Wreck of the Cawarra, at Newcastle (Illustrated Sydney News 16th August 1866)

The rescue of F.V. Hedges, the only survivor from the ‘Cawarra.’ From the Illustrated Sydney News, 16 August 1866, page 20.
Frederick V. Hedges, the only survivor from the wreck of the ‘Cawarra.’ From the Illustrated Sydney News, 16 August 1866, page 20.


THE first premonition of the storm was felt on the morning of the 11th ult; : the barometer became very unsettled, and heavy banked clouds along the eastern horizon became heavier as the day wore on, until about two o’clock, when the wind, shifted from W. to S. and E., and the clouds rapidly spread across the sky and grew thicker and darker until about sunset. Just before the gale came on, the Verio, for Mauritius ; Victory, for Newcastle ; Lady Bowen, for London ; Hamlet, for California ; and Cawarra  (s. ), for Rockhampton, left this port. The Lismore and Leonidas left Newcastle for Sydney ; the steamers Corio and Woniora, and schooner tiger, lying at Bulli loading, seeing the breeze freshening and a heavy easterly sea rolling in, determined to leave a lee shore and seek an offing. The Woniora accordingly took the Tiger in tow, and would have taken her off had not the Corio got foul of the tow rope and compelled the abandonment of the schooner to her fate : she drove ashore and was totally wrecked. Two men and a boy who took to the boat were drowned. The rest of the crew saved.

Of the first portion of the gale the government astronomer thus reports :- On the 12th, the wind changed rather rapidly from W. by S. to N. by E.; between that time and 2:30 a.m.  it changed rapidly from N. by E. to E. by S., shifting entirely round the compass by the south. The greatest force of the wind occurred about 7 a.m. this morning, when it registered sixty-one miles per hour, or 19 lbs. per square foot (nearly. ) The barometer fell from July 10th at 9 a.m. till this day at 3 p.m. It is again rising. At 9 a.m. the rain fall at Sydney was 3.005 inches ; at South Head, 5 inches.

Soon after the loss of the Tiger, the following telegrams, were received from Newcastle- Steamer Cawarra, for Brisbane, struck on Oyster Bank about 3 o’clock.’

The Cawarra was almost a new vessel, of 600 tons’ register,  belonging to the Australasian Steam Navigation Company ; she had on board a heavy cargo, and the following passengers and crew :- Henry Chatfield, commander : Joseph McDowell, chief officer; Thomas Burrows, second officer; William Kay, carpenter; William Freeman, boatswain; Joseph Jenkins, Thomas Butler, Francis Hubert, Augustus Coste, quarter-masters ; William Bland, Gabriel Hanson, Frederick V. Hedges (saved), William R. Phillips, John Callen, Edward Carey, seamen ; William Manton, lamp trimmer ; John Fountain, chief engineer, John Auchincloss, second engineer ; Robert Barrett, Alexander Livingstone, Peter Coley, Daniel Rodgers, James Taylor, James Leonard, firemen ; David Auchinson, coal trimmer ; Robert McMurray, donkey driver; Edward Jones, David Thoburn, trimmers ; William Henry Morgan, second steward ; Stephen Goddard, pantryman ; John Darvell, fore cabin steward ; J. Abrahams, officers’ servant ; John McDermid, chief cook; James Fox, second cook ; Hugh McDonald, third cook; Catherine Crozier, stewardess. Passengers for Brisbane : Alexander Brash, George Ledward, Michael McLellan, and seven Chinese ; Rockhampton passengers : Mrs. Cramp and child, Miss Anderson, Mr. Anderson, and Mr. Machefer in the saloon ; Mr. and Mrs. John Paterson, Samuel King, and seven Chinese in the steerage.

Hedges, the sole survivor of the Cawarra wreck, gives the following account :-” We left Sydney on Wednesday, July 11th ; cleared Sydney Heads about 6 p.m., wind east, weather threatening, gale increased during the night, with heavy squalls ; went with the ordinary speed during the night ; in the morning set the fore-topsail to keep her steady, the sea being very high at the time ; between 9 and 10 o’clock on Thursday morning something occurred to the safety-valve; the fires were drawn ; the second engineer repaired the damage; it was quite trifling; in the morning at daylight, it was rumoured on board that the captain intended to run for Port Stephens; a little after 11 o’clock made the land just in the bight near Newcastle; about 12 o’clock the Captain made out Nobby’s before this I heard it rumoured that the captain intended to go into Port Stephens or Newcastle, whichever he could make : just after we sighted Nobby’s there came on a very heavy squall ; lowered the fore-trysail; as soon as the squall was over we attempted to set the fore-staysail ; it blew to pieces in attempting to set it ; we then set the fore-trysail shortly after 1 o’clock we bore up for Nobby’s ; when we were near Nobby’s the captain gave orders to see both anchors clear; the port anchor was clear; the starboard one was on the forecastle deck, and the cable unbent; we had no time to get the starboard anchor ready ; at this time we lowered the fore-trysail down ; in rounding the reef at Nobby’s we set the jib ; that blew away as soon as set ; we were setting the fore-trysail when she broached too ; we couldn’t set the sail properly on account of seas breaking over her, which filled the fore cabin; she went ahead into the breakers ; those on deck ran aft to clear away the starboard boats to save crew and passengers ; I did not hear the captain order them to do that, but he pointed out some smooth place where the men might land ; there was ‘no signal of distress’ hoisted on board ; the fires were not out at this time ; I never heard any order given to stop the engines, but I think they were stopped ; two of the quartermasters were at the wheel at the time she drifted out of the breakers into smooth water ; the captain gave orders to loose the foresail, and throw the deck cargo overboard ; he called upon the passengers to assist in doing so ; he ordered the head-yards to be  braced aback, but immediately after he countermanded the order to loose the sail ; gave engineer orders to go full speed ahead ; I suppose the captain intended going to sea, as the ship’s head was pointed that way ; he made use of the word ‘Let’s get out of this,’ when he gave the order to go ahead we steamed seaward ; the first sea that struck her afterwards put her fires out ; it was blowing very hard at the time ; squall struck us on rounding the reef, and continued over this time ; every one ran aft on to the poop ; there was a lot people in the port lifeboat ; the captain told them to come out, it was not fair, as there were women on board the ship ; they left the boat ; the captain ordered two of our own hands to clear her away for lowering ; another man and I jumped into her before she was cleared they threw a woman into the boat, I think it was a saloon passenger ; after that a lot of men came into the boat ; the after tackle of the boat was either let go in mistake or carried away ; I scrambled on board the steamer, the rest fell into the water ; I was the only one that got on board ; the chief mate was in the boat, and gave me a knife to cut the patent lowering apparatus, instead of working it ; we never attempted to work it ; I climbed into the main rigging ; the second engineer was alongside me in the main rigging, and a number of other people ; I held on there until the funnel went  overboard ; the next sea washed me out of the main rigging : I swam to a piece of the wreck, and changed from one piece to another ; I caught hold of a large plank and got out from the wreck; I saw Mr. Fountain, chief engineer, on a piece of the wreck, and several others – say twelve or fifteen in number ; I was drifting in towards the harbour, and was picked up near the red buoy by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Hannell, and others,  in their boat, and taken to the fisherman’s hut at Nobby’s.  The vessel was in proper trim ; the steering apparatus was quite perfect ; no order was given to let go the anchor when she  got into smooth water ; the last time I saw Captain Chatfield was when he gave the orders to clear away the boat ; he seemed quite cool and collected ; there was no confusion, and all the captain’s orders were obeyed ; the Cawarra carried four boat – viz. two life-boats, one cutter and one dingy – of which the two life-boats were supplied with the patent apparatus for lowering ; heard some one on board say, ‘ the life-boat is coming ;’ I did not see the life-boat myself ; I saw a small boat; it was a smaller boat than the life-boat ; it may have been the boat that picked me up ; I should think if the lifeboat had been there it would have saved some persons from the floating wreck. ”

Our artist, who was an eye-witness of the scene, writes thus : ” I was on Nobbys when the mast fell over. It fell to wind-ward with a slow motion ; at the time great sympathy was evinced for one poor fellow whom we distinctly saw clinging to the fore top. As the mast slowly sank towards the surging waters a feeling of pity thrilled the spectators-people identified themselves with the poor fellow, and a convulsive shudder and fervent “God help him !” escaped them as the mast disappeared beneath a big wave : the sea past, the mast was again seen, the black form still clinging to it-another wave, and once more, for the last time, the poor fellow appeared – a sudden flutter of some fabric was observed near the black form, and all was over ; it may have been his last frantic sign for help-it may have been a fluttering fragment of sail-none can tell now, but that one sad incident will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. ”

Position of ‘Cawarra,’ previous to foundering, as seen from Nobby’s, 12th July. – (From Sketch by S. Knaggs, Esq.) – See Page 23. From the Illustrated Sydney News, 16 August 1866, page 21.

The sketch represents the Cawarra after she turned round and vainly attempted to steam out to sea ; the huge sea just breaking over her may be described as the one that took her funnel, put out her fires, and caused her to founder.

The body of a woman, identified as Mrs. Cramp, one of the passengers of the ill-fated steamer Cawarra, was found in the Hunter on Saturday. On Sunday morning eighteen bodies were washed ashore at the North Beach. Some were recognized as those of Captain Chatfield ; J. Fountain, chief engineer ; Mr. McDowell, chief mate ; and Catherine Crozier, stewardess. Other bodies continued to drift ashore until in all forty-one bodies were found. They have nearly all been washed up in the bight about four miles from the North Shore ferry, and about three miles from the scene of the wreck. As the bodies are washed up, they are enveloped in blankets and tied up ; and subsequently they are removed in shells by a dray to the river side of this neck of land, and from thence conveyed by boats to the wharf, and next removed to the hospital.

On July 13 an inquest was commenced at Newcastle by the coroner, Mr. Knaggs, on the bodies cast ashore. The evidence of three witnesses was taken, chiefly for the identification of the bodies, and the inquest was then adjourned until the following day at three o’clock, and was then resumed and continued daily until Wednesday. In the course of the investigation the management of the lifeboat and the conduct of those by whom it was manned appeared in a very unfavourable light ; and to the verdict returned of “Found drowned or died from exhaustion” was attached the following rider :-” And the jury recommend, from the tenor of the evidence laid before them, that a strict inquiry be instituted by the Government into the present very unsatisfactory arrangements of the life-boat – its present position and inefficient management – with a view of ensuring a double crew and quick despatch of the life-boat when required for the purpose of saving life. ”

The interment of the majority of the bodies took place on the 15th in the Church of England burial ground, Newcastle. Business was entirely suspended ; every shop was closed, and flags hung half-mast high from the ships in the harbour. The funeral procession, starting from the hospital, consisted of some fifteen hundred people, and from four to five thousand were about the hospital and the streets leading to the churchyard. The order of procession was as follows : Clergy, consisting of Revs. Messrs. Gainsford, Coutts, Mayne, Lane, and Pritchard Captain Allan, Dr. Brooks, James Hannell, Esq. Next came the hearse, containing the bodies of Captain Chatfield and Mr, M’Dowell, chief officer of the Cawarra, with two of the Naval Brigade on each side of the hearse. The second hearse was escorted by four of the Naval Brigade, and contained the bodies of the chief engineer, Mr. Fountain, and the second engineer Messrs. Fox and Dagwell, of the Naval Brigade, followed next. Then came seven drays with the rest of the bodies ; dray No. 1 with four bodies, No. 2 with three bodies, No. 3 with three bodies, No. 4 with two bodies, No. 5  with two bodies, No. 6 with two bodies, No. 7 with two bodies. The coffins were covered with flags, and each dray was escorted by two of the Naval Brigade, one on each side. The relatives of the decease followed next, the captains of the ships in port, and their sailors, the mayor, municipal council, town clerk, and the citizens. The procession moved along Watt-street and Church-street to the church, the artillery firing minute guns from the Barrack-square. On arriving at the church the bodies were taken out, and laid in a semi-circle, surrounded by the mourners. Mr. Millan read a portion of the burial service, after which Mr. Bode addressed the people. The bodies were then borne on the shoulders of the Naval Brigade to the grave, with the Volunteer Artillery, commanded by Captain Macpherson, in a line, at a short distance from the grave, to keep a clear space for the bodies. Mr. Bode read the burial service, and Mr. Miller afterwards made an address, which concluded the mournful ceremony.

A monument is to be erected to the memory of the drowned the expenses will be defrayed by public subscription.

The Government appointed a commission, consisting of Mr. Moriarty, Engineer-in-Chief for Harbours and Rivers, Captain Hixson, Superintendent of Harbours, Light-houses, and Pilots ; and Captain Goss, Mail Agent-to inquire into the general management of the life-boat at Newcastle, the allegations of delay in launching her, and inefficiency exhibited during the late storm ; also as to the recent wrecks and lamentable loss of life, with a view to an improved management of the life-boat, if found to be defective, and to prevent, so far as possible, a recurrence of such heart-rending scenes as those witnessed during the late gale. Their repert has been sent in to the Government but is not yet made public.

The Recent Gale. From the Illustrated Sydney News, 16 August 1866, page 23.


Leave a Reply