal that lay ahead. They set their faces, did these
marooned sailors, to the longest walk attempted in the Great
South Land up to that time for it later transpired that they
had been wrecked on the Ninety Mile Beach of Gippsland and
they were going to walk within fourteen miles of Botany Bay
before making contact with whites again.
For three days
they loitered around the scene of the wreck, collecting their
scattered goods as they were washed ashore. It was not until
March 15 that they commenced their travels; on the 16th
they walked sixteen or eighteen miles along the sandy beach
with the baffled roaring of the cheated sea ever in their
ears; and on the 17th they crossed several little
rivers and Clark wrote in his diary that one of these was so
big that a raft had to be constructed to cross it.
kept by the supercargo Clark turned out to be one of the real
benefits which came to the new colony as a result of the wreck
of the Sydney Cove; it was the first account of
exploration beyond the immediate environment of Sydney, and it
gave a graphic first-hand description of the country
throughout the southern coastal district of New South Wales.
Apart from its value in this regard it is an intensely human
document also, more thrilling in its casually-written
adventures than any work of fiction. There is all the drama of
living in this simple entry which Clark made on April 16:
unfortunate companions, worn out by want and excessive
fatigue, began to drop behind very fast. We were under the
painful necessity of leaving nine of our fellow-sufferers
behind, they being unable to proceed further, but we thought
that they would be able to come up with us in a day of two, as
now we often delayed for some time with the natives when we
found them kind to us, or loitered about the rocks to pick up
shell fish or collect herbs.”
desperate hope that the men who dropped behind might later on
catch up, was not realised; for when two months later the
travellers arrived in Sydney, there were but three of the
original seventeen. Exhaustion, exposure, hunger, hardship,
had claimed fourteen.
The party had
met some blacks, too, and had found them treacherous. It
appears from the diary that on April 26 they fell in with some
of the natives and made signs to them that they were hungry
and exhausted. The blacks understood these signs, brought them
fish and treated them very kindly. Just as they were about to
continue their journey, however, a party of about fifty
stalwart natives made their appearance. Thompson gave them
what little presents he could afford, and they were apparently
satisfied; but they had not parted from the blacks for more
than twenty minutes when a much greater crowd approached,
shouting in a most hideous manner. A few of them threw spears,
and Clark records the great control the hunted party
exercised: “We made signs for them to desist, giving them some
presents and appearing in no way dismayed at their conduct.
Any other demeanour would have been useless, as we had only
one musket, which was unloaded, and pistols were out of
however, failed to satisfy the natives. As soon as they had
taken all they were going to receive they reopened
hostilities. The whites were pursued eight miles along the
coast, and were just getting clear of their savage enemies
when they came down to a bay of great depth. Night was
falling, and it was the nerve-racking lot of the fugitives to
lie awake through the dark hours, knowing that the blacks were
stalking close by, and expecting at any moment the soft
death-whistle of their spears or the bloodcurdling yell of
their lust to kill. The night passed uneventfully, strangely
enough: but on the following morning the blacks were still
there, and they followed along until about 9 a.m., when they
“betook themselves to the woods, leaving us extremely happy at
continued in this strain. On April 30 they came to a wide
river, which was evidently the Shoalhaven- it had been named
by Bass a little before this- and for fifteen days more they
walked, sometimes meeting blacks, losing more of their number
and still wondering whether by this route they really would
reach Port Jackson. In reading about their journey it must be
remembered that nothing of the coast or country was known to
them: the fact that Port Jackson lay ahead of them was pure
conjecture, with probability to lend it weight; but there was
in the back of their minds, over and above the horrors of
these two months, the steadily growing uncertainty: the
possibility that they would never reach the goal.
On May 13, the
monotony of the walk was broken by an event the significance
of which these weary and half-beaten men did not fully
realise. They came upon an outcrop of coal on the cliff face-
they recognised it, and made a fire with it, and continued on
their way, too depressed by the growing uncertainty of their
predicament even to consider seriously the importance of their
later, however, they saw a fishing boat. Hugh Thompson saw it
first- and the now reduced party took on a new life and
hurried towards it. They discerned plainly that it was a white
man's boat- not a native canoe; and presently they could
clearly see the white men seated in it.
Their walk was
They were then fourteen miles south of Botany Bay, and the end of their journey was hastened. The colony's second governor, Hunter, received them cordially and gave them what care the settlement offered to restore their strength. They set the wheels of rescue in motion immediately- and more, recalled the coal they had discovered. Sydney, for its brief few hours was a bustle again. The schooner Francis under the command of Matthew Flinders, and the sloop Eliza, were sent immediately south to seek the men of the Sydney Cove, and also to report on the coal which Hugh Thompson's men had observed.
The coal seam
was located- reported as six feet wide and observed for nine
miles along the cliffs, running southward. And further down
still, the castaways were found on Preservation Island.
They, too, had
undergone their privation and their suffering, though they had
not suffered the loss of life which broke up the walking
party. On June 8 their despair had been brightened for a
moment by the appearance of what they took for a long boat,
which seemed to be looking for the wreck, but which turned
from the island and disappeared, leaving them more downcast
than they had been since their arrival… But the very next day
a schooner broke the horizon, and on the 10th the
“long boat”, which was the sloop Eliza, came back. The
schooner was the Francis (which six years later was
to go on a similar errand of mercy to rescue the survivors of
the Porpoise and Cato wrecks) and the two
rescue vessels loaded as much of the Sydney Cove's
cargo as they could carry, and sailed for Sydney on June 21.
Some of the
cargo had to be left behind- and of the Sydney Cove's
survivors five men volunteered to remain on the island to
guard the remainder until it could be collected!
journey of 15 days the Francis arrived safely back in
Port Jackson with cargo and crew.
But Fate was
determined to wring the last bitter drop from this terrible
visitation of misfortune- the Eliza became separated
from the Francis in a storm, and neither boat, master,
nor crew, was heard of again.
Hamilton of the Sydney Cove had suffered severely from
anxiety and privation; he had, unlike many another master in
sail on the Australian coast, acted like a good captain from
the outset; and perhaps it was because he had done his duty
that he died from the effects of the adventure soon after
arriving safely in Sydney.
With his death
Fate was appeased, and the terrible chain of accidents which
started with the second mate's death on January 25, was ended.
The story had, however, its two brighter points- Clark's
valuable diary, and the discovery of the south coast coalfield
of New South Wales.
Seven years after the founding of
New South Wales a young man named Matthew Flinders
distinguished himself in an eight-foot dinghy called the Tom.
Thumb. Two years later he was commissioned by Governor
Hunter to go to the rescue of the marooned crew of the Sydney
Cove, which had been wrecked on Preservation Island. In
1799, with his partner George Bass and a twenty five-ton
sloop, the Norfolk (built on Norfolk Island) he
circumnavigated Tasmania, and later in the year, in the same
ship, he explored the north coast of New South Wales, and
marked Moreton Bay and Glasshouse Bay on his chart.
the year 1801 Flinders was given a ship of 334 tons, the Investigator,
it appeared at last that he had a vessel worthy of his great
work. But the cruise of the Investigator was to become
the prelude to a double tragedy which, though only a tiny
figure on the great canvas of pioneering history, is a
thrilling and romantic episode in the story of Australian
shadow of the tragedy fell across the Investigator
while it was exploring the Gulf of Carpentaria and was
discovered to be leaking badly. Flinders and his first
lieutenant, R. M. later Admiral) Fowler, decided that the ship
could finish her voyage, however, and in her they
circumnavigated Australia for the first time, arriving in
Sydney on June 9, 1803, when the ship was condemned as
Bay, during the voyage, Flinders had met Baudin, the French
explorer; and Flinders was afraid that if Baudin got back to
Europe first there might be some cross purposes to be
untangled, for Baudin was anxious to make the most of his own
explorations in the Great South Land. With this as his
incentive Flinders applied for immediate passage to England,
and was allowed to take his officers and crew on to the Porpoise,
a converted Spanish packet which had been in the transport
By August 10,
1803, the Investigator's crew were snugly re-housed,
and the Porpoise stood out from Port Jackson in
company with the Cato and the Bridgewater,
both of which were bound for Bombay.
For a week
they kept gay company. They were almost constantly in sight of
the beautiful but then uncharted coast. They exchanged signals
many times a day. Their canvas stretched to a brisk breeze,
their tackle strained, and their hulls leaped forward like
things alive as they raced across the smooth sea.
To the three
ships and their men it was a sporting race up the coast, over
an ideal course.
Flinders there was a stronger purpose: he was racing the
Frenchman to Europe, to publish his discoveries of the Great
For seven days
all went well; then, in the evening at about ten o'clock, the
Porpoise was leading the merry race when the lookout
hailed –“Breakers ahead!”
brought for a moment such a silence as fell upon the
Philistine feast when blind Samson tugged “those two massy
pillars with horrible convulsions to and fro.” Then the spell
broke. The men who ran anxiously to the lee rail could see a
long, thin line of seething water, cream in the starlit night.
Lieutenant Fowler ran on deck. He saw that the breeze which
had served them well so far in the race had proved a
treacherous mistress, and was now driving all three vessels
briskly towards the jagged teeth of a coral trap. The Porpoise
was nearest the danger; Fowler ordered her course altered at
once, and at the same time set a junior to fire a warning to
the Cato and Bridgewater, both scurrying
quickly towards the danger.
The eager boy
rushed to the swivel gun which was always kept primed for such
an emergency. Forgetting that it was fully exposed to the wind
he whipped off the canvas cap; the wind howled down the deck
and cleaned the powder out of the touch hole, rendering the
signal gun useless. It was impossible to re-prime and fire it
quickly in the wind. The apprentice tore pages from books, set
light to them, and hung them in the lower rigging while the
crew shouted warnings.
quickly the Bridgewater hauled to wind on a larboard
tack, cut across the Cato's stern narrowly avoiding
collision, and scudded into a course wide of the reef and out
of danger. Then, with the gallantry of sail days, she hove to
and waited for her companions to clear themselves.
seamanship Fowler brought the bow of the Porpoise
round to the wind, successfully but too late. For long seconds
the ship was helpless, swinging on the heavy swell. Then the
canvas bellied and she drove away on her new course to the
tune of creaking tackle. In the midst of her leap for freedom
she paused and trembled like a thing in terror. She began to
take a port list, then to sway helplessly with the waves.
The wind had
carried her broadside on to the reef.
had been too crammed with activity for anybody but the
despairing commander to notice how the night had thickened,
and how angry the wind had become. A green bank swept above
the helpless Porpoise, splintering over her
superstructure and gurgling back into the sea. The wind howled
now in rising passion. Above both noises came a terrible
sound: a blending of crashes and cries while the Porpoise
wrestled with the water. The foremast went with a crack like a
cannon shot. Canvas and rigging dragged across the vessel and
swayed helplessly on the water. The hull of the ship sprawled
on beam ends on the coral, so firmly held that the rising sea
could not wash her clear.
gradually unfolding new dangers for the men who had so
recently escaped from the weakness of the Investigator.
Matthew Flinders had been stopped short in his race to
The storm wind
brought to the Porpoise another symphony of cries and
crashes; but the men clinging to the wave-washed wreck could
see nothing in the darkness of the storm. Through seven hours
of the night they remained on deck, helpless, wet and frozen
by the whipping wind.
Bleak and gray
was the winter dawn; a suitable morning for the funeral of two
gallant wooden ships. It showed the men of the Porpoise
the cause of the crash they had heard in the night the Cato,
driven high on the reef, and already breaking up. The Bridgewater,
however, was still standing by, well off from the reef, her
sticks almost bare of canvas, waiting until the sea became
calm enough for small boats to bring assistance to the wrecks.
also, the Scylla and Charybdis of the two ships. A flat,
barren little island of coral rising above the high water
mark, gray and treeless, but apparently dry and safe. It was
better than the shipwrecked men might have hoped for in a sea
which was peppered with submerged reefs many miles from the
coast, for it was plain that only one course was open to them.
That course was to abandon the ships and make this cheerless
piece of coral their temporary refuge.
close to the reef was calm enough for the Porpoise's
crew to launch their lifeboats and load them with what
necessities they could salvage. They made trip after trip to
the island. Food, bedding, clothing, canvas were here; water,
cooking utensils, wood, pieces of odd cabin furniture, were
energetically ferried ashore. By eleven in the morning (it was
August 18) the Cato's crew had launched their boats as
well, for the wreck was rapidly becoming unsafe. Straining
against the whirling eddies which might have smashed the
little boats against the rocks, they managed to make the Porpoise
and scramble aboard. Temporarily they were safe. They were
able, as well, to reinforce the salvage work.
When the sun
made its bed among the ragged storm clouds which were already
wind-torn, the men from both wrecks were able to stand
thankfully on safe, dry land. In typical adventure story
fashion they spent their first long night, sleepless and
In the morning
the faithful Bridgewater was still standing by, but the storm
was giving its last kicks and her master seemed unwilling to
risk any third wreck by coming in to pick up the men.
On the island
the day was busy. The wrecks were stripped further, until the
Cato, completely crumbled under the hammering of the
sea, could not be visited again. Cords and canvas,
marlinspikes and hatchways, anchors and navigating
instruments, were all rescued and heaped safely on the island
in a scene which rivaled anything Ballantyne or Kingston might
have written under such a chapter heading as “I Visit the
Wreck.” Pieces of driftwood, oars and hatches, washed ashore,
Crusoe evening brought a sense of grateful satisfaction.
Safely housed, with the Bridgewater standing by to
pick them up as soon as the water quietened, much of their
valuable property and navigating instruments around them, the
men who had circled Australia in the leaky Investigator
felt that for a second time they had been saved from a
sailor's grave. But the darkness of that night hatched a
bitter disappointment, for the third dawn on the island
revealed that the Bridgewater had disappeared. The
storm was still wagging its tail fitfully, the surf about the
island would still have been perilous for small boats. The
marooned men reasoned that the Bridgewater would not
have been able to accommodate two more ships' companies
besides her own, and that, rather than run foolish risks the
captain had decided to continue his voyage, taking the first
opportunity of sending them help.
It was evident
that at least some days must pass before assistance could
arrive. Flinders was eager to be on his way; he felt that his
race against Baudin was too important to be staked on the
arrival of chance assistance. Fowler was unwilling to become a
Micawber of the sea, waiting for something to turn up.
had carried a cutter, a fairly long and strong boat, but
unserviceable for the open sea because it was un-decked. But
Fowler felt that if this cutter were decked over with wood
from the wrecks it would stand an even chance of making Port
Jackson (there was at that time no settlement on Moreton Bay)
and of hurrying assistance.
became a cauldron of activity as the men settled in, making
their waiting as comfortable as possible, and working with all
speed on the cutter. A week after the wreck this boat could be
seen on the beach, its deck almost completed. Not far away lay
the long straight keel of a twenty-ton vessel: a keel made
from driftwood for a vessel to be built of driftwood, which,
when it was finished, would enable some of the men to make
another trip to Port Jackson for help, if the cutter failed.
shown by his earlier career that he was a brave and capable
man indeed. He detailed Fowler to take charge of the marooned
men and announced that he would himself take the cutter on the
357 mile journey back to Sydney to bring assistance. The trip,
he must have realised, was more hazardous than his Tom Thumb
episode eight years earlier- and he could ill afford to run
risks, now that he had so much important information about the
new continent to publish in England. But out of the knowledge
and experience of his hardy early days Flinders felt that he
was better qualified than anybody else in the company to
undertake the important voyage south.
finish that twenty-tonner in six weeks,” he told his men
before he left. “If you do not hear from me by then, launch
the boat, which will be far more seaworthy than this cutter,
and try to make Port Jackson yourselves, and get help for the
The day after
Flinders left in the cutter some of the seamen took a small
boat which had weathered the storm, and in it they sailed
round their island refuge.
During the trip they detected another island, eight or
ten miles distant from that on which they were, and determined
to visit it. Their long pull over the now calm sea was amply
rewarded. The new island proved to be extremely fertile, and
the little boat came back low in the water with birds' eggs
and turtles, vegetables and fresh water- unexpected luxuries
for men who were putting themselves on a plain and meagre diet
from the ship's stores.
itself, the incident had a most favorable reaction among the
men. Less worried about their circumstances, and cheered by
the welcome food, they went to work enthusiastically.
twenty-tonner took shape. Ribs were added to the keel that
Flinders had seen laid down before he left; and the barren
little island of tragedy was transformed into a busy scene
such as inspired Longfellow:
Day by day
the vessel grew,
timbers fashioned strong and true,
keenson and sternson-knee,
framed with perfect symmetry,
ship rose up to view.
the bow and along the side
hammers and mallets plied.
hands made the work light, and the knowledge that their lives
and freedom might yet depend upon the quality of the work lent
a special skill and carefulness to the builders. Because of
their enthusiasm the new ship was ready in less than the six
weeks allowed by the cautious Flinders. They called it,
appropriately, the Resource.
was a proud day of expectation and hope mingled with fear. The
coral exile rang with cheers when the Resource took
the water and floated gracefully on an even keel. Overnight
her interior kept perfectly dry: she was, well caulked.
willingness of the first building days was redoubled as the
decking went over her while she floated. Every touch was added
to guarantee her a safe journey to Sydney; and when she was
ready every man jack on the island believed that in her both
the ill-fated Porpoise and Cato lived again.
approaching trial trip naturally aroused speculation on the
island. Although the six weeks allotted by Flinders had not
yet expired, the sight of a seaworthy vessel fed the
suppressed longings to be free, and the men began to debate
whether they should wait for the time to expire, or whether
they should start immediately for Port Jackson. Many of them
urged the latter course.
Fowler handled the situation tactfully. The men remained happy
until October 17, the day of the trial- the day, too, which
was to end all disputes. The trial trip began successfully as
the little Resource slid out from the lee of the
island with wind-filled sails. It was a much greater success
before she returned; for three other sails were sighted. It
was the day before the wreck over again- three sails abreast
skimming gaily before a brisk breeze like three great white
horses of the ocean. And as they cleared the horizon they bore
down on the island and one by one they trimmed their canvas
and hove to.
castaways soon learned that the new arrivals were the Rolla,
a convict transport; the colonial schooner Francis,
and a 28-ton sloop, a “crazy vessel given Flinders by Governor
King,” named the Cumberland- it was the first
sea-going vessel built in Australia. Eagerly watching from the
island which was a prison no longer, Fowler and his men saw
Captain Matthew Flinders step into a boat lowered from the Cumberland
and pull ashore. The consultation they held where they stood
was one of the most exciting in the history of Australian
been given the Cumberland to aid him in his race
against Baudin- that race upon which so many exploration
claims depended. The Rolla and the Francis were
going to divide the sailors and their effects, and transport
them safely to civilisation. Those who went with the Rolla
were to be taken to Canton and reshipped on East Indiamen
bound for London. The others were to be taken back to Port
Jackson with the stores by the Francis. Flinders
himself, already too long delayed in his race, was going to
put the crazy Cumberland through Torres Strait and go
direct to England through the Indian Ocean and round the Cape
of Good Hope.
This plan was
put into effect. The castaways of the Porpoise and Cato
arrived in England in twos and threes as various vessels
berthed from Sydney or Canton.
years were to pass before Flinders came back to London. He
drove the Cumberland on the course he had planned,
without incident until he reached the Mauritius on December
17. There he was detained by General de Caen, Governor of the
island. The pretext which interrupted his race a second time
was flimsy indeed. The French Government had given him a
passport in the name of the ship Investigator; but
General de Caen held that this did not cover the Cumberland
on which Flinders was then travelling. The vessel was
searched; the precious charts and notebooks that he was
rushing to London were taken from him, and Baudin, his
adversary in the race, was allowed to examine them.
It was 1810
before Flinders regained his freedom- the second interruption,
though less dangerous physically, had proved a greater
obstacle than the first. It was to have heartbreaking
consequences, too; for when Flinders at last reached, London
it was to learn that Baudin had published an account of his
exploration, and had used in it the data gleaned from
Flinders' research. Flinders had been a fighter all his life:
and he, in the midst of his disappointment, braced himself to
fight again. He had not won the great race with Baudin, but he
was determined to win back his stolen laurels. He published a
statement which exposed Baudin's false claims and his own bad
treatment, and by doing so ended forever the French
Government's hope of claiming footing in Australia as a
This statement came to the public on July 14, 1814. On that day Flinders died.
There is one
loose thread in the dramatic story of the race and the wreck:
it is the fate of the little Resource. She was not
abandoned on the island. Denis Lacey, one of the crew of the Porpoise,
had faith enough in her to try her against the open sea, and
in her he returned safely to Port Jackson. Her behaviour
through the voyage was a credit to the craftsmanship of the
The island had
been occupied for just two months- two months of hardship and
of constant anxiety; of cold weather and hard work. But they
were months of adventure, of discovery, of fellowship, making
the story of the double wreck more of a romance than a
tragedy- making it, in fact, the most fortunate wreck of the
Australian coast- a wreck without a fatality.
The Dignity of a Prince
As in the present, so in the
past it has been the consistent error of the white man to
under-estimate the dignity of his colored brothers. It has
been taken for granted that other systems of civilisation and
other habits of living are inferior to those of Western
civilisation. It has been too often forgotten that the colored
races have their social distinctions, and that their ruling
classes usually invest themselves with a personal dignity
which is not tempered by democratic ideas.
It is tragic
that the tough old salt, John Thompson, who captained the ship
Boyd when she put out from Port Jackson on November 12,
1809, was not in a position to realise these simple truths.
For Captain Thompson had in his crew a number of Maoris who,
having ventured as far from home as New South Wales, wanted to
get back again. It was understood that they should work their
passage as far as Whangaroa on the Boyd, as the vessel
was to call there for kauri spars to be delivered in England.
nothing unusual in this arrangement, and no reason to suspect
that it should prove unsatisfactory, until Master Thompson
asked a Maori named Tarra to turn his hand to some work.
Tarra was a
chief's son, and Tarra had been sick. Tarra was persuaded,
therefore, that he could reasonably refuse to work on the
ship. He was certain, too, that being the highborn son of
chief Te Puhi, he could travel on the work of the low-born
Maoris. But Captain Thompson had other ideas, and Tarra
received a flogging.
notwithstanding, the Maori showed no sulkiness or resentment
at this treatment. He persisted patiently that he could not
and would not work, and the captain retaliated by stopping his
food. Tarra, wrapped in the invisible mantle of aristocratic
dignity, starved in silence. So the Boyd came to
Whangaroa harbor, and anchored there.
Chief Ti Puhi
came aboard the vessel to welcome his son, fell on the boy's
neck and wept, and asked about Tarra's treatment on the
voyage. For Te Puhi shared his son's opinion that only the
best was good enough, and manual work was beneath his dignity-
a sentiment which can well be understood when it is realised
that these natives were royal in their own eyes.
When old Ti
Puhi heard of his son's treatment- both from Tarra and the
other Maoris- and when he saw the weals on the boy's back, he
sympathized in silence. He conversed with Thompson as to the
cutting of kauri spars for the Boyd's cargo, and
promised that the best spars ever to go out of New Zealand
were available in the Whangaroa district.
on his outward voyage from Dublin, had brought a load of Irish
convicts to Botany Bay, and had ruled them with an iron hand
without seeing the necessity for a velvet glove. He earned the
name for being cruel and bullying, but these attributes were
more of an advantage than a condemnation for a man engaged in
convict transportation. John Thompson felt quite naturally,
then, that his firm treatment of Tarra had settled for good
the aggravating question as to who was boss. Ti Puhi's
willingness to lead him to the wood he wanted strengthened the
captain in this opinion, and willing to follow one advantage
with another, he arranged terms whereby the Maoris were to cut
and load the spars for him.
after the Boyd's hook grappled with the muddy bottom of
Whangaroa Bay, Thompson went ashore with his first officer and
three boatloads of men, accompanied by the Maoris who had been
on the ship, travelling in their own canoes. Ti Puhi led this
small fleet into the mouth of a river, up which they travelled
for some time, until they were both out of sight and out of
sound of the ship.
Well up on the
river bank the party landed and began to inspect likely
looking trees. The natives, however, pointed out unsuitable
timber, and the party wandered far into the forest of
long-trunked trees, leaving their boats pulled up on the bank.
At first it
seemed that the natives were in a jocular mood, pointing to
broken and rotting tree-stumps and asking Thompson if these
would suit him. It became evident, however, that this was
intended as insolence rather than humor; and as the
conversation swung the Maoris from the Boyd began to
upbraid Thompson for his
Tired from walking and a trifle bewildered by the subtle change of front in the Maoris, Thompson and his crew sat down on some fallen tree-trunks. Ti Puhi remained friendly towards them, and stood in front of them talking pleasantly.
Cheered by the fact that the chief was a friend, and interested in what he had to say, the men from the Boyd took no notice of the other Maoris in the party. But while Ti Puhi spoke these dark-skinned and treacherous people moved about quietly until behind each white man there stood a Maori, with arms folded and face impassive.
Ti Puhi gesticulated as he talked, looking from one man to the other, and at his own men. He reached a point in the conversation where he brought the edge of his right hand down sharply on the palm of his left, with a quick, cutting motion.
To the white men it was one more gesture. To the Maoris behind them it was …
Like lightning, axes and clubs swept from beneath the mats worn by the Maoris. They flashed in the air and were descending before the white men realised their danger. It was perhaps the quickest and most merciful massacre recorded in history. In a minute every white man from the Boyd was a bloody corpse with cleft skull. Most of the sailors had carried muskets but none had opportunity to use them.
So quickly and darkly was the killing accomplished that until the very end nobody realised that such an act was even remotely contemplated. Yet when the bodies of the pakehas lay lifeless in the clearing the hatred and resentment which had smouldered beneath the calm faces of the Maoris broke forth like the bubbling lava of their own volcanoes.
They dragged the clothes from the bodies of the fallen men, and dressed themselves in the uniforms. They took the muskets which the sailors had carried, and turned back to the river bank and the Boyd's boats. They climbed into these and commenced the return voyage.
When the dressed-up Maoris brought the boats in sight of the Boyd it was quite dark. The second officer was in charge of the ship, and he hailed the boats as they approached. Having to answer the hail the Maoris said that Thompson and his party had chosen the spars and had remained on shore overnight to make certain of an early start to cutting on the following day.
It was a likely story, and the second officer believed it, and allowed the Maoris to come aboard. He gasped as he saw them tumble over the railing in the uniforms of his comrades. It was the last thing he did.
The second officer being down with an axe through his skull, the barefooted Maoris began to scatter through the ship. The sailors of the watch, taken by surprise, were killed one by one.
Other Maoris descended the companionways, and knocked at the cabin doors, asking the passengers to come on deck to see the spars that had been cut. One woman passenger ran out and started up the companionway. She was killed before she reached the deck. The noise alarmed other passengers, who ran out of their cabins and were killed as they appeared. Four or five of them managed to reach the deck, and to climb into the rigging, where they stayed all night.
Ti Puhi saw them hanging in the
shrouds and called to them to come into his canoe. At great
personal risk they climbed down, dodged across the deck, and
diving into the water, managed to reach the canoe. They were
killed as soon as they reached the shore.
A woman and two children who were found hiding in a cabin, and a fifteen year old apprentice boy, were the only members of that ill-fated company to survive.
Meanwhile the Maoris, now thoroughly absorbed in the work of slaughtering and plundering, were busily getting the Boyd's cargo on deck and loading it into boats and canoes, dividing it among themselves. The foodstuffs they tasted, judged as unpalatable, and threw into the sea. Muskets and ammunition they prized above everything else.
One native, finding a musket and a barrel of gunpowder, stove in the keg, poured powder into the pan of the musket, and pulled the trigger. The flash ignited the barrel of powder. Five women and eight or nine men were killed in the explosion that followed, and part of the ship burst into flame.
By the light of this ruddy fire the work of plunder went on. When at last it was finished, Ti Puhi pulled a keg of powder into the middle of the deck and repeated the trick of his tribesman: tearing off the top of the keg he snapped a musket over it. The explosion killed himself and most of the other Maoris aboard, and started another fire.
The force of these explosions tore the vessel from it’s anchorage, and, its superstructure a ruddy mass of flickering flame, it drifted down the bay on the current, trailing a wake of water turned to blood by the reflection of the fire.
On a shallow part of the bay the Boyd grounded, and there she stayed, a burnt-out hulk, a charred memorial to a bullying captain's ignorance of a young Maori prince's dignity. For the whole of this sordid holocaust arose from Tarra's hidden resentment at being flogged.
Even there the matter did not end. The bloody story had a bloody sequel. The history of the Boyd came to the British whaler New Zealander, and Captain Parker felt that he would be fully justified in suspending his whaling activities until he had inflicted reprisals on the natives.
Parker's only clue to the tragedy was that the chief's name was Ti Puhi: and by the time this name reached him it was confused with Ti Pahi, chief of the Bay of Islands tribe.
The New Zealander, therefore, went to the Bay of Islands, landed two hundred men, and attacked the unfortunate Maoris wherever they could be discovered. Natives were shot on sight, their houses burned, and their crops destroyed. Chief Ti Pahi was seriously wounded, and though he managed to escape immediate death, he died in the forest a few months later as a result of gangrene from the wounds.
The New Zealander's company rested in the confidence that they had done a good job of meting out justice to a cruel and stubborn tribe; but the real culprits of the Boyd massacre were some fifty miles south-east of the Bay of Islands.
Ti Pahi's tribe knew, however, that the Ngati Pou men from Whangaroa were really responsible for the Boyd trouble, and managed to discover why they had been so ruthlessly set upon. War followed.
Ti Pahi's tribe engaged the Ngati Pou natives in war, and for five years they skirmished and carried on an unhappy guerilla war. All of this could be traced back directly to those few fateful days when Captain Thompson and Tarra disagreed on the Boyd, just out from Sydney. A missionary might have said, “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth.” Such was indeed the case; and it took a missionary, the famous Samuel Marsden, to extinguish the fire, for it was his intervention in 1815 that finally brought peace between the Whangaroa natives and the badly wronged men of the Bay of Islands, thus closing after five years the unhappy story of the ship Boyd.
For many years
there was a laundry in Pitt Street, North Sydney. There was
nothing more remarkable about the laundry than the stone
paving at its entrance, and even that seemed to hold no
As the construction of the Sydney Harbor Bridge progressed, interesting parts of oldest Sydney were demolished to make way for the approaches on either side of the big span, and in the work of clearance the old laundry was demolished and the paving stones were pulled up. As those stones were lifted from their clay one of them attracted attention as being different from the others. On it was still to be seen some faint, half-obliterated carving which, when deciphered, showed that the old paving stone had paid a double debt, for it had once stood at the head of a grave before turned to its later use. The inscription on the stone was:
To the Memory of
MR. PETER CRAWFORD chief officer of the ship Surry
who in the execution of his duty fell victim to a malignant
Typhus Fever which raged with unprecedented fury throughout
the whole ship.
progress in the form of the bridge construction, awakened to
faint echo the voice of the past, and there called back from
the cobbles of an uninteresting old street the grim memories
of one of Australia's most ill-fated ships, the Surry (mis-spelt
in some reference books as Surrey). It was a ship which
arrived in Sydney Harbor under the scourge of a dangerous
disease, and swung at quarantine while death stalked its
decks. But the Surry outlived the dark days, and
stayed to vindicate itself in peaceable Australian trade.
dramatic arrival in Port Jackson occurred in 1814, a date
which couples it with the first arrival of the great religious
pioneer Samuel Marsden, and with the burning of the ship Three
B's at the waterside in Port Jackson.
But the story
of the Surry is best approached from another vessel,
the Broxbornebury (in some documents Broxhornbury,
Broxborneburry and Brexhernbury- all wrong spellings of the
unusual name) which was the first contact by which the story
of the Surry became known.
Back then, to
the Broxbornebury which sailed from England in 1814,
carrying on its passenger list two people destined to become
distinctive Australian personalities- J. H. Bent Esq., the new
Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and the
more colorful Dr. Sir John Jamison, K.G.V., son of the
surgeon's mate of the first fleeter Sirius and a man
who had served with Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen, who
had performed a delicate operation on the Queen of Sweden, and
had for that latter service been awarded the high Swedish
honor of a Knight of Gustavus Vasa, whence the K.G.V.
Jamison's father had been awarded a grant of 1000 acres of
land in the Penrith district, but had left it to go back to
England where he was a witness in the trial of William Bligh
of the Bounty. This older Dr. Jamison died on January
25, 1811, leaving his son what must have then seemed a
precarious inheritance- the 1000 acres of bushland near
Penrith, in the newly-opened colony, before Penrith was of any
size or importance.
These two men
were among the human freight of the Broxbornebury and
it was while they were enjoying the unique excitement that
comes when a long and hazardous journey is nearing its last
hours that their lookout caught sight of a big ship.
All the sails
of the strange vessel were into the wind; distress signals
were flying from its rigging. It was in answer to these
signals that the Broxbornebury came up with the ship,
which proved to be the Surry in sorry trouble.
register of the Port of Sydney shows that the Surry
was of 443 tons, manned with 30 men and armed with 14 guns,
built at Hardwick, registered in London, and owned by Messrs.
Mangles, a name with a slightly Dickensian flavor!
When the Broxbornebury
found her off the New South Wales coast the Surry was under
Captain William Patterson, but typhus fever was in charge of
the ship. A number of people were already dead. Most of the
others were sick. The captain and his officers were suffering,
and although they were still alive they were incapable of
taking the ship to port.
The case was a
serious one, and one in which Captain Thomas Pitcher junior
(another Dickensian name!) part-owner and master of the Broxbornebury,
felt justified in calling for a volunteer to take over the
ill-fated vessel rather than detail a man for the control of
the death-ship. It was a task which, in the limited medical
knowledge of the day, was infinitely more hazardous than it
would be at the present time, though it would be a suicide job
even now, without special medical equipment. Nevertheless,
there was one ready volunteer, a man who made himself one of
Australia's unsung heroes by taking the responsibility- so
unsung that most of the extant records refer, to him simply as
an “unknown seaman”, or “a man whose name is not known.” The
Historical Records of Australia, however, state the man's name
as “Nash,” and that seems to be all that is said of him.
Knowing he was
stepping to almost certain death, he went aboard the Surry
at his own request, and he brought her safely into port.
Redfern was surgeon in charge in New South Wales at the time.
The investigation of the Surry's outbreak was one of
his jobs, and he reported on the matter to the Commissioners
for Transport. In this report he states that the two vessels
met on July 26, and that Milson's Point, then called the North
Shore, was declared a quarantine ground for the Surry
on July 28.
Nash was, of
course, the first man to know the story; Dr. Redfern
afterwards uncovered it in its simple horror as he checked
through the Surry’s log to try and find out how the
plague had started and spread.
The ship had
left England carrying a number of convicts and a detachment of
the 46th Regiment which, at Governor Lachlan
Macquarie's request was to be stationed in New South Wales.
Shortly after the voyage began, on March 7, one
The ship's surgeon, working furiously to combat the outbreak, went as far as his limited medical means would allow, but his best efforts were unsuccessful against the virulence of the scourge.
It is a curious sidelight that Governor Macquarie blamed Captain Patterson and the ship's surgeon for the outbreak, lightly claiming that they could have let the men on deck more frequently. The Governor left that statement in his report to the Commissioners for Transport, which was accompanied by Redfern's professional exoneration of the two officers in question.
Whatever measures had been taken however were ineffectual.
When the Broxbornebury discovered the Surry the trouble had gone on steadily from March 7 to July 28- for 143 days; one hundred and forty three days of dragging death, of suffering, of increasing impotence which paralysed the ship and rendered it a helpless victim of the sea. Many of the vessel's small company were dead; her officers and men powerless. She could scarcely ever have made port but for the chance encounter- she might have drifted out to sea with her miserable cargo; she might have been washed up somewhere on the rugged Australian rocks, adding terror to suffering.
Safely quarantined at Milson's Point, tents were erected along the shore and the sick men were carried off the ship, lucky to be ashore, lucky to be alive, but the transition marked only a stage in their misery. For nine months more the patients were to remain in their canvas hospital while the plague-ship swung, empty and idly, on her anchor cables. During the period the death roll mounted. Finally fifty of the people who left London for that voyage had passed on their way to that longer and last of all voyages. Of that fated fifty, 36 were convicts; Captain Patterson, his first and second officers, the boatswain and six seamen, a sergeant and three privates of the 46th Regiment detachment, also died. And where these men died, on the then green and steep North Shore, near where an amusement park and bridge approach now are, they were buried, quietly, in the bush, with headstones to their memory.
In the year 1895 a contractor worked on a piece of vacant ground belonging to a Mr. Goddard (whose grandson, Mr. R. H. Goddard of Sydney, is an authority on the Surry and has written the ship's biography). This land had been a market garden in the North Shore area, and when cleared by the contractor yielded three tombstones. One of these was that dug up at the laundry entrance in Pitt Street, North Sydney, and is preserved, though broken, in the Royal Australian Historical Society's rooms in Sydney. The other two Surry headstones were used for hearth stones and apparently were broken up in general demolition work, for they have not been preserved: they were the stones to the memory of Captain Patterson and the ship's surgeon.
But there were, to revert to the narrative, survivors of the Surry. After the fever had run its course- these were transferred from the quarantine across the harbor to the main settlement and joined in the life of the community. The good ship Surry, in spite of her gruelling introduction to Australia, was restored to a useful mercantile service under Captain Thomas Raine, who was part-owner of the vessel and was the great-grandfather of Mr. E. R. Raine of the Sydney real estate firm of Raine and Horne. Mr. Raine still has in his Sydney home some of the logbooks and diaries of the old mariner-pioneer who piloted the Surry through her happier days.
One of the most tragic sidelights
of an entirely tragic voyage was the youthfulness of the two
principal victims. Both Captain Patterson and Surgeon John
Brooks were only 24 years old when they died on the same day,
August 12. A more remarkable circumstance is that though the
fever spread and raged so mercilessly through the Surry
it did not spread to the settlement, as might have been
expected. And it is only fitting as a conclusion to Nash's
heroic volunteering that his name not being among the list of
victims, it can be presumed that he lived through the selfimposed
the Surry was the second ship to bring a dread disease
into Port Jackson, but neither she nor the earlier
plague-ship, Hillsborough, spread the epidemic to the
shore settlement. This was providential, for such an outbreak
at that time could not have been effectively checked. There
was no effective organisation for hospital and medical
attention- those were progressive steps which the colony owed,
among many other improvements, to the far-seeing Lachlan
Macquarie: and at the time of the arrival of both
ships a miniature enactment of the Plague of London might
easily have been the lot of the foundations of a Commonwealth.
The Hillsborough sailed through Sydney Heads,
badly affected but under control, on July 26, 1799- fifteen
years to the day prior to the Broxbornebury’s discovery of the
Surry. Of the 300 convicts she carried 95 had died of
typhus before she berthed, six more died after coming ashore.
In those early days the sick men were not even quarantined;
they were brought ashore into the healthy colony as casually
as though they merely suffered from broken legs: which makes
the colony's escape from epidemic all the more remarkable.
appearance of typhus was in 1838 when the Minerva,
carrying 285 immigrants, arrived and went into quarantine, 33
people dying. For the lack of hygiene in those old ships,
perhaps the number of and the number of casualties, was
light: and it is fortunate that no vessel has recorded such
gruesome plague story as the little Surry which has such close
ties with Australian history, and with Sydney of the present
Within five years of the First
Fleet's arrival in Port Jackson, British sailors had
discovered an exciting and lucrative profession in the
They were men
of action, and went to work forthwith. The season 1792- 1793
found bloody activity in the vicinity of Dusky Sound, New
Zealand, the scene of the first Australasian seal-hunting
expeditions. Wanton and ruthless hunters knocked female and
baby seals on the head with belaying pins or improvised clubs,
and the beautiful furs were ripped from carcasses still
pulsing with life.
Governor King wrote of sealing as an established industry. A
year later an ex-convict operating on King Island, Bass
Strait, sent two thousand sealskins to England. Luttrell wrote
in 1807 that this extravagant hunting had frightened the seal
from Bass Strait islands and the Tasmanian coast. With uncanny
instinct they migrated to southern New Zealand, to find that
the seal community there had known no better fate.
In the early
days of Governor Macquarie's regime, T. W. Birch's brig Sophia
was working on the Australian coast, making regular trips to
Van Diemen's Land. Mr. Birch decided to embark on a sealing
enterprise, and when the Sophia was set to this work
in the last month of 1817, it followed the driven seals to the
southern coast of New Zealand. Hopes ran high that the much
sought skins and oil would make the Sophia a wealthy
investment. Actually, however, the vessel was to reap the
reward of another crew's cruelty, and end as a Government
transport on the Tasmanian coast.
Hobart at the beginning December, under Captain James Kelly,
the Sophia dropped anchor on December 11 at Port
Daniel, a sealing station opened seven years previously, near
immediately decided to go ashore, and, in picking a boat's
crew, was glad to include a seaman named Turner, who said he
had previously visited the place, and was known to the
natives. The Maoris ran down the beach to meet the small boat,
and watched in silence until Turner commenced to walk towards
them. They immediately began chattering, pointing to him, and
calling, “Wioree.” This, he explained, was a name they had
given him on previous visits.
contact with the Maoris was in every way successful.
following day he went ashore with this purpose, at Small Bay,
outside the harbour's mouth, and about two miles from where
the Sophia was anchored. Here more natives met him,
and also recognised Turner as their white friend Wioree. The
chief of the village, an imposing man decoratively tattooed,
gladly accepted a present of iron from Kelly; and the captain
in turn visited the chief's dwelling to barter for potatoes.
He took Turner
and four other men with him, leaving one man, Robinson, to
look after the boat.
reception was in every way friendly, and Kelly was glad that,
on the advice of some of the crew, they had not brought
At the chief's
house, Captain Kelly found a Lascar who was able to speak
English, and seemed quite at home with the Maori dialect. He
had been a member of the crew of a brig, Matilda,
which had come to Port Daniel under a Captain Fowler, and
which had been wrecked there. A number of the Matilda's men
had been killed. The Lascar had made his home in the village.
He seemed glad to see the white men, and offered, because he
knew the Maori language, to barter for the potatoes Kelly
The news of
the white men's arrival spread quickly. A great crowd of
natives from every corner of the district assembled around the
chief's house. Captain Kelly reckoned there must be sixty of
them in the compound surrounding the chief's house, where all
the white men were standing together.
amiable. The natives chattered among themselves, and stared at
the strange pale men. Entirely at ease, the Sophia's
men stood in a knot talking.
warning a horrible yell went up from the Maoris, and in a
second the dark men were charging through the compound, waving
their spears, screaming threats, bearing down on the little,
and two men, John Griffiths and Veto Viole, went down before
the surging mob. Tucker, who knew the temperament of the
natives, shouted to Dutton and Waller to follow him, and
fought his way from the compound. Threshing at the brown faces
with horny fists clenched, the three men cleared the yard, and
broke into a desperate run towards the beach. Spears fell
around them as they ran; but they managed to make the water's
edge. Dutton and Waller found Robinson already a victim of the
attack, helpless beside the boat, an ugly wound in his head.
They lifted him into it, and tried to push the boat into deep
water. They were certain that the three men in the chief's
yard could not escape.
still standing on the sand, watching the maddened Maoris who
were his friends. He turned as Dutton and Waller launched the
comes the captain!”
Kelly had put
up a terrific fight with the natives. He had been carrying a
new billhook, for use on the potatoes he hoped to obtain. Now
he used it on the Maoris.
As its concave
edge thudded sickeningly into Maori flesh, a spear took him
through the left hand. With this handicap, he, nevertheless,
managed to swing his billhook to advantage, despair giving him
broke loose from the compound, and ran headlong towards the
beach. His last sight in that shambles was Veto lying on the
ground insensible, pounded by the maddened Maori feet.
Griffiths had disappeared.
As he ran down
the sand he could see the boat gliding into the water. He was
choking for breath and could not shout. But Tucker had seen
him. He threw himself into the water, and was dragged over the
gunwale by the two men already there. Dutton was calling to
Tucker to hurry.
however, made a desperate bid to stem the fury of the natives.
He stood on the hard, wet sand, the gentle ripples lapping
over his feet, calling to the frenzied natives that he was
Wioree, their friend.
“I am Wioree.
Do not hurt Wioree . . .”
And a spear
took him through the right thigh. It came from the hand of a
man whom Kelly had wounded with his billhook.
men in the boat could do nothing. Beaten, bruised, exhausted,
they floated idly on the gentle wavelets while the Maoris,
blood-lust in their eyes, tore Wioree, their friend, limb from
desperate cry to them– “For God's sake don't leave me!”
-echoed in their ears as his dismembered body was carried up
the sand to shouts of savage triumph.
to cover the two miles that separated them from the Sophia.
They clambered aboard. Other Maoris were there; friendly
Maoris, who had no idea of their fellow tribes-men's
them ashore, “considering the principle of revenge in such
cases unjustifiable.” Four days later the Sophia weighed
anchor. Her sealing venture was already ended.
Gazette reported the affair on April 18, 1818, nearly
five months after it happened. It commented that “Captain K.
regrets having listened to the persuasion of Tucker and the
wish of the other men, to go on ashore the second day without
firearms, to which the loss of the three unfortunate men may
In justice to
Wioree, however, the report continued, “Tucker's confidence,
however deceived, was founded on good experience, and Captain
Kelly had some reason to believe that these natives, though
certainly not dependable, were fired in their revenge by the
recollection of two or more of their people being shot by
proved himself to be one of the stalwarts of the early coastal
trade. He took the Sophia almost immediately to
Hobart, and on May 24 returned to Sydney with a cargo of
Tasmanian wheat. A fortnight later, while the brig was lying
quietly at anchor in Sydney Cove, it became the centre of a
second exciting scene.
In these early
years desperate plans to escape from the colony were of
frequent occurrence. Rebellious spirits- many of them
motivated by a sense of injustice at being exiled to a strange
wild land for petty crimes and sometimes for no crime at all-
found many ways to freedom open. There was the bush, with the
risk of striking unfriendly blacks; some saw possibilities of
a colorful, if lawless career, and became bushrangers; others
could not resist the fascinating suggestiveness of a ship
riding at anchor....
A dark night
offered every facility for getting a vessel to sea unobserved;
the one task- no mean one, either- was that of overpowering
whatever crew happened to be on board. The Sophia
became the centre of such dreams.
it was rumoured, would make a trip to Parramatta, on the 18th.
Plans were laid accordingly, which were thought to be secret;
and late on the night of the 18th, or early on the
morning of the 19th, a Thursday, a daring attempt
was made to overpower the crew of the Sophia and steal
the ship from her moorings.
however, had been carried to the ship, and Kelly was aboard
before the hour arranged. A small boat brought the pirates
stealthily from the foreshores of the harbour, and the
ruffians climbed aboard. They were met by a forewarned and
fully armed crew.
was completely frustrated,” says a contemporary record, and
the party well peppered with a brisk discharge of musketry
under the direction of Captain Kelly, who was fully prepared
for the occasion. Immediately firing was heard on shore, a
well-manned boat set out under direction of Mr. Williams, His
Excellency the Governor's coxswain, but the desperadoes were
By this time
Kelly was something of a local hero, and the Gazette expressed
high regard for his work in saving the Sophia from
piracy, which was, at that time, rampant in the harbour.
“It is with no
little satisfaction we understand that it is in contemplation
with the merchants and ship owners of Sydney to present
Captain Kelly with a handsome piece of plate, inscribed with
the record of his manly and successful exertions in repelling
a strong and desperate party of sanguinary pirates.”
seems to have borne “the stamp of fate, the sanction of the
gods.” Bursting into the realm of the picturesque at Port
Daniel, tasting the thrill of attempted piracy in Sydney's not
so quiet Cove, she was destined at last to historic
association with the cruelest convict settlement in Australian
1821, the Government hired the brig. In company with His
Majesty's brig Prince Leopold, she nosed out of Hobart
Town. They were on their way to Macquarie Harbour, discovered
on June 14, 1816, and noted as a possible settlement.
Gazette of January 4, 1822, noted: “Hobart Town,
December 15. On Tuesday last the detachment of troops with
stores, artificers, and convicts, detailed to form the new
establishment at Macquarie Harbour, were embarked on board His
Majesty's Colonial brig Prince Leopold and the hired
brig Sophia. On Wednesday the two vessels sailed with
a fair wind.”
they formed became the worst dumping ground for the hardest of
convicts; it became the home of countless atrocities, on the
parts both of officers and prisoners; it was the scene of the
mutiny on the Cyprus; it was the prison from which
Alexander Pierce, the cannibal convict, escaped; it richly
earned the soubriquet it afterwards carried-“Hell Harbor.”
Here the Sophia
ended her days, carrying convicts and supplies, and settling
down to a grim welter of cruelty and bloodshed of which the
famous Port Daniel episode was the precursor.
which appeared in the Gazette might almost have been
the brig's obituary:
“Hobart Town, February 23 (1822). –The brig Sophia
which has made several voyages to Macquarie Harbour while
owned by the late T. W. Birch, Esq., has been purchased by the
Government for the use of the settlement. Her name has
There are some
vivid pictures of sea-war from the days when the good Sir
Richard Grenville jousted against the Spanish Fifty-three, to
the missile exchanges of today; but until the serious outbreak
of war in the Pacific in 1941, these gaudy passages had been
confined practically entirely to the Old World. All the
stirring deeds of Drake and Frobisher and Benbow and Nelson,
were fought out between the Mediterranean and the West
Atlantic; some of the most highly sung episodes of sea-war
were small engagements in bays and backwaters; their most
colorful background was the sparse islands of the Atlantic-
the Azores and some of the West Indian islands. And such was
the preponderance of these gaudy battles that they have
captured sea history almost exclusively, carrying the day by
the weight of their numbers.
in those steady days of the early nineteenth century when
one-eyed Nelson sailed with his coffin in his cabin and the
Turks used mediaeval battering-rams against the British fleet
before Constantinople- back there, war came to the Pacific,
and caught in its toils ships of the Australian trade. It was
the American warship Essex which brought this smack of
warfare and a touch of buccaneering verve to the Pacific, and
indirectly to the Australian coast. It was a colorful,
semi-piratical kind of expedition, the kind of thing that one
associates with treasure-ships and privateers on the Spanish
Main, the temperature of Captain Blood or Australian Ernest
Wells' Dirk Spaanders. And like most warfare and piracy, the
episode had a political background which is best sketched
quickly in the words of the textbook:
difficulties with Britain might have been solved but President
Madison blundered into the war in 1812. The Northern tribes of
Indians aided the British forces operating in Canada; the
American Army was defeated during an attempted invasion, and
the Indians won several successes which they followed by
massacre. The American Navy was more successful; but was
eventually blockaded in its ports. The British naval forces on
the Great Lakes were, however, destroyed.”
Thus the stage
was set for a unique episode in Australia's history; for the
American vessel Essex, cruising in the Pacific, tried
to harry the vessels engaged in Australian trade, and they
picked their prizes among the whaling windbags which were
looking for sea wealth among the islands. This was not the Essex
which, some few years later, was sunk by a whale,
providing the basis for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
It was another
Essex, a man-o'-war of 32 guns, sent specially on the
raiding expedition; and in following its instructions it
captured British whalers. One of these was the Greenwich,
which it took to the Marquesas Islands, where an American base
had been established, although the United States had not taken
possession of the Marquesas group.
That trip was
eventful enough: the Marquesans raided the Americans and
killed a number of them on May 16, 1813. The Greenwich
was set afire, and the Americans left the island. They wished
to continue raiding British vessels- they also wished to keep
a base in the Marquesas where they could build a fort which
would serve as prison for British captured seamen, and at the
same time safeguard themselves against further attacks by the
The ship Seringapatam,
375 tons, built in Bombay and transferred from trading runs to
the whaling venture, explored the Pacific on her new quest.
But when she sailed into Sydney Harbor on July 1, 1814, she
was no longer under the command of Captain Stivers, and she
was carrying eighteen guns she had not possessed when she left
port. She was manned by fourteen British seamen who all showed
signs of hard living and great suffering, and who could back
up these outward signs of privation by a strange story of
had some months before, been cruising off the Galapagos
Islands, near the west coast of South America, in the Pacific.
There she sighted a foreign sail- an enemy sail. The two ships
quickly drew together, and it became apparent that the Seringapatam
was no match for the stranger. The old, familiar scenes of the
Spanish Main were re-enacted. The chase-canvas bellying before
a fresh breeze, every man at his station as the wooden bow
ploughed the sea; the spurt of smoke from the stranger's side
as the warning ball whistled across the bow of the Seringapatam,
the signal to “heave to”; and finally the sharp short tussle
in which the Americans, superior in every way, took possession
of the whaler.
Porter of the Essex had brought down another bird. He
sorted out his prisoners and inspected his prize like a pirate
to the manner born. He treated Captain Stivers of the
Seringapatam as a fellow officer should be treated- Stivers
was placed aboard the Georgiana and sent to America,
and there was a certain ignominy in that, for the Georgiana
was an English ship captured by the Essex some
time earlier. Other officers and men of the Seringapatam
were placed aboard another British prize, the Charlton,
and under the Charlton's own British captain, a
skilful seaman Halcrow, they were given a little food and told
to make for Rio de Janiero. The Charlton had been
stripped of everything that could serve to help the Essex,
and the Britons under Halcrow found themselves very meagerly
supplied in every way- but they had their freedom and a ship
remained in Captain David Porter's hands, and he prepared to
take her back to the Marquesas, which lay some distance west.
He rounded up other prize ships, loaded them with British
prisoners of war, and led his fleet of captives to his pirate
at the Marquesas on September 13, 1813, at an island on which
the Americans had already commenced the building of a fort;
but there was more work to be done to complete the defences,
and the Americans put the British seamen to work on the job.
re-enacted such a scene as was familiar among the Spaniards of
the West Indies centuries before. The captured British seamen
were, virtually, slaves. With meagre material they worked
under the strictest supervision and on insufficient rations,
and they worked damned hard. It was November in the Marquesas,
burning summer punctuated with tropical rains which came in
drenching storms and were followed by steamy, sticky heat
through which thousands of insects swarmed. December came with
a rising thermometer and all through that miserable month, and
all through the January which followed, the British prisoners
toiled at the fort. Although escape from the miserable place
seemed an utter impossibility, they were kept continually
under the strictest supervision. Later when Australia's
autocratic Governor Macquarie wrote a despatch to Lord
Bathurst about it, he said in his crisp, decisive style that
these men had been “made to work on the erection of a fort and
exposed to indignities which, as prisoners of war, they should
have been exempted from.”
While this was
the fate of the British sailors, the British ship Seringapatam
lay idle in the bay. She had been converted into a store-ship,
her tween-decks stuffed with goods captured from other
vessels, strictly and constantly watched by three
prize-masters. Around her other captured craft lay forlornly
at anchor while the weeds thickened on their bottoms.
The fort was
at length completed, and became the nightly prison of the men
who had built it. Their life dragged into a miserable,
uncomfortable, despair-ridden existence- but they were not the
only malcontents. Captain Porter himself, the presiding genius
in this lair, grew restive. The Essex could not
justify her existence by lolling about the bay; so early in
the year, confident that the arrangements at the Marquesas
base were satisfactory, the Essex put to sea again to
use further her roving commission. All through February and
March she remained at sea. In April she had not returned.
On the islands
soldiers and prisoners alike began to wonder at her long
absence. They could not know, of course, that on March 28,
1814, she had tried conclusions with the British frigate Phoebe
off Valparaiso, and had taken the count herself. Captain
Porter's ship died as she had lived, amid the crash of round
shot and the smell of cannon-smoke.
hardships which were daily fare on the island the prisoners'
discontent swelled and grew. They began to express their
discontent openly; and as the Essex failed, through
succeeding days, to return, this expression of restlessness
became bolder. And as the men became bolder in their speech,
hopes of escape began to filter into their occasional talks.
More than once they put their heads together, whispering of
this or that plan for breaking away from their prison.
When that kind
of thing starts to happen among prisoners, the time is
approaching for some kind of showdown, which is going to lead
to escape, at least for some or to the frustration of an
attempt and worse conditions than ever afterwards.
sailors evolved their plan. Fully realising that failure would
place them in an even worse position, they went over every
step of the plan, carefully considering and testing every
projected move. They were fairly sure of themselves when
finally, on May 6, 1814, they boarded the Seringapatam.
overpowered the three prize-masters in charge of the
store-ship. These officials, taken unawares, were bound hand
and foot without offering any resistance. Macquarie's despatch
describing the event said that the ship was “recaptured
without any act of violence or severity being offered to the
conspirators then took aboard the Seringapatam the
arms and ammunition that had been captured from the ship Greenwich.
They worked their way to the battlements of the fort they had
helped to build, and spiked the guns so, that they could not
be fired on if they were detected in their escape. Then,
deftly cutting the cables that held the ship, and under cover
of darkness, they slipped away on the tide. By the time their
blocks were creaking and their tackle rattling as they hoisted
sail, they were beyond the reach of the men ashore.
They still had
on the Seringapatam the three prize-masters who had
been overpowered, and they had no idea of retaliating and
keeping them as prisoners of war. Perhaps they thought they
had their work cut out to look after the ship, without looking
after prisoners as well. So the three prize-masters were
lowered in a small boat when the Seringapatam was well
off the island, and were left the long, slow, but by no means
dangerous row back.
Among the men
who had seized the Seringapatam there were no
officers; but in those days of versatile seamen the fourteen
managed to handle the vessel well and safely. She touched at
Tahiti, and thence continued her voyage to Sydney, arriving on
July 1, 1814. She came back a different vessel- for she left
as a whaler, and came back as a man-o'-war mounting 22 guns.
arrival, the story of her strange adventure, and the daring of
the fourteen seamen who recaptured her, set the young town
agog. Legally, it was plain that the Seringapatam was
the prize of the fourteen men who had taken her; but ironing
out the legalities was a bit too much for the colony, and
Governor Macquarie decided that the status of the vessel, and
the prize money to be paid to the fourteen sailors, was beyond
the jurisdiction of the Court of the Vice-Admiralty of Sydney.
He despatched the vessel to England to have the position
clarified. The men who had brought her down from the Marquesas
were offered the opportunity of making the further voyage to
England in her; but they frankly acknowledged their lack of
seamanship adequate to the long journey.
Sydney-ite, Eber Bunker, “a very able and most expert seaman
and of a most respectable character” (said Macquarie) was
given the command for the home run. He was promised no wages
for his task, declaring that he would be satisfied to register
his claim with the British Court, and to accept whatever
decision it might make in the matter.
That is what
actually happened, and it brought to a successful conclusion
for all concerned the strange adventure of the Seringapatam,
the ship that introduced a war-time privateering touch to
Australia's sea history.
The final home
run of the Seringapatam has an interesting contact
with Australian history in two of the despatches which it
carried. One of these was the story of the plague-ship Surry.
The story of Governor Macquarie, Dr. Redfern's medical
reports, and all the documents relating to that vessel of
death, went to England on this other vessel of strange
adventure. The Seringapatam's mail-bag contained as
well another despatch of note that in which Macquarie
complained to the Home Government that Australia's great
missionary, Samuel Marsden, was using “in divine worship
unauthorised versions of psalms, without my authority.”
It is the
exception, rather than the rule, in the history of the sea,
that a vessel comes safely out of trouble and the Seringapatam
is one of the exceptions. Her story is the story of the ship,
rather than of the men; the men who originally manned her fade
from the story (they finally received their tickets of safety)
while prisoners of war became her later crew, and her new
Northcliff, who declaimed that it was news when a man bit a
dog, had been running a newspaper in the year 1819, he might
have given his front page a banner heading like this:
WHALE BITES SHIP IN TWO
White Men Eat Each Other
In Terrible Climax
Such a heading
to an item of news would invite at least scepticism; yet that
is the stark and sober truth about the tragedy of the American
whaling ship Essex, as attested by three independent
witnesses who were caught up in the amazing tragedy and who
lived through an aftermath of hell.
(not to be confused with the privateer) met her doom in the
South Pacific, 1150 miles west-sou'-west of Tasmania. Her
fabulous story was carried immediately to Hobart, and is of
special interest because it later inspired Herman Melville,
who was born in the year of the tragedy, to write his Moby
Dick, classic of all whaling stories.
Pollard took the 260-ton whaler out of Nantucket,
Massachusetts, on August 19, 1819, bound for the South Pacific
on a whaling expedition and provisioned for a long cruise. The
Americans had been increasingly conscious of the possibilities
of Pacific whaling- it was because some unfortunate whaling
vessels were wrecked along the Japanese coast that Commodore
Perry was finally commissioned to open up Japan to American
trade: and it was by studying the stories that wrecked and
rescued whaler crews brought back from Nippon that Perry
formulated, to no small extent, his plan of approach to the
unknown nation. At that time numerous American vessels
searched the Pacific for whales, many of them calling at Port
Jackson, and laying the first foundations for American-
Australian relations, introducing, as it were, one country to
whaling, too, which provided this most amazing story of the
sea, in the fate of the Essex, which by November 13,
1819, was sailing in a calm southern sea when a breaking dawn
showed the ship to be surrounded by a school of whales.
lowered at once for the kill, the whaling technique in those
days being to chase the whales in small boats lowered from the
mother ship. That day the boats were lucky- by noon everyone
had fastened, i.e. had harpooned a whale and was following up
for the kill. Just at that time, when everything was
progressing so well, the first mate's little boat was struck a
fierce blow by the fluke of a whale, and the gunwale was stove
in. The boat was in danger of sinking, and the first mate
hacked through the harpoon line and ordered his men to take
the boat back to the Essex, loosing the whale for their own
The boats in
charge of the captain and the second mate continued their
chase. Both were on the point of making their kill when a
sudden cry of alarm went up from the Essex. The
distracted men turned to their boats and saw the mother ship
heel and fall on her beam ends for no apparent reason. A
steady breeze was blowing, the sea was calm, there were no
reefs nor shoals. Both boats cut their fish immediately and
pulled hard for the ship. When they reached the Essex,
she, too, was stove in, and was rapidly filling with water and
Pollard sprang from his boat onto the deck, calling his men to
follow him. They cut away the mast immediately. Grabbing an
axe the captain himself began to shear through the standing
rigging, and as the superstructure fell away the Essex
righted herself in the water, though settling very low.
The first mate
told Pollard an amazing tale. Just after he had come aboard
from his damaged boat a sperm whale of unusual size had risen
close to the vessel and immediately charged the ship,
battering into its broadside with a massive head, tearing away
portion of the keel abreast of the main channels. The monster
lay stunned on the surface for a while, then, turning
fiercely, tried to bite through the vessel's wooden hull. Even
a whale's mouth was not big enough; so the fish turned and
swam some quarter of a mile ahead of the ship, which was then
drifting at about four knots. Suddenly Leviathan turned and
began to swim strongly for the ship. A great impact threw the
men to the deck as whale and ship met in head-on collision.
The bow planking tore and split like matchwood. The bows of
the Essex were lifted out of the water so that the sea
began to gurgle through open stern portholes. The Essex heeled
over and began to sink. Then Captain Pollard heard the cries
of alarm and started back for the partial wreck.
The story was
fantastic enough: but the damage the Captain could see was
proof enough of what had happened- the facts are made a little
more digestible to readers of today by the record that the
cachalot or sperm whale, though usually the size of an
ordinary whale, does in individual cases reach a length of 80
to 90 feet. Pollard's dilemma was, however, what to do with
the ship. A quick examination showed that it could not
possibly live long; it did, however, stay afloat for a few
days, during which the crew busied themselves preparing for a
long boat voyage. Owing to the first mate's accident there
were only two seaworthy whale boats, both of which were
equipped as well and as thoroughly as possible for the
journey- in this respect if in no other the crew of the Essex
had an edge on most small boat voyagers of the sea; they had
time to prepare their boats, and ample provisions upon which
had been very well provisioned, but the water which was
steadily filling the hull, cut the men off from the food
supplies, and the decking had to be scuttled to enable the men
to haul up enough food with which to furnish the small boats.
Three days were occupied in these preparations, and in that
time the captain and his officers had an opportunity of
surveying calmly their position and their best hope of
salvation. Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) was the nearest
coast, and the latitude in which the Essex lay was
too low to promise any chance meeting with another vessel. A
conference was held which decided that the best course would
be to strike out for a higher latitude, in the hope of meeting
other American whalers which might be expected to be operating
there. It seemed an easier and wiser course than going on a
direct route for a journey of a known 1150 miles!
preparation made and this resolve taken, the vessel was
abandoned. The two whale-boats, carrying the entire ship's
company, made way side by side for a time; but with the fall
of the first night they became separated, and from that night
the story of the Essex became a double tragedy as both
boats sailed their independent courses through seas of living
One of the
boats sailed for two months without any object breaking the
eternity of water. The expectation of meeting an American
whaler, or any other vessel, became daily dimmer, and in the
depths of gloom the men cheered heartily if hoarsely when, at
last, they came within sight of land. But the cheer was
wasted. It was a small and barren island on which the starving
and exhausted sailors found no vegetation, very little water,
and no potential meat. Nevertheless, after the rigors of the
small boat- two months in such a confined space is in itself a
refined torture they were glad to spend a week walking about
the island, after which some of them wanted to leave. Three
men, however, said they would rather stay. There was some
discussion on the point, but as neither would be persuaded,
the party split. The three men stood on a rocky prominence and
watched, their comrades crawl slowly over the horizon.
crawled away to drift for another ninety days in the open sea.
They were glad that there were three less men in the boat;
that made things a little easier; but the heat of the sun, the
weakness of thirst and starvation, and the terrible privation
of their long exposure, had reduced them to mere skeletons
when they were finally discovered by another whale-boat which
picked them up and carried them to Valparaiso, Chile, on the
South American Pacific coast.
they told the story of the Essex and the whale, of
their crusoe comrades, of their five months at sea in the
small boat. Even their terrible condition was not sufficient
to give credence to their story; it was thought that they
suffered from delusions as a result of intense hunger and the
effects of the sun.
whaler called at Valparaiso bearing two demented bags of
bones, scarcely recognisable as human. One of them claimed
that he was George Pollard of the Essex, and he,
before he had seen the survivors of the first boat, told his
independent narrative- the same fantastic story of the ship's
being attacked by a whale. Even the sceptics in Valparaiso
granted it would be too much of a coincidence for two demented
sailors to have precisely the same delusions!
But worse than
the fantasy of that story, and worse than the fate of the men
in the first whale boat, was the gruesome tale Pollard told.
In his little
boat the stock of provisions ran low. The hoped-for American
whalers were not sighted- nor was land. Amid the boundless
blueness of the far south Pacific the ten men in the boat
stared starvation in the face.
“We looked at
each other,” George Pollard said later, “with horrid thoughts
in our minds; but we held our tongues. I am sure we loved one
another as brothers all the time, and yet our looks told
plainly what was to be done.
“We cast lots
and the fatal one fell to my cabin-boy. I started forward
instantly and cried out, ‘My lad, my lad! If you don't like
your lot I'll shoot the first man who touches you!’ The boy
hesitated for a moment or two, then laid his head on the
gunwale of the boat. ‘I like it as well as any other,' he
“He was soon
despatched, and none of him left. Then another man died of
himself, and him too we ate.”
Thus the men
in the boat kept starvation at bay, eating the raw flesh of
their comrades knowing in their minds that even as they lived,
some of them ate so that they might be alive to kill- knowing
in their minds that as they ate their fellow-man, the time
would come when their fellow-men would eat ... this one? that one?
A third man
was killed and eaten.
Every time the
terrible rite was carried out the circle became smaller, the
chances of escaping the fatal lot became less- the odds in
favor of sacrifice were lengthened.
lot was cast again.
deranged fantasy of that phantasmagoric day men might sit in
the boat, imagining that it was their own head that lay across
the gunwale awaiting the fatal blow; their own flesh that bled
and was fed upon; their own entrails that were thrown to the
Pollard's mind broke down before he could finish the grisly
“I cannot tell
you more!” he shouted at his horrified audience. “My head is
on fire at the recollection!”
And well might
that be so. While the death boat was tossed across the Pacific
for sixty days eight men were killed by lot and eaten.
Probably, like the first young victim, they liked that fate as
well as any other. It may be they found little to choose
between being eaten themselves and eating the flesh-nourished
flesh of their unlucky comrades.
In those days
they grew sharp-featured with hunger, big-eyed with horror and
with fear. The flesh wasted on their bodies, the
weather-tanned skin grew tight and blistered over bulging
unsightly bones. Despondency seized them, naturally enough, so
that they had neither the strength nor will to row or help
themselves in any way. One by one they died to support their
diminishing and slowly dementing fellows, and they became
almost less than human.
Ten men put
off from the Essex in that boat.
Eight had been
killed and eaten.
Pollard and a boy remained.
Came the day
when those two sat in the bloodstained boat, alone, and
They sat for a
long, long time in silence. The terrible privations and
constant horrible practices of the last weeks had taken from
them all the horror of what must inevitably follow. Last of
that terrible band, they were becoming immune to the practice!
They were beginning to accept it! They sat, looking at each
other. One would kill the other, and eat him, and then.
And then he
would go mad, would shriek and burn up his own brain in an
ecstasy of hysteria before he plunged overboard into the sea
to the merciful sharks, leaving the mystery of an empty,
bloodstained boat to be misunderstood by a world that would
never guess a truth so terrible.
postpone the fatal hour with terrible dreams of what was to
come for the unlucky man to survive the lot? And by what token
did the master of the Essex, George Pollard, live
immune again and again while the lot fell on all but him for
even when the finger of death was cast the lot fell upon the
boy, and Pollard, while he steeled himself for his terrible
work of slaughter, had yet to steel himself for the more
terrible, memory-haunted loneliness.
Ready to kill,
Pollard stood up in the boat and saw a sail. Far away, low
down on the horizon, there was a ship. The death-blow was
stayed. Both were too dulled in mind, too weary in body, to be
excited. Both hoped, with a timid, fearful hope, that this
last terrible death might be stayed. The sail grew; the vessel
bore down upon them. It saw them, and the last terrible deed
of cannibalism was never perpetrated. It was an American
whaler, and it took them aboard.
Valparaiso was a popular centre for whaling vessels active in
the Pacific, they were taken there. And there, to their amazed
audience, they told their story, corroborating the fantastic
narrative of the first survivors, and embroidering it with
their unspeakably terrible experience.
Yet another corroboration of the narrative was forthcoming. Captain Raine, of the whaler Surry (this was the plague-ship after its ordeal) was in Valparaiso. On March 10, 1820, he put to sea on the story of the Essex survivors, to search for the three men marooned on the desolate little island. On April 5 he found them- “three skeletons in trousers”, and he was able to take a small boat through an angry surf to bring them aboard.
Weak as they were from hunger, they were on the verge of insanity. Overcome by their unexpected deliverance, they were quite unable to speak. Their names were Thomas Chappel, William Wright, Seth Walker. When they had received food and rest and had spent several days gaining strength, they were able to add their testimony to the story already told by two other independent witnesses, of that most remarkable shipwreck caused by a whale.
Captain Raine took these three men to Hobart. Here the story was reported, and the little Van Diemen's Land settlement heard at first hand, from the lips of three unhappy actors, the drama in which Herman Melville was later to find the material for Moby Dick.
In 1939 in America a young
aero pilot with specially good publicity ideas took off from
New York in a crazy little plane to fly east-west to San
Francisco. He landed at Cork, Ireland, after having crossed
the Atlantic, and gave vent to the naive remark that he must
have taken the wrong direction; but, of course, he didn't
realise it until he saw the coast of Ireland. And so there was
born into the American language a new phrase- “to do a
Corrigan,” that being the young pilot's name.
I am happy to
find that, although America made great capital of her
Irish-minded flier, Australian history can trump the trick.
For bigger stakes, too, since the four men who “did a
Corrigan” in an open boat in 1823 turned in something more
than a freak performance; they discovered the site of one of
Australia's capital cities as well, at the end of their
adventure. Very grieving it is, however, to find that they
have not received history-book credit for this discovery,
which is due to an oversight on the part of the explorer
involved. The claims of these four men are, however, so well
authenticated that it is a pleasure to advance them, together
with the whole story, and the very best of authority. Back,
then, to the beginning....
Pamphlet was born in England in 1789, and at the age of thirty
received assisted passage to New South Wales. He later found
employment as a timber-cutter in the Illawarra district. Four
years after his arrival, on March 23, 1823, he and three
comrades put a scheme into operation; they were to take an
open boat down the coast to the Five Islands to get cedar
wood. The ship-boat would be a better word- was twenty-nine
and a half feet long and of ten feet beam, quite a small
vessel to go down the coast after timber, and manned on the
trip by Richard Parsons, part-owner, and three men, John
Finnegan, John Thompson, and Thomas Pamphlet.
Sydney early in the morning, and were within eight miles of
their destination at four in the afternoon when a gale sprang
up without warning, and it began to rain. In the darkness of
the storm which quickly shaded into the darkness of night, the
four men lost sight of land, and were compelled to give all
attention to maneuvering their boat through rapidly rising
As the weather
became worse they found it necessary to lower their sail and
to run with bare poles before the storm. In the morning they
were out of sight of land, the mobile sea, whipped into, an
ever-changing contour of hills and valleys, surrounded them
and threatened them, and drove them pitching and rollicking
As they had
intended only to follow the coastline for fifty miles they had
not equipped themselves with navigating instruments, but a
fair stock of provisions, including four gallons of water and
five of rum, had been laid aboard for food during their work
away from home.
Day after day
they ran before the storm, which lasted a week. For another
five days the weather was too boisterous, though calming, to
allow them to put up their canvas again. When, finally, on
April 2, they were in command of the boat again- they had been
able to exercise no control over it at all during the storm-
they judged that they had been driven as far south as the
coast of Van Diemen's Land.
The return of
fair weather found their provisions depleted, and the men
tired from sleeplessness and weak from sickness. Their only
hope of taking a course was by the sun; and they set
The story of
their subsequent sufferings is a long and harrowing one, and
becomes, in the only preserved account, a monotonous
repetition of unenviable experiences. Its preservation is due
to the energetic and versatile Barron Field, who heard it from
one of John Oxley's seamen, and published it in full in 1825
in his Geographical Memoir on New South Wales. As the details
came straight from the lips of Thomas Pamphlet and John
Finnegan, they may be regarded as accurate. In two respects
they correct the Australian Encyclopedia; in the spelling of
Pamphlet's name with one final “t” instead of double-t, and in
giving the Five Islands instead of Wollongong as the
destination of the boat.
written by Field describes the intense sufferings from thirst
that they experienced. The water (they had only four gallons)
ran out on the second day, and for thirteen days, Pamphlet
remarked with what, under other circumstances, would be dry
humor- they had nothing but rum to drink. The effect of this
was bad for a start, and although there was still rum left in
the boat the craving for water became so desperate that John
Thompson, an ex-man-o'-war sailor and “the best in the boat,”
started to drink sea-water. Delirium followed, and Thompson
was strapped down in the boat to prevent his throwing himself
overboard, or doing other harm.
rained, and each time a precious bucket of rain-water was
divided between the four sufferers.
nineteenth day out from Sydney, Finnegan saw land from the
mast-head, but lost sight of it again. Ploughing on still
through the tractless sea, with no other direction than the
approximate guidance of the sun, the men stood two-hour
watches in turn, both day and night, until on the twenty-first
day out (April 12) they again saw land. Several islands broke
the sea before them.
sail, and tried to cheer the pinioned and dying Thompson with
the news, but he died in delirium just about that time,
talking about his Scottish home.
natives on the shore, and it was late afternoon. Desperately
thirsty though they were, the men stood off shore overnight
(for which Pamphlet gave no reason when he told the story) and
while the boat was thus hove to it was washed against some
half-submerged rocks. By a miracle it did not sustain damage,
the water picking it up and carrying it right over the danger
of fortune took them further, however; they drifted so far to
seaward during the darkness that land was barely visible in
the morning. They steered back before a favorable breeze,
however, but still delayed their landing because they saw a
large number of natives, working quietly about the shore.
apparent, however, that the danger from that quarter must be
risked. Parsons, being part-owner of the boat, was not
prepared to risk trying to beach it in the surf that was
running. They anchored half a mile from the shore, and
Pamphlet, stripping off his clothes, swam to the beach. He was
so weakened that even the prospect of fresh water ahead of him
could not spur him on. It took him an hour and a half to cover
the distance, and when he landed, weak-kneed and trembling, he
tottered to the stream that ran down between low banks, threw
himself on his belly, and “drank like a horse.”
stripped themselves, preparatory to swimming ashore, but
Pamphlet called to them to cut the hawser and let the boat
drift in, believing no doubt from his own experience, that
they may not be able to make the distance. They did as he
advised, and the boat was carried up, on to the sand with a
force that stove in its bottom. Parsons and Finnegan came
ashore naked, threw themselves down at the fresh water and
drank until they were sick, then drank again.
Pamphlet came across a native who, he said, addressed him in good English; this he took as a sign that they were at least within reasonable, range of white men. He proved desperately wrong, however for in that crazy boat journey they had covered well over six hundred miles and were actually in Moreton Bay, thus being the first white men (with the exception of Flinders who first charted the opening) to land there. In view of this fact, Field offers a footnote explanation that Pamphlet must still have been in delirium when he imagined that the native addressed him in English saying, “What do you want? Don't kill me.” A reader of the story feels it likely that these words, supposed to have been spoken by the black, were actually the words of Pamphlet, who would logically make such a plea to the black man, and who either
(a) heard his own words in a foggy frame of mind and imagined deliriously that they came from somebody else, not realising that he had spoken, or
was incoherent in his telling of the story to John
Uniacke, so that Pamphlet's actual account was reported
It seems that
the former suggestion is the correct one, for Pamphlet adduced
from this native's “English” that whites were not far away.
along the bush track made by the aborigines the three naked
white men came to some huts where they were well received. In
fact, throughout the entirety of their stay they found the
natives friendly and helpful, and willing to give them
sustenance and comfort.
For many days
to come they lived the Edenic life, wandering along the coast
and about the bays, becoming more and more intimate with the
natives, riding in canoes, and wandering around the bay and
the locality of the bay.
Five days after their landing they came to a channel about three miles wide, which the natives helped them cross, under circumstances which gave Pamphlet a temporary fright.
placed at their disposal by the blacks did not look solid
enough to carry the dusky crew, the three white passengers,
and some luggage they had got together from the wreck; so
Pamphlet agreed to remain ashore while the others were ferried
across, the canoe to then return for him.
But the canoe
did not return for some long time, and Pamphlet was already
devising schemes for looking after himself when he was
unexpectedly and happily united by the blacks with Parsons and
several days later, succumbed to the languorous charm of
wandering naked in the warm sun, living without trouble, and
doing nothing. He expressed his determination to remain among
the blacks, and adopt their life. The aborigines, however,
seemed to take a particular interest in keeping the three
castaways together. Time and again they prevented a separation
between Finnegan, Parsons and Pamphlet. And all the time they
fed them on dingowa, and treated them as members of the tribe.
. . .
lengthened out slowly. The one hundred and first day came, and
passed. That far Pamphlet had kept count of time; but the
record became confused in his mind, and soon dates and time
seemed not to matter any more. Actually he had been for nearly
eight months away from Sydney when the natives ran to him one
morning, pointing out a large cutter about three miles down
The spell of
their wilderness paradise left them instantly at the sight of
a familiar ship. The three men, fully restored in physical
health, raced eagerly down the bay, and made signals which
attracted attention, and brought off a small boat. John Oxley,
exploring the north coast, was in the boat; the cutter was his
exploration ship, Mermaid.
As he stood on
the beach talking to Pamphlet, the castaway learned for the
first time that, instead of being somewhere between Wollongong
and Sydney, he was in Moreton Bay, five hundred miles north of
Port Jackson. Again the Australian Encyclopedia appears to err
in saying, in its article headed Pamphlett, that they
were on the island later called Stradbroke Island. The
original narrative, though not entirely lucid on the point
(how could it be in describing strange bays and beaches which
had no name?) leaves the definite impression, by the scope of
their wanderings, and the situation depicted, that they were
not on an island, but on the mainland.
they learned to their dismay was that it was November 29. All
of the winter had passed for them in warm and sunny idleness.
Oxley had been
as far north as Port Curtis, and wished to give Moreton Bay a
closer examination than Flinders had done when he casually
marked it down on his chart. Pamphlet and Parsons and Finnegan
were taken on the Mermaid, fed, rested and clothed, and
regretfully, once again, the common mistake has been made that
Pamphlet was by himself when he was discovered, “his two
comrades having gone north” (Australian Encyclopedia).
Actually, his comrades were quite close at hand with the
natives, the true fact of the situation being that Pamphlet
merely ran first to where the Mermaid lay.
Oxley spent a
week examining the river, which he went up for fifty miles and
called Brisbane, after the then governor of New South Wales,
Sir Thomas Brisbane. Then he took the Mermaid back to
Sydney, and the three timber‑getters with him.
these men belongs the honor of being first to land at or live
at Brisbane. But Oxley, in his published account of the
Brisbane River and Moreton Bay, gave them no mention at all.
Thus, whatever recognition they now receive, at the time of
their adventure they didn’t get anything out of “doing a
Sealers of the South
Government's decision to open up New South Wales as a convict
settlement automatically did something else; it opened up the
south seas, their islands and their resources.
to the diaries of Cook, and the slightly later reports of
French navigators, all the territory lying east and south of
the Dutch East Indies came in for inspection, and very quickly
suggested itself as waiting to be exploited.
The ships that
brought convicts to Australia, and later the supply ships that
supplemented the limited food stocks of the colony, had a
return journey to make to England, and soon discovered a
variety of Pacific produce that could be profitably garnered.
Timber from New Zealand was an item in the very early days; by
1801 men had hunted mutton-birds on the Bass Strait islands,
whaling had started in the seas south of New Zealand and
Tasmania, and on the little islands south of New Zealand-
Stewart, Auckland, Campbell and Macquarie Islands- seals were
being hunted in large numbers. In many localities they were,
in fact, being so ruthlessly slaughtered that they died out
its own peculiar hazards, as the adventure of the American
ship, Essex (holed and sunk by a great whale charging
it), showed. Whalers sometimes became involved in other kinds
of adventure, such as the mutiny on the Junior,
another American ship searching for whales. And every crew
that left a mother-ship in one of the small, fat-bellied
whale-boats ran the risk of being towed by the harpooned
whale, or as often actually happened, of having their boat
smashed by a blow from a great whale's tail.
however, offered adventure of another kind- the prowling about
rocky, sleet-swept coasts, exploring angry seas and
treacherous island shoals under the most unfavorable
conditions and without charts. All the difference was that,
The story of the Royal Sovereign, an English
vessel which left London in 1825, reads more like the
well-spun plot for a sea-adventure yarn than an actual
sequence of historic events; but it is typical of the sealing
risks, and shows what adventures might await any party of
sealers who dared to seek fortune in the far south seas,
somewhere below forty.
the Royal Sovereign's story, however, a word of
explanation as to sealing practice is first necessary. The
sealer went to Kerguelen Islands, which are in the Roaring
Forties about midway between South Africa and Australia, and
which are a group of extremely desolate and rocky isles which,
at that time, were thickly populated with seals. It was a
favorite sealing ground, in spite of the hazards its deadly
coasts presented, and to overcome these dangers the
mother-ship of the sealing expedition did not try to go
inshore. Instead, it carried in frame a cutter of about 40
tons, which was called a shallop, and some half-dozen whaling
boats. The mother-ship then anchored off-shore, prepared to
swing on her hook for eighteen months to two years in many
cases, while the shallop and boats nosed round the rocks off
the coast, picking up seals and returning them to the ship.
When the ships left for home with their cargoes, they beached
their shallops, and on their return floated them and used them
When the Royal
Sovereign reached Kerguelen Island it was carrying a
shallop in frame. On the beach, high and dry, were two other
shallops, left there by ships named Frances and Favorite-
and for purposes of this story those names will do for the
shallops themselves. The men on the Royal Sovereign
decided to refit the shallops already on the beach, and use
them for their sealing.
Frances and Favorite- meant caulking the
seams, rigging masts and sails, and generally making them
seaworthy after their spell ashore, work which took some time.
preliminaries were at last done, however, the two shallops
started to explore the rocky island coast for seals. The Frances
started along the western shore of Kerguelen Island with a
crew of four under the command of one of the Royal
Sovereign's mates. The weather was fine at first, and
the little vessel had no difficulty in weaving in and out of
treacherous bays, scanning the shore for seals. But in the
still of a cold night at Young William Harbor the Frances
reeled under a sudden blow, and shivered from stem to stern.
The men rushed
on deck, fearing that the shallop had drifted on to a reef;
but the look-out assured them that actually a large fin-whale,
swimming in the dark water, had struck the vessel. Inspection
showed that no damage was done, and the ordinary reader of
today would no doubt feel that the men should have been glad
to dismiss the matter as a lucky escape. Not these men,
however. The seamen of 1825 were singularly superstitious. In
this mere accident they saw an ill omen- and for once the
superstition of the sea proved correct, for in the wake of the
fin-whale came a chain of tragedies and hardships such as few
bands of seamen have suffered.
the Frances was caught in fog and snowstorms which
made her work both difficult and. dangerous, for the best
sailors had only a scanty knowledge of the Kerguelen coast,
and no charts. November is summer in the southern hemisphere,
of course, but in 1773 when de Kerguelen Tremarec, a Breton
nobleman, discovered the islands, he observed that even in
midsummer they were barren and desolate and swept by gales and
fogs, and were extremely cold. For this reason he gave them
the name Desolation Islands- a name which was later changed in
de Kerguelen's honor.
weathering this November gale for some time, the little
shallop was caught off-guard by a strong wind, and went on the
rocks in a bay of Saddle Island, one of the group. The crew
managed to get ashore safely in the dinghy before the Frances
settled down in seven fathoms of water.
was not a happy one. The Favorite, the other shallop,
was somewhere among the islands, and might have been in the
same unhappy position. On the other hand, it might survive the
dangers of the gale and come in search of the Frances-
there was a chance. But whether, in the event of a search, the
Favorite could find this obscure bay with its castaway
crew- that was another matter.
neighborhood, the castaways made two discoveries. One was a
cave which was big and comfortable, and the other was a
shallop called the Loon, beached for the time being.
decided to live in the cave, but realised that if the Favorite
should look for them, she would certainly inspect the Loon.
So they chalked messages on the side of the beached shallop,
directing finders to “Look in the cabin.” In the cabin they
left an account of what had happened to them, and an outline
of their plans to live in the cave. In the event of a ship
coming while they were hunting, this message might save them.
If the ship came too late, the message would be their
was bad for a long spell, and during the whole time the men
were confined to their cave, eating their way through the
limited provisions they had saved from the Frances.
in the meantime, beat about the Kerguelens finding some seals.
She had mapped out a course which did not include Saddle
Island; but she also struck trouble in the storm which
finished the Frances, and ran for shelter. Apparently,
from the sketchy documents relating to the episode- and these
came from the men in the cave, not the men of the Favorite-
she weathered this storm all right, but lost a mast in a later
This was most
serious, and would certainly have thrown the Favorite's
men into danger had they not known that along this coast the Loon
was beached. They accordingly shaped their course for the bay,
and limped in, at last, with no other thought in mind than to
borrow the Loon's mast to get back to the Royal
sent a dinghy ashore, and the sailors, as they approached the
Loon, saw the message chalked in large letters on her
side. It was the romantic, mysterious message of the pirate
adventure books: “Look in the cabin!” While the men were
obeying this instruction, however, the castaways from the Frances
discovered the presence of their sister shallop, and hurried
down from their cave to the beach.
was over. Half-starved and suffering from exposure, they were
doctored from the stores of the Favorite. They told
their story, thanked God for the sheer coincidence which
brought the Favorite to the very spot at which they
had been wrecked, and turned a willing hand to borrowing the Loon's
mast and stepping it into the vessel which was to be their
salvation from a miserable exile.
then took them aboard, and made straight back to Greenland
Bay, where the Royal Sovereign was.
not the episode of the Royal Sovereign, of which I
made mention at the outset, but the first phase of the
episode. For more trouble yet, in the character of further
coincidence, was awaiting the four ill-fated men of the
wrecked shallop Frances. They, having recovered from
their ordeal, were added to the crew of the Favorite
to embark on another sealing expedition around the islands.
They went further south than they had previously gone, and in
that land of dirty weather once again storms caught up with
them. They lay weather-bound at Christmas Harbor for eleven
days, and then went on to shelter again in Africa Bay.
Boxing Day, 1825, they found themselves once more at Saddle
Island, the scene of the last tragedy. And certainly Saddle
Island was a place accursed as far as these men were
concerned, for, while anchored there, the Favorite
sprang a leak.
The bad luck
following in the wake of that fin-whale was coming thick and
fast. The omens were, for once, right.
The leak was,
without doubt, due to the severe strain which had been imposed
on the little shallop in its storm-fighting about the
inhospitable coast. Seams had started, and were in too bad a
condition to allow any effective repair work to be done.
As the Favorite
filled up, it became apparent to the crew that nothing could
be done to save the ship. They took out of her everything that
was likely to be of use, and built a raft from loose woodwork
about the ship. On this raft they reached the shore, with
their salvage, and while they stood on the beach from which
they had not long been rescued, they watched the second
shallop go down.
dangers and problems from which they had, not long since,
escaped, confronted them again. This time with less hope,
since there was no shallop which might, by any coincidence,
rescue them. They knew, too, that the mother ship, Royal
Sovereign, would never run the risk of probing the
uncharted coast of the islands. So it seemed that their only
course was to make themselves as comfortable as possible, to
settle down and die on the island, or to await the coming of
other sealing shallops in the undefined future.
At first the
shipwrecked men made for the beached Loon (the shallop
which had been left there by an earlier sealing expedition)
and settled into its warm cabin; but living there they very
soon found themselves short of food. For eight days they did
not even see a penguin that might have helped to stave off the
pangs of hunger. Desperation led them to search over the
little island for anything edible and all they found was a
was not edible, it gave them an idea. They patched up gaps in
its seams and floated it, making in it for the main island.
The sea was rough, and a strong wind blowing. The water ran in
strong eddies about the half-submerged rocks and reefs of the
coast. The sailors, weak from starvation, were not well able
to handle the frail little boat. But they succeeded in
reaching the main island, and, doing so, they reached food.
sheer exhaustion, they armed themselves with clubs and began
to hunt seals among the rocks; but the timid seals slithered
into the sea at their approach. In a sweat of weakness and
desperation they hunted, watching food slide from under their
noses, and unable, because of their weakened state, to do much
some of their number managed to stun a sea-elephant, there was
great rejoicing. None of them has preserved the story of the
scene that took place about that sea-elephant's body; but
imagination sketches a vivid dingus of the kill; of skinny men
chewing eagerly at the bloody, uncooked flesh, their eyes
alight with hope, their hands trembling with thankfulness,
their bodies feeling renewed strength.
sea-elephant was a big fellow. He represented both food and
fuel. Once the first driving pangs were relieved, they
realised that blubber and oil made a fire, and the
full-bellied men felt warmth again. Surely no stranger summer
scene has been witnessed than the raw-flesh feast in the
biting cold of that Antarctic January.
But with the
killing of the sea-elephant one hurdle had been jumped. The
men were on the island where seals abounded; they had fuel and
food. It is true that the weather was so cold that the animals
blood froze on the hands of the killers as they killed and
flayed; but that was now a minor trial.
seal meat into the dinghy, and strengthened by their repasts,
returned to the Loon for warmth. In the cabin of the
shallop they tried to cook their food, and in this way they
lived for six more weeks. With advancing February the summer
season was passing; and if this had been Kerguelen's warm
weather, they were frightened of what the winter might bring.
future appeared indeed so black that they determined on a
desperate bid for freedom from the storm-barred prison; they
planned to try and raise the Favorite.
sunken forty-ton vessel without any equipment at all is a bit
of a poser; the only help they had was that the vessel was
down in shallow water...
At low tide, when the Favorite was not completely submerged, they started to remove the ballast. The hull empty they collected empty casks, big bulks of timber, and the twelve-foot dinghy, and fastened these to the vessel at low tide. They hoped against hope that as the tide rose, the wood would float, and by so doing raise the Favorite from the sand.
was no more hopeful than it sounds. The shallop was too
settled down for such a scheme to be productive. Several times
they tried, and always without result, or without any hope of
success. Then came the conclusion that only one scheme could
liberate them from the island- that was refitting the long
beached Loon for a sea trip.
So long out of
the water had the shallop been that its seams had started, and
its timbers were in very bad repair. Its gear was frozen and
frayed and rusted, too. It was not a seaworthy ship.
But the desire
to be free from their prison was strong within them. They had
been liberated from this bay before because the Favorite needed
a new mast, and had put in to borrow that of the Loon.
Consequently the Loon, upon which they now depended,
was without a mast. They had to take that of the Favorite-
and that meant cutting it off at deck level. But the deck was
awash, and they had no saw.
the Crusoes of Kerguelen, working on a whale lance to turn it
into a saw which, however crude, would nevertheless serve to
cut the, Favorite's mast free. And in this task they
succeeded. All other useful gear was freed from the wreck, and
in bundles was towed ashore.
Then came the
work on the Loon. The rescued mast was stepped into
place, gaping seams were caulked with frayed rope that had to
serve as oakum. Every piece of available rope was pressed into
service to improvise rigging. When the clouds broke the
castaways sat in the pale and heatless sunlight, splicing
short pieces of rope together, cutting ropes where they were
frayed, and joining the stout pieces.
As they went
about this heroic task they were working against time; against
the shortening winter days, which were becoming colder,
against the rising stormy winter winds; and always now,
overshadowed by one significant query- they had been so long
away from their mother ship that the Royal Sovereign
might not be waiting for them on their return.
Will the Royal
Sovereign be there or will she have abandoned hope?
questions goaded them as they effected with seamanlike
workmanship the essential repairs. Then they came to the brave
day when the Loon was, with great effort, dug out of
the sand, and slowly hauled to the water. With the coming of
the high-tide they worked furiously and the Loon
that anxiety, they climbed aboard and set their course along
the cruel coast they knew so well. Again imagination sketches
them- glad of their triumph in getting the shallop to sea,
confident of their knowledge of the rocky coast, apprehensive
as to whether they would find the Royal Sovereign
waiting patiently for their long-overdue return.
In the latter they were disappointed; gravely disappointed. It seemed, as they came into Greenland Bay and saw that the ship was no longer there, that all the strain and work of the last days had been worth nothing. For they were no nearer to rescue than when they crouched, shivering, in the cabin of the beached shallop.
went to a bay called Shoalwater Bay, on the south-east corner
of the island, which they believed would be best for the only
line of conduct now open to them- to make a permanent camp.
They took the Loon back to Greenland Bay and beached
her. Then, returning overland to Shoalwater Bay, they
collected all the available material, and the shipwrights
turned architect as they followed their boat-building efforts
by building a hut.
The story has
not taken long to tell; but two years had passed over the
heads of the Crusoes. Their hut, which they sanguinely called
Hope Cottage, was finished in August, 1827. At Shallop Harbour
they put up a notice directing any boats that called to their
cottage- the walls of which were made of turf- and then they
settled down to live on seal meat, to protect themselves from
the cold with seal-skin wraps which would have been the envy
of London's society.
has been left of how they eked out their existence; once
again, imagination can fill the gaps. But their record shows
that they became accustomed to the cold hardships of life;
they improvised the satisfaction for their greatest needs;
they became idle, isolated dwellers in a frozen and forgotten
land. And although the islands had been such a favorite
sealing ground, through those two long years they saw no signs
of other hunters.
brave morning, when they were walking out from , their Hope
Cottage, they reached the top of a rise to see unbelievable
sight! - to see men walking; cheery-looking sailor-men in
fresh, dry clothes. Their long loneliness was ended. Hope
Cottage had served its purpose. The castaways could go back to
The men had
come ashore from a cutter, and had seen the notice at Shoal
Bay. They took the castaways aboard their cutter, the Lively,
which belonged to the Enderby whaler Sprightly.
The men were
welcomed on board, and warmly congratulated on the narrowness
of their escape- for the Sprightly had called at the
island only by chance. Eager to renew their acquaintance with
something like a normal life, the castaways joined the crew of
the ship, and worked with a will until the Sprightly
landed them at Table Bay, South Africa. Thence they made their
way to England, and ended far more happily than they expected
the story of their marathon marooning on one of the most
inhospitable islands in the world.
The Man Who Turned Up
retribution-or rather, the righteous anger of God."
So says the
text book, stating a fact the solemnity of which has been
overlooked by a host of writers to whom every minor example of
reaping what you sow becomes “Nemesis.” But the idea of an
inescapable punishment that follows men until, in the words of
the poet Thompson
“They fled him down the nights and down the days,
him down the arches of the years”
sweeping idea of majestic justice, that is Nemesis- and
perhaps it can only be so called when it happens in real life:
in other words perhaps no retribution created in fiction, even
by a Dostrovsky or a Tolstoy, is worthy of the name.
philosophers think and theorize, there are, in the sweeping
stocktaking of history, a few grand dramas where the Effect
has administered justice to the author of the Cause, as when
Dr. Joseph Guillotin, the inventor of the famous machine of
execution, perished beneath the blade of his own design, or
when Robespierre, author of the Reign of Terror, became one of
the victims of his own inexorable law.
dramas of actual life, with their clashing crises of poetic
justice- they are examples of Nemesis. There is in Australia's
coast of tragedy, one such drama. It is the fate which
overtook the crew of the Cyprus, who, apart from
Fletcher Christian's followers, were the most successful
mutineers in Australian history, outshining in their
accomplishment the rebels of the Helen and the Junior,
and many minor cases of similar nature. So balanced in its
rise and fall, and so fitting in its conclusion, is the story
of the Cyprus, that it reads more like well-plotted
fiction than the haphazard chain of factual circumstance.
climax was played out in London when seven men were placed on
trial in the Thames Police Court. It was suspected that they
had committed some breach of maritime law, but their testimony
was unshakable; under the harshest cross-examination they
maintained that they were the survivors of the ship Edward
which, under Captain Waldron, had been wrecked in the China
One of the
men, claiming to be Waldron, produced a sextant bearing his
name, in proof of the story. Certain it was that the men had
arrived in Canton in a ship's boat bearing the name Edward.
Equally it was certain that their story had been received and
believed in Canton, and they had been trans-shipped to England
on a merchant vessel. Yet, in spite of this general air of
authenticity, there were loopholes which aroused the gravest
suspicion, but could not be turned to account.
It is more
than likely that the court would have been forced to give the
men the benefit of the doubt, and their liberty, had not a man
named Capon, an ex-gaoler from far Hobart Town, been present
in the court and recognised some of his erstwhile charges.
critical stage a man was arrested for begging in the streets-
an insignificant thing in itself, a common occurrence; but in
this case that ragged man was the voice of justice. Obviously
frightened of some life secret, this beggar offered to tell
the story of the seven mysterious survivors.
presented to the court as a man named Popjoy, who had been
transported to New South Wales as a convict. There he had been
granted a free pardon in reward for some act of gallantry, and
had returned to England. It transpired that the winning of his
pardon and the doings of the seven suspected men were most
The story he
told went back to August, 1829, when the brig Cyprus,
a well-founded little vessel of 130 tons, sailed from Hobart
Town for Macquarie Harbor, the penal settlement on the west
coast of Tasmania which earned the soubriquet “Hell Harbor”
because of the harshness of the treatment meted out to
prisoners there. This was the rubbish dump for the most
loathsome of all human wrecks drafted to Van Diemen's Land;
and when the Cyprus sailed for it, she carried 31
desperate convicts under the guard of ten men from the 63rd
Manchester Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Carew. The brig
was manned by a captain, mate, steward, and 12 seamen, and
carried, besides Carew's wife, three other women and two
children, whose homes were at Macquarie Harbor.
south-west gales and icy seas were lashing the rugged coast
and after five full weeks of beating against the storms the Cyprus
had been unable to double South East Cape. The heavy weather
had taken toll of practically everybody on board; hardened
seamen found themselves in, the throes of mal-de-mer; the
women and children were confined to their bunks, and the
convicts had been for the whole time shut up in their dark and
dirty cells below the waterline.
impossible to continue his voyage to Macquarie Harbor the
captain put into Recherche Bay (named after Admiral
d'Entrecasteaux's ship, Recherche) for shelter. The
cove was well protected from the storm, the weather lightened,
and with it the spirits of all on board became the more
optimistic. The prisoners were taken out of irons and brought
on to the deck in batches of six or seven for exercise and
fresh air, under a guard of two soldiers. Among them were some
desperate men- men who had narrowly escaped the gallows, and
who were far from resigned to their transportation. Fergusson,
a giant both in stature and in strength, was being sent to the
“Hell” for life. Walker and Swallow, equally desperate, were
to share his miserable fate. The three were earmarked as the
danger-points in the human freight, were kept apart as far as
possible, and were not allowed on the deck together.
of the voyage had stirred up, as was perhaps only natural, the
harsher feelings in the minds of these men, and had placed the
other convicts in anything but an admirable frame of mind. For
five weeks their diet had been the poorest and their life most
miserable. In the shelter of the harbor Lieutenant Carew
convict named Popjoy and another soldier, he set out in a
small boat to fish, and was floating quietly about a mile from
the Cyprus when the sharp report of muskets warned him
that all was not well. Immediately he commenced to row back.
quiet fishing had been going on it became Fergusson's turn to
take a stroll on deck; and while doing so Fergusson had
attacked one of the Redcoats. Another convict had sprung to
his assistance and in a moment the guards were knocked
insensible, and the two desperadoes had secured their muskets
and bayonets. Backed by the rest of the convicts on deck,
Fergusson and his companions mounted guard over the open
hatchway and called on the crew and the seven soldiers below
It was a
desperate moment, and there was no immediate response. Then a
volley of lead splattered up the companionway as the soldiers
tried to shoot the mutineers from below. Fergusson, standing
back from the line of fire, called on them to surrender, and
after a little time the captain, the mate, the steward, seamen
and soldiers, all came up and surrendered their arms. It was
remarkable that twenty-two fully armed men should have yielded
so easily, especially when they knew that Carew was not far
away; yet when the Lieutenant returned to the vessel the
episode had closed, and Fergusson, leaning belligerently upon
his musket, was in charge of the Cyprus.
with him from the boat, without success. Fergusson announced
that he had seized the ship, and would murder any resisters.
He shot at Carew, narrowly missing his shoulder, and thus
clinched his own argument. The rest of the convicts then came
on deck, the crew and soldiers were imprisoned, and the
mutineers held a council of war upon the future. One member of
the party, Swallow, declared for piracy, and 18 others agreed
heartily. Thirteen, including the man Popjoy, refused to join
ordered a boat to be lowered, Carew and the rest of the
soldiers and crew, the thirteen who had refused to join him,
and the women and children, were all rowed ashore. At first it
was brutally declared that all the provisions the ship
contained would be held by the pirates; but in answer to
Carew's pleas, a small boatload of biscuits, flour, beef, tea,
sugar and spirits was sent to serve the castaways, who were
told with coarse jests that they might walk to Hobart Town. As
the crow flies, Hobart is but fifty miles from Recherche Bay;
but the country was rugged and unexplored, the men were
inexperienced in bush life and had no maps nor instruments,
and their only course would have been to follow the tortuous
coast to the mouth of the Derwent River- a walk of at least
In the dawn of
the following day the unfortunate party stood on the beach and
watched the Cyprus stand out to sea. It ran into a
howling south-west gale, and was last seen battering its way
north in a terrible sea.
people were not long idle. Popjoy, and another convict,
Morgan, suggested the building of a boat; they cut young
wattles for the skeleton, covered these with sailcloth, and
collected all the soap and resin the camp contained, melting
it to form a crude pitch, which was smeared over the
sailcloth. In spite of the heavy weather, Popjoy and Morgan
set sail in this crazy little craft. Hugging the coastline,
taking advantage of every inch of shelter, they beat around
the coast. Cold, tired, hungry, soaked with water and
encrusted with salt, they arrived at Partridge Bay in a state
of exhaustion, to find two weather-bound ships, the Oreila
and the Georgina, sheltering there. When their story
was told the Oreila sailed for Hobart Town with Popjoy
and Morgan, while the Georgina went to Recherche Bay
to rescue the castaways.
Hobart, Carew was court-martialled for the loss of the Cyprus
and the prisoners, but was honorably acquitted. Morgan
received a free pardon and a grant of land in Van Diemen's
Land. A similar offer was made to Popjoy, but he preferred to
return to London. There he fell on evil times, and was at
length reduced to begging in the streets. He was arrested on
this charge, and told his story.
found themselves recognised by their former gaoler and so
completely betrayed by their ex-associate, the men told their
full adventures with the Cyprus, knowing that their
position was desperate indeed, and that if the truth would not
save them, lies could not.
on the Cyprus has been far from easy.
against heavy storms after they left Recherche Bay, and, in
spite of a gigantic ignorance of navigation, managed to bring
their vessel to Tonga, in the Friendly Group. There the
weakness which spoiled so many early adventures in the South
Seas settled upon them.
leader, Walker, his lieutenant, and five others, succumbed to
the charms of the dusky belles, deserted the ship for the
idyllic island life, and disappeared. No trace of them was
instituted himself leader of the band. He was all for piracy,
and the other twelve were willing to accept his desperate
dictum. The Cyprus under its new commander set a
northerly course, and made for the China Coast.
black-flaggers were, however, still handicapped by ignorance
of navigation matters, and were unable to chart any kind of
course or determine their position, and when land finally
appeared, they found themselves in Nagasaki, Japan.
Here a quarrel
arose, more of the party were dropped in the Japanese port,
and Swallow set his course for China, with six comrades. It
was obvious now, even to his desperate mind, that a colorful
career on the high seas was impossible. Six men were grossly
insufficient to handle the ship for any length of time, or to
cope with any rough weather. To take the Cyprus into a
Chinese port would have been to confess to the whole tissue of
Fate pushed a
solution across their path; a small boat was found floating
and empty in the sea, and when recovered bore the name Edward.
Swallow jumped to the conclusion that the Edward had
been wrecked, and this was part of the flotsam; it seems never
to have occurred to him that the boat might have broken
adrift, and that he might encounter the Edward safe at
any time, to give the lie to the subterfuge he now concocted.
He remembered that in the cabin of the Cypress
his men took to the Edward's boat, bearing the
precious evidence of the sextant, and a few provisions. They
rowed to shore, and found themselves in Canton. The Edward
was not known there, and their tale was believed. A passage to
England was arranged.
however, the story was not so easily believed, and though
suspicion was aroused, nothing was said to the men as to the
doubts entertained as to the truth of their narrative. They
were, however, placed before an enquiry. They were
cross-examined most carefully, without their story breaking
down. But Capon and Popjoy appeared just as they looked like
escaping, and the tale ended rather grimly.
Two of the
men, Watt and Davies, were convicted of piracy and hanged.
Three others including Swallow, strangely enough, were
transported to Hobart, and after this desperate adventure,
ended as they began. One of them was hanged in Hobart, and the
other two were sent to Port Arthur. There Swallow died; the
fate of the unnamed pirate has never been revealed.
A Paper Trail of Falsehoods
In the early
nineteenth century, when a patch of New South Wales was
practically all the civilisation Australia could claim, and
much of the coast was unknown to the average master in sail,
it was hard to get the truth of many matters pertaining to the
windbags pulled out of port and nosed into strange waters . .
. if they were behind schedule at their next port of call they
might simply have been becalmed and come in late, or their
crew, or part of it, might be brought in by another ship to
tell a story of shipwreck; or the Waratah was not the
only ship to leave Australian shores never to be seen again.
circumstances it is only to be expected that some accounts of
sea tragedies and mysteries are scanty or inaccurate. The
writer who aims at setting down the true stories today finds
the evidence scattered, often contradictory, and, sometimes
entirely misleading. Digging out the truth of it (as far as
this is possible) is a fascinating business.
particularly so in the case of the wreck of the Mermaid,
the story of which, to the best of my researches, has not been
written, though it deals with one of the most gallant little
cutters ever to break Australian waters.
was one of the first survey vessels used in the charting of
the Australian coast, a schooner of 84 tons, purchased for
12,000, and sent to Australia from India for the convenience
of Phillip Parker King, the son of Phillip Gidley King, third
governor of New South Wales, after whom King Island, Bass
Strait, was named.
Parker King was born on Norfolk Island in 1791, while his
father, during Arthur Phillip's governorship of New South
Wales, was in charge of the Norfolk Island convict settlement.
While he was a young midshipman in the Navy, Bass and Flinders
were establishing the fact that Tasmania and the mainland of
Australia were separated, and were beginning to chart the
coast. By the time young King was a fully-fledged naval
officer Matthew Flinders and George Bass had both finished
with the compass and sextant, and the young Norfolk Islander
was selected to finish the coastal survey.
So one of
Australia's first free-born citizens returned to do important
work, and his ship was the Mermaid, from 1817 to 1820.
In her sailed Alan Cunningham, botanist, whose memorial is an
obelisk in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, and versifier of famous
A wet sheet
and a flowing sea
And a wind
that follows fast
inspired by the Mermaid herself. In the Mermaid,
too, was Bongarie, the aborigine who sailed with Flinders.
worked from North-West Cape to George's Sound; nosed south
to Van Diemen's Land; turned north along the little known
coast which is now Queensland, and in 1820 was condemned as
unsuitable for this work.
But ships were
scarce, and the Mermaid, no longer fitted for the
service, was repaired and sent into coastal trade. She was
wrecked in 1829.
Heaton in his Dictionary of Dates, has scattered a
paper-trail of falsehoods about the wreck of the Mermaid.
More than one writer has wished that the brief entry in the
Dictionary might be true
colonial government cutter, Captain Samuel Holbrow, left
Sydney for Raffles Bay, but on entering Torres Straits she
got on shore and was lost, October, 1829. All on board were
saved upon a rock. 1n three days the Swiftsure,
Captain Johnson, which sailed from Tasmania, hove in sight
and took on board Captain Holbrow and his crew, but in a few
days she got on shore and was wrecked. Two days afterwards the
Governor Ready, also from Tasmania, April 2, was passing
within sight, took the shipwrecked people belonging to the Mermaid
and the Swiftsure on board, but was itself wrecked,
May 18, at 3 p.m., but all the people were saved by taking
refuge in the longboats. The ship Comet, also from
Tasmania, soon afterwards took the whole of the collected
crews of the lost ships Mermaid, Swiftsure,
and Governor Ready on board, but was herself wrecked,
all hands, however, saved. At last the Jupiter, from
Tasmania, came in sight, and taking all on board, steered for
Port Raffles, at the entrance to which harbor she got on shore
and received so much damage that it may be said she was also
If only such a
chain of coincidence might be true! Five Tasmanian ships
chasing each other, picking up the stranded crews in
But the above
entry immediately bends in the middle. The Mermaid was
lost in October, 1829, and its stranded crew were picked up by
the Governor Ready before May 18, 1829! Could the
explanation be that the Governor Ready was wrecked in
1830? Unfortunately not the miracle of miracles is asserted in
this Dictionary, for this most fortunate crew was picked up
six months before it was wrecked!
I checked over the records then for details of the other ships. Five in my list -Mermaid, Swiftsure, Governor Ready, Comet, Jupiter- and four of them blanks.
I am afraid,
after making an extensive search of available documents, that
the entire story of the Mermaid must be pieced
together from another angle- the facts taken from the diary of
T. B. Wilson, surgeon of the Governor Ready, which had
actually been wrecked on May 18, 1829, at 2.45 p.m., which had
not the slightest connection with the wreck of the Mermaid,
except that shipwrecked surgeon Wilson crossed the path of the
Mermaid's rescued men.
It will be
best to tell Wilson's story, then, and let the Mermaid
take its logical place in the sequence, and so to stumble on
the fact that there were complications about the Mermaid
wreck, but neither of the order nor dimensions suggested by
Ready, a 512-ton ship which arrived in Van Diemen's land
in 1828, had been chartered to bring two hundred convicts from
the Cove of Cork, Ireland, to Port Arthur, was to sail from
Port Jackson on January 17, 1829, to pick up a cargo of sugar
at the Isle of France, so that she would not have to go home
empty. But, this project being abandoned because of bad sugar
crops at the Isle of France, she made a passenger trip to
Tasmania, after which, on April 2, 1829, she sailed for
She tried to
cross the Australian Bight, skirt Cape Leeuwin, and beat up
the west coast; but the winds were contrary, so she was put
about to take the east coast, and cross through Torres Strait.
appears to have been a fairly foolhardy one, for Wilson says
in his diary that “the ship was not provided with charts of
New Holland nor of the Indian Archipelago (he means the East
Indies) as it was not contemplated on leaving England that
they would be required. This circumstance was untoward, but
knowing that we should have opportunities for ascertaining our
true position from lunar observations and determining to keep
a good lookout we hoped to get safely through the dangers
which abounded on the route we were now compelled to pursue.”
passed Port Jackson without stopping, slid north into the
tropical waters, and “as soon as we passed the tropic (of
Capricorn) and entered into the sea bestrewed with coral reefs
and sandbanks, every measure was adopted to ensure a constant
and careful lookout.”
“Shortly after noon the wind became light and variable; during
the night it blew from westward . . . thus having passed
safely between these reefs we were elated by being the first
who had made the attempt during the night.”
And so to May
18: “About 1 p.m. in the fair channel under the influence of a
strong breeze and the tide in our favor, we pursued our
serpentine and perilous course with much rapidity, guided only
by the color of the water, passing many sandbanks and reefs in
safety until 2.45 p.m., when the ship struck with such force
on a small detached piece of coral that the rock penetrated
instantly through the bottom.”
So the Governor
Ready's experiment in chartless navigation ended with
nineteen of the ship's company in a longboat, twelve in a
skiff, and eight in a jollyboat, each boat provided with food-
a conclusion which should surprise nobody.
boats touched at Halfway Island, nosed ashore on other unknown
and uninhabited islands. Later, in heavy weather, the
jollyboat was abandoned, and its eight passengers were taken
into the longboat. This loaded boat, its light and compass
spoiled by the heavy water it had shipped, ran before a strong
wind until it came at the same time in sight of land and the
The land was
Timor; the brig was bound for Raffles Bay, a settlement near
Melville and Bathurst Islands, on the north coast of Arnhem
Land. Some of the longboat's crew preferred to go ashore.
Others joined the Amity. That night the brig made a
great deal of water, the pumps were brought into use, and it
had to put back to Koepang (Coupang in the diary) for repairs.
By June 7 the Amity, repaired and loaded with sheep
and maize, left for Raffles Bay, and diarist Doctor Wilson was
with her. She was almost shipwrecked before she reached the
And here the Mermaid
enters the picture. Or rather, she was supposed to enter the
picture, as a relief vessel for the Amity. But she was
a very long time overdue, and when at last Wilson, ex the Governor
Ready, and other watchers saw a vessel approaching, it
was not the Mermaid at all, but another ship bound out
of Sydney for the Isle of France, Resource by name.
She was putting in at Raffles Bay to land the crew of the
The facts of
the Mermaid wreck, as Wilson then learned them, were
that on June 13 the little exploration ship had run ashore on
the outer barrier reef, and was hopelessly lost. The crew took
to the boats, and after three days were picked up- not by the
Swiftsure to be wrecked again, as Heaton says- but by
the Admiral Gifford, which shortly afterwards
transferred the Mermaid's men to the Swiftsure,
which it met at sea.
vessel was not bound out of Tasmania for Raffles Bay, as
Heaton evidently believed. She was a Sydney ship making her
way to the Mauritius Islands via the East Indies, and so
passing Raffles Bay settlement in her course, a circumstance
which would enable her to land the Mermaid's crew at
But the Swiftsure
encountered ill fortune on Cape Sidmouth, where she was
wrecked on July 5. No hands were lost, and in these strange
circumstances the crew of the Mermaid found themselves
wrecked a second time, with their rescuers.
It was the Resource
that found the two crews on Cape Sidmouth, and took them both
aboard, bringing them to Raffles Bay safely in calm weather.
This, then, is
the actual last chapter in the history of Phillip Parker
King's gallant little ship. Captain Holbrow of the Mermaid
was carrying with him important papers- a despatch ordering
the Raffles Bay settlement to be abandoned. This order was
carried out at the time, but later the settlement was again
Of the actual
events connected with the Mermaid's sinking I can find
no account; but from description of the weather at that time
as given by other ships in the same seas, the conditions were
mild and warm, and the wrecks were due to ignorance of the sea
rather than storm conditions. In the case of both the Mermaid
and the Swiftsure no lives were lost. In both cases
the crews managed to land on some rocks and were quickly
picked up by other vessels.
One point of
difference still remains to be settled, however, in the
grossly contradictory references to the date of the Mermaid's
sinking. The Australian Encyclopedia agrees with Henniker
Heaton (probably follows him as other references are scarce)
in placing the wreck in October of 1829. Wilson, the
eye-witness, however, places the date as much earlier, for he
declares that the Resource brought the survivors to
Raffles Bay on June 22, and gives the date of the Mermaid
wreck as June 13.
examined the records carefully, and finding no authority to
support the Encyclopedia statements, I feel disposed to take
the word of the eye-witness, whose diary throughout shows
extreme care, even to minutes and seconds of latitude and
longitude of places he names. It is not likely that this
careful man would be five months out in his date.
little to be said for any other vessel included in the
original five listed by Heaton as connected with the Mermaid.
The Comet was a small brig which met shipwreck south
of Boot Reef, near the approach to Torres Strait, in May,
1829. She was sailing from Sydney to Batavia, having left
Sydney on April 12, and all hands were saved from the wreck.
The Jupiter (according to Heaton a Tasmanian ship
which was wrecked at Raffles Bay while landing the Mermaid's
crew) was actually on a Sydney to Singapore run, did leave
Sydney in April of 1829, and did go ashore at the entrance to
Raffles Bay- a year afterwards, in 1830, and not while landing
the combined crews of Mermaid, Swiftsure, Governor Ready
It has been
interesting to sort out the remarkable bunch of shipwrecks
which occurred along the barrier and through the Strait about
that time, for it not only has revealed the ultimate fate of
what should be one of the most romantic of the pioneering
vessels on the Australian coast, but it establishes some
finality on what is, I believe, one of the most remarkable
fallacies in the history of shipwrecks- the fallacy of the
five-fold wrecking of the Mermaid's crew.
“Each man for himself!”
The cry is inseparably linked in almost every mind with
disaster at sea. It conjures up a vision of desperate odds
against which every man must make his own headway; of
disorganization and danger which make concerted action
It is a cry which is scarcely linked with brute
selfishness; yet in the wreck of the Charles Eaton it
became true in its most sordid implication- each man moved
with utter indifference to the fate of his fellows, so that
here, in what might have been a minor tragedy had any
principle of honour bound the ship's company, the first law of
nature asserted itself with primitive forcefulness.
“Each man for himself!” Never in the history of the
storm‑swept, wreck‑scattered Australian coast was the cry more
When the barque Charles Eaton sailed through
the high Port Jackson heads on July 26, 1834, she had behind
her seven months of uneventful, pleasant cruising from London,
over the Cape route, which the intrepid Portuguese and Spanish
mariners had made safe for nearly four centuries. Before the
ship stretched a
The lives of
thirty-two people were in the hands of Captain Frederick Moore
as he nosed his way northward outside the Great Barrier Reef.
Of the crew of twenty-six the only one to figure prominently
in the tragedy was John Ireland, signed on as “boy.” A captain
from the Bengal artillery, D'Oyley by name, travelling with
his wife, two sons, and a Bengalese servant, and an English
gentleman named Armstrong, were the only passengers.
The winter of
that year closed mildly, and the Charles Eaton enjoyed
a run through warm, fine days and calm nights until early on
the morning of August 15 a fresh wind sprang up. By ten
o'clock in the day a light gale was blowing and the ship was
nearing Sir Charles Harding Island, with Captain Moore busily
seeking an opening in the reef.
shortened as the Charles Eaton tried to tack into a
break in the coral barrier, but the wind and sea were too much
for the ship, and the opening too narrow to promise any degree
of safety, so both anchors were loosed and fell close to the
reef. They held immediately and temporarily allayed the
captain's fears; but he was soon to learn that the very
security of his mooring was a menace to the ship
With wind and
waves swinging her round on her anchor chains, she was soon
bobbing dangerously near to the coral. Suddenly a gentle
shudder ran through the vessel from stem to stern: she had
grated on the submerged coral, which afterwards became marked
“Detached Reef” on the charts.
happened immediately, but the quietness of anxiety crept over
the barque as the captain went below to examine the damage.
Captain D'Oyley and his family, clustered fearfully on deck,
could see no sign of land, only a line of creaming foam where
the wind lashed little waves against the coral of the Barrier.
Presently Captain Moore returned and announced that the boat
was totally lost. The keel and rudder had been dragged away by
ragged arms of coral and the ship was fast in the reef, so
that there was no immediate danger unless the gale increased
and the ship commenced to break up. The boats were the only
chance of safety.
As the weather
showed no sign of lifting and the captain was very anxious as
to how much buffeting the hulk would stand, an effort was
immediately made to launch the long boat. They swung it clear
and commenced to lower. The water slid away beneath it so that
it dropped into a watery vale; in a moment a hissing green
mountain towered above, bearing down with a crash which
swamped it and bore it away, bottom up, to be broken to
splinters against the coral.
eagerly for a momentary calm, they launched the smaller
cutter. James Price, a member of the crew, jumped into the
boat to manage it when it was afloat on the treacherous sea.
Again the hand of Nature was against the attempt, and as
another seething mass of foam-crested green fell, it crushed
man and boat together, and neither was seen again.
There was now
only one more boat, a large cutter. Upon the safe launching of
this depended the lives of thirty-two persons. So far nobody
seemed to realise that even if the large cutter lived in the
fretful sea it would only carry seven or eight people at the
most, so that already the greater part of the ship's company
were as good as lost unless another course could be devised.
This state of affairs was soon driven home however: for the
men, driven by fear that the Charles Eaton might fall
to pieces under them, seized the first opportunity of lowering
the remaining boat. As they did so, William Grindle, the third
mate, and two other sailors, jumped in. Their fortune was
different, for they met the water on an even keel, and in a
few minutes were floating safely, well away from the wreck.
considerable disagreement as to the third mate's motives just
here. He has been accused of abandoning the ship and those
aboard, fearing that too many would crowd into the boat and
would swamp her. A record of the time says that Grindle seized
the cutter and put to sea, leaving the remainder of the crew
to shift for themselves. But an account of the wreck published
in the early 1840s throws some doubt upon this harsh
suspicion. It says, “The captain and his officers thought it
impossible for the cutter to be saved, so stayed on the wreck
. . . five others were anxious to join the cutter, but it
pulled away to have taken more would have endangered the whole
party.” Whether the seizure of the boat was as callous and
selfish as has been said or not, it is clear that with the
difficulty of standing by in the heavy sea, and the knowledge
that no more could safely be taken aboard, Grindle decided
that those left on the wreck must shift for themselves.
the night of the 15th, these men and women clung to
the wreck and when the morning broke, the cutter was still
visible, floating idly on the other, side of the reef. She
appeared to be deserted, and two sailors decided to swim to
her, though the water was shark infested, and bring her back
to the ship.
eagerly watched as they broke through the reef into the
calm-water. beyond and reached the boat. They found, however,
that Grindle and his two companions were very much alive,
holding council of war in the boat. The two swimmers climbed
aboard, and the watchers on the wreck saw them join in earnest
conversation with the other three. Then gleaming oars were
launched, bit into the bosom of the sea, and began to flash
rhythmically as the cutter began to move away. It grew
smaller, and smaller, and finally was lost in the hills and
valleys of the sea. The watchers on the wreck were plunged
into the depths of despondency. Had they but known they were
watching the commencement of one of the small boat epics of
the southern seas.
his men, had no nautical instruments whatever with them, not
even a mariner's compass or a chart. Their provisions were one
small ham, a four gallon keg of water, and 30 pounds of hard
biscuit. All they knew was that
they drifted into the blue, ekeing out their biscuits and
water, sailing daily with death, betting every drop of sweat
in their bodies on a one-in-a-million chance of life, things
went hard with the people they had left on the wreck.
Boat-less, they could do nothing while the dirty weather
lasted but stick to the hulk and hope for the best.
When the sea was calm again, and the sun was shining, they set to work to build a raft from loose timbers of the ship. The good weather held, and they were in a far more optimistic frame of mind when on the sixth day after the vessel struck the raft was launched. Hope ran high as the captain sprang onto it, walked on it, and found it to float well. Here, bobbing before their eyes on the treacherous blue ocean, was their means of life.
Mrs. D'Oyley and her two boys were placed on it with the Bengalese woman servant (“women and children first!”). The others then climbed down; but as they did so the raft began to settle in the water. Very soon it became obvious that the raft would not carry all of the marooned men. Another raft as well would be necessary.
As the day was well advanced the captain suggested they should moor it to the wreck and wait for tomorrow, while those who were on it should stay there to make sure of its safety through the night if the weather should change.
When morning dawned there was no sign of the raft! The night had been calm and starlit; the sea was smooth and still. There could have been no tragedy caused by the treacherous weather of those regions. Had some of the passengers sleeping on the raft moved so as to endanger it, the commotion would certainly have awakened some of the sleepers on the wreck.
Did the captain cut the rope which
held the raft and allow it to creep stealthily away into the
night, acting for the second time upon the grim motto, “each man
for himself!” Nobody will ever know, for reasons all too soon
apparent; but the morning of the seventh day saw another means
of safety gone, and a small, despondent, helpless body of men,
almost resource less, upon the partly dismantled hulk of the Charles
On the fourteenth day a second raft was completed, and this was sufficient to take the whole remaining party. They pushed off from the Charles Eaton at length, and as they drifted to the horizon, left it, growing smaller minute by minute, to the mercy of the waves. No human eye saw the ill-fated barque again.
But the real story of the survivors was only now beginning. After two days and nights of drifting, on the early morning of the third day, they saw a tiny black speck far away on the sea approaching them. At first they took it to be the big cutter with Grindle and his four companions. As it drew nearer, however, it proved to be a long canoe full of naked black men.
Right out of sight of land, in a tractless waste of strange water, the two parties met on their ill-assorted craft. The canoe fearlessly drew alongside, muscular black arms seized the raft, and presently its four occupants were transshipped to the big canoe, while their late means of safety was turned adrift.
For all the savage reputation they earned among the early settlers and navigators, these blacks showed themselves friendly enough; and late in the afternoon, by the uncanny sense of direction the islanders possess, they came safely to the island of Boydang. The castaways were well enough received on the island, were taken to a grassy glade above the beach, and by signs which are universally understood they were invited to rest. Men who have been fighting Nature's wrath for a fortnight, who have endured disappointment and privation, and have finally drifted hopelessly for two days and nights, do not need a second bidding to sleep in safety. In a very few minutes the glade above the beach became one of Nature's dormitories.
John Ireland, the ship's “boy,” was awakened by sounds of industry, and some sixth sense warned him to jump up half asleep and run. Well that he did for the treacherous blacks had come down upon the sleepers with clubs and knives and were knocking them unconscious and chopping off heads, working steadily through the whole row of them. One native saw Ireland jump up, and ran after him, flourishing a huge knife. The two struggled in a grim wrestle for life, until Ireland, realising that the wild man would soon overpower him, broke away and jumped into the surf. He struck out for the open sea and swam until he was exhausted, preferring death from drowning or mutilation from sharks, to the terrible scene of carnage on the island.
When he was too tired to swim further, the “boy” floated. Bred to the sea, he was not frightened of it, nor panic-stricken to get out of it; and when he had thought things over, cradled in the waves, he decided to swim back and see how he was received. This he did; and when he struggled tired and naked from the surf, the native with whom he had fought came unarmed to meet him, and conducted him to the camp with every sign of friendship. There he found one of his comrades who had also escaped death, a sailor named John Sexton; and although the two spent a sleepless night, they apparently had no cause to fear, for no further attempts at treachery were made.
On the next morning the natives climbed into their big canoe and, taking Ireland and Sexton with them, paddled to another island. They had scarcely landed upon the beach when a small figure ran towards them. It was George D'Oyley, who was able to tell them that the captain's raft had grounded here, but its occupants - the captain and the D'Oyleys- had been overtaken by the same treachery. In the slaughter the boy George had been spared, and William, Mrs. D’Oyleys baby in arms, had been adopted by a native woman.
The next week passed uneventfully on the island, the two sailors and the boy George settling down among the blacks, learning stray words of the native dialect, and gradually gaining confidence in the men who had murdered the rest of their company, but who seemed to foster their friendship.
One morning the boy, George came running to Ireland. “A ship!” he announced, triumphantly; and hope, which proverbially springs eternal, sent Ireland running down to the beach.
The ship was quite close, and appeared to be a Dutch trader. There was no hope of attracting its attention, and Ireland pleaded in signs for the natives to row them out in a canoe. The request met with good-natured grins, and friendly but negative nods. It became plain that Ireland, Sexton and George were to consider themselves tribesmen.
To go native against one's will with the memories of home and comfort ever in mind, is a hard task; but it was more comfortable than the ever-present fear of death by clubbing. The three were just becoming reconciled to this life when a second vessel came close to the island, and passed. On the following day yet another vessel was seen. But these all slipped away, and with them hope. No further ships were sighted, and the three whites settled down to the island life.
They appeared to have fallen among Boydang and Murray Islanders, who are of a restless turn of mind, and spend their lives cruising from island to island of the little group. On these excursions the whites were taken; and at the end of one trip it appeared that the white men were not yet out of harm's reach, for Sexton was suddenly set upon and brutally killed. Soon afterwards the boy George met the same fate. The Boydang Islanders held council of war over John Ireland, seeking his skull to decorate the huts of their homeland. But for the more pacific purposes of the Murray Islanders, the young man would certainly have been killed as well. As it was he was married to a Murray Island girl, and finally accepted as a member of the tribe, running naked and quickly growing darker in the strong tropical sunlight.
So much like the natives did he become that when finally white sailors did catch sight of him they did not recognise him. The ship Mangles, under Captain Carr, dropped anchor off the Island and sent a boat ashore. The boat pulled within yards of the beach, saw the natives with Ireland among them, and then returned to the ship. Captain Carr remained at anchor all night. For some reason he suspected that whites might be on the island, and thought that with the ship at anchor not far away they might swim out, and thus make good their escape. John Ireland had very good reasons for not trying this plan; and when in the morning no whites had shown themselves, the Mangles weighed anchor and dropped slowly down to the western horizon.
The appearance of the ship, and the sight and sound of his countrymen, had roused in Ireland all the dormant homesickness of his early island days. He did the only thing possible if he were to remain sane and happy; he resigned himself to the lazy, sometimes exciting, never exhausting, island life.
It had taken the Charles Eaton seventeen days to sail from Sydney to the Straits entrance, where she met her fate. It took two years for the news to travel back. The next storm to blow up completely dismantled the wreck, so that there was not even a derelict hull for passing ships to notice. As has been seen, John Ireland, the only survivor on the island, was unable to make contact with the civilised world. It was only through the good fortune of the five men in the cutter that the story of the Charles Eaton ever reached the owners.
Things fared badly with the cutter. The meagre rations were soon used; the direction in which they rowed and drifted alternately was very vague and by no means uniform, and it was sheer good fortune that carried them ashore on the small island of Timor Laut. They had hoped to reach the larger island of Timor Koepang, where there was a Dutch settlement, and where ships often called; but the place where they landed was off the trade route, and they idled away thirteen months there before a trading prow from Amboyna called. They secured a passage on this native craft, and finally on October 7, 1835, fourteen months after the wreck, they arrived at Amboyna. There they told their story, and their passage to England was arranged.
Not only did the five men escape safely by the merest fluke, but they brought with them news of the others on the wreck; news which had then to beat round the Cape in a windbag, and finally arrived in Sydney in July, 1836. When Sir Richard Bourke, then Governor of the colony, heard of it, he decided that one could never tell what the issue might be. If the five men had managed to get back to London, the others might still be alive, so he sent the schooner Isabella in search of the wreck of the Charles Eaton.
The Isabella left Sydney on June 3, 1836, and made a good passage to the Straits, reaching Murray Island on the 18th of the same month. By this time Ireland was so definitely one of the natives that they had no qualms about taking him off in a canoe to the boat; and when he finally stood on the deck of the rescue ship, he was so confused by the white men around him that he appeared to be quite shy, and he seemed to have difficulty both in speaking and understanding English. Slowly and hesitantly he told his story to Captain Lewis, and presently the sailor went ashore with Ireland in one of the Isabella's boats. They found William D'Oyley, a little lad not yet three years old, with all the hardiness and independence, and a good deal of the savage spirit, of his native foster-mother. They took him off to the ship, and the natives seemed really sorry to see the last of the two. They did not display any hostility towards Captain Lewis or his men.
Following up Ireland's story, Captain Lewis put in at Boydang Island, and there in a native shed found a number of skulls with the hair still attached. Judging from the long locks of one it was the skull of a woman, and the comb which was still in the hair suggested strongly that it was all that remained of Mrs. D'Oyley. The grim relic he left, naturally, in its native shrine; but the comb which adorned the hair of it he brought back to Sydney. It was only a few years ago in the possession of a Queenslander, the only surviving relic of the ill-fated Charles Eaton, where an entire ship's company perished because the thought in every mind seems to have been “Each man for himself.”
The “Stirling Castle” Wreck
There is a
coral arm out-flung from the Great Barrier Reef which is known
as Swain's Reef. When it was discovered and charted by Captain
Swain, of the ship Eliza, it was crowned with the
masts and rigging of a sunken hulk.
represented all that remained of a vessel which can lay more
than one claim to a lasting place in Australian history, the
brig Stirling Castle. This was the vessel that brought
to Australia that towering figure in the land's development,
Dr. Dunmore Lang. It arrived in Sydney with him, three other
clergymen, and 59 mechanics, in the year 1831, and the Sydney
Gazette of the day after its arrival, October 15, had a
leading article on the subject. Five years later to the very
day, on October 15, 1836, the same paper included the
following paragraph under the list of shipping arrivals:
coasting cruise, the revenue cutter Prince George,
Captain Roach, with Mrs. Fraser, second mate, and 5 of the
crew of the brig Stirling Castle, recently wrecked on
Between those two mentions of the
vessel lay one of the most amazing shipwreck adventures- which
showed up Queensland natives as being as inhuman and savage as
the wildest American Indians, a story of a woman's miraculous
fortitude, a story of the miserable death of a gallant band of
In May, 1829, a small vessel, the Comet had
been wrecked on the Great Barrier, while under the command of
James Fraser; but as the sea was uncharted and dangerous, and
Fraser's name for careful navigation was widely known, he had
not suffered by the loss of his ship. Immediately he had been
given command of the Stirling Castle, had brought it
into Sydney safely in 1831, and had handled it satisfactorily
for the five years which followed. In May 1836, he took it out
of Port Jackson, in ballast for Singapore, and besides his
crew he had the care of his thirteen-year-old nephew and his
wife, who was expecting the arrival of a child in the near
future. These circumstances have entirely cleared Captain
Fraser's name from any negligence in connection with the
On the seventh
day out from Sydney the Stirling Castle ran upon a
sweeping, semi-circular coral arm- where Captain Swain later
saw the remains of her- and heeled upon her larboard beams.
The clawing of the breakers very soon had its effect upon her
timbers, and the vessel began to crumble. The crew took to the
only two boats on the brig- a longboat, which took eleven
people, and a pinnace, which held the other seven. Fraser's
nephew could not be found when the party was ready to leave
the derelict; he was discovered, at length, on his knees in
the cabin, praying. With Mrs. Fraser he was placed in the long
boat, and closely following the pinnace, they left the wreck.
They had not
been very long at sea, however, before the longboat proved to
be quite unworthy of the responsibility, for the seams started
to open, and every possible hand was soon bailing continually
to keep it afloat. Soon it became impossible to handle the
boat independently, and while the pinnace made every endeavour
to tow it, it was kept afloat by the bailing.
Up to her
knees in water, Mrs. Fraser was delivered of a child in this
crazy little coracle; but it lived only a few minutes, and was
cast into the sea.
days of this precarious progress, the two little craft made an
island in the Cumberland Group, and spent two days there
repairing the boats, trying to make the longboat seaworthy,
and taking a badly needed rest. Mrs. Fraser, though weak from
her ordeal, seemed to be making remarkably good progress in
health; she was a woman of 37 at this time. From their
temporary security on the island, Captain Fraser took his
bearings, and reckoned that Repulse Bay, on the mainland,
would be about fifty miles distant. Knowing the frailty of his
craft, he believed the only chance of reaching safety would be
to make that voyage, and then despatch walkers to try and
reach Moreton Bay.
two days after their arrival on the island, and seven days
after the wreck, the longboat and pinnace left the security of
the Cumberland Island, and nosed in the general direction of
hand of Nature went, against them in the days which
immediately followed, they witnessed what was little less than
a miracle. The wind freshened and veered, they were driven
from the course they were trying to keep, and soon were
tossing hopelessly on an endless expanse of sea. Everybody
expected, almost momentarily, that the long boat would
founder; but she lived in the choppy waters for two days. Then
her danger became so evident that the men in the pinnace cast
off in the night. They knew that if they remained until the
actual perishing of the boat, they would probably be lost
themselves, for the eleven would try to clamber aboard the
smaller boat, probably swamping her as well. When the morning
of the third day dawned then, the pinnace was no longer in
sight. And here came the miracle that saved Mrs Fraser's life:
the crazy longboat, full of starting seams, springing a dozen
little leaks, being constantly bailed, belted and bruised by
the waves, remained afloat. For a fortnight she drifted about,
threatening disaster every day, but never carrying the threat
into practice, until finally land was sighted, owing to
Captain Fraser's expert knowledge of navigation, and the whole
party beached safely between Wide Bay and Sandy Cape.
For the last
seven days at sea the boat had been continually followed by
sharks, and the landing came as a double blessing- salvation
at once from the waterlogged old hulk and from voracious
sea-monsters. Great excitement reigned, and before the
longboat beached the men were eagerly planning who should walk
to Moreton Bay for assistance, and what other measures should
unfortunately, were an obstacle they had not reckoned with. At
first the natives seemed quite friendly, and willingly
bartered fish and other food in exchange for any little thing
the white people had to offer. But the trading supplies of
eleven shipwrecked people do not provide a very extensive
backing for trade with a tribe, and very soon the survivors
were stripped of every possible article.
The mask of
friendship then dropped from the natives; they became sullen
and suspicious. Finally, as the whites drew into groups of
twos and threes and commenced to walk south, the natives cast
aside all restraint. They fell upon them, stripped them of
their clothing, not excluding Mrs. Fraser, and scattered them
among the tribe, fearing that they might put up some
resistance if they were left together.
became slaves to the natives, and were subjected to the most
vicious treatment, being knocked about with clubs, pricked
with spears, burned with fire-sticks, and continually
terrorised. Mrs. Fraser saw her husband speared to death
because through sickness he was too weak to work. She also saw
the chief officer of the Stirling Castle roasted alive
over a slow fire.
reason no attempt was made to take the woman's life. She was
made by the natives to climb trees in search of honey, and
when at first she found the work almost a physical
impossibility, she was burned with fire-sticks, so that her
only method of escape was to climb. What she suffered at the
hands of her captors may best be understood by an extract from
Lieutenant Otter's report, after a rescue had finally been
he writes, “was a skeleton; the skin literally hung to her
bones. Her legs were a mass of sores where the savages had
tortured her with firebrands. Notwithstanding her miserable
plight, it was absolutely necessary for us to start homewards,
though she had already come nine or ten miles, as there were
about 300 natives in a nearby camp. These would be likely to
attack us at night. Graham, our guide, had fortunately met
with one of his former friends, a kind of chief, through whose
influence he had succeeded. So treacherous are the natives
that it is impossible to trust them for a moment. When we met
her she had been for two days without food and had subsisted
the most part of the time on a kind of fern root found in
swamps. Now and then she would get the tail or fin of a fish
when the savages had a superabundance, and then she was
obliged to earn it by dragging heavy logs of wood and fetching
water. She was not allowed in their huts, but, naked as she
was, she was obliged to lie out the whole night, even in the
heaviest rains. This is but a slight sketch of what she went
through. When we had got about halfway to our boats we were
obliged to carry her. We did not arrive until next morning,
when she begged for hot water, as she was anxious to restore
her face and person to a natural colour. The natives had
rubbed her body every day with charcoal to darken her skin.”
Such was the
treatment meted out not only to Mrs. Fraser, but to all the
unfortunate survivors of the wreck. The story came to Moreton
Bay through Lieutenant Otter, the rescuer; and it was thanks
to the men in the pinnace that he had come to know of the
tragedy at all.
drew away from the longboat in the night, the seven men in the
pinnace landed on the coast somewhere about Wide Bay, but here
met aborigines who treated them in much the same way as the
other survivors. The blacks immediately demanded the clothes
of the white men, which they twisted grotesquely around their
bodies, much to their delight. Two sailors who refused to part
with their garments were speared, and the rest did not argue
the point. When the first orgy of stripping and dressing was
over, the blacks enslaved the white men, setting them to cut
wood with native implements, and do odd jobs. They became
literally the hewers of wood and drawers of water for a couple
of hundred hostile, grinning savages, who treated the whole
thing as a great joke and strutted masterfully about, proud of
however, two of the hardy spirits rebelled against this fate.
One of them was a British sailor, and the other a negro, who
had been among the crew of the Stirling Castle, and
who had been treated like the white men by the aborigines,
despite his kindred colouring with themselves. These men set
out to walk to Moreton Bay, escaping from the camp by night.
They met Lieutenant Otter, an officer of the detachment
stationed at Moreton Bay, and told him their story.
(Incidentally, Jeffery, in his Century of Our Sea Story,
appears to be in error when he reports that only one man
escaped from the blacks and reached Moreton Bay, as reference
to Barton's Remarkable Wrecks will show. Jeffery also
creates the impression that it was one of the sailors with
Mrs. Fraser who carried the news to Moreton Bay; but it was
the men from the pinnace).
When the news
arrived at Moreton Bay, Captain Fyans, the commandant there,
was immediately informed, and he detailed Otter to take two
whaleboats and a party of men, and try to locate the
castaways. A convict named Graham, who had at one time escaped
and lived among the blacks, was sent as a guide and
interpreter. It was this man's luck in meeting a former black
comrade, which Otter refers to in the excerpt above.
boats were fortunate in meeting with the survivors of the
longboat, and took them aboard in the manner described by
Lieutenant Otter. They were taken to Moreton Bay and lodged in
the hospital there, where they made remarkable recoveries to
health, and at length, on the Prince George, were sent
on to Sydney, giving rise to a small official notice in the
Gazette of October 15.
one of the most horrible chapters in the variegated story of
the seven seas- a chapter which, though it does not record a
tremendous death-roll, holds as much of terror and torture,
ruin and risk, as is possible to cram into six months of life.
Perhaps no woman has even been called upon to endure more than
Mrs. Fraser; certainly no woman has emerged more remarkably
from such a concatenation of tribulation.
Out of the
eighteen who left Sydney on the Stirling Castle, three
were speared to death, two were burned, four drowned
(including Fraser's thirteen-year-old nephew), two were left
by the blacks to die of starvation and seven were saved.
The End of the “Wanderer”
Some of the
old hands at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, may still
remember, as they blow the froth off a pint of beer, a piece
of wreckage which was washed up on the northern point of the
beach- “somewhere about nineteen-oh three or four as near as I
soothing influence of another pint they may further recall
that one Jacob Healy, scion of an old Port Macquarie family,
inherited from his forebears a picture which he afterwards
placed in the hands of the Sydney Yacht Club.
you may still get definite remembrance of a sea-stained piano
which tinkled in that desolate settlement for many years after
it was rescued from a wreck on the harbor bar, in the days
when Port Macquarie was an outpost whose beauty was still
undiscovered and unexploited.
If you are
willing to stand three pints for your old inhabitant, and if
each has the quickening effect indicated above, you will have
touched a piece of flesh-and-blood history at a nominal price.
You will have threaded together probably the only three
tangible links with Sydney's gentleman adventurer, that
business comet of the last century, Benjamin Boyd.
enough the end of Boyd and his elaborate yacht Wanderer
is subject of no little controversy, though a careful sifting
of the authoritative documents enables one to piece together
what seems to be a fairly accurate story- a story ending on
the island of Guadalcanal which has been raised to long
remembrance by the epic of the Pacific War. For it was in the
Solomons that Ben Boyd met his death, and it was on the bar of
Port Macquarie that his yacht foundered after he died.
foundations of the tale are laid in the year 1842 (not
“1840-41” as Heaton has it) when the elegant 84-ton yacht Wanderer
bore Boyd into Port Jackson for the first time on July 18,
flying the colors of the Royal Yacht Squadron and mounting ten
guns. Benjamin Boyd could afford to sail in that way, for with
the Bank of Scotland backing him he was going to organise
various branches of the Royal Bank of Australia, and exploit
generally the wealth of the new continent. In the Sydney of
the 1840s, which but yesterday had been a convict settlement,
there were inviting prospects for an enterprising business
man. Convict transportation to Sydney had ended; the town
presented a substantial picture of small stone buildings
regularly arranged; free immigrants had established businesses
and industries; Australia was on the way up.
opportunist purchased station property extensively in the
Monaro district, in the Riverina. While he was new in the
colony Moreton Bay was opened up and property there made
available for founding a settlement. Boyd bought some. On the
south coast of New South Wales he opened a whaling station at
Twofold Bay; he erected a large store there to supply his own
station properties on Monaro, so as to save the heavy expense
of transport from Sydney. He also erected premises for boiling
down sheep into tallow. He also speculated in whaling and made
Twofold Bay the rendezvous of his whale ships. He erected a
lighthouse to direct his ships to the wharf- then the New
South Wales Government refused him permission to exhibit the
light because he could not (or would not) guarantee its
cattle to Tasmania and New Zealand. He tried to make Boyd Town
a more important place than Eden, which the Government
recognised as the official settlement in the district. He also
took a leaf from the dirtiest chapter in American history, and
tried to bring colored labor to Australia: in his fertile,
scheming brain an Australian slave trade was born- one which
developed to some dimensions and was nipped in the bud, just
in time. The slaving led Boyd to engage a large steamer and
five smaller vessels to bring natives from the New Hebrides.
Several shiploads were landed at Twofold Bay and employed at
his Deniliquin and Ulupna properties, as shepherds or
hut-keepers at 6d a week plus a bonus of a new shirt and
Kilmarnock cap once a year. They proved unsuitable for the
work, and many of them finally made their way to Sydney where
they were the cause of a teacup storm.
All of this
activity was very spectacular- but it caused discontent among
the shareholders of Boyd's company, and the trouble which
followed led to Boyd's resignation. He was given three of the
whale ships, his yacht Wanderer, and two sections of
land at Twofold Bay as the pay-off.
psychological moment, with Boyd's fortune at low ebb,
something happened on the other side of the Pacific. Boyd
decided to leave Australia- behind him on the shores of Port
Jackson were two sites to remind the colony of his dreams,
Great Sirius Bay (now Mosman) was the home of his ships; and
wool from the Monaro stations was scoured where elaborate
Neutral Bay flats now stand.
Australia because, in 1849, big news broke in California. What
Bret Harte called the “fierce race for wealth,” the
Californian gold rush began. Those were the glamorous
forty-niner days when the world believed that El Dorado was
not far from San Francisco. The sad ditty of “Clementine”
(daughter of “a miner Forty-niner”), the famous tales of
Harte, and a wealth of gold-seeking legend, have sprung up
around the famous rush. There should be a few lines somewhere
in that wild Californian story to record that the
Scottish-Australian Boyd, his enterprises failing and his
resources depleted, was one more member of the gold-thirsty
mob that stampeded over those diggings.
It was in the
Wanderer that he sailed out of Port Jackson, his dreams
of Australia behind him, dreams of America before him, hoping
to gain the ore where he had lost the banknotes. But
California was even more disappointing than Australia, and
Boyd soon realised his mistake. On the Californian diggings
men and women starved to death as they awoke from the mirage
of easy wealth. Boyd was still able to climb back into his
luxurious yacht and head back for Port Jackson once again. But
Fate decreed that he should never return to the scene of his
non-success (it is a fairer word than “failure” for Boyd's
Crawford, one of the officers of the Wanderer, has
doubted that Boyd ever intended to return to Sydney, and has
been responsible for a wild idea that the Scot would have
founded a republic of his own somewhere in the Pacific. Such a
thought might have appealed to Boyd's vivid mind, but I have
conscientiously searched, without result, for any trace of
documentary evidence that such an idea entered Boyd's head.
Even if some word or action of Boyd's while at sea on the Wanderer
gave some ground for the belief, it has not been preserved-
nor would it have had a chance to mature.
beginning of October 1851, the Wanderer sighted the
Solomons. On October 14 it approached the island of
Guadalcanal and anchored in a little bay on the West Coast.
The following day Ben Boyd died.
On the morning
of October 15, he decided to go ashore and shoot game, taking
with him only one native boy to carry his guns. The crew of
the Wanderer stood by, and quietly carried out the
ship's routine. The morning passed naturally enough; but as
the day wore on and there was no sign of Boyd, Captain Webster
became uneasy. He sent a boat ashore to make sure that
everything was as it should be. But concrete grounds for any
uneasiness were immediately found; there were signs of native
treachery quite close to the beach.
were the search party as to their leader's fate that nobody
noticed the copper-skins peering through the bushes. With a
mad howl the foliage along the foreshore sprang to life, and
islanders dashed towards the strange white men, throwing
spears and stones. The party managed to gain the little boat,
and put off to the Wanderer, without damage being
done. The attacking natives took a canoe and paddled up the
still missing the Wanderer's men felt that they could
not leave the hostile place. They were still at anchor when
late in the day a small fleet of war-canoes approached. The
leading canoe was large and carried up to 50 fierce-looking
men. Smaller canoes carrying some half-dozen warriors each,
Among the ten
pieces of the Wanderer's armament was a brass cannon,
known, as were many of its kind, as “Long Tom.” As the
war-canoes approached Long Tom was stuffed with all the scrap
metal which could be readily found. When the islanders paddled
into range Long Tom gave a sudden vicious roar, and a shower
of jagged metal hissed across the low deck, raking the
islanders' fleet fore and aft. Many of the canoes sank;
bleeding and groaning natives struggled in the water. With
loud cries of terror the luckier of the party paddled
Webster calculated that this would be sufficient to scare the
natives thoroughly. In this he was right. By the next day
there was no sign of them. He took a risk, and went ashore
with a party of men. They searched through the island
unmolested by the natives. No trace of Boyd could be found.
But there was every evidence that he had fallen prey to the
uncultivated appetites of the islanders.
By the 20th
of the month it had been decided that Boyd would not be seen
again. Webster wrote a report on that day, setting out in
detail the information summarized above. The report was signed
by William Ottiwell, Master; George
As nothing was to be gained by dallying further, the
crew decided to return to Sydney with the Wanderer.
But this was one of those peculiar cases in which the old
man's treasured possession ends its usefulness with him. Boyd
had tragically made wreckage on Guadalcanal Island; on
November 14 the Wanderer's career ended on the bar of
Port Macquarie Harbour.
nightfall on the 13th the vessel reached the
harbour mouth, and hove to for the night. On the morning of
the 14th an attempt was made to cross the bar. The
tide was not high enough; the Wanderer ran aground and
was carried by a strong tide to the south shore, where she
became a wreck.
I have not
been able to find any accurate details of the wreck, or of
what happened to the crew. There are general indications that
some of them were lost, probably carried away in the sea, or
knocked unconscious by wreckage. It seems certain, however,
that a fairly leisurely salvage was carried out, for the
picture and the piano already referred to were taken ashore,
and were for many years in the Port Macquarie district.
was saved from the wreck, and later in life settled at
Hokianga (New Zealand). He presented the Long Tom which
dispersed the cannibal canoe fleet to the citizens of
Auckland; and the shining brass muzzle was mounted there to
testify to the story of a pioneer's pathetic end.
also contributed towards the solution of the mystery by
publishing in Sydney a narrative entitled, “The Last
Cruise of the Wanderer,” which can be perused in the
Mitchell Library, Sydney.
however, the end of the Wanderer did not quite close
Boyd's story. He had been prominent in Sydney; the news of his
supposed murder by the blacks was not sufficiently final for
the citizens. A search was organised to visit Guadalcanal, and
the documents of the period relating to the Boyd tragedy are
closed by one which records that in 1857, six years
afterwards, the Government paid the owners of a small vessel,
the Oberon, the sum of £300 to reimburse them for
expenses incurred in a search for Benjamin Boyd.
topography of modern New South Wales there are but two
monuments to the enterprising but unsuccessful Scot. One is
Boyd Town, which he founded; the other is Ben Boyd Road,
Neutral Bay, Sydney, which now runs close by the site of the
old wharves and wool-wash which represented some of
Australia's earliest commercial enterprise.
The “Monumental City”
aeroplane to fly from England to Australia held the front
pages of all newspapers for well over a week, with streamer
headings and black type. The first screw steamer to cross the
Pacific, from San Francisco to Sydney, received ten lines of
six-point, eye-straining type, without any heading at all, in
the general shipping column of the Sydney Morning Herald
of April 25, 1853.
The 1000 ton Monumental
City, 475 horse power, “magnificently fitted, with very
superior accommodation for passengers,” deserved better,
though her 65-day voyage compares poorly with a modern
steamer. She left San Francisco on February 17, and made
Otaheite (now Tahiti) in 20 days. After coaling here for 15
days she put in at Tongataboo on April 6 for rudder repairs.
It is worthy of note that she had no trouble with her screw,
which was at that time still something in the nature of an
welcomed the pioneer screw steamer on April 23, and two days
later the papers mentioned her arrival. On May 5 the Monumental
City put out for Melbourne, arriving on the 9th.
Business was brief, and on the 13th she passed
through Port Phillip heads, bound for Sydney.
later, on 19th, a small paragraph in the Herald
shipping column mentioned that “six large steamers are now
overdue in Sydney, and at least three of them may be expected
in the course of the day.” The Monumental City was on
vessel had been smashed to pieces on a rocky island near Gabo,
four days before the notice appeared.
When the Monumental
City left Melbourne on May 13, she was carrying eleven
cabin passengers, among whom were three ladies, and 23
steerage passengers, as well as crew. The only cabin passenger
to reach Sydney was Mr. Gavin M’Harrow, who was able to tell
the whole terrible chapter of tragedy with that stark
simplicity that belongs only to an eye-witness. His story was
published in the Shipping Gazette for June 4, 1853,
and gave day by day details.
On the day
after they left Melbourne, Saturday, they were making 12 knots
an hour, and “were pleased to pass Cape Howe about midnight.”
At four o'clock on Sunday morning “everyone started from sleep
at feeling a strong concussion.”
crew hurried to the deck. The morning was dark, bleak, and
rain-lashed; it was impossible to distinguish the very rocks
against which the vessel had run, or to see whether land was
near. Some believed that the vessel had run on to the
showed otherwise, however. Through the morning murk the
shapeless mass of rock which held the vessel could be seen a
cauldron of seething seas roaring and spuming at the base of a
barren little island. Some distance away
was for the three ladies. One of the passengers proposed that
they should be sent ashore immediately in one of the vessel's
boats. When the ladies saw, however, the tearing, creaming
waves which swirled around the wreck, they were frightened to
step into the boat, and so elected to remain as eye-witnesses-
and later as victims- of the cruelest of all deaths- death in
sight of land and safety.
probably have been impossible to land them in any case, for
when attempts were made to launch the boats, three of them
were smashed in quick succession. Only one remained, and
Captain Adams chose to keep that one safely as long as
It seemed that
the infuriated sea was mad with blood-lust; for grotesque arms
of water tore at the timbers as they were freed from their
rigging, held them aloft, and drove them like battering-rams
against the side of the vessel. The noble Monumental City,
which had made Pacific history, could not stand against that.
She was beginning to shiver in her death-throes.
small boat was now set adrift on the lee-side of the wreck,
with a man who had volunteered to try and get ashore with a
line from the ship. Heroically and skilfully he played his
cockle against the cunning of the waves; a cheer went up from
the anxious passengers when the hero plunged into the lacy
fringe of the surf, and struggled, bruised and breathless, up
the beach, But the cheer became a moan of chill terror as the
line became entangled in the rocks, and had finally to be
With no other
boat- it was manifestly impossible for the intrepid sailor to
attempt a return- the task of getting a line ashore seemed
completely hopeless. A passenger volunteered to swim with it;
he was not allowed to do so; obviously no swimmer born of a
woman could live in that sea. There was a suggestion to tie
the line about a Newfoundland dog which was aboard, and to let
him try to reach land. Finally, however, a small piece of wood
covered with spun yarn was secured, the line was made fast to
it, and hurled into the water. By sheer good fortune, this
small piece of wood saved the situation; it drifted to a rock,
where the sailor who had already landed could reach it.
As soon as the
line was safely ashore, Charles Palmer, the sailor on the
beach, hauled the end of a hawser through the surf by it, and
made it fast among the rocks. Mr. Cutter, the second mate,
volunteered to go ashore on the hawser to test its strength.
He was successful, but was exhausted and severely bruised. The
first officer was then sent along the hawser with some
provisions in a basket, and a small line, so as to be able to
haul passengers along the hawser, which was now literally the
thread by which all lives hung. But the first officer was
unconscious when he reached the shore; the small line became
tangled by the sailor Palmer, in his endeavour to rescue the
basket of provisions.
passengers stood lashed by rain and splashed by spray, torn by
a howling gale now, and tossed between the heights of hope and
gulfs of despair. Safety, which at one moment seemed within
the reach of all of them, was snatched away; and so slender
did the chance of any collective action seem now that the line
which was to haul them to safety had been lost, that each
turned his mind to devising some way to personal safety.
United efforts were abandoned.
By 11 o'clock all hope of reaching shore was gone; the vessel, battered by waves and by parts of her own wreckage washed overboard, was b ginning to fill with water. It was becoming apparent that at the best she could not last long.
ladies, who were bearing their fate bravely, were given
temporary sanctuary in the galley, but were soon driven from
it by fears that the vessel would fall to pieces beneath them.
The shadow of death lay heavily across the small party as they
were driven forward into the bows of the ship. Although this
seemed the safest place, it was extremely difficult to keep a
footing. Every minute the ship's list increased, until the
deck was sloping so much that walking was impossible.
By this time
the stern of the vessel was beginning to break up; in a few
minutes decks were buckling, and planks were starting from the
cross-members; no further attempt had been made to get another
line ashore. Passengers and crew were mastered by fear, broke
into open panic, and fought in a milling, slipping, struggling
crowd to reach the bowsprit, in an endeavour to reach safety
along the hawser. One or two people, blinded by fear to the
cruelty of the sea, dived overboard to swim. They did not see
the surface again; swirling water sucked them into the depths.
of terror, measured by human time, had been just one hour.
Noon came; Captain Adams left the Monumental City's
wreck, and landed safely on the island, making his way along
The ship was
completely broken in two; most of the people had taken to the
hawser; but not necessarily to safety. One man commenced to
swing himself along it, trusting to his hand-grip. His
benumbed hands could not hold the slippery thing, and he
plunged into the roaring water below.
People who had
lost all restraint now threw themselves, yelling, into the
sea, or stood, death-white, gripping a railing, a hatching or
a spar, hoping that they would be washed ashore, clinging to
kept his head all through; he stood on the slippery deck,
clinging to rigging for safety, and watched the whole terrible
tableau of destruction. Finally, well after midday, he made
his way to the hawser, tied his coat into a sling, and sitting
in this, suspended from the hawser, worked his way along with
his hands. The rope was almost horizontal, which made
travelling difficult. Finally, however, he reached the rocky
little island. Later he discovered that every other cabin
passenger had perished during that fateful morning.
another man try to follow him along the hawser; a piece of
wreckage was picked up on the crest of a wave, dashed against
the unfortunate fellow's body, and drove him unconscious and
bleeding from his position. He was never seen again. Not more
than one or two left the vessel after him; at one o'clock,
twenty people, including four women and three children, were
still on the wreck.
that an immense sea gathered itself and crashed down upon the
bow of the vessel. It was split clean in two. Men, women, and
children were hurled into the water. So broken was the boiling
surf, so strewn with timber and all kinds of wreckage, that
there were no struggles. Death came with merciful swiftness;
there were no prolonged struggles to harrow the watchers on
Out of 86
souls who had sailed from Melbourne (including cabin
passengers, steerage passengers, and crew) 53 had reached the
shore; 32 had been drowned. On the most miserable Sunday
afternoon the survivors built a small fire on the beach, and
sorted out their provisions, reckoning on enough to last, with
care, for 16 days.
was spent bivouacking under a cloudy sky, soaked with
occasional showers of rain, and stung by a biting wind from
morning's dawn revealed a body-strewn beach. The first duty
was to give crude rites to 27 bodies, some of which were
morning the captain and 18 men took the boat, which Palmer had
so gallantly brought ashore, and as the sea had somewhat
abated, they tried to bridge the gap between the island and
the mainland. He succeeded, but could not bring the boat back
to the island, and had to remain through the night. Wednesday
morning brought definite action; the captain decided it was
futile to wait about the scene of the tragedy, and set out to
walk to Twofold Bay for assistance from whalers there.
Thursday morning was sunny and calm!
of the survivors had not yet left the island. By Friday they
were anxious to move. Six seamen made a raft, and on it
reached the mainland. The other survivors were transported
from the island, together with the provisions, and a second
party set out to reach Twofold Bay on foot.
evening, seven and a half days after the vessel struck, this
second party staggered into Twofold Bay township. Bearded and
salt-encrusted, bleary of eye, and weary of limb, they gasped
their story, and sank exhausted where they stood.
Sub-Collector of Customs Moule assisted them, and helped them
to reach Sydney.
reason was assigned for the wreck. It was stated, however,
that one of the passengers with a knowledge of the coast had
warned Captain Adams on the Saturday evening, a few hours
before the vessel struck, that he was hugging the shore too
little was heard of the wreck. The only full account of the
gallant ship's death was published in the Shipping Gazette
quoted above. The first screw steamer to cross the Pacific,
the magnificently fitted Monumental City, was unsung
in her triumph, unmourned in her ghastly death.
This is the
story of an American ship that came to grief on the Australian
coast. It is a story which would present a brick-wall of
illogicality to any rule-of-thumb detective, working on the
formula of motive means opportunity- clues. For in the first
place, there appears to be no motive for the shocking crime
which took place… and from that point onwards the story of the
Junior is baffling. The weapon with which the crime was
committed was a whale-gun, a weapon probably unique in the
grisly history of murder. As for the rest of the usual
procedure, as to clues and where they led, no investigator
need worry, for a full confession was signed and left by the
criminals- and it was genuine.
Such are the
highlights of the mutiny and murder which took place on the
American whaler Junior on Christmas night, 1857, while
the vessel was at sea in the South Pacific, near the New
took the Junior out of New Bedford, U.S.A., some time
in June 1857, for a whaling voyage in the South Pacific, and
for six months the ship cruised about. Her company was,
apparently, happy. No friction nor bad treatment marred the
peaceful summer months of the cruise, and when the men found
themselves celebrating Christmas on the high seas they seemed
in the right spirit. Chief Officer Nelson was in his cabin on
Christmas Eve when, all of a sudden, he heard a voice call
“Fire!” A second later the whale gun mounted in the Junior’s
bow sent a ball howling towards the cabin. There was a moment
of confusion, and shouting of men in pain. Then, as smoke
began to roll from the cabin, Chief Officer Nelson rolled on
his bunk in pain. He heard the groans of Captain Mellon, and
realised at the same time that the shot had set fire to the
own injury Nelson dragged the helpless master mariner out of
the fire. On the deck Mellon died in the arms of the chief
mate. All about was confusion. The second mate was wounded,
men were racing about the fire, Nelson realised that his own
life was in danger. Painfully he crawled across the deck and
down the companionway to find a place in the hold where he
could hide until reason asserted itself.
hampered by his injuries the chief officer kept his place of
hiding. Sounds coming down from the deck told him that the
sudden madness had not yet righted itself. Days passed into
nights and nights into days…one, two, three, four, five. Five
days without food; five days under the stinging pain of his
wounds; five days cramped in darkness; it was a miserable time
more miserable was the moment when a shaft of light suddenly
pierced his hiding place and members of the crew he had once
commanded hoisted him from his uncomfortable security. The
mutineers brought him on deck and before the new “commander”
of the Junior, a seaman named Cyrus Plumer, an
Englishman. This man told Nelson that he had previously been
concerned with the seizing of three ships, and had spent
eighteen months in Australia. He also recounted to the chief
officer how the third mate had met a terrible fate: he had
been beheaded on the Junior's deck with an ordinary
spade, his head literally being hacked from his body by a
series of sadistic strokes.
The first work
that faced the mutineers, Plumer said, was to put out the fire
that had started in the cabin. After that, having seen the
captain dead, the second officer and the third dead also, they
took charge of the ship, but without sufficient knowledge of
navigation to handle her. It is interesting to remember in
this connection that both the Bounty and the Seringapatam
were handled satisfactorily by crews who had insufficient
knowledge of navigation.
On the third
day after the crime the mutineers weighted the feet of the
dead men who lay about the deck, and threw them overboard. For
two days more, until their discovery of the chief mate, the
ship drifted idly, a circumstance which makes it extremely
difficult to see what the Junior's crew found in, or
expected as a result of, their actions. Had Nelson not been
discovered the mutineers would most likely have starved to
death or become castaways. Realising, under these
circumstances, that Nelson could save them and help them, they
tried to bargain. They offered to guarantee his safety on the
condition that he took them to Cape Howe. This he agreed to
do. When the ship was within twenty miles of land the
mutineers indicated that they would row ashore in the ship's
boat. First they dealt with several preliminaries, the first
of which was peculiar in more ways than one.
their confession in the ship's log. This short statement said
that they had been well treated during the voyage, had no
complaints at all against any of the ship's officers or crew,
but that they and they alone were responsible for the mutiny
and murder. Five of them- Cyrus Plumer, boat-steerer and
ringleader, John Hall, Richard Cartha, Cornelius Barnes and
William Herbert- signed this confession and had two members of
the crew witness that it was true. It is difficult to say
which is more amazing- the fact that these callous killers
should have so meticulously confessed at all, or the fact that
they should have so uncompromisingly blackened themselves in
The next step
in preparing to abandon the Junior was to fill two
small boats with food and general objects which might prove
useful. Next was to herd together all who were to remain on
board and strip them of their clothing, jewellery, watches,
money. The deserters then smashed the chronometer, judging
that in this way they would make it impossible for the Junior
to reach port and recount their crime. They took all firearms
out of the ship, and anticipated American gang methods by
sawing the barrels off the muskets “for more convenient
The final step
in abandoning the Junior was to intimidate Nelson and
the men with him by threatening that, if any attempt were made
to follow the small boats, the mutineers would come aboard
again and sink the ship, allowing the naked and intimidated
sailors to sink with her.
The boats then
put off from the ship. Each carried five men: Plumer and his
gang of confederates went in the first, and the five who
followed in the second boat were evidently recruits- men who
had not been in the original scheme, but had later joined.
On January 7,
the ship Lochiel, from London, was off Cape Howe when
she saw a ship flying distress signals. The story of the
plague-ship Surry and its discoverer, the Broxbornebury
found a parallel here. The Lochiel answered the
signals, and heard all of the forgoing details straight from
the lips of the wounded, hungry and near-naked chief officer.
relief to the Junior, and escorted it almost to Sydney
Heads. Twenty miles north-north-west of Port Jackson, however,
the Lochiel lost sight of the troubled whaler; it
entered the port alone and its commander, Captain Haddon, told
the story. On the 10th of the month the Junior
arrived to bear out the tale, and to tell of its vivid
adventure concealed behind a half-column story in
eye-straining type in the Sydney Morning Herald,
beside the little formal notice in the Arrivals: “January 10-
Junior, American ship, 460 tons, Captain Nelson, from
the South Seas.”
officer who arrived in Sydney as “Captain Nelson,” was put
under medical treatment at once. Four slugs were removed from
then happened to the mutineers? They managed their twenty-mile
open-boat voyage successfully, landed on a beach, and appeared
at Merimbula. Walking boldly into the township they swaggered
about, drinking and making themselves undesirably prominent.
Rumors of this self-assertive team, headed by a man who called
himself Captain Wilson (this was Plumer) reached the Pambula
police, who came to Merimbula, and arrested the men, taking
them to Twofold Bay and locking them up.
communications of the day did not help matters at all,
however, and there was very little the Pambula police could do
to ten men arrested on suspicion. Nothing was known of the
men; they had committed no crime in the district. The police
decided to release them on a bond that they would return to
the police station to sleep.
When at the
end of the first day's parole the men quietly turned up at the
station to claim their beds, and no attempt at escape had been
made, the police feared that they had miscalculated and that
the consequences might be serious.
however, news of the Junior horrors reached Eden by
mail coach. Plumer was among the first to hear it, and it was
the signal for him to lead his men into the bush. The police
were watching, and immediately followed up the move by going
in pursuit. When they realised that their next fight would be
against authority, a decidedly dangerous fight when the police
were well armed and to shoot back might have meant a rope for
each neck of them- they surrendered. Presumably they were
trading on the fact of their American citizenship when they
did this, believing that it protected them in a small colony
of a foreign power.
however, taken to Sydney, and that they were not captured in
one group is apparent from an entry in the Herald of
February 15, 1858, which stated that “Four more of the
mutineers from the Junior were captured near Albert
Town, Gippsland, and will be conveyed to Sydney by steamer.”
rather quiet on the exact proceedings hereabouts, but the fact
emerges that all men were finally taken to Sydney, where a
fine point of law arose. The crimes of the company had been
committed on the high seas, outside the jurisdiction of the
State in which they were captured. The law of the sea said
that they must be tried at the port from which the vessel had
This gave rise
to further peculiar circumstance in a thoroughly unusual tale:
the ship Junior which had been the scene of their
crimes was carefully fitted out to take them back to New
Bedford. A strong guard was selected to accompany them and
prevent any further mischief, and on April 25, 1858, they went
through Port Jackson heads on their way to justice, prisoners
on the very deck which they had fired, on which they had
committed murder most brutal, and from which they had
threatened to sink the ship. The Junior's return
voyage was uneventful. They were committed for trial at
Boston, and on October 11, 1858, stood in the dock accused of
mutiny, murder and piracy. The ropes were about their necks;
the trapdoors were ready to slide away, dropping them into
eternity. Surely no men were nearer death.
And yet here
is a further amazing point to the story. There is not one
record of the death sentence having been carried out on these,
the most inexcusable of all criminals. What the court did with
all but Plumer is obscure. Plumer's fate sounds, more like
jest than justice: sentenced to death by the judge who heard
the trial, his sentence was commuted, and he was sent to gaol
for life. There is no available record to show whether he
served the entire sentence, or whether he became free again.
probably, would be the final heart-break for the rule-of-thumb
detective who investigated the queer case of the Junior
murders. Disheartened by lack of motive, but cheered by a
complete confession- bucked up by the arrest of his men and
their safe transport through the shoals of international
justice and the Pacific Ocean- his bird in the bag…to escape.
confession and eye witnesses, not one thing was lacking to
hang Plumer, at least. And if any man deserved to take his
last view of the world through a hempen noose, this was the
As was said at
the outset, it's a queer story from start to finish.
Trouble for the Timber Ship
After a great deal of energetic campaigning Samuel
Plimsoll saw his work rewarded in 1876 by the passing of the
Merchant Shipping Act in the British House of Commons.
The purpose of the Act was to limit the loading of
ships to guarantee their seaworthiness and safety; and the
agitation which culminated in the passing of such legislation
arose because, with freight charged by the ton, shipowners did
not scruple to overload their vessels to the point of unsafety
before sending them to sea. There was a period when ships were
lost wholesale in this way, and nobody suffered but the seamen
who sailed them. Insurance covered the lost freight; insurance
covered the lost and overloaded ship- only the lives of the
sailors were not redeemed by compensation. It is perhaps
unnecessary to add that while this practice was indulged in
the ships loaded down
to the point of unsafety were the oldest and most ramshackle
ones- no loss, for the most part, as they were already due for
It was because of these conditions which prevailed
before the Merchant Shipping Act, that the vessel All
Serene was able to leave Victoria, Vancouver Island, in
a condition which would immediately in these days condemn the
loading and stowing of the cargo. For the All Serene
was a wind ship carrying a cargo of timber to Australia in the
year 1864. Her deck was stacked six or seven feet high with
pine lumber some spars of which, according to accounts,
weighed tons each. This is a dangerous cargo; it upsets the
balance of the ship should it happen to shift; and it is a
cargo which can shift easily unless it is expertly handled. If
it should break loose from its lashings such a cargo can well
bring about destruction. But on the All Serene it was
more dangerous than usual, for the lumber was so badly stacked
that the vessel left port with a dangerous starboard list, and
there was no safety legislation to correct matters before she
put out to sea.
Off Puget Sound she ran into a gale. She had sailed on
November 29, 1863; Christmas and New Year were spent in the
teeth of a tearing tornado which did not once ease. After four
weeks had passed and the new year 1864 had come upon them out
of the spindrift, the timber ship was still lowering her head
under close reefed topsails, limping through great seas, her
lee cabin often right under water, her masts making a
dangerous angle with the surging surface of the sea.
On January 17 the All Serene limped into
Honolulu. Every man on board could think back to a dozen
occasions when death had stared him in the face; to a
difficult voyage in which they had not sufficient seaway to
run their ship into the wind- a wind that would have blown
them onto the American coast. The very fact that their journey
thus far had taken nearly seven weeks, which was an
“unprecedentedly long time” (says a contemporary account) for
even those slow old sail days, testifies to the battering they
went through. And if any further testimony be necessary it can
be found in the four passengers of the eighteen aboard who
felt that, to leave Honolulu in the ship after having come
safely through that nightmare period, would be tempting
providence. Accordingly they stayed in Honolulu when the All
Serene stuck her chin out to take the second round of
She sailed on January 25. The starboard list was still
apparent but became less threatening as the weather abated.
But February 20 was a gloomy day, a Saturday, and as it drew
to its weary close there came to the sailors a premonition
that their early dangers might be repeated. Such premonitions
have frequently been claimed among seafaring men, and whether
or not one regards premonitions as a kind of superstition, it
remains one of the phenomena of sea history that they are
recorded and their fulfillment has often come about.
At three on Sunday morning with a gale blowing and in
cloud-dense darkness, the men scrambled into the rigging and
held on to the wet and slippery shrouds while they put the All
Serene under close-reefed foresail and topsail. She was
running before the wind at great speed; the sea was growing
angrier. Sunday dawned thick and foreboding; during the day
violent squalls commenced. The ship was still carrying too
much canvas and the captain asked for the royal and
top-gallant yards and masts to be sent on deck.
Blown by the wind and showered incessantly by the salt
spray, the men struggled aloft. They started to dismantle the
yards and masts, and succeeded in getting some of them down on
deck. Then the sea began lashing over them in sheets and they
had to abandon the work. The deck load which had caused the
list now became menacing, but they found it impossible to
jettison. Some of the spars, says an observer of the tragedy,
weighed many tons, and could not be moved. If the lashings had
been loosened in any attempt to start the work of re-stowing
them, the sea and the movement of the ship would have picked
up these great logs and used them at battering rams against
the vessel and the men. As it was, the sea did not lack her
weapons. Two water tanks had been fastened abaft the wheel,
and one of these broke loose under the steady battering of the
waves. Swept across the deck, it crashed into the bulwark,
making a large hole through which green, foam-marbled water
began to pour. Sailors tried to stave in the tanks and get
them over the side, but without avail. The floating tank was
hurled against the wheel, smashing it; and thus freed from the
control of her rudder the ship swung round to wind, pitching
The lee deck load broke loose and began to batter about
the ship. The captain, whose wife and two children were aboard
with him, frantically tried to ease the ship's burden and
lessen the wind's grip by deciding to cut away the mizzen
mast. He busied himself by taking axe in hand and laying the
first blows to the stout mast; but as he did so the All
Serene gave a violent lurch and lay down on her bearings
in the water. She heeled until her masts were buried in the
sea, the weight of her canvas, heavy in the water, dragging
The ship was capsizing.
As the fate of the vessel became evident all hands
scrambled into the rigging. They hung on, with chapped,
cracked, wet hands, swinging in the chains, bruised and
battered by the icy water that hammered them constantly,
threatening to sweep them away to a death which, if it seemed
no more certain, would have been at least quicker. The storm
had reached a pitch it seemed impossible to excel; but Nature
was determined to call her every battery into action. The
ship's superstructure was torn away. It broke up in the
maelstrom, floating through and about the derelict, until the
waves hurled broken spars at the men who clung to the wreck.
Presently the ship heeled back a little so that the bottoms of
her masts cleared the water. Her starboard bulwark gradually
cleared the sea. That was all she could do to right herself.
But she stayed there, poised between life and destruction.
Thirty-one people lashed themselves to the weather rail and
counted their number. Eight had been already drowned. To walk
the deck was impossible. Since the superstructure had been
destroyed there was no shelter. The miserable men caught
driftwood from the sea and made a rough platform in the
rigging on which they spent a night of horror.
Here, though possibly they were safe, they were not
helped. They had neither water nor provisions. In the daylight
of the following morning they collected what tools they could
and, hanging on to the sloping, slippery woodwork they tried
to break through the deck. It was a great task under the
circumstances, and it took them all day. Driven by the thirst
that was already tormenting them, they persevered. They
cheered throatily when the treasured water below deck came in
sight; and they were plunged into the depths of despair when
they found that the soaking, burrowing, penetrating storm had
salted even the drinking water in the tanks.
On Wednesday it rained. They caught the rainwater in
their oilskins and drank that. On the following day they
decided to try and lighten the ship in the hope that it would
further recover balance. They spent all day filing through the
anchor chains. This labor was rewarded when the vessel came a
little higher in the water; but they were now thirsty again,
and desperately hungry. It was now obvious, too, that the ship
would never see land again, and that if they wished to escape
they would have to do something for their preservation. They
started to build a punt- but despite the danger of their
condition the beating they had already taken made many of the
men quite unwilling to work for their own safety.
It is interesting to note, in the survivor's account
published by Alexander W. Douglas (Atlas Office, Hunter
Street, Sydney, 1864) which is the only eye witness record of
this ordeal, the attitude of the men who had been through so
“The next day being the Sabbath some objected to work
on that account, but the well-timed representation of the
extreme urgency of our case had the effect of overcoming their
scruples and they worked all day.”
The following day, Monday, was too bad for any work to
be done; the bow of the vessel broke loose and opened up,
“opening and shutting like a great gate.” But they finally
completed the building of their strange emergency vessel while
the All Serene was still afloat. Certainly their
creation was not a boat, and with equal certainty it was not a
raft. It is described as an “open box, 24 feet long, 8 feet
broad, and 41 feet high at the sides and ends.” Furthermore,
the workers had not enough nails to fasten its planking
securely, and it was “badly caulked” so that it leaked
alarmingly. They had no oars, nor time to make them, and they
tried to pull it with heavy scantling.
This contraption was launched not at the will of the
men, but of the ship. For as the construction was nearing
completion the foremast began to sway and they feared that it
would crash upon them, injuring them and destroying the “open
box” in which lay their only hope of survival. So the crazy
punt was launched and they clambered aboard, trusting
themselves to it against the slowly abating sea.
The story of the Essex has shown already the
depths of horror which have been plumbed by open boat
voyagers; the men in the punt were saved those extremities-
but they went through all those tortures common to open-boat
voyages and raft drifts under similar circumstances. Hunger
and thirst began to prey on them; when morning after morning
dawned and found them still surrounded by merciless sea,
without any sign of sail or land, their spirits sank.
Despondency seized them. Men drank salt water and went
mad. The punt leaked so badly that it had to be constantly
baled out. They had to give up rowing and allow themselves to
be carried by the sea and the current. The ever-present
scavenger of the deep, the shark, scented the odors of
approaching doom and a school of triangular fins began to bob
in their wake constantly. The horrible alternative of
cannibalism did not dawn on their minds; but hunger drove them
to catch one shark which they ate raw. They scrambled for its
blood, which they drank.
Colorful amid the tragedy was Shylock. For among the
passengers on the All Serene was a Jew who carried a
bag of gold, his personal fortune, with him. There was among
the crew an Italian seaman who discovered the Jew's secret.
During one night the Italian stole the Jew's gold and hid it
in his boots. When day dawned the Jew discovered his loss and
raised an immediate alarm. A search was made for the gold, and
it was discovered where the Italian hid it. Contumely was
heaped upon the wretched Italian who was “willing to risk his
never dying soul for the transient possession of paltry gold,”
as Mr. Douglas says.
Apart from that little drama the punt drifted
aimlessly; and when it finally came in sight of land, low on
the horizon, it was evening.
How many days they had looked for that land and what
was their thrill on seeing it at last! Yet it seemed the
cruelest stroke of fate that they should see it just before
darkness robbed them of the sight, and abandoned them to a
night of feverish wondering. They could do nothing but drift-
and hope in a half-mad agony that morning would find them
still in sight of land. All night they fought the fear that
they might drift out of that saving sight.
Fate was kind. Morning found them gradually nearing the
shore, and all day long, in hope and anxiety, they saw
themselves drift closer. In the evening the captain died, his
eyes fixed on the land which might have restored him to life.
In the moonlight, after midnight, the punt ran on a reef.
With what little strength remained in them the men
jumped overboard, and fought their way through the surf to the
shore. Such was the agitation of that supreme moment that the
Jew left behind his bag of gold. A Portuguese sailor
discovered it and, in his turn, tried to annex it. Scotch
Douglas had a low estimate of gold: “the glittering dross
awakened the cupidity of him who handled it,” he wrote and
half-unmasked the wretched villain as “a Portuguese sailor- he
is now in this city.” (i.e., Sydney).
The Jew got his money back.
Weakened and starved and agitated by the relief of
being ashore, the survivors of this terrible storm, the
victims of the racket that opened up Plimsoll's indignation
and led to the Merchant Shipping Act, staggered into
the island, and found waiting to welcome them, a Wesleyan
missionary named Nettleton. They were on the island of
In the punt twelve men had died. Of the nineteen who
reached the shore one died two days later from the effects of
his ordeal. The loss of ship, cargo, and so many lives, was
far too great a price to pay for a badly-stowed load; yet so
common in those days of developing trade were such occurrences
that unnumbered ships and lives suffered similarly; tales of All
Serene horror seemed to cause no special eye-raising
when their survivors, haggard and weary, told them to their
The Blaze of the “Fiery Star”
On the night
of May 11, 1865, the ship Dauntless had almost
completed a long and tedious voyage from London to New
days when the southern seas were only half charted, when the
vagaries of Australian weather were partly known and not
understood, and when rocky death-traps at all points of the
southern coasts were claiming a steady toll of victims. Fine
days and nights were peppered with expressions of anxiety, and
every storm was a realistic struggle between men and Nature.
end of April and in the first days of May the Dauntless
worked her way through the Roaring 'Forties, passed King
Island- the Graveyard of Australian Ships- in safety, and
nosed into the Tasman Sea to a succession of fine days and
The tension of
the voyage was relaxing, and the nearness of New Zealand was
beginning to cheer the ship's company when, on May 11, fresh
excitement stirred aboard. The lookout man, after long nights
of uneventful blackness, saw blue distress signals breaking
the dark sky, and passed the word down. The Dauntless
shaped her course to answer the signals, and heard the
distress cannon firing.
As the Dauntless
approached the vessel in distress everybody on board could see
that they were rushing to the rescue of one of those most
pathetic tragedies, fire at sea.
The Back Ball
line had bought a ship named the Comet, altered the
name to Fiery Star, and set the vessel to work on the
colonial run. On May 21, 1865, Captain Yule cast off from
Brisbane and put the Fiery Star to sea with a bad
cargo and a ship's company of seventy-eight souls- there being
thirty-six passengers aboard in addition to officers and crew.
cargo was not a comfortable one for a wooden ship. It
consisted of 2,041 bales and three bags of wool, 134 casks of
tallow, 15 bales two bags of cotton, 1,519 hides, 9,013 horns,
and a number of less dangerous articles, such as cases of
was squally, but gave no difficulty to the sturdy Fiery
Star on her first days out of port. A good spirit
prevailed among the passengers, the crew was contented, the
ship behaved well.
Like a bolt
from the blue, on April 19, a seaman reported a strong smell
of fire in the fore-castle. Captain Yule and Mr. Sargent, his
first officer, immediately ordered the fore-hatch removed, to
send down and ascertain the spread of the fire. There was no
need to send men down. As soon as the hatch was lifted thick
smoke rolled out in a suffocating cloud. The lower hold was
There could be
little doubt as to the cause. The greasy wool, loosely stowed,
swayed as the ship tossed through the gales, setting up a
friction. There was little hope of putting out the fire. The
fumes that came up from the bowels of the vessel showed
clearly that the fire had already caught the tallow and with
this inflammable cargo burning fiercely in a wooden hull, the
Fiery Star was almost certainly lost.
Yule was not,
however, the man to give up without a struggle. The hatches
were battened down to smother the blaze as far as possible.
All hands were called immediately to man the pumps, and water
was thrown on the hatches.
the night the crew struggled in this way, without effect. The
heat below deck became so intense that the passengers (most of
whom were women) were forced to abandon the cabins. Through
the night they huddled together on the deck, sleeplessly
watching the gallant tussle against the mounting fire.
The morning of
April 20 found the crew without hope. The smell of burning
wool had become insufferable, and in spite of a good breeze
fumes hung about the ship choking the men and women, whose
eyes, already heavy with sleeplessness, were smarting from the
considered the position fully. No flame had been seen, but it
was sufficiently in evidence through the rapidly increasing
smoke and smell. Knowing the nature of his cargo, he had the
night's wasted work to confirm his first impression- that
fire-fighting was hopeless. He calculated the ship's position.
She had stood at 46 degrees 10 minutes latitude and 170
degrees west longitude when the fire was reported, and had not
made great headway since. Chatham Island was more than four
hundred miles away; New Zealand's rocky coast lay something
less than a hundred miles northward. Stewart Island and
Auckland Island were even closer, but to take refuge on them
was to lessen the chances of rescue. They were off shipping
lines and uninhabited.
It was on
Chatham Island that Yule pinned his hopes when he decided to
abandon ship. Yet he was still pondering, as a desperate man
will, whether by any freak of chance they might make at least
Chatham Island in the Fiery Star when, at six o'clock
in the evening, the first red tongues of flame burst mockingly
through the port bow.
was the sight, it finished any vain hopes the captain might
occurrence which had not been taken very seriously when it
happened suddenly assumed grave proportions. Since leaving
Brisbane the Fiery Star had lost two lifeboats in a
squall on the 17th of the month- possibly in the
very squall that started the friction which led to the fire.
Captain Yule's problem was, therefore, to fit his company of
seventy-eight people into four small boats.
were put into the boats-“women and children first”- but one
steerage passenger, a Mr. Omand, was odd man out. All the
boats were filled. Still on the burning ship were Omand, the
first mate, Mr. Sargent, three members of the crew, and
thirteen apprentice boys. The rest of the crew were at the
oars of the small boats; Captain Yule was forced to take
charge of the boats for the safety of the passengers.
was put forward that those remaining on the fire-ship should
make a raft, climb on to it, and share the journey of the
boats. But Sargent said that he was prepared to stick to the Fiery
Star in a last desperate bid to save her, if the men who
were unable to get place in the boats would stay with him.
Inspired by the mate's courage, they all agreed- a decision
for which they were later to be thankful; to which, in fact,
they owed their lives.
fallen. The ship was lit by the ruddy glow of the flames that
now spurted continuously from the burnt-through bow. Captain
Yule ordered the boats away from the ship, and promised to
stand by through the night, in case any sudden spread of fire
should make Sargent's plan impossible.
the skeleton crew worked, putting in order a steam pump with
which the ship was fitted, and pouring continuous streams of
water into the holds. All night they endeavored to put out the
grim light by which they worked. The coming dawn brought a
double disappointment: the fire was still raging, the boats
were out of sight.
Then it was
that Sargent and his men realised fully that their only hope
of salvation lay between a burning ship and a clumsy raft.
Anticipating that the fire might at any moment break out with
renewed fury to drive them completely from the hulk, the
fighters split into two crews, one of which continued the
struggle against the flames while the other built a raft.
The raft ready
on deck, to be launched when it became necessary, the men were
able to work with a free mind, knowing that they had escape
from death by fire, even if it were to the agonies of being
abandoned with very little food and water on an open and
desolate sea at the beginning of the storm-season.
And here they
seemed to reach a stalemate. Day after day and night after
night they fought the flames. The fire, whatever it was doing
below deck, showed no outward sign of becoming worse. But it
was all too evident that they were not gaining on it. They
were keeping the ship afloat by a desperate effort of will and
work, doing with short snatches of broken sleep and
insufficient food. The fire was not making any advance- nor
night a ruddy glow lit the sky and the surrounding sea with a
glare which, lurid and fierce though it was, could not be seen
far enough away to attract attention.
the signal gun removed to the safest part of the ship, and
stationed a man to fire rockets and signals at the first sign
of a possible rescuer.
men lost count of time; but as they fought what was to be an
epic battle of the sea, hours turned to days and days to
weeks. Hope and despair chased each other as night followed
day and day the night; and in the back of all minds was the
hope that Captain Yule's little boats would either fall in
with a merchantman which would come to their rescue, or would
land on the New Zealand coast in a place whence a rescue ship
could be sent.
exhausted men of the Fiery Star saw the lights of the
Dauntless, the fire was temporarily smouldering, the
flames were not intense. Immediately danger lights were fired,
and the signal cannon set off. The men paused in their
struggle to watch the floating lights.
In an agony of
uncertainty they saw the lights bobbing here and there, slowly
drawing nearer; and when it became certain that the Dauntless
had understood the position and was really bringing help, they
abandoned their fire-fighting, and standing on the scorched
deck cheered as best a band of hoarse and exhausted men can.
stirred into new life, and flames again lit the water. The Dauntless
hove to and sent boats off.
Never did such
a band of men stand on a ship's deck as the sixteen who were
ranged before the captain of the Dauntless when those
boats returned to their ship. Weary beyond sleeping, with long
growth of beard on faces, blackened with soot and sweat, with
arms and backs blistered from the sun, and bodies wasted from
overwork and under-nourishment, they were a pitiful crowd of
And a lucky crowd. It seemed that the fire in the bowels of the Fiery Star had been playing with its intended victims for three weeks as cat plays with mouse, and lashed itself to sudden fury on that night of May 11 when the Dauntless arrived.
missing its human victims, the fire suddenly mastered the
ship. Fierce tongues of flame thrust through the decks and
through wooden sides charred with the constant heat. The
survivors stood on their rescue ship and watched the Fiery
Star cloaked in flame. They watched the dark masts
gilded with the ruddy light, burst into columns of flame, bend
like matches, and snap with a report like a cannon to fall
hissing into the sea. One after another the masts went down.
The superstructure was a glowing skeleton, the hull a sheet of
flame. Within a few hours while the Dauntless watched,
the Fiery Star burnt to the waterline, and plunged
slowly, hissing and seething with steam and smoke, into the
When the Dauntless
moved away a few blackened spars and twisted pieces of wood
swayed idly in the waves, quickly perishable monuments of one
of the greatest fire-fighting epics of the southern seas.
carried with it every man who bravely agreed to stand by
Sargent, in the fight. Sargent himself, steerage passenger
Omand, three seamen and thirteen apprentices. The Dauntless
came into Auckland harbor on May 15, four days after the
rescue, to bring first, news of the Fiery Star's
tragedy to the world. For Captain Yule had not yet been
receiving the news the commander of H.M.S. Brisk put
to sea in the hope of picking up the boats. It combed the sea
to southward, going to Chatham Island and beyond, but the
people who put off in the boats were never found. All that
remained of the Fiery Star and its company were the
gallant men who stayed to face what appeared to be certain
death. The explanation was adopted that gales which sprang up
soon after the Fiery Star was abandoned had taken the
escapees from the fire as victims of the water.
stirred by the gallantry of the survivors, and marked its
appreciation by a public meeting which presented to Sargent a
proud trophy- a testimonial of his gallant efforts to save the
Encyclopedia's summary of the Fiery Star fatality is
at fault at one point and obscure in another. It sets down the
date of the fire as: “took fire April 20, 1865.” Actual
accounts of the day show that the fire was detected on the 19th,
had then been in progress some time, and that the vessel was
abandoned by Captain Yule at 6 p.m. on the 20th.
The Encyclopedia adds that “the Chief Officer, four seamen and
thirteen apprentices” fought the fire: the “four seamen” were
actually Mr. Omand, the passenger, and three members of the
crew. These are small points; but to correct them now may save
On February 7,
1872, says a historical record, the Government ship Basilisk
boarded the forty-ton schooner, Peri, as it rolled in
the swell of the tropical Pacific off Rockingham Bay, on the
Queensland coast. The journal of Captain Moresby of the Basilisk
says the event took place on February 5, 1871.
important than the actual date (though if Captain Moresby were
a clear-minded man his own date might naturally be taken as
the correct one) is the condition in which the Peri
was found. In the first place, she was in a filthy condition.
She was waterlogged, with five feet of sea-water in the hold.
About her decks fourteen Solomon Islanders were starving to
death, and there were three black corpses. There were no white
men aboard. The sails were bent and the helm was lashed on a
course. Her identity was not known until, by dint of hard
scrubbing at her head boards, the name Peri became
The story of
this strange and deplorable vessel was briefly told in the Illustrated
Sydney News of March 19, 1872; its inaccuracies are not
a tribute to the journalism of the day. This account claims
that Mr. Sheridan, police magistrate of Cardwell, Queensland,
went aboard the Peri with a Polynesian interpreter,
but the interpreter could not make himself understood to the
Moresby, however, tells a different story. He says that there
were originally 80 islanders on the Peri, men who had
been purchased from another “blackbirder,” the Nukulow,
for £10 to £15 a head, tribesmen from the Rewa River, Fiji,
who were destined, when captured, to be taken to other Fijian
islands to work for pioneer planters there (these were the
days of the notorious Stewart and men of his ilk in the then
primitive Fiji Islands). After the sale was completed and the
islanders were transshipped to the Peri, they were
starved. Believing that they were to be treated as “indented”
laborers, and not as slaves, the colored men asked for food. A
little rice was given them in answer to this request, but
there was no attempt made to be nice about the giving of it.
The islanders found the ration insufficient for their needs
and asked for more. One of the white crew came up to the cook,
snatched a bowl of half-cooked rice from him, and threw it
into the sea in full view of the natives.
“If you ask
for food again you will go the same way!” he stormed, and left
But the white
man was wrong.
knowing only their own laws of retaliation, driven by hunger
and anger, rushed forward, grabbed the man, and heaved him
after the rice. Then, to let the full force of their anger
expend itself, they threw the other two white men after the
first, and sat down to grin over the speed and efficiency of
the black man's justice.
But there was
another kind of twist they did not anticipate, a terrible,
automatic retaliation which cannot be called “justice” or
“punishment,” but is simply the working of a blind fate. In
the heat of their anger they did not recall a most significant
factor. Since childhood these dark-skinned children of the sun
had been accustomed to water- to swimming and diving and
fishing and sailing their canoes. Professor Henderson's
excellent book on the Polynesians tells how much at home they
were at sea in open canoes; how they could sail for hundreds
of miles from one island to another without losing their way;
how they knew every current and every wind that blew; how they
had their own crude navigating instruments made from coconut
islanders were as much at home in the water as they were on
the land- on their own conditions. But they were at sea now in
a strange craft. The Peri was a schooner and the
handling of a schooner was quite beyond them. They had no
paddles; the schooner had a bewildering maze of ropes and
pulleys and canvas, and it meant no more to them than the use
of fish knives and fingerbowls at a cannibal feast.
So the Fijians
drifted hither and yon on the open sea, unable to control the
strange, big, un-wieldy, white man's ship at all, gradually
experiencing the far keener pangs of hunger than those they
had known under the cruel white masters, gradually dying of
starvation. When the Basilisk found them they were in
a pitiful state of weakness and emaciation. The fate of the Peri
from this point overlaps with that of another vessel, the Maria.
was one of many vessels discovered carrying on the same trade-
exploiting the idea which Ben Boyd conceived when he brought
the first natives from the New Hebrides to work on his
stations in the Monaro- the idea which was grabbed and
extended to Queensland on the pretext that it was not a “white
man's” country and that only colored men could do the work:
but at a pitiful fraction of the pay necessary to keep white
laborers! The local name for this particular chapter in
Australian history is “blackbirding,” and men like the
notorious “Bully” Hayes are associated with it. The
Government, foreseeing a devastating development of the
position, prepared legislation; the pioneers of the north to a
large extent fought the matter out, advancing through the
press specious arguments as to why a slave trade should be
permitted. The Russian pioneer of New Guinea, Nicolai
Nicolaevitch Miklouho-Maclay, saw evidences of the trade
spreading in that territory, and advised both the Dutch
Government and Sir Arthur Gordon, British High Commissioner of
the Western Pacific, of the potential dangers.
“De retour de
mon second voyage en Nouvelle Guinea j’ai eu l’honneur en
automne 1874 de presenter a son Excellence, M. le
Gouverneur-General James Loudon une note sur l’etat social et
politique de ces contrees. Cette lettre mentionnait en autre
l’existence d’une veritable traite d’esclaves que l’on exporte
de la Nouvelle Guinea, et dont les Isles Ceram Laut sont le
depot…” he wrote.
Sir Arthur Gordon assured him, "I
agree (that the trade should be suppressed)…I also agree as to
the importance of recognising titles to land of discouraging
the importation of spirits and firearms…” But while there was
fairly general agreement about the evils of traffic in
spirits, firearms, and slaves, no definite action was taken.
Finally, however, the Government passed timely legislation
which altered affairs considerably. The Anti-Kidnapping Act
put an end to the lawless grabbing and ill-treating of
islanders, hundreds of whom worked for less than a pittance on
the Queensland cane-fields.
story of the Peri instances the brutal treatment meted
out to the unfortunate natives, another encounter of the Basilisk
with small schooners gives the rest of the bad story of
blackbirding. When this complementary half
In 1873 the Basilisk,
on its way to continue explorations of the southern coast of
New Guinea, ran into two other vessels. The Basilisk
herself was of 1031 tons, an auxiliary which was rigged for
sail and also fitted with a 400 horsepower engine and
paddlewheels. She was carrying five guns, a personnel of 178
officers and men, and was still under Moresby's command.
On December 8, 1872, she
left Sydney, having finalised the affaire Peri.
She called at Cardwell on the Queensland coast, and three days
later, on January 5, 1873, she fell in with two small
schooners which scurried for safety. A brilliant sea-race
followed in which the Basilisk, with her superior
power, quickly overhauled the schooner Melanie. She
then pursued and caught up with the Challenge. Both
vessels, when they realised they were being overtaken by the
paddle steamer, hove to without resistance, and the Basilisk
took them in charge.
Below decks the Melanie was found to have 55
islanders, the Challenge 33. Both vessels had been
warned by the Marquis of Normanby himself that the
Anti-Kidnapping Act was coming into operation, so that they
had nobody but themselves to blame when they were caught
red-handed in a flagrant disregard for the new legislation.
The actual situation demanded, however, that each of the 88
natives on board be subject to separate inquiry as to the
circumstances under which he came aboard the blackbirders- a
long business indeed, and the Basilisk accordingly
ordered the vessels to anchor off Fitzroy Island. Within a
short time the Basilisk caught another ship, the Crishna,
which was also ordered to anchorage.
The story told
in the journal of Captain John Moresby is typical of the
methods used by the blackbirders, and represents the entire
trade of the time.
the natives then in the Melanie had worked for a
period of between four and six years, receiving no wages nor
any form of remuneration. Necessary clothing, sufficient food
to keep them healthy for their work, and chewing tobacco, was
all that was given them over the entire period.
Fourteen other natives had undergone similar treatment for periods of three to four years. One of them, luckiest of an unlucky bunch, had been victimized for only a year.
islanders on the Melanie were seventeen who had been
shipped by another vessel and transferred to the captive ship
later. These too, had been kept without an agreement. The
other nine were on the books as being legally shipped.
Commentators on blackbirding practice point out that it was
quite a common practice to book a few men and ship, in
addition, a large human cargo of illegally carried kanakas,
the apparent honesty of having booked legally some of the men
being a sufficient blind, the blackbirders, thought, to put
them beyond suspicion.
Most of the
natives had gone voluntarily aboard the Melanie- which
is a nice way of saying that they had been tricked. The
natives themselves said so in pidgin.
gammon me- say I go back- I never go back.”
Such was the
testimony of one native to Captain Moresby. It was simple but
damning evidence, and it was exactly the evidence of the
others, for one after another told the same pitifully simple
story, “Captain gammon me.” It was sufficient description of
what the captain had done in each of the seven cases. The men
had been lured aboard on one pretext or another, and once on
deck had been overpowered and thrown into the hold. The seven
odd cases were those of men who, refusing the bait thrown out
to lure them aboard the ship, had been violently kidnapped on
the island and then taken aboard against their will.
apparently, other ways as well of taking kanakas into the
unwholesome trade that then threatened Australia. One native
told how he had been on a reef when the schooner had come
past, and a party of sailors had put off and seized him,
carrying him aboard and into slavery. Two others had been
sailing at sea in a canoe- the Melanie had run it
down, smashing it and spilling the natives into the water.
They had then been “rescued” and added to the slaves-to-be.
crew, as a measure of self-protection, had drafted an
agreement with certain natives. The agreement even mentioned
wages, and arranged for certain natives to act as
pearl-shellers, but it was not acceptable evidence of honesty
of purpose on the part of the Melanie's men, for it
had never been put into operation.
Challenge and Crishna were sent to Sydney as
prize ships, and condemned. But the slave-traders had no idea
of being so easily beaten- nothing is so tenacious as crime. A
court case was rigged out of the events, and it was fought all
the way to the Privy Council. At this highest court of Empire
appeal, amazingly enough, they won their case! The defence was
simply that the Anti-Kidnapping Act had not been passed when
those natives were taken aboard- therefore they had not
actually broken the law at the time of taking on those
natives. That defence was accepted, nothing could be done
about it, the Melanie and the Challenge went
free. The Crishna, however, was sold for £3,900, half
of which sum the Government claimed as a fine, and the balance
of which was eaten up in legal expenses over the Crishna's
Anti-Kidnapping Act referred to, under which the Melanie and
the Challenge were taken in control, was the death blow to
what might easily have been a terrible stain on Australia's
escutcheon. The foundations of a savage slave trade were
already laid; and it was owing to the foresight of the men of
the time that the thing was nipped in the bud.
was the enslaving of kanakas that they aimed to stop. Their
employment, and their recruiting from islands continued, but
under very different circumstances. Recruiting vessels carried
a Government official, who signed natives up at a reasonable
agreement; the recruits were given “trade” (beads, bolts of
cloth, tomahawks, knives, etc.) when they made the agreement,
their chiefs in the tribal grounds were recognised with
presents, and an arrangement to pay them for their labor was
properly drawn up.
Dick represented the recruiting vessel as opposed to the
blackbirder. Hers was not the story of a blackbirder who met
with his fate, but of a recruiter which met sad and drastic
misfortune. It will be discovered in that story that the
Government officer was engaged in actually signing an
agreement with a native at the time of his murder; and when
his body was later found, the paper, bloodstained, was spread
on the desk before him.
This does not
mean that all official recruiters were “lily white”- but their
sins are another and a different story.
There is something about Dame Fortune maybe it is her
“figure”- which makes her as perennially attractive as a show
girl, hence she has always a long, long queue of suitors, each
of whom is certain that, sooner or later, he will enjoy her
embrace. She must be a singularly delightful wench, for none
of her lovers counts any work too hard or any burden too great
to win her. And this is not chivalry:
Particularly does this serious piece of moral
philosophy apply to the crew of the Maria, and thereby
hangs the tale.
Back in the 1870s the Maria had already seen
twenty years of knocking about the seven seas, finally being
shelved on to the Newcastle (New South Wales) coal trade, and
described as “a leaky and ill-found craft- totally
unseaworthy.” She was a brig of 167-ton burthen, in respect to
cargo, and of incalculable burden in respect to anything else;
and when she was bought by sixty-seven suitors of Dame
Fortune, who subscribed £10 each for the purpose, her captain
gave her one long, piercing glance, and refused to take her to
No sane man would have wanted to take her to sea,
anyhow. But the sixty-seven (or, according to Jeffery
seventy-five) men who bought her were blinded by the above-
mentioned peroxide glint of Fortune, and believed that she was
good enough to take them as far as New Guinea, then
Australia's El Dorado; for it was gold they sought. Nothing
can make a man so determined as the scent of gold, and when
the captain turned down his job, a Mr. Stratman, who had been
signed on as first mate, stepped readily enough into the
vacant shoes. Although general opinion censored Stratman as
“unfit to command,” the gold-seekers were satisfied; but
another obstacle presented itself when the Customs Department
refused to give clearance to the Maria. That small
hitch was soon untangled, however, and on January 25, 1872,
she cleared Port Jackson, bound for the Promising Land of the
points of divergence occur in the records of what happened
here. Mr. R. L. Jack, in his complete and accurate work, Northmost
Australia, gives the number of souls aboard as 65, and
consistently throughout his notes, uses the date 1871; but Mr.
Cumbrae Stewart read a paper before the Queensland Historical
Society some years ago in which he numbered a ship's
complement of 75, and gave the date as 1872. As one of the Maria's
survivors was present when Mr. Stewart read his paper, and he
had made personal contact with others, his details may be
preferable, and are confirmed by the date given in the history
of the investigation ship Basilisk, which enters into
the story, and which completed its trip in 1872, the time when
the Maria's adventure occurred.
The voyage was
uneventful at first- how many fatal voyages from the Bounty
to the Waratah commenced pleasantly! - and the Maria
passed Solitary Islands on February 1; sighted Cooktown on
February 13, and sailed into a north-west monsoon on the same
day. The maintop-gallant mast was rotten; and on the afternoon
of the 13th it went over the side; later on the
same fateful day a heavy sea stove in eight or nine feet of
bulwark. These minor damages were righted, and even then the
voyage was continued; but the bad weather held, and on the 17th
a heavy sea carried away the tiller. Repair was effected with
some difficulty, but the ship's condition had grown so serious
by now that it was decided to abandon the trip and make for
Fate began to
play its deadly trumps quickly now. No sooner had the vessel
been put about than the wind changed; the going was difficult,
and Stratman changed his course to try and make Cleveland Bay.
Evidently by this time he was seriously alarmed.
hardly be said that the Maria was sailing now- she
was drifting, almost helpless; and when a break in the Barrier
Reef was sighted, an effort was made to run the vessel
through, and, wonderful to relate, was successful.
On the night
of February 25 the growing concern of those aboard eased; for
the Barrier was passed, and land was not far away. But before
the light of the 26th dawned, the Maria ran upon
Bramble Reef, on the south side of Rockhampton Bay.
Stratman immediately selected the largest boat which the brig carried, loaded it with a crew of six, although it had capacity for twenty, and made for the shore before daylight. It has been charitably said that he crept away from the wreck in this fashion to avoid panic; but more hardheaded critics believe that if anything would cause panic on a helpless ship it would be the mysterious absence of its skipper, and charge Stratman with having taken sufficient men to get him safely ashore, and deserted.
to the six men he selected was that he would make with them
for Cardwell, some 30 miles to the west of the wreck; but they
landed at Tam o’ Shanter Point, drew the boat up among the
bushes which skirted the shore, and started to walk along the
coast to Cardwell.
immediately a party of blacks showed up. They left no doubt as
to their intentions. Soon Stratman and three of his men were
sprawled lifeless and bloody on the sand, and the three who
had managed to escape a barbarous end were trembling in
concealment. After the brutal murder they had witnessed, they
were frightened to show themselves again in the daylight, and
after travelling at night for some time (seven nights,
according to the Australian Encyclopedia) they arrived at the
settlement and told their story.
Basilisk has already been mentioned. She was a
Government investigation vessel of 1031 tons, and had left
Sydney ten days before the Maria to chart the Cape
York Coast. Not far from the scene of the Maria's wreck
the Basilisk had run across the Peri, a small
fore-and-aft schooner in the “blackbirding” game, had captured
it and sent it back to Cardwell under the direction of Mr.
Sabben, navigating-lieutenant. He took over the Peri
on February 9, and arrived in Cardwell in time to receive the
three derelicts from the Maria and to hear their
coincidence the tragedy was quickly passed on to Captain
Moresby of the Basilisk, and he sent Sabben on a
second unexpected expedition, to take a gig to Tam o' Shanter
the three Maria survivors, two of the Basilisk's
men, and six volunteers, and true to the story he had heard,
found the Maria's boat drawn up in the scrub. The
rescue party had been without food for twelve hours, and was
just preparing a meal on the beach when, without warning a
crowd of about 120 natives sprang from the mangrove bushes and
ran yelling across the beach, waving their weapons. After a
serious hand-to-hand encounter the white men succeeded in
felling a number of the blacks: the others, surprised at the
resistance of so small a party, fell back and retired. The
beach was ploughed up by the struggle, and was strewn with
bodies. It was found that eight blacks had been killed; eight
more had been seriously wounded. Sabben at once secured the Maria's
boat from its hiding place, and attaching it to the gig
returned to Cardwell.
meantime Mr. F. Brindsley Sheridan, police magistrate at the
settlement, had chartered the small steamer Tinonee and
had gone in search of the wreck of the Maria. By the
time he reached Bramble Reef, however, nothing was to be seen
of the brig. Even the tips of its masts had disappeared from
view, and nothing in the spume-flecked blue water suggested
this as the graveyard of a tottering ship and unfortunate men.
What then had
happened to the remaining 68 men of the Maria's
When the story
finally came to light it appeared that they, too, had been
caught in sanguinary toils. When the absence of the captain
was discovered, the mate had ordered the construction of two
rafts. These had been completed and duly launched; hardly had
they been found seaworthy when the ship heeled over and
slipped from her resting-place on her reef, sinking beneath
the waves as far as her lower yards.
The larger of
the two rafts had been able to accommodate 13 men, the smaller
12. Of the other unfortunates, some crowded into one of the
two remaining boats and rowed in quest of the other, which had
come adrift. The terror-stricken residue clung to the rigging
of the ship. The second boat recovered, it, too, was filled
with men, and rafts and boats made towards the land which was
15 miles away. Nine men were left clinging to the rigging:
when the Maria later sank to her last resting-place,
she took them with her.
The boats were
fortunate in making land safely, and some five days later the
occupants, foot-weary but safe, arrived in Cardwell.
following six days nothing further was done. A number of the
disillusioned suitors of Fortune were waiting in Cardwell for
the arrival of the Basilisk. When that vessel arrived,
Mr. Brindsley Sheridan at once went aboard and claimed Captain
Moresby's assistance in punishing the natives along the coast
for the murder of Stratman and his three comrades. Sheridan
feared that Cardwell itself would sooner or later be
threatened by these natives, and was anxious to safeguard his
settlement as well as to mete out justice. Fourteen of the Basilisk's
men were detailed with a detachment of native troopers.
Lieutenant Francis Hayter led the marines; Sergeant Johnstone
led the black police. They surprised the natives' camp before
daylight, and the bloody slaughter that ensued became a
Parliamentary matter before that grim chapter in Queensland's
early history was closed.
Moresby, in the meantime, took his vessel in search of the
rafts which had become separated from the two boats. At
Cooper's Point he found eight naked and emaciated white men,
all who were alive of the 13 on the larger raft. Their story
was the terrible chronicle to be expected from such
circumstances. They had lost their only oar, and later the
sail. Two men went mad; two were drowned; a third man
commenced to rave, and died. When they landed on the beach
they were exhausted, and fell in with a party of natives, who,
marvelously, were friendly and had allowed them to share the
unfortunates were discovered on March 12. On the same day,
Lieutenant Sydney Smith, in the Basilisk's cutter,
found the survivors of the smaller raft on the beach six miles
further north. Two bodies were found; two days later
meantime the terrible news of the fate of the Maria
had been carried to Sydney, and the Governor Blackall
had been sent north to pick up the survivors. It left Sydney
on March 10, and as soon as it arrived in Cardwell the
survivors were taken aboard.
Of the 75
souls who originally sailed in the Maria only 40
remained. According to R. L. Jack's computation there were
only 34. But Jeffery makes up the following list: 12 drowned
on the wreck; 14 killed by blacks; 9 drowned off rafts- total
Perhaps in no
other instance has such a trail of misery and bloodshed
followed any search for Australian gold. From the first change
of weather the rotten little Maria heaped misadventure
and shipwreck, selfishness and desperation, struggle and
murder, in a ghastly heap of grisly remembrances.
The Sniper on the Mast
their own ideas about ships. You may hear them casually
recalling a vessel they know and, “She's a nice ship to sail
in,” they will tell you, quite sincerely; but then again they
may say, “I never liked her.” And they mean that they did not
like the ship in question. “Superstition,” such sentiments
were called; they were very prevalent in the old days, in sail
days. Even today they survive, and the belief in bad ships
survives. Yet no shipwright designs a bad ship, no shipyard
builds one, no country registers a ship that seems likely to
be unsafe. But safety is not always the question: and some
ships are harder to handle than others- but that is equally
true of some automobiles.
There is in
the story of Australia's coast of tragedy a notorious vessel
of this class- a genuine trouble ship which seemed to have ill
fortune built into it like one of the permanent strakes of its
structure. It was the Young Dick. When Captain Rogers
took her out of Brisbane on April 7, 1886, he was engaged in a
trade which seemed to hold little enough danger, if any, and
which was the safe and ordinary course of livelihood to many
mariners in Australian waters in the 1870s and 1880s. This
means of livelihood was the recruiting of kanaka labor for the
Queensland canefields, as distinct from blackbirding.
recruiting is a two-part story in Australian history. There is
the “blackbirding”- sordid kidnapping of blacks from their
island home, their starvation and ill-treatment during
transport, and their slavery when they reached their
destination and were employed- the kind of trade in which the
Peri, Melanie, Challenge, Crishna were engaged. But
there was the legitimate importation of black labor, the legal
and fairly-conducted recruiting of natives “indented” under
Government supervision, offering contracts to natives who were
willing to leave their village and work, on a stipulated time
limit and a fixed scale of payment. “Bully” Hayes and those of
his ilk belonged to the former: they were the blackbirders.
The latter class included Captain Rogers of the Young Dick,
a vessel which sailed with a Government representative, a Mr.
Popham, aboard to supervise the recruiting of the kanakas.
There were aboard as well a man named Marr, first officer of
the ship, Hornidge, second mate, and a crew of whites
including a seaman named Crittenden who was cast for an
important role in the unsuspected drama which lay ahead of the
On April 24
the Young Dick hove to off the now world-renowned,
then almost unknown, island of Guadalcanal, in the Solomons-
an island which has more than one link with the history of
Australian ships. On May 1 arrangements were made for six
labor recruits from the village of Mabo to be taken aboard and
on May 2 two more natives were recruited. The chief of the
village was paid (as the law demanded) for the services of
those members of his tribe who expressed themselves as willing
to sail away to work in a strange land.
Then news came
aboard the Young Dick that some bush natives had come
down to the coast- news which seemed to provide an excellent
promise of speeding up the enlistments which had hitherto been
On the morning
of the following day, May 3, Hornidge took two boats ashore.
An interpreter and an old man met him and invited him up to
the village, which was exactly what Hornidge expected. He left
his men in charge of the boats, and with the interpreter, he
started on the pleasant and picturesque walk.
Under the graceful palms, while Hornidge was contemplating the beauty of the wild and fertile island, the interpreter turned without warning and struck with a hatchet. Taken unawares, Hornidge went down, but before the death-blow could be dealt he was on his feet again, and struggling for his life. A second blow from the treacherous native's bloody hatchet sent him down again, but he managed a second time to gain his feet, to break free from the assassin, and to run, screaming and streaming blood, to the boats.
At Port Adams
on May 6 the little patrol vessel R.M.S. Opal found
the Young Dick. Lieutenant Wright of the Opal came
aboard the labor ship, examined the ship's papers and found
them all in order, heard the story of the treacherous attack
on the second mate, and took him back on board the Opal for
medical attention. Wright had a further duty to do- and that
was to make the white man's justice, the “eye for an eye” in a
civilised sense, plain to the dark-skinned hatchet-wielder of
the Solomons. Accordingly he towed the Young Dick back
to the mouth of the river, landed on Guadalcanal, and demanded
of the natives that the interpreter and the old man (believed
to be implicated together in the treachery) be delivered to
him for punishment.
To this demand
an unsatisfactory reply was received; so the Opal
stripped the covers from the breeches of her guns, heated up
her firing pins, and slapped nineteen cannon balls into the
village of Mabo. Wright realised that, however just this might
seem to anybody, the wrecking of a village and the agonizing
death of many villagers, could do no more than arouse bitter
resentment without being justified either morally or by
results: so the nineteen cannon balls that crashed ashore in
this first bombardment of Guadalcanal did damage in the total
of bringing down one coconut tree, making 18 holes (not
suitable for golf) in the ground, and striking stark terror
into the hearts of the natives. But nobody was hurt, either in
his person or property. Having given the natives this really
terrifying lesson, the Opal felt that it had made a
lasting impression. Accordingly the Opal took Hornidge
permanently aboard (he had been back on the Young Dick
for a few days) and left the islands. Thanks to this Hornidge
recovered from his wounds. Thanks to this, too, he also
escaped a very nasty experience; for on May 11 the Young
Dick was back at the recruiting work on Malaita's east
coast when a small boat from the ship was showered with
On May 20 the
big show came off, the event of which the two previous mishaps
had been but mild foretastes. The Young Dick lay at
anchor in Sinerago Bay while Captain Rogers took two small
boats along the bay leaving first officer Marr in charge of
the ship. Marr saw the captain's boats disappear round a rocky
point, and shortly afterwards was hailed by a canoe which had
brought six natives off from the shore to tell him there was a
boy on the beach who wanted to go to Queensland.
“Fetch the boy
aboard,” Marr said to the natives, “and bring the king of the
tribe.” In the captain's absence he was willing to complete
the deal on the ship- which he could do without deserting his
post of duty.
accepted the idea, and the boy and the chief duly arrived on
board. While Popham, the Government agent, spoke to the boy
about the conditions of labor in Queensland, the native king
went with Marr to the store room to select the goods that
would pay for the boy's services- this was done, not instead
of paying the boy, but as an, additional tribute to the chief,
recognising his right as the boy's ruler and incidentally
keeping most chiefs in a receptive frame of mind for future
aboard was thus peacefully engaged when it was suddenly
recognised that the vessel was surrounded by native
canoes-dozens of canoes, each one packed with natives, many of
whom climbed aboard and came along the deck carrying bundles
of native fruits, as though they had come to trade. But the
king, who was standing in the door of the store room talking
to Marr, suddenly turned and gave a signal to his subjects.
From the innocent-looking bundles of vegetables there
appeared, as if by magic, axes and clubs, which the natives
waved as they rushed forward yelling savagely.
himself drew a tomahawk from the folds of his robe and swung
it at Marr; but the first mate was quick. He drew a revolver
and emptied it into the royal body. Then, sheltered in the
doorway of the cabin, he picked off the wild islanders who
rushed forward. Several of them fell. Others leaped over the
bodies of their fallen friends and pressed the attack.
revolver was empty, but he managed to get a Snider rifle from
the store room and with it, still standing in the doorway, he
continued to fire into the seething welter of black bodies
which twisted and cavorted over the now bloodstained deck. The
cook and the carpenter, caught unarmed, were being hacked to
pieces in his sight, and he was powerless to help them. Sounds
behind him made him glance over his shoulder to see that the
store room was being invaded by natives who were trying to
climb through a porthole. He had only one course of action- to
secure his back by locking himself in the store room, and to
protect the porthole with a rifle.
attack began Mr. Popham, having interviewed the decoy recruit,
was about to fill in the necessary form when natives burst
into the cabin, battered him with an axe, and seeing him go
down unconscious they proceeded to mutilate his face and body
with their axes. Out on the deck the sailmaker was meeting a
named Crittenden, already specially mentioned as a leading
actor in this drama of savagery, had been asleep in the
forecastle. Hearing the noise he rushed on deck in a singlet,
and seeing the commotion just as two of the natives saw him,
he turned and beat a retreat. The natives grabbed him by the
singlet and held on and that was the salvation of Crittenden
and of the ship. For the singlet tore free, and while the
blacks held the remnants of the tattered garment in their
hands the naked sailor made good his return to the forecastle.
Hastily he dragged on a pair of trousers, filled the pockets
with bullets, and picked up a rifle.
clear a path before him he scattered the natives and managed
to reach the foot of the foretopmast. He climbed quickly up
the ratlines and nestled in the foretopsail yards. Thence he
sniped the natives. The couple who tried to follow him up the
rigging crashed to their death. Then Crittenden settled down
to serious work. Every bullet he fired told the story of a
native's death. The natives began to realise what was being
done to their number. They had a special fear for the white
devil in the rigging because he was well beyond their reach,
yet doing deadly damage to them. They had no spears, having
come aboard without a weapon so difficult to conceal.
Superstitious fear, combined with the realization that they
could do nothing to meet the new menace, got the better of
them. Fifteen natives had become victims of Crittenden's
marksmanship before they turned and fled over the side,
The deck was a
shambles. Grotesquely postured dead, bodies strewed it. It was
slippery with blood. The wood was splintered with bullets. The
dead white bodies, cut about in a most ghastly manner, were
mutilated in the face beyond recognition, and lay like
something inhuman and hellish in the sun. The scuppers
literally ran blood.
believed, as he cautiously descended the mast, that he was the
only live thing in the ship. But as he picked his way through
the welter he heard a sound in the store room. There he found
Marr. The first mate was safe. He was sitting with his rifle
on his knee, having held the fort as long as possible, and
explored the ship. They found Popham in his cabin, sprawled
against the wall, his skull broken with a hatchet, his pen
still in his hand. There was an overcoat hanging behind the
door, and from behind it a black man suddenly sprang. But for
a piece of quick work on the part of Crittenden and Marr, the
hidden savage might have even at that late stage gained a
kind of post-script victory on behalf of his defeated
tribesmen. Thirteen black recruits were found hiding down a
hatch- knowing their countrymen they knew only too well- what
to expect of the raid, and made themselves safe from the
beginning. They were terrified when they
Crittenden and Marr were still inspecting the damage done to the ship when Captain Rogers returned with his boats. Until the moment he threw his leg over the gunwale he had no idea of the tragedy enacted so speedily and ruthlessly in his absence.
He was doubly amazed when he learned what had happened, for he had spent a pleasant morning of happy experiences. He had traversed the bay, had landed and been well received by the natives, recruits had been promised, hospitality shown him, and everything possible done to keep him in the village and to impress him favorably. A review of the events, a postiori, leaves little doubt that this geniality ashore was part of the whole plan of campaign, previously mapped out, whereby the ship was to be in the hands of the natives before Rogers and his men knew it. What special kind of terror had been devised for Rogers and the other whites ashore must, like “what song the sirens sang, remain forever a matter of conjecture”- but the happenings aboard the Young Dick may provide a clue for the perspicacious.
It became fairly evident, too, that only the captain's timely return to the ship saved a second attack, for which the natives appeared to be mustering on the beach. This attack, however, did not come off. The Young Dick left Malaita, and buried white and black victims alike in the blue waters of the Pacific. On June 1 the Young Dick's cruise ended with a safe entry into Maryborough, Queensland, after being fifty-six days out. The losses they reported were: four white men (cook, carpenter, sail-maker and Mr. Popham) and the death of twenty natives. It may be as well to remark that when the Australian Encyclopedia notes the losses “3 of the crew” that figure is quite accurate as far as crew goes, but does not indicate the loss of Popham, who gets no mention in the Encyclopedia’s summary.
If this were the whole story of the Young Dick it would be bad enough and sad enough, with its triple-trouble cruise ending the way it did, and it might even seem like a silver lining to the cloud that she returned to Maryborough in safety. But the superstitions of the sea-going folk justified themselves once again: trouble was built into the structure of the Young Dick- trouble enough to spell the end of so small a vessel. A month after the return from the bloody Malaita recruiting cruise she put to sea again with about 170 souls aboard.
That is the end of the story.
After the Young Dick dropped down over the tropical horizon she was never seen again. What happened can never be told, for all hands were lost.
Among the ships that disappeared some, like the Waratah, never sent back to the world a single clue; some sent back enough to half-settle the question. The Young Dick sent back from beyond her watery grave enough identifiable wreckage to indicate that she met shipwreck so bad that all hands were lost. The wreckage that was washed up on Hinchinbrook Island was enough to confirm that. But the questions how? when? why? are questions which remain forever among the secrets of the sea.
When the Map Was Wrong
of Australian history have not been confined to the days of
early history- nor is all the horror of them to be found in
the days of sail ships. It was as late as the year 1902 that a
truly tragic wreck occurred- one the full tragedy of which can
only be realised as the story is followed to its conclusion.
That conclusion is so remarkable as to be almost unbelievable,
and but for this tragedy, that of the Elingamite in
1902, many another tragedy might have followed from the same
cause. If there can possibly be a silver lining in such a
story as this, it is in the fact that the captain of the ship,
before his death, was given the assurance that the death of
thirty people aboard his ship was not chargeable to him- but
with that assurance came the bitter realisation that he had
borne disgrace for years and had lost his master's ticket
elapsed, however, between the wreck of the Elingamite
and the discoveries which unfolded the anticlimax.
The ship was a
steel screw steamer of 2585 tons. She was in the
inter-colonial passenger service for Huddart Parkers, and on
the fatal voyage she sailed from Sydney at 4.55 on a Wednesday
afternoon under the command of Captain Attwood, a
thirty-nine-year-old master mariner who had held his
certificate since he was twenty.
With a fresh
westerly wind behind her the ship had a fair and uneventful
voyage until Sunday morning. Then, at nine o'clock a.m., a
dense fog gathered round her. At 10.30 a.m. the captain was on
the bridge with the third officer, look-outs had been posted,
and the fog siren was being sounded regularly- precautions
which had been observed since the moment the fog began to
thicken. Out of the grey blanket came no answering siren, no
warning, no sound in the accentuated stillness which always
comes with fog at sea. Then without warning that anything was
amiss the Elingamite crashed suddenly, ran on a rock
that tore a jagged hole in her hull, and began to fill with
water. In a short time she had settled down in the sea to her
was a most serious position there were no signs of panic on
the doomed vessel. Boats and life rafts were launched and
filled with people in a quiet and orderly manner. High tribute
was paid to Captain Attwood for his conduct at this critical
“I could not
say enough of Captain Attwood's pluck,” said a survivor, an
eyewitness of the entire tragedy. “No words could describe his
bravery. He was the last to leave the wreck, being washed
overboard. He stood on two pieces of wreckage, one foot on
each, as they rocked about in the open sea, and there he blew
his whistle, the sound which brought up a boat. In this way he
must have saved forty or fifty lives.”
As the ship
settled in the water the boats and rafts pulled away. The
experiences in store for one of the rafts were among the most
harrowing in the story of Australasian ocean tragedy.
This raft was
in sight of land at 11 a.m. on the Sunday, half an hour after
the ship struck when it first took to the sea. On it were
fifteen men and one woman, the Elingamite's stewardess.
It was too great a load for the raft, and the situation was
rendered the more difficult because the air cylinders of the
rafts were more than half awash and the decking was actually
under water. Its occupants were never dry.
The only means
of propelling the raft were a launch oar and a skiff oar. With
these the survivors, could not reach land before nightfall,
though they paddled hard all day. During the night they
drifted, and on Monday morning the land had disappeared.
Between these sixteen people there were two apples and no
drinking water at all. During the day they cheered each other
with the thought that help would quickly be sent from
Auckland, for it had been surmised then that the Elingamite
had gone ashore on the Three Kings, rocky islands to the
north‑west of New Zealand, and consequently that they were not
very far from assistance.
however, no sign of a rescuer had been seen, and they settled
down to a night much worse than the first. On Sunday night,
with land in view, hope welled high within them; but now,
drifting they knew not whither, passing the day out of sight
of ships and land, and with little idea how far Or in what
direction they drifted, knowing that possible rescuers could
be rapidly losing any idea of where the raft might be found-
it was a bad night for sixteen hungry, thirsty, almost
The night was
made worse by the first tragic happening- the event which
impressed upon their minds the reality of their danger and the
nearness of terrible things. For that second night a man died
from exhaustion. They decided to keep his body until daylight,
hoping against hope they would see some sign of land or of a
rescuing ship, and be able to give the poor fellow a decent
burial. The night wore on, sultry and trying. The sea washed
constantly over the raft, and amid the constant uncomfortable
wetness their throats swelled with thirst. In the morning
three men were dead; and as no hope of rescue came with early
daylight the bodies were pushed into the sea. The survivors
turned away from the ugly sight as the bodies of their late
companions floated out on the current.
emphasis more than this was necessary to bring home the
seriousness of the position, Tuesday brought it. The day,
starting with the “burial” of their three friends, wore on
into endless hours of thirst- thick throats, cracked lips,
swollen tongues, and hungry gnawing pains in empty stomachs.
The sharp contrast of agonizing thirst while the cool seawater
actually washed over their bodies, was a potent factor among
these terrified people, and under this mockery some of the men
broke down, trying to ease their burning thirst by drinking
seawater, though urged by the stewardess and by others with
more control, not to do so.
night they saw a ship. The ship came close and they stood
watching its lights, hope rising. They mustered all the
strength that hope could give them, and shouted lustily and
repeatedly. The cry rang out over the dark water, dying
without an echo. They shouted again, and the sound carried
well. The ship stopped. They could see her lights riding up
and down as she wallowed, stationary, in the sea, their
reflections making a beautiful picture on the water, as the
squeaking and rattle of tackle told them that a boat was being
lowered. Against the dull haze of light from the ship they
could see the boat, coming towards them. Again and again they
hailed it. Though they could not possibly have been visible to
the searching boat, they waved their arms frantically,
joyfully, appealingly. But as they stood and knelt on the
raft, salvation within their sight, the boat returned to the
ship. Perhaps there has been no more dreadful sound in man's
ears than the significant rattle of the tackle that brought
the boat back to the deck, empty…and perhaps no more exquisite
torture has been experienced than that of men who, floating in
desperate plight upon the ocean, watched the lights of comfort
and safety begin to slide until their reflection was a blurry
golden streak across the waves, and they were growing duller
and dimmer as they faded into the hopeless night.
disappointment was no doubt the torturous turning point for
one of the passengers who had been drinking salt water. He
began to speak wildly, deliriously presently; then shouted
that he would jump in the water. Either because they pitied
what might happen to him if he were spared, or because they
feared the consequences of having a madman in their midst, the
others made no attempt to stop him, and he added to the horror
of that wretched night.
Wednesday brought them nothing new, unless it was a new depth
of despair, a new aspect of horror- and no comfort in the fact
that, since the deaths of some of their company, they were no
longer so cramped on the raft. The fate of their five dead
comrades was simply a constant reminder of what was likely to
happen, one by one, to them all.
This day they
cut up an apple which had been kept as long as possible. They
divided it into twelve pieces, and ate one piece each.
though the raft had been with the passing of the victims, its
deck was still awash, so that in this third morning of agony
their legs were chafed with the water and their shoulders
blistered with the sun. The desire to drink the sea-water was
becoming irresistible, and another passenger, who had already
given in to the temptation, felt its full effects during the
day, light-headedly jumping from the raft, apparently
indifferent to the fate that awaited him.
night another man jumped and with the strangely inconsistent
behaviour of desperate men, the survivors who had let others
jump to death, threw this man a life belt. It landed quite
close beside him in the water. He looked at it, then with his
hand he pushed it away, signifying his desire to die. The
current bore him, too, away out of their sight.
exhaustion caused the stewardess's death on Thursday morning.
that day the second saloon steward was prevented from drinking
sea-water, and several times he was held back from following
the other desperate men into the sea- again, the inconsistency
of desperate men allowed the first few to jump, and made
determined efforts to save this man. But later in the day he
died, and was pushed overboard.
There was one
detail in which the drifters had not been mistaken. In
Auckland people were not slow to efforts at rescue.
When the news
reached Auckland the Union Steam Ship Company immediately sent
the Omapere to look for the survivors. The Northern
Steam Ship Company also sent a vessel. An auxiliary schooner
put out to sea together with a Government auxiliary schooner.
When Lieutenant-Commander Dawson of the Government survey ship
Penguin, heard the news, he decided to join the search
as soon as possible; but as some of his crew were on liberty
leave, he had to wait for them to return to the ship, and left
port as soon as they did so.
met the Huddart Parker ship Zealandia, which was on
the same route as the Elingamite, and passed on the
news. The Zealandia hurried straight to the wreck, and
found one boat and two rafts, which it took back to Auckland,
breaking the journey to Sydney to do so. A muster of the
rescued, however, showed that 38 passengers and some of the
crew were not as yet accounted for. The Penguin cruised
about the vicinity of the wreck until Thursday. On that
afternoon the lookout saw some wreckage and the bottom boards
of small boats floating in the water, and later descried a
small white object on the skyline. Through his telescope he
was able to see that this was a raft, and that some of the
people on it were still alive. The ship's course was
accordingly altered, and at seven minutes past four the Penguin
came abreast of the raft. One of the occupants was
standing, three others were kneeling.. Four others were
crouching in painful positions. The Penguin had
arrived about four hours after the second saloon steward's
death- he was the last to die- on that tragic raft the story
of which has been told. Later on it transpired that the Omapere
had passed on it within ten or fifteen miles of the raft
without seeing it, and that in the four and a half days of
unbroken horror the raft had floated about sixty-six miles
north by east from the Three Kings, which, as suspected, was
the scene of the wreck.
With the care
and attention given them on the Penguin, the survivors
regained strength, and when they arrived in Auckland the Penguin's
company was lined up on the after deck and Mr. Weatherilt, who
had “captained” the raft, thanked them on behalf of the
survivors, for their efforts.
In spite of
the high praise given Captain Attwood by the survivors, the
official inquiry in Auckland found that the ship was off her
correct course. The captain's certificate was suspended, and
he was ordered to pay fifty pounds towards the cost of the
enquiry. He was ruined by the event, for he could not receive
One of the
factors that went against him at the enquiry- the proof, in
fact, that he was off his course, was that his vessel had
foundered on the Three Kings.
following years Captain Attwood lived under a cloud. Then a
great discovery was made. The Three Kings' position was
wrongly shown on the Admiralty charts, and Captain Attwood's
loss had not been due to his bad seamanship, but to the fact
that the wrongly marked islands were actually across the
course he steered. His ship, and his career, had been wrecked
by a mistake on the map!
Attwood's certificate was restored to him at once, and he
received compensation from the New Zealand Government for the
losses he had sustained as a result of the wreck. But the
Captain had gone through worse suffering mentally than any he
might have endured from the wreck, and he died very soon after
he learned that the tragedy of years before was not his fault.
circumstance was- and the fact was brought up again at the
Attwood inquiry- that this was the first wreck recorded on the
grim Three Kings. But four years later, in 1906, the ship Elberland
went to her fate on the same rocks. And in spite of the
mistake in the charts these are the only two recorded
tragedies on the islands; nevertheless they have given ground
enough for the islands to have been named “the Three Kings of
There was one
wreck on the Australian coast from which a cat was the only
survivor. With what ship the cat sailed has never become
known; but evidence of its tragedy was discovered on March 18,
1802, by a sealer named Campbell.
through Bass Strait in his small ship Harrington,
Campbell dropped anchor off the coast of a small, desolate
island which was not on his chart and was not named, as far as
he knew. He went ashore. Along the beach he found scattered
pieces of sodden wood which wrote on the sand the age-old
story of the sea and the ships that do business in great
waters- the story of shipwreck.
nothing on any wood to indicate the name of the ship from
which it came. Campbell went into the island looking for fresh
water for the Harrington's depleted tanks: he
discovered what was, he believed, the only survivor of an
unknown vessel- an English cat. The nameless vessel from which
this nine-lived creature escaped represents the first recorded
shipwreck on the island which, unknown to Campbell, had been
officially discovered the year before by Captain Black in the
Harbinger and named after the Governor of New South
Wales at the time, King Island.
“Not even the
name is known of the first vessel ever wrecked on King
Island," writes Thomas Dunbabin, Australian journalist and
historical authority, in his account of the “cat crusoe.” And
in that phrase he sums up the persistent and relentless toll
of life and shipping that the island has taken. Not without
cause is King Island called the “Graveyard of the South.”
Today, with two lighthouses, a happy little town on its west
coast, and a well-developed industry in mutton birds, its
aspect is far less grim. Yet King Island's record is clean of
shipwrecks only since 1915.
were enacted on this inhospitable little coast before the
discovery of the island nobody will ever know; but a list of
all recorded wrecks on the island places the total number of
ships lost at 42. This list counts the Neva, which
went ashore in 1835, as among the first, and the barquentine Rio,
lost in 1915, as the last. In the forty-two wrecks which took
place in those eighty years, over 2,000 lives were lost, and
only two ships in steam are on the list- the City of
Melbourne which, wrecked in 1853, was refloated and
salvaged, and the less fortunate Shannon, wrecked in
1906. In 1927 Mr. G. R. Leggett published in the Australasian
a list of King Island tragedies, which included only forty-one
ship-victims. The vessel not included in his list is the Tartar,
whereto hangs a tale.
Mr. C. Friend
of Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, despatched the Tartar
to the mainland on a trading expedition in 1835, and did not
hear of it again for a long time. So Friend set out to look
for his ship, and landing on King Island, he heard a
remarkable story of coincidence.
In one of the
treacherous storms that inflict Bass Strait the Tartar
had been carried ashore and wrecked. No lives were lost and
the crew, having come safely onto terra firma, made their way
across the island. They knew it by repute for what it was- an
inhospitable and cheerless place, uninhabited but for a few
Tasmanian wallabies and bush kangaroos, and in the early
summer months by a host of mutton-birds. They were amazed,
therefore, to find a small party of ragged and weary whites
marching across the island towards them.
folk found themselves in company with fifteen unkempt and
hard-bitten fellows, most of whom looked like gaol-birds, as,
indeed, they were. They were English and Irish convicts who
had been shipped to the penal settlement of Van Diemen's Land
on the convict transport Neva.
When she left
Cork, Ireland, the Neva had carried 240 persons. Her
fate, in that furious storm in Bass Strait, had been just that
of the Tartar, but with far more devastating results.
Of the 240 on board only 22 were able to get ashore through
the raging surf; and the fifteen men found by the Tartar's
crew were of that number. Incidentally, Henniker Heaton (in
his Dictionary of Dates) is once more open to
correction, as he lists the Neva's loss at over 300.
parties joined force and lived together on the island. They
had no prospect of escape. The only vessels which came to King
Island were those which, like their own ill-fated ships, were
driven to their last sleeping place by hostile
Friend's attitude toward the Tartar is one well to be
understood- one of anxiety and of curiosity; and it is only
natural that, not having any Admiralty to institute a search
(as in the later case of the Acacia in near waters) he
himself set out on the errand. After a month of the Crusoe
life the survivors of both wrecks were found when Friend
landed on King Island, and all were taken back to Hobart.
To these men
King Island had been kind. But today there stand three tablets
on the island, each marking one of its harsher moods. One of
Total Wreck of the Emigrant Ship
From Liverpool to Port Phillip
C. W. FINLAY, MASTER
on these reefs
August 4, 1845.
but it tells the story of the Cataraqui but for one
detail- that the ship left its home port with 408 people
aboard, and of this number only nine survived the voyage.
occurred at night and was a scene of unparalleled horror. The
greatest number of people to die at one time on the King
Island coast, and one of the heaviest losses of life in the
whole history of Australian shipping disasters, as far as
human life goes.
There is a
fearful wealth of meaning in that line which reads “on these
reefs,” for King Island is itself no more than an outcrop from
a treacherous series of submarine mountain-tops. Measuring 45
miles from north to south and fifteen miles from east to west,
it is described by Spencer Baldwin
island is low-lying, but rises gradually towards the south.
Its highest peak is Mount Stanley, 700 feet high. There is a
long stretch of sandhills along the west coast…the surf is
heavy, and landing on this shore difficult. The inland country
is swampy, with a series of lagoons and some eucalyptus. Here
ti-tree rises straight from the water of the swamp…The
Tasmanian wallaby and brush kangaroo abound, as do
muttonbirds, cormorants, and gulls. The muttonbird, which is
the burrowing petrel, arrives between November 22 and 24 and
burrows here to lay its eggs.”
suitable site, on the whole, for a graveyard of ships, and
linked by under-sea structure of jagged-rock with Three
Hummocks Island, 50 miles south, and with the sharp-toothed
Reid Rocks, visible just above the high-water mark. Geologists
hold that Tasmania and the mainland of Australia were once
joined by a land-bridge of which Tasmania was the southern
peak, and of which these islands were mountain-tops. The
land-bridge sank, but the mountain-tops did not sink far
enough. That is why the island is almost entirely surrounded
by submerged reefs, the Harbingers, and other dangerous rocks
being just awash.
In those days
of sail when Bass Strait was known but uncharted and the
masters in sail had but scant knowledge of the Australian
coast and had to trim their sails to vicious winds, it was not
hard for them, by getting a little too far to the south, to
get tangled up in this vicious system of natural traps, which
lies only forty eight miles south of Australia's most
southerly point in that part, Cape Otway. This explains
largely why only two of the forty-two King Island victims
were steamships, while major sailing vessels have gone onto
the rocks as late as 1910
eight miles south of Australia's most
southerly point in that part, Cape Otway. This explains
largely why only two of the forty-two King Island victims
were steamships, while major sailing vessels have gone onto
the rocks as late as 1910
Although the danger of King Island
had been amply demonstrated in the earliest days, and immediate
steps were taken to erect a warning, the attempt was, not
successful. Cape Wickham Lighthouse was built on the north peak
of the island, a bluestone structure with walls twelve feet
thick at the base- in 1845. But as has been said, Cape Wickham
and Cape Otway, on the mainland, are only 48 miles apart, and
many a sea-dog beating through a thick and sleety night mistook
the Wickham Light for the guide on the mainland and steered
south of this light, to pile on the rocky shoals along the
coast. It is largely for this reason that the west coast is
thick with wrecks.
The failure of the Wickham Light has been marked by a
long series of fatalities, such as that of the Brahmin,
which is the subject of another tablet still standing on the
island, and perhaps the most pathetic relic to be seen on the
Sacred to the
memory of CAPTAIN McEACHERN
Late of the
drowned on 21st May, 1854,
age 39 years.
The story of
the Brahmin is neither long nor new. Of its company
only one passenger and the ship's carpenter survived the
raging surf that ran that night. The tablet to the memory of
the ship's captain, which stands on the island today, is of
marble and was placed below Whistler Point the year after the
wreck. This may well be termed the most pathetic of relies,
for it was carved by the ship's carpenter as a last tribute to
the comrades he lost on that terrible 21st of May.
The only member of the crew to escape, he found that labor of
love and respect fraught with significance, as may be well
It was after
the Cape Wickham light had been erected, too, that the Loch
Leven was wrecked in 1871. She was outward bound from
Geelong with a cargo of wool and hides which was worth, it is
estimated, more than £170,000. Shaping her course southward
she went too far and ran right on to the island very near the
light. No lives were lost, for ready assistance from the now
inhabited island helped the crew to land.
incident in the loss of the Loch Leven ranks among the
heroic gestures of the coast of tragedy. On the day following
the wreck the captain, knowing that most important papers
relating to the ship and her cargo were aboard, tried to visit
the wreck and rescue the papers. He was drowned in the
attempt, perishing in the course he conceived to be his duty
after he had escaped the perils of the night. Incidentally,
the Lock Leven was the only vessel wrecked on King
Island while outward bound from Australia: all others were
incoming vessels with the exception of a few coastal traders
like the Tartar.
wreck was to add to the terrible toll of this treacherous
coast before a second lighthouse was built. This tragedy is
commemorated by the third of the tablets mentioned as standing
on the island today. This reads:
To the Memory of
3rd son of
Hon. Wm. Nicholson,
who along with
78 others perished in the
wreck of the
Aged 25 years.
wreck another light was added to King Island. This was the
Currie Harbor light, built in England, transshipped to King
Island in the S.S. Rosedale by Captain Molland, and
erected at Currie in 1879.
light is half way down the west coast, and with the Wickham
light about seven miles north of it, it represents a clear
marking of the danger zone.
have been other wrecks on the island since the erection of the
Currie beacon, it has done more than anything to make Bass
Strait safe and to end the appalling list of King Island's
tragedies. The total tragedy toll is, as has been said, over
2,000 souls- and of that number over 400 perished at once in
the Cataraqui and almost 300 in each of two other
wrecks. It is an unenviable record; yet, with Currie
flourishing as a cheerful little township today, and with a
clean sheet since 1915, it looks as though King Island's black
page has been finished and turned.
But the Island is not alone in its grim history beside it stand other small areas which have seen large numbers of wrecks, notably the Great Barrier Reef in north, the Torres Straits Islands, the reef seas along the central Western Australian coast‑ but around Tasmania's southern shores, not very far by sea from King Island, there is a near neighbor to the graveyard of ships in the D'Entrecasteaux Straits.
D'Entrecasteaux, was given, in 1791, two ships, the Recherche
and L'Esperance, and told to go look for Jean
Francois Galup de la Perouse, the explorer who had started out
to claim the Great South Land for France, and had
D'Entrecasteaux Channel is narrow, with a treacherous bottom and high, rocky shores. It lies on a treacherous and rocky coast- and was in the early days of settlement in the south, right in the line of shipping.
Two of this channel's worst tragedies occurred within two months of each other.
There was despatched from England in the first weeks of the year 1835- the year of the Neva wreck on King Island- a convict ship called after the king, George III. Below deck it carried 208 male convicts, hand-picked, because of their desperate character, to be broken on the rack which was Port Arthur, in the island which had yet eighteen years to go before it was finished with transportation. The George III, bearing this unsavory cargo, was literally within sight of its destination. It entered D'Entrecasteaux Channel and ran on the rocks, at once commencing to settle down. The crew, and the soldiers who were policing the ship, were not in a bad position. But for the 208 convicts it was a very different tale.
The soldiers on the ship became immediately scared that panic would break out among these men- and to forestall such a contingency the marines fired muskets amongst the prisoners to intimidate them into acceptance of their fate, or to frighten them into a sort of discipline of death. Thus it was that the loss of the George III entered a death roll of 120 against the name of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel in the first major tragedy it saw; and the total is made the more horrible by one chronicler's detail: “There some panic among the unfortunate beings below deck, and some attempt on their part to preserve their lives or to commit themselves the mercy of the water, shots were fired among them- to deter them from this course and they were given the choice of dying by drowning or by musket fire.”
As if such a baptism of blood were insufficient for the Channel, two months later another vessel piled up there. Captain Roxborough was bringing a company of free settlers to Van Diemen’s Land on the ship Enchantress- passengers who were coming as a result of the formation of the Van Diemen's Land Company in Britain for the exploitation of the island. When the Enchantress piled up on the treacherous rocks her bowsprit was carried away, and the three escapees from the debacle were three whose names, according to the strictest traditions of the sea, should definitely not have been on the list of rescued- Captain Roxborough, the chief officer, and the ship's surgeon; a list of survivors which suggests that the principles employed on the Charles Eaton were repeated.