Norfolk Island, The Wreck of the Peruvian, The Pearl Tragedy, The Wreck of the Sovereign, The Wreck of the Banshee, The Maria Tragedy


Norfolk Island

The Wreck of the Peruvian

The Pearl Tragedy

The Wreck of the Sovereign

The Wreck of the Banshee

The Maria Tragedy



       Terrible is the story of man’s inhumanity to man, since man, in the words of Byron, first “pent his fellow man like brutes within an iron den.”

       There has been a marvelous advance in the general humanity of the British race since those early convict days when prisoners at Sydney, Tasmania, Moreton Bay, Port Macquarie, and Norfolk Island were treated with a studied and horrible brutality that would, if practised today, be received with the universal execration of mankind.

       The deeds of those days are unimaginable to the people of the present, and yet they are stern, irrefutable facts of our early history.

       All the stories in “His Natural Life,” of Marcus Clarke, or Price Warung’s “Tales of the System,” have been eclipsed hundreds of times by the cold blooded, terrible reality of those dreadful days, from Phillip’s landing to the year 1840, when the last convict ship arrived in Sydney, her name being the Eden, probably bestowed by some grim humorist.

       Next in terror to Moreton Bay, or, rather, more awful than ever that and Port Arthur, was Norfolk Island, today one of the green islands in glittering seas, where fragrant forests perfume the breeze, one of the loveliest spots in the Pacific.

       In 1833, and for years before and after, Norfolk Island came as near to being a realization of hell as ever man contrived on this earth.

       I am about to draw aside that ominous black curtain which shrouds the dreadful past, and give the reader a brief glimpse into a scene worthy of the gloomy Italian, Dante Alighieri, who created and peopled an inferno, with the monsters of his own dismal imagination.

       And this is recorded by a man who was well known to me in my younger days, a man who was sent to Norfolk Island for life with three others for killing and eating a calf, when they were starving, on the Hunter River, in 1831. After ten years on the island, in the worst period, in Colonel Morisset’s days, he received an honourable reprieve and handsome rewards for saving a number of lives, settling in after years, as an honored citizen on one of the northern rivers, where he became Mayor of an important town. He was a fine looking, well built, powerful man, of keen intelligence, even as I knew him, and he was then over seventy.

       The steamer Sophia Jane, first in Australia, steamed up the Hunter in 1832, carrying Judge Forster, going to preside over the Quarter Sessions at Maitland.

       On board, also, was a prisoner, sentenced to death in Sydney for knocking a man named Cooney down with a hoe. Cooney was not badly hurt, and, on his request, the hoe man was sent up to be hanged on Cooney’s farm, as a warning to other prisoners. As the steamer passed, the condemned man was sitting on the deck on his coffin!

       So Judge Forster sentenced the calf eaters for life to Norfolk Island, losing no time, as he was in a hurry to catch the Sophia Jane on her return to Sydney, the trial occupying about ten minutes.

       Next day the four men, heavily ironed, were sent to Newcastle, under escort, and kept there for some days until a vessel took them to the hulk in Farm Cove, a hulk holding eighty other prisoners consigned to Norfolk Island.

       Thirteen days they were pent in the awful hold of that hulk, like wild beasts, with heavy irons on, and a chain run through rings at their ankles, connecting them all, fastened at one end to the deck and the other end to the capstan, so that, at any sign of trouble, those above had only to tighten the chain and all the 84 men below would be suspended head downwards, and that was actually down two or three times during the voyage. Picture that done today!

       A slice of bread and a piece of salt beef with occasional split peas, were all the food they received, and the cook handed it to them as if they were hogs.

       The horrors of that journey were something too awful to recall without a shudder. Among the prisoners on the island were five men who had been a gang of bushrangers on the Hunter River, where they were known as the “Irish Brigade.” Four of them were named Price, Clarey, Lynch and Moss. All five had been sentenced to death, escaped from Maitland Gaol, been recaptured, sent to Sydney, tried and sentenced to death, but Governor Darling had just arrived, and he reprieved the five, and a number of others, and sent them for life to Norfolk Island. Those other four men, sentenced to a life worse than death, for offences that today would be met by a fine or a month’s imprisonment, arrived at Norfolk Island in such a state that they tottered about the deck like children, numbed and helpless, and semi blind from the long darkness in that dreadful hulk.

       Two or three days of baths of hot water and soap were needed to remove the awful odor of that journey,. Their daily rations included a pound of maize meal made into porridge, one pound of salt beef, terrible stuff, half a pound of corn meal, made into bread for dinner, with half a pound of corm meal for supper, and a daily ounce of sugar, but no tea, milk or vegetables, or anything else, and scurvy was avoided by daily drinks made from wild limes, found on the island. There were then 1300 convicts there, on a territory of 13½ square miles, the highest point being Mount Pitt, with an elevation of 1050 feet.

       Through unimaginable miseries and persecution, the men who had killed a Hunter River calf to get a square meal continued in that Norfolk Island hell until the memorable mutiny on that January 15, 1834. The secret of that mutiny was carefully kept, for they were faithful to each other, those wild, rough men made blood thirsty savages by that infernal system which transformed angels into devils.

       Near the hospital was an old wall, about ten feet in height, with an opening behind which lay a lot of men feigning sickness. The iron gang going to the lime quarry, was to go close by that opening, followed by the guard of soldiers. The ambushed men were to rush out behind the soldiers, and take them in the rear, while the iron gang turned on them in front, thus assailing them in front and rear, but they prematurely rushed out in front of the soldiers, and were promptly shot or bayoneted. Several soldiers were killed and some were wounded, but lead and cold steel and discipline were too much against the iron gang and the concealed men, and 300 other prisoners who rushed in from the fields with picks, axes, shovels and stones, the soldiers receiving them all with fixed bayonets and scattering then to the winds.

       Then the prisoners implicated were horribly persecuted and tortured until the arrival of a judge and jury from Sydney. They were heavily ironed, with the usual connecting chain attached to a windlass, by which they could be at once hauled head downwards if there was any trouble.

       The judge arrived about February 1835, and was evidently a merciful man of fine feelings (either Purifoy or Burton).

       Thirty five were sentenced to death, and, finally, 13 were executed. The Sydney hangman, Morris Marooney, was brought to hang them, and they all went joyfully to the gallows, none of them wanting to be reprieved. Their treatment before trial and after sentence makes description impossible.

       They ran up the steps to the scaffold, and laughed when the rope was adjusted. The other 22 condemned men were given sentences for life.

       But those dark days and desperate deeds have gone, and Dante’s Inferno of 1834 has become the Island Paradise of the present day.


       What a transformation scene, from those dark and terrible days of 1834 to the beautiful sea girt Island Paradise of today.

       That Eden like Isle was discovered by Cook in 1774, but remained unknown to the white man until Captain King went over with 26 prisoners in 1788, remaining there only for a short while and it was first made a penal settlement in 1826.

       In 1856 a band of Pitcairn Islanders went there to settle, but all except 44 finally returned to Pitcairn Island. Those were descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty, settled in Pitcairn in 1790.

       Norfolk is the largest of three islands, the two small ones being Phillip and Nepean Islands, and has an area of 8528 acres. It lies 930 miles northeast of Sydney, is formed of decomposed basalt, like that of the Big Scrub on the Richmond River, and is actually a portion of a submerged volcanic tableland, fragment of a submerged continent, with a general elevation of 400 feet, and no harbor. The flora and fauna more resemble New Zealand than Australia.

       The magnificent Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria excelsa) reaches a height of 200ft, with a diameter of 10ft.About 800 people inhabit the islands and are a happy and contented race.



       The year 1846 saw one of the most tragical and terrible shipwrecks in the annals of the sea, Kendall’s “wailing wild-faced sea,” that can be cruel and pitiless as death and the grave.

       And no word of that dreadful story (referred to in my article in “The Daily Telegraph” (Sydney) of March 25) ever reached the ears of mortal man until seventeen years afterwards, when the sole survivor was found living among the wild blacks of the Burdekin River, in North Queensland.

       In that year a barque, called the Peruvian, came into Sydney Harbor from Liverpool, and, after discharging, loaded with timber, and started for china, via Torres Strait.

       All was well until she struck a reef, far east of the present Cape Cleveland, near Townsville, a reef known today as the Minerva Shoal, a wild mass of savage rocks, partly bare at low tide.

       There was a heavy sea running, and the first tremendous wave lifted the vessel on top of the reef, and washed the second mate overboard to death.

       The jolly-boat was launched and smashed to pieces, and the longboat, with the captain’s brother on board, was broken and washed away; a last farewell being waved to the brother and sister by the solitary passenger, who was never seen again.

       Their last and sole resource was a raft, and, with mast and spars, they constructed a very strong one, which safely floated all who were left on board.

       When the raft left the doomed vessel, it carried twenty one people including three women, two children, two men passengers, the captain, carpenter, Sailmaker, cook, four able seamen, four apprentices, and two colored men.

       Before that raft reached the Australian coast, it had to face a voyage of 42 days; one of the most awful voyages in human history, and for an account of which we are entirely indebted to James Murrells, the final survivor.

       There was no other possible source of information.

       It must have been a large raft that carried 21 people, and it was frequently wave washed, and occasionally partly submerged when the timbers began to be more or less waterlogged, but the human freight started to rapidly diminish when they came to the last food and water.

       They managed to catch a few seabirds, probably boobies, one of the stupidest of birds, of which they ate the flesh and drank the blood.

       The first to die was James Quarry, followed by his child, the bodies of both being thrown over to the waiting sharks, which swam in front, and behind the raft, and on both sides.

       Thence onward the sharks never left them, day or night, either the same sharks or others that took their places. That terrible escort was ever beside them! Who can imagine the horrors of those awful days, the expectant sharks all around them, occasionally some monster throwing himself out of the water, showing his dreadful teeth and white stomach, as he fell, belly upwards, with a tremendous splash that threw water over the raft.

       All sharks turn in the air and come down on their backs; at least, they were never seen by me to fall in any other way, in any part of the ocean.

       Then the other child died, and was thrown naked to the sea wolves, the supreme agony of the bereaved parents beyond all power of human speech.

       Think of it, oh, fathers and mothers, compelled to cast your beloved children to those merciless hungry devils of the deep, and watch them tear those white, emaciated, frail little bodies to pieces and devour them!

       Then Mrs. Wilmot died, and her husband, shivering with horror, pushed her naked body off the raft into that pitiless sea, to the still more pitiless sharks, that devoured it in the presence of them all.

       Then the two colored men died, and were consigned to the sharks. But a leg, from the knee down, was cut off one, then tied to the end of an oar, with a running noose of rope attached, and, with that human bait, they caught a large shark, which they ate raw, after drinking his blood.

       What a ghastly picture, that of the sharks devouring the dead bodies, to be, in turn, eaten by the living survivors.

       Picture those unhappy castaways, their souls torn by what Byron called:

“Thoughts of the gloomy day and ghastly night

That dreads the darkness, and yet loathes the light!”

       The sharks all around them in the daylight, and all through the sleepless night, those long, black horrible bodies swimming beside them, the projecting, pointed dorsal fins cutting the surface like the blades of some dreadful scythes.

       Five of those sharks they captured and devoured raw!

       And so that tremendous and merciless tragedy of the sea continued from day to day, innocent women, and helpless little children, and men who had probably done no wrong, passing through a course of horrible suffering or cruel death too terrible for the mind to ponder over. Finally, there came a sight of land away on the eastern skyline, probably the crest of Cape Upstart or Mount Elliott, near the Townsville of today, and anyone with a sense of religion on that raft doubtless devoutly returned thanks to Providence for the prospect of being saved.

       Whether Providence allowed innocent mortals to be subject to those appalling sufferings is a problem left to the confident theologian, who seems to be quite satisfied with his own explanation.

       The raft ran ashore at a rocky part of the coast, with a good sand beach, between Cape Cleveland and the mouth of the Burdekin.

       The seven miserable survivors who landed on the beach included Captain Pitkethly, and his wife, George Wilmot, James Cooley, Jack Millar, James Murrells, and one of the apprentices.

       Wilmot and Cooley died a few days after landing, and Millar went away south in a blacks’ canoe, and died of starvation on Cape Upstart, a place with abundant food around him on sea and land.

       Two weeks passed before the blacks found the survivors on the coast. The blacks had never seen whites before, and took them for the ghosts of dead blacks, come back to see their people.

       On seeing them, the whites decided their last hour had arrived. But the wild men treated them kindly, gave them fish and yams, and showed them where to sleep.

       In 1881, I camped in that cave, but my thoughts of those unfortunates banished all sleep; and my camp was made on a ledge of rock overhead, the beach not being safe to sleep on in crocodile waters.

       Next day the wild men saw the captain and wife’s relationship, and thenceforth treated them with the greatest consideration.

       The white woman was much safer with those blacks than with a similar number of men of her own race.

       Different tribes, all friendly to each other, divided the party, and Murrells was taken by the tribe around Mount Elliott, the “Bung-go-lungga” of the blacks. With them he lived for seventeen years, adopting their customs, using their weapons, and speaking their language.

       Then the white man came on the scene as a pioneer squatter (Black), in 1863, and his men were erecting a stockyard on the first station.

       The blacks told Murrells of these whites, and let him go to see them, on condition that he returned.

       Murrells went to a waterhole, scoured his skin with sand and clay to look as white as possible, then went up to where the whites were, got on the rails of the stockyard, and called out” What cheer, shipmates?”

       Murrells called again: “Don’t shoot, I’m a British object!”

       He had partly forgotten his own language.

       Years after, Murrells was a warehouseman in the Customs, at Bowen, where he died.

       The first Townsville land was sold at Bowen, and an allotment was knocked down to Murrells, at the cost price of £8, to be sold in after years for Murrells’ son at the price of £10,000. I was there when it was sold by J. N. Parkes, a still highly esteemed living resident of Townsville.

       Murrells was a native of Maldon, in Essex, where he was born on May 20, 1824, and so was only 22 years at the time of the wreck, and 39 when found with the blacks. The captain, officers, and apprentices, were all from Dundee.

       Murrells married a white woman, by whom he had a child, a son, and finally died at Bowen, as the result of fever and inflammation from an old wound in the knee. He had also suffered terribly from rheumatism.

       Three years before he was found, the men of H.M.S. Spitfire, in 1860, shot a number of blacks, on Cape Cleveland, and the Native Police shot 16 in one place, all friends of Murrells’ tribe.

       In 1881, I picked up on Cape Cleveland, the half of an eight pound round shot fired by the Spitfire, and broken on the rocks, 21 years before.


       We are not yet twelve years away from the Pearl disaster, and yet it is already nearly forgotten, except by those on whose hearts some sad bereavement left a permanent shadow.

       Thus mercifully does time draw the kindly curtain of oblivion over the sorrows of the world.

       The destruction of the steamer Pearl was the most awful tragedy so far in Queensland, and in loss of life ranks next to that of the Sovereign in 1847, and the Quetta at Cape York. But these wrecks were out at sea, whereas the Pearl went down in the Brisbane river, in sight of hundreds of people.

       On Thursday, February 13 – the fatal 13th – 1896, the Brisbane River was flooded, and the Victoria bridge was not in traffic condition. The steamers, Pearl, Alice, and Young Mat were taking people across from the Queen’s wharf on the north side to the Musgrave wharf on the south. Nearly opposite the Musgrave wharf the steamer Lucinda and Normanby were anchored head up stream, and the anchor chains stretching out over the surface beyond the bows. The three ferry steamers ran back and forward across the bows or sterns of these two anchored boats. Of course, the Lucinda and Normanby should not have been there, so they were a perpetual menace to the ferry boast, but they were there when the flood started and it was not so easy afterwards to shift in the flood current.

       My own escape from being on board the Pearl on her last trip was somewhat peculiar. Mr. Finucane and I had left the Commissioner of Police office, walked across to Longreach, and thence down to the Queen’s wharf, to go over to the south side. As we neared the wharf the Pearl came alongside, and there was the usual rush of passengers, but no crowding.

       Finucane and I were actually on the foot of the gangway to go on board when I heard some mysterious voice say quite distinctly, “Do not go over!”

       I had heard that voice on other occasions in my lifetime, and had good reason to remember it. So I stepped back, saying to Finucane, “Wait for another trip.” He said, “Oh, come on, there is plenty of room,” and caught me by the arm to take me on board, but as my resolve was unalterable, he said he would stay with me. He merely laughed when told my reason for not going.

       Then the Pearl started with about 70 or 80 people, the women mostly on the lower deck, and we stood on the wharf and watched her going over on that fatal trip. As she neared the other side, she was evidently steaming to go between the Normanby and Lucinda. There was some suicidal hesitation on the part of the captain (Chard), who, it appeared afterwards, first told the engineer to stop the engine and then to go full speed astern.

       The Pearl in this unhappy delay was swept broadside onto the anchor chain of the Lucinda, her upper decking carrying away the bowsprit.

       For about three seconds she remained there, then swayed first to one side and the other, broke across the middle, turned bottom upwards, and went down, leaving the water covered with heads, hats, baskets, and articles from the Pearl. Two or three men, of the prompt decisive stamp, who think and act at the same time, actually jumped over before the Pearl struck. At the time of impact a number of those on the top deck got on the bow of the Lucinda, there being two ladies among them.

       The movements of the heads, one after another going under as if pulled down suddenly, showed that they were drowning each other. The strong swimmer was seized by arms or legs, and dragged down into the depths of that yellow muddy river, to be held there until mutual insensibility released that deadly grasp. Pitiful beyond all power of description was that tragical and melancholy scene. Strong men, boys, women, and children struggling for life in that merciless current. And, among other anomalies common in marine disasters was the drowning of strong swimmers and the escape of men and women unable to swim. In these cases, the swimmers are usually drowned by the non-swimmers. Remarkable in the Pearl disaster was the promptness of assistance from many quarters.

       Boats appeared as if by magic. The Beaver crew threw over everything that would float. The Lucinda men did gallant work. The ferrymen saved several lives. The Otter boats and a boat from the Laura, which in charge of the Portmaster, Captain Mackay, had been clearing the debris from above the bridge, were on the scene in about two minutes. The Commercial Rowing Club sent a boat. The Mabel and Alice came up at once.

       There were some most tragical and pathetic scenes. School Inspector McGroarty’s two girls, Maud and Geraldine, were on the upper deck at the stem of the boat, and went down with it. They rose amid a mass of wreckage, and Geraldine caught a piece of timber with one hand and her sister with the other. Then she grabbed a rope thrown from the Alice, and called to the men on deck to save her sister and never mind herself. Gallant unselfish little heroine!

       Miss Mary Cain got hold of the Lucinda’s chains and held on.

       Mary Lehane, a schoolgirl, got hold of a form, and then a rope, which she and a man seized, and both were saved.

       These four frail girls were saved where strong men perished. Truly wonderful are the accidents of Chance.

       Alas! What weeping and woe was in a hundred homes were the outcome of those dreadful two or three minutes. A body of a woman was found  floating at the end of Sidon Street after the accident. All efforts at reanimation failed.

       One lady held on to the Lucinda with one hand and firmly held on to her purse with the other. A woman’s hold on her purse can only be relaxed by death.


       Those who go down to the South Passage, to ramble along the white sand beaches of Moreton Island – the “Gnoorgannpin” of the old blacks – and bathe in the glorious surf that rolls in from the outer ocean across that dangerous bar, have no thought for the terrible tragedy enacted there sixty years ago.

       At that time a steamer called the Sovereign, commanded by Captain Cape, ran between Sydney and Brisbane, and like most of the vessels of that period went in and out through the South Passage to save the extra forty miles involved in going round Cape Moreton. It would have been well for the Sovereign and all on board had she taken the longer track on her last voyage.

       She left South Brisbane on March 3rd, 1847, with a total of 54 people, including crew and passengers. At Amity point there was rough weather and a heavy sea on the bar, so she remained inside until the 4th.

       The cabin passengers included Mr. And Mrs. Robert Gore, of Yandilla, 2 children and servant, Henry Dennis who took up Jimbour station in 1841 for Richard Scougall, Myall Creek for Charles Coxen, Wara for Irving and Jondaryan for himself.

       The others included W. Elliott, of the Clarence River, E. Berkeley and R. Stubbs, of Brisbane, and Joyner, of Sydney. In the steerage were two women and sixteen men. The women were Mrs. Bishop and Mrs. Chettle. James Ryan was steward and Mary Ann Griffiths stewardess.

       A copy of an “Extraordinary” issued by the “Courier” on March 17th, 1847, was given to me in 1876 by John Campbell, who took up Westbrook station in 1841, and became the fifth settler on the Darling Downs, also the first man to boil down stock in the present Queensland territory. His boiling down started at Kangaroo Point in 1843. He was father of the present well-known “Bob Campbell” of Moreton Island.

       That “Extraordinary” gives minute details, and I got a few more particulars from Campbell himself.

       The bulk of the cargo consisted of wool, of which about 40 bales were on deck, and there was also a quantity of billet wood, stored on deck as fuel for the furnaces. On the morning when she passed out the weather was fine, and the bar was a series of huge rollers from the seas roused by the recent south east gales. As she passed over the first roller, Gore said, as she rose on the second, “Here is a five barred gate, how nobly she tops it!”

At the last roller on the bar, the engineer Somerville called to the Captain that the engine frames had broken, and the captain rushed down from the top of the paddle box to find it was only too true, as the frames of both boxes were broken close under the plummer boxes.

       Then the captain saw that the Sovereign was drifting to the North Spit, and the seas started to break over her. The engineer released the steam valve so as to avoid a bursting boiler, and the anchors were thrown over but the starboard anchor chain snapped, and the other was not enough to hold her.

       Tremendous rollers broke onboard, smashing the bulwarks, and washing the wool and billet wood violently around the deck, killing three men and breaking the legs of several others.

One sea swept the fore cabin flush with the deck and washed the hatches overboard. Then came a perfect realization of that dreadful picture in Byron’s “Shipwreck”:

“Then rose from earth to sky the wild farewell,

Then shrieked the timid and stood still the brave,

And some leaped overboard with dreadful yell,

As eager to anticipate their grave,

And the sea yawned round her like a Hell,

And down she sucked with her the whirling wave,

As one who grapples with his enemy

And strives to strangle him before he die.”

       Men who were able threw the deck cargo overboard. A sea washed Stubbs over, but the backwash brought him back on board again, an act common in the history of wrecks. He went down to the cabin and brought Mrs. Gore and her child. Gore said to his wife, “Mary there is no hope for us now; we shall go to Heaven together.”

       She said to the stewardess “We can but die but once. Jesus died for us. God help us.”

       She was perfectly calm, as women frequently are in the most terrible dangers; in fact, they are often much braver and more unselfish than the majority of men. Dennis was standing near the poop, his head badly cut and bleeding freely.

       Captain Cape was twice washed over and came back on deck. Finally the steamer gave a wild lurch, rolled over, and went down, a dreadful shriek being heard from a woman in the steerage.

       Some clung to wool bales, some to the hatchways, others to any other floating timbers.

       Stubbs saw Mrs. Gore floating face upwards, , Dennis and Elliott clung to a wool bale, and Berkeley was swimming.

       Dennis called out to Stubbs to “save the child,” and Gore said, “For God’s sake bring me my child!”

       Stubbs, who was one of the coolest men on board, got the child and gave it to Gore. The poor youngster clung to him convulsively, and nearly drowned him. Then he swam to a wool bale, where he found Mrs. Gore’s servant, who implored him to save her. On reaching, he saw Gore and the child inside a skylight, and joined them, but a sea washed them all out. He last saw Gore clinging to the skylight, with the child in his arms. They were then drifting in to the breakers on the bar. Stubbs got through the surf on to the beach, and one of the Moreton Island blacks caught him and took him out of danger.

       Captain Cape and Berkeley were together for an hour and a half on the floating paddle box, but in the breakers Berkeley was washed off and drowned.

Cape remembered no more until he was carried out of the water by the blacks and laid on a hillock of sand. The bodies of Mrs. Gore and the child were thrown up on the beach.

Out of 56 people, only ten came ashore alive, and but for the blacks half of those would have been drowned in the beach surf.

One of the pilot boat crew, a Crown prisoner named William Rollings, also gave valuable assistance. Pilot Hexton walked around from Cowan Cowan, after leaving the steamer Tamar, and sent for brandy for the survivors, who were all taken to the pilot station and hospitably treated. Before starting they covered the dead bodies with sand to keep off the birds of prey.

At daylight on Sunday, Thornton, the Collector of Customs, and Lieutenant Blamire went down to the wreck, and Captain Wickham and John Balfour followed in the evening, to bring up the bodies of Mrs. Gore and the child, but decomposition compelled burial on the spot. Altogether five bodies came ashore, including Second Mate Brown and Passenger F. McKellar, and were buried on Moreton Island.

Those saved included Captain Cape, R. Stubbs, John McQuade, John Neil and Lawrence Flynn (passengers), Firemen J. McCallum and J. Beard, two boys named T. Harvey and J. McGovern, and seaman John Clements. All else had perished on the steamer or the bar.

When the wreck was sold it realised £14 10s. The Moreton Island blacks, a tribe named “Booroo-geen-meeri,” were gratefully rewarded for their brave and unselfish rescue of the wrecked survivors.


One of the most tragical wrecks on the coast of Queensland, and also one of the least known, was that of the small steamer Banshee, which was swept on to the rocks off cape Sandwich, on the outer coast of Hinchinbrook Island, when on the way from Townsville to Cooktown, with 53 people on board.

When exploring Hinchinbrook in 1882, I went to Cape Sandwich, and saw some of the Banshee timbers far up on the rocks, and other fragments lying along the shore.

The sea was placid as the surface of blue steel, and only tiny wavelets, which the beach is never without, murmured on the sand or sobbed in the caverns of the rocks.

In fancy I looked back across those six years to the 21st of March, 1876, at 3 in the afternoon, when in the midst of howling storm winds, and pitiless rain, and gale swept sea drift, and the roar of the merciless surge, the doomed Banshee driven by the Furies, was swept on to the savage rocks, which tore and smashed her to pieces, while the surf engulfed the hapless souls who, but an hour before, were looking forward with faith and hope to fortunate days on the goldfields of the Palmer and Hodgkinson. It has an ominous sound, that word Banshee, the mysterious voice in Irish mythology, which heralded the approach of Death!

Alas! The wail of that steamer in her death agony meant doom to nineteen of those on board. One of the passengers, in describing the wreck, said, “All went well until noon, when the wind increased, and by 3 there was a furious south-east gale. At 3.15 I heard the awful cry, ‘We are going ashore.’ I was reading in the saloon, and rushed on deck. The rocks were right ahead, about 40 yards away. The steamer struck aft on a rock, passed over, and went broadside on to the rocks. I rushed on to the bridge, and in the inshore roll of the vessel I jumped on a rock, from which I was washed to one lower down, and I clung to that until I got a chance to get ashore unhurt.”

“I turned to look at the vessel, and saw the saloon dashed to pieces, burying beneath it all the women and children except Miss James, the stewardess, who clung to a rope and was dragged ashore by Peter Connell, a fireman. The scene was awful – masts, funnel, deck houses, all swept away; men, women, and children, and horses crushed, together between the hull and the rocks.”

“In eight minutes it was over, and all that was left of the Banshee was a small portion of the bow and stern. Antonie, the colored cook, and a stowaway, had a marvelous escape. They could not leave the vessel until the wreck was washed ashore high and dry, when they both coolly walked ashore.”

The stewardess, Miss James, was the only woman who escaped. Among the 19 drowned were Mr. And Mrs. R Walsh, and four children, A. Long, Mrs. E. Darcy, Mrs. Matheson, Mrs. Antoine, J. Anderson, R. Ellworthy, Thomas Hanrahan and Ed. Hanaba.

The saved included Captain Owens, R. Coutts, the mate; Freman Robinson, Bains, D. Jersey, and James, seaman), and Carpenter R. Formley; also W. Foley, E. Mullins, J. Smith, T. Harley, W. Burke, P. Ryan, C. and F. Price, H. Hughes, T. F. Taylor, A. McKay, J. Cappell, H. Burstall, P. Conolly, Alex. Gordon, and J. Macmalley.

Captain Owens was steering for Rockingham Bay, or Sandwich Bight, when he got too far south and struck Sandwich Cape. Once round that cape, he would have been quite safe from the southeast seas.

Thirty three people got ashore; eighteen passengers and one of the crew were drowned.

The thirty three made their first camp about two miles from the wreck. The first night gave them torrents of tropical rain, with no shelter. One passenger said: “what a horrible night that was,” one woman, who bore her sufferings without a murmur, and 32 wild, haggard looking men camped on the soaking wet grass. Yet that was only the first night, and all they had to complain of was the wet.

Every year in some part of Queensland there are scores of men who camp out on wet grass and say nothing about it. The Banshee survivors were most fortunate men. They got ashore without injury, and were only 12 miles from the town of Cardwell.

At daylight next morning a dozen men started for the wreck to get some provisions, but got only a bag of pumpkins, a ham, and a tin of salt butter. They ate the pumpkins raw, though they might have waited until boiled in the kerosene tin in which Burstall boiled a sheep found dead in the wreck, and a pile of doughboys made from a 50lb bag of flour. They boiled the mutton and doughboys. Men used to three meals a day do not take kindly to even one days fast, and a fast of two days makes them discontented.

Hundreds of bushmen would laugh at two days without food. They found the bodies of Mrs. Davey and Mrs. Walsh terribly crushed by the rocks. The beach was strewn with wreckage, and two drowned horses came ashore.

On the second day the schooner Spunkie (Captain Halcrow), from the Daintree to Townsville, was off the coast, and promptly responded to their red blanket signal.

In the afternoon 27 were on board, bound for Townsville, where they arrived safely. The other six men had started for the point of the island opposite Cardwell, and were picked up by the Leichhardt and taken to Cooktown. Burns, of Townsville, wired to Brisbane to say the 27 had arrived by the schooner Spunkie, and he was searching the cutter Kate to search for the other six, not knowing they were on the Leichhardt.

If any of these Banshee people are still alive, it would be interesting to have a letter from one of them narrating his recollections of that fated voyage, when the ancient Hibernian superstition was fulfilled, and-

“The Banshee’s wail was loud, and broken,

And she murmured Death as she gave the token.”


Two Brisbane men still survive from the wreck of the Maria, on Maria Reef, off Cardwell, on February 26th, 1872. One is the well-known Rockhampton chemist, Tom Ingham, now located at Petrie’s Bight, in Brisbane, and the other is Kendal Broadbent, the veteran taxidermist at the Museum, and best living authority on the birds of Queensland.

These two men were among the passengers on a brig called the Maria, which left Sydney on January 25th, 1872, with a prospecting party bound for New Guinea.

Some Evil Genius presided over the expedition from the start. The brig was old and rotten, and the captain was grossly incompetent.

North of Keppel Bay the weather was bad, and strong winds blew from ever changing directions.

The captain knew nothing of his locality and merely sailed north and took his chances.

On the 18th of February the tiller was carried away, and the brig sprang a leak. Half the passengers wanted the captain to put them ashore at the nearest port, but the captain had not the slightest idea where he was. Finally on the 26th after astounding escapes from reef and rocks, the brig ran on to what is still known as the Maria reef, some miles off Cardwell. Two rafts were made, and thirty men got on them, one of these being Ingham.

The captain behaved with amazing treachery, but he was suitably rewarded. He took the best boat, capable of carrying twenty passengers, and with only six men went away on the pretence of obtaining assistance! His ignorance of the locality was fated to him and his party. Had he known the coast he could have gone straight into Cardwell and got assistance at once, but he landed at Tam o’ Shanter Point, and the blacks killed five out of seven.

Just before the Maria foundered, about 24 men sought refuge on the rigging. Fifteen of these were taken off by the two boats, which then started for the northern Palm Island, but being unable to make that point, one boat ran for Hinchinbrook Island, into a tiny bay well known to me, as I camped there for three days in 1882.

The first boat landed on Hinchinbrook in the evening, and next morning was joined by the other boat, in which was the chief officer and party.

They lived there for five days on shellfish, some mouldy bread, and preserved meat. Some held they were on Magnetic Island, and others believed they were on Hinchinbrook. The strong winds and heavy seas prevented them going out to rescue the doomed men left on the vessel.

Finally, they started south, saw the north entrance of Hinchinbrook Channel, knew then where they were, and pulled along that channel to Cardwell. One of the boat party was named Tate, described as “Dr. Tate,” the medical man of the expedition, well known in recent years as head teacher of State schools of Pialba, Cardwell, and Normanton. Tate wrote the first account of the wreck – wrote it after reaching Cardwell, and the return from the final recovery of the survivors from the small raft when the whole narrative was fresh. A copy of that report is in my possession.

Tom Ingham, in after years, also published his version of the tragedy. Tate, on the 4th of March, went out to the Maria on the steamer Tinonec, but the nine men were gone, either swept away by the waves or had died from starvation and exposure.

The Basilisk arrived at Cardwell on the 9th, and Sheridan, the P.M. of Cardwell, arranged with Captain Moresby for a search expedition.

The Basilisk went north towards the Mulgrave, and a stout schooner called the Peri, under Lieutenant Hayter, and with the late Inspector Johnstone and a party of black troopers on board examined the coast north and south of Tam o’ Shanter Point.

The basilisk sent a cutter with a party, including Tate, to search the coast near Point Cooper, and six miles south of there found a large raft wrecked on the beach. In a blacks camp they got some clothes, and a watch case with “Edward Liddell and John Bardon” scratched on with a knife. These were two of the men who left with Ingham on the big raft.

In other camps they found more clothes and saw numbers of blacks. Then the dead body of a tall, fair man, who had been washed ashore with the raft, crawled above high water, and died with his coat folded under his head for a pillow.

Floating in the sea was another body in three fragments. In the pocket of the coat was a lady’s lace handkerchief – a mournful memento of someone to whom he was now the “loved and lost.”

Finally they found the small raft thrown up on the beach, and perfectly sound, but no trace of any bodies.

That big raft had left the Maria with 13 men on board and drifted for three days and two nights before it landed between the Johnstone River and Point Cooper. During those awful days and nights the raft frequently capsized, four men were washed off and drowned, and one died from exhaustion.

The survivors had neither water nor food, and they crawled upon the beach semi delirious from thirst, starvation, and the horrors of the voyage. The survivors were Tom Ingham, Hayden, Phillips, Forster, Liddell, Barden, Smith and Coyle, and these, after terrible hardships, were picked up by the Basilisk between Point Cooper and the North of the Mulgrave.

It is very remarkable that all the men who got ashore south of the Johnstone, except two, were killed by the blacks, and Ingham’s party, who landed North of the Johnstone, owed their lives to the blacks, who treated them kindly, and fed them, and made camps for them, and signaled to the boat of the Basilisk to come ashore. These were Russell River blacks, who came across from the river to the coast for fish and oysters. I met the same tribe just ten years afterwards where the Graham Range dips into the sea, and I saw some of the survivors three years ago when out on the last Bellenden Ker expedition. There were no murders of white men charged against them, but their neighbours, the Mulgrave blacks had an evil reputation among the early timber getters.

The Basilisk boat search party, with whom Tate was, were the first white men who ever took a boat into the Johnstone River, or probably who ever even saw that river. Tate in his journal calls it the “Shoalhaven River.” The Governor Blackall also went out on a search cruise, and found the bodies of six men, all killed by the blacks.

The Maria’s cabin had drifted ashore, and Tate thought two or three of the nine men left in the rigging had come ashore with it, as two bodies were found neat it on the beach. Inspector Johnstone found the blacks roasting and eating some of the men who reached the shore, and between his troopers and men from the Basilisk those blacks had an extremely unpleasant time. Johnstone gave them another bad time in 1881, when they killed one of Fitzgerald’s Kanakas.

The experiences of Ingham’s party, and the fate of all the others who got ashore will be told in the next chapter.