A Narrative of the Melancholy Wreck of the "Dunbar," Merchant Ship, on the South Head of Port Jackson, August 20th, 1875
Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.
JAMES JOHNSON, THE SOLE SURVIVOR OF THE DUNBAR.
(From a Photograph by Freeman Brothers.)
FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION ONLY.
OF THE MELANCHOLY
MERCHANT SHIP, ON THE SOUTH HEAD OF PORT JACKSON,
AUGUST 20TH, 1857, WITH
OF THE PRINCIPAL LOCALITIES.
PUBLISHED FOR THE PROPRIETORS BY JAMES FRYER.
In the preparation of our illustrations it will be at once seen that noexpense or trouble has been spared. The drawings are by distinguishedArtists, and most truthfully do they represent the principal localitiesof this shipwreck, being exquisitely engraved by our respectedfellow-citizen, W. G. Mason, formerly connected with the IllustratedLondon News. The following are the places thus graphically set beforeour readers—The Gap, (on Saturday, the 22nd instant) near which theawful calamity occurred taken from a spirited drawing upon the spot byMr. Angas, and showing some of the painful incidents. The Wreck (orprincipal fragment of the Wreck) in Middle Harbour after an excellentdrawing by Mr. Thomas. The Rescue of the survivor, Johnson, after amasterly sketch also by Mr. Angas. An Outline Sketch of the Coast onwhich the Dunbar was lost, by Thomas. And lastly, a small OutlineMap, by means of which strangers, and such colonists as are not wellacquainted with the coast and outer part of Port Jackson, may best begiven to understand how and where this most deplorable affair took place.
The above outline sketch of the brink of the cliffs, under which theDunbar was lost, is useful as serving to point out the exact spot wherethe vessel struck—about 35 feet distant in a direct line from the mainroad leading to Watson's Bay.
NARRATIVE OF THE WRECK OF THE "DUNBAR."
During the last few days a dark, mysterious gloom has fallen upon ourbeautiful city, caused by one of the most awful and heartrendingcalamities which has ever appealed to the feelings of our commonhumanity, or carried desolation and agony into the sacred precincts ofdomestic life. A magnificent, first-class passenger ship, under a mostable and experienced commander—her cargo alone invoiced at £72,000—hasbeen so utterly cast away within a mile or two of our very doors, thatbut one has been saved alive out of a crew of upwards of 120souls—one only, as it were, to throw some faint light upon the causesof this frightful disaster. Death in its mildest form is terrible; but,accompanied with such strange and horrible circumstances as those withwhich so many of us are now familiar, it becomes a thing which theboldest cannot contemplate without dismay. Nothing is perhaps a morefaithful reflex of the anxiety and consternation of the public mind thanthe vague, hurried, and contradictory manner in which our journals havegiven the details of this melancholy shipwreck; so different from thatclear, calm tone in which they usually furnish the news of theday—facts and fictions, conjectures and repetitions, being successivelylaid before the reader, as if the writers themselves involuntarilyparticipated in the universal excitement; or were[Pg 4] wholly unequal to thetask of satisfying that eager, restless craving for further informationherein which appears to have seized upon all classes of society. Weshall endeavour, as far as may be, to remedy this by a short resumé ofthe chief particulars—a narrative which will serve to give those as yetpartially acquainted with this sad affair a more correct idea of whathas taken place; taking care, of course, in doing so to avoid givingoffence to the most fastidious delicacy, or to trespass in any way uponthe sorrows of our afflicted fellow citizens, for whom we feel such asincere but unavailing sympathy.
Friday.—On Friday, the 21st of August, rumours were current through thecity that one, if not two ships had been wrecked during the previousnight off the entrance to the harbour, and the greatest excitementprevailed in consequence; especially as the reports stated that one ofthe vessels was the "Vocalist," an emigrant ship with over 500 personson board. The state of the weather for a day or two past had been suchas to justify the most serious apprehensions. The day previous it hadbeen particularly stormy, and the wind had shifted to nearly every pointof the compass, having been during the fore part of the day, in the N.E.quarter, with a heavy sea from the eastward. Towards the evening itshifted to the W. and N.W., and by midnight it blew a gale at S.,veering to S.E. towards the morning, with a tremendous sea setting indead upon the land.
The ship "Europa," from Bremen, which arrived in Sydney on Thursdaymorning, reported having been in company with a large ship for five daysoff this coast, and a steamer that came in the same day, also gaveinformation of having seen a "large ship" near the land, bearing East;but neither of them could report her name. The steamer "Grafton,"Captain Wiseman, from the Clarence River, while entering Port Jacksonthis morning (Friday), was the first who gave the alarm. Captain W.reported that he had passed, floating between the Heads, numerous piecesof ship timbers, bedding, bales of goods, and other articles, denoting arecent wreck. At about half-past seven a.m., however, Mr. Hydes, one ofthe pilots stationed at Watson's Bay, perceived indications of ashipwreck in the vicinity, and, in company with another pilot, Mr.Robson, whom he immediately informed of the circumstance, he at onceproceeded to examine carefully the rocky coast, and at length discoveredthe portion of a large vessel ashore between the "Gap" and theLighthouse; they supposed her to have been of at least 1000 tonsburthen, and of American build, the fittings that could be seen being ofunpainted white deal, similar to that ordinarily used in emigrant ships,the fastenings of copper, figure head a gilt scroll, masts and bowsprithooped.
There had been washed ashore a quantity of sundry articles, such ascarpeting, hats, candles, silk, children's toys, shirts, prints,clothing, bagging, and linen drapery; but on none of them at this timecould any brand be seen by which the name of the vessel could be traced.This could not long continue to be the case. In the course of the daypart of the wooden lid of a pickle case, branded — and Co., in half adiamond S over 228; a parchment label, used for luggage on the EnglishRailways, with the address, "Mylne, passenger, Edinburgh;" ahandkerchief with the name "Howell;" a lady's night-dress, marked"Dobelle;" and a cabin door numbered 68, were found near the Heads. Thorumours as to the fact of a dreadful shipwreck having just occurred soonassumed distinct shape and certainty. At length it became generallyknown in Sydney that numerous dead, and mutilated bodies of men, women,and children, were to be seen floating in the heavy surf at the "Gap,"thrown by immense waves to a great height, and dashed pitilessly againstthe rugged cliffs, the returning water sweeping them from the agonisedsight of the horrified spectators. The scene is described by partiespresent to have exercised a sort of hideous fascination, that seemed tobind them to the spot; while at the fearful spectacle of the remains offellow beings in so awful a position—immediately before their eyes andyet out of their reach—each determination to leave the fatal localitybecame overpowered by a desire for farther knowledge, many dreading lestthey should have to recognise the familiar face of friend or relative.
While uncertainty continued as to the name of the unfortunate vessel,the most contradictory opinions were promulgated; some averring that shewas an Emigrant ship, others, a Merchant vessel, some that she was ofNorth American build, and again others, that she was British; theintense excitement increased, and the road to South Head,notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, was hastily traversed byhundreds of anxious persons.
Meanwhile, important facts became known at Middle Harbour, appearing toremove all doubts as to the name of the lost vessel; a mail bag marked"No. 2, per Dunbar, Plymouth, May 29"; a cask of tripe marked "Dunbar";the top of a case, marked J.C.; a quantity of pork; boxes of candles;several boys' cricket bats; and a great quantity of general cargo, wereeither found floating there, or washed ashore. Captain Pockley, thenewly appointed Harbour Master, reported that twelve bodies had beenfound, one of them evidently an officer, the gilt buttons of his coatmarked W.B.W., with a crest; there had also been picked up the body of aboy, about four years of age, quite naked, his hair black. Near the SandSpit, Middle Harbour, the bodies of two well dressed men, and of awoman, with a ring on one of her fingers, had been taken up by Mr. IsaacMoore; also two or three beer cask heads, with Tooth's brand. A cow,surrounded by sharks was seen floating near this place, and two cows anda horse were here cast ashore. A large portion of the wreck floated intoMiddle Harbour, (see Engraving) and went ashore at Hunter's Bay, nearthe residence of Mr. Edwards, where it still lies. It consists of about40 or 50 feet of the keel, and flooring timber of massive construction,copper fastened, two or three sheets of the copper still adhering to thewoodwork. The enormous force with which the ship had been driven ashoreis evinced by this relic of her former stately proportions; the powerfulteak timbers are rent and shivered at their sides and ends, as thoughthey were of the most fragile material, and the copper bolts, nearly twoinches in diameter, twisted like pieces of thin wire; a gangway board,with a lion carved on it, was also picked up.
The energetic and efficient officer, Captain M'Lerie, Inspector Generalof Police, remained at Middle Harbour until half-past 12 o'clock onFriday night, having arranged for the removal of the bodies that hadbeen found to Sydney on Saturday morning.—A party of mounted police, byhis directions, remained to guard the recovered property, and it wasrumoured that parties detected in wrecking had been arrested. Noreasonable doubt remained but that the ill-fated vessel was indeed theDunbar, reported in the Home News of the 16th of June, as havingsailed for Sydney from Plymouth on the 2nd of that month, with a largelist of passengers, comprising many well-known and much respectedcolonists; and several families in our city were at once plunged intothe deepest affliction. It was remarked as a singular circumstance thatthe blue light of the unfortunate vessel had actually been seen off thecoast from Sydney, although not observed by the Pilots; and it was alsosaid that the dog of the lighthouse keeper was noticed to be very uneasyduring the night, and had run to the edge of the cliffs and barkedloudly. Possibly this may have occurred at the time of the awfulcatastrophe.
Saturday.—On the morning of Saturday, the 22nd instant, the lingeringhopes of those who trusted that the wreck might not be that of theDunbar were utterly annihilated. It became but too evident even to all,that it was indeed that splendid vessel, and it seemed from manycircumstances also sure that she must have struck on the rocks, eitherat the Gap, or between that spot and the Lighthouse—have been almostinstantly dashed to pieces, not a single person being saved to tell themelancholy story.
The following is an amended list of the passengers, so far as it can beascertained, being compiled from the newspapers of the day:—Mr. andMrs. Kilner Waller, six children and servant; Mr. and Mrs. A. Meyers,six children and servant; Mr. and