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Title: A Narrative of the Melancholy Wreck of the "Dunbar"
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Narrative of the Melancholy Wreck of the "Dunbar"" ***

produced from scans of public domain works at The National
Library of Australia.)

|Transcriber's note:                              |
|                                                 |
|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
|                                                 |


(_From a Photograph by_ FREEMAN BROTHERS.)]











     Warning not heard or seen--no help at hand--
     The wide dark bosom of the angry deep
     With irresistible and cruel force
     Received them all. _One_ only cast alive,
     Fainting and breathless on the fatal rocks--
     To weeping friends and strangers afterwards
     Thus told his melancholy tale--




In the preparation of our illustrations it will be at once seen that no
expense or trouble has been spared. The drawings are by distinguished
Artists, and most truthfully do they represent the principal localities
of this shipwreck, being exquisitely engraved by our respected
fellow-citizen, W. G. Mason, formerly connected with the _Illustrated
London News_. The following are the places thus graphically set before
our readers--_The Gap_, (on Saturday, the 22nd instant) near which the
awful calamity occurred taken from a spirited drawing upon the spot by
Mr. Angas, and showing some of the painful incidents. _The Wreck_ (or
principal fragment of the Wreck) _in Middle Harbour_ after an excellent
drawing by Mr. Thomas. _The Rescue of the survivor, Johnson_, after a
masterly sketch also by Mr. Angas. _An Outline Sketch of the Coast on
which the Dunbar was lost_, by Thomas. And lastly, a small _Outline
Map_, by means of which strangers, and such colonists as are not well
acquainted with the coast and outer part of Port Jackson, may best be
given to understand how and where this most deplorable affair took


The above outline sketch of the brink of the cliffs, under which the
Dunbar was lost, is useful as serving to point out the exact spot where
the vessel struck--about 35 feet distant in a direct line from the main
road leading to Watson's Bay.]


     Warning not heard or seen--no help at hand--
     The wide, dark bosom of the angry deep
     With irresistible and cruel force
     Received them all. _One_ only cast alive,
     Fainting and breathless on the fatal rocks--
     To weeping friends and strangers afterwards
     Thus told his melancholy tale--

During the last few days a dark, mysterious gloom has fallen upon our
beautiful city, caused by one of the most awful and heartrending
calamities which has ever appealed to the feelings of our common
humanity, or carried desolation and agony into the sacred precincts of
domestic life. A magnificent, first-class passenger ship, under a most
able and experienced commander--her cargo alone invoiced at £72,000--has
been so utterly cast away within a mile or two of our very doors, that
but _one_ has been saved alive out of a crew of upwards of 120
souls--one only, as it were, to throw some faint light upon the causes
of this frightful disaster. Death in its mildest form is terrible; but,
accompanied with such strange and horrible circumstances as those with
which so many of us are now familiar, it becomes a thing which the
boldest cannot contemplate without dismay. Nothing is perhaps a more
faithful reflex of the anxiety and consternation of the public mind than
the vague, hurried, and contradictory manner in which our journals have
given the details of this melancholy shipwreck; so different from that
clear, calm tone in which they usually furnish the news of the
day--facts and fictions, conjectures and repetitions, being successively
laid before the reader, as if the writers themselves involuntarily
participated in the universal excitement; or were wholly unequal to the
task of satisfying that eager, restless craving for further information
herein which appears to have seized upon all classes of society. We
shall endeavour, as far as may be, to remedy this by a short _resumé_ of
the chief particulars--a narrative which will serve to give those as yet
partially acquainted with this sad affair a more correct idea of what
has taken place; taking care, of course, in doing so to avoid giving
offence to the most fastidious delicacy, or to trespass in any way upon
the sorrows of our afflicted fellow citizens, for whom we feel such a
sincere but unavailing sympathy.

FRIDAY.--On Friday, the 21st of August, rumours were current through the
city that one, if not two ships had been wrecked during the previous
night off the entrance to the harbour, and the greatest excitement
prevailed in consequence; especially as the reports stated that one of
the vessels was the "Vocalist," an emigrant ship with over 500 persons
on board. The state of the weather for a day or two past had been such
as to justify the most serious apprehensions. The day previous it had
been particularly stormy, and the wind had shifted to nearly every point
of 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 it
shifted 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 in
dead upon the land.

The ship "Europa," from Bremen, which arrived in Sydney on Thursday
morning, reported having been in company with a large ship for five days
off this coast, and a steamer that came in the same day, also gave
information 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 Jackson
this morning (Friday), was the first who gave the alarm. Captain W.
reported that he had passed, floating between the Heads, numerous pieces
of ship timbers, bedding, bales of goods, and other articles, denoting a
recent wreck. At about half-past seven a.m., however, Mr. Hydes, one of
the pilots stationed at Watson's Bay, perceived indications of a
shipwreck in the vicinity, and, in company with another pilot, Mr.
Robson, whom he immediately informed of the circumstance, he at once
proceeded to examine carefully the rocky coast, and at length discovered
the portion of a large vessel ashore between the "Gap" and the
Lighthouse; they supposed her to have been of at least 1000 tons
burthen, and of American build, the fittings that could be seen being of
unpainted white deal, similar to that ordinarily used in emigrant ships,
the fastenings of copper, figure head a gilt scroll, masts and bowsprit

There had been washed ashore a quantity of sundry articles, such as
carpeting, hats, candles, silk, children's toys, shirts, prints,
clothing, bagging, and linen drapery; but on none of them at this time
could 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 day
part of the wooden lid of a pickle case, branded -- and Co., in half a
diamond S over 228; a parchment label, used for luggage on the English
Railways, with the address, "Mylne, passenger, Edinburgh;" a
handkerchief with the name "Howell;" a lady's night-dress, marked
"Dobelle;" and a cabin door numbered 68, were found near the Heads. Tho
rumours as to the fact of a dreadful shipwreck having just occurred soon
assumed distinct shape and certainty. At length it became generally
known 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 against
the rugged cliffs, the returning water sweeping them from the agonised
sight of the horrified spectators. The scene is described by parties
present to have exercised a sort of hideous fascination, that seemed to
bind them to the spot; while at the fearful spectacle of the remains of
fellow beings in so awful a position--immediately before their eyes and
yet out of their reach--each determination to leave the fatal locality
became overpowered by a desire for farther knowledge, many dreading lest
they 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 she
was an Emigrant ship, others, a Merchant vessel, some that she was of
North American build, and again others, that she was British; the
intense excitement increased, and the road to South Head,
notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, was hastily traversed by
hundreds of anxious persons.

Meanwhile, important facts became known at Middle Harbour, appearing to
remove 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, were
either found floating there, or washed ashore. Captain Pockley, the
newly appointed Harbour Master, reported that twelve bodies had been
found, one of them evidently an officer, the gilt buttons of his coat
marked W.B.W., with a crest; there had also been picked up the body of a
boy, about four years of age, quite naked, his hair black. Near the Sand
Spit, Middle Harbour, the bodies of two well dressed men, and of a
woman, with a ring on one of her fingers, had been taken up by Mr. Isaac
Moore; 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 and
a horse were here cast ashore. A large portion of the wreck floated into
Middle Harbour, (_see Engraving_) and went ashore at Hunter's Bay, near
the residence of Mr. Edwards, where it still lies. It consists of about
40 or 50 feet of the keel, and flooring timber of massive construction,
copper fastened, two or three sheets of the copper still adhering to the
woodwork. The enormous force with which the ship had been driven ashore
is evinced by this relic of her former stately proportions; the powerful
teak timbers are rent and shivered at their sides and ends, as though
they were of the most fragile material, and the copper bolts, nearly two
inches 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 General
of Police, remained at Middle Harbour until half-past 12 o'clock on
Friday night, having arranged for the removal of the bodies that had
been found to Sydney on Saturday morning.--A party of mounted police, by
his directions, remained to guard the recovered property, and it was
rumoured that parties detected in wrecking had been arrested. No
reasonable doubt remained but that the ill-fated vessel was indeed the
DUNBAR, reported in the _Home News_ of the 16th of June, as having
sailed for Sydney from Plymouth on the 2nd of that month, with a large
list of passengers, comprising many well-known and much respected
colonists; and several families in our city were at once plunged into
the deepest affliction. It was remarked as a singular circumstance that
the blue light of the unfortunate vessel had actually been seen off the
coast from Sydney, although not observed by the Pilots; and it was also
said that the dog of the lighthouse keeper was noticed to be very uneasy
during the night, and had run to the edge of the cliffs and barked
loudly. Possibly this may have occurred at the time of the awful

SATURDAY.--On the morning of Saturday, the 22nd instant, the lingering
hopes of those who trusted that the wreck might not be that of the
DUNBAR were utterly annihilated. It became but too evident even to all,
that it was indeed that splendid vessel, and it seemed from many
circumstances also sure that she must have struck on the rocks, either
at the Gap, or between that spot and the Lighthouse--have been almost
instantly dashed to pieces, not a single person being saved to tell the
melancholy story.

The following is an amended list of the passengers, so far as it can be
ascertained, being compiled from the newspapers of the day:--Mr. and
Mrs. Kilner Waller, six children and servant; Mr. and Mrs. A. Meyers,
six children and servant; Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Peek; Mrs. Egan, son, and
daughter; Mr. Hyacinth Macquoid; Mr. Severn; the two Misses Hunt;
Captain Steine, R.N.; Mr. Adrian De Young James; Mr. Downey, architect;
Mr. Isaac Simmons; Mr. C. Troughton; Miss Logan and two Masters Logan;
Mr. and Mrs. Mylne, and Misses A. and E. Mylne; Mr. C. Davidson; Mr. F.
Tyndal. Twenty-four second and third cabin passengers; the crew being
about sixty. Of the foregoing, Mr. Kilner Waller was the brother of Mr.
J. G. Waller, of Wynyard Square, in this city, and the author of several
valuable letters on emigration recently published in the columns of the
_Sydney Morning Herald_. Mr. A. Meyers was the brother of a gentleman of
that name at Bathurst. Mr. and Mrs. S. Peek were were well known
colonists; Mr. Peek having been for many years a large importer, and
formerly in business with Mr. Robert Porter in this city. Mrs. Egan was
the wife of Daniel Egan Esquire, M.P. of this city, and accompanied by
her relatives, Mr. and Miss Cahuac. Mr. Macquoid was the son of the late
Sheriff, who so honourably liquidated his fathers debts--he was
accompanied by his friend Mr. Severn. Mr. James was the much lamented
and only son of H. K. James, Esq., of this city. This young gentleman
had been studying in England, previous to taking holy orders. Mr. Isaac
Simmons was the second son of the late Mr. James Simmons, and was
returning to the colony to take possession of a large fortune. Miss
Logan, and the two masters Logan, were the children of Mrs. Logan, a
resident in this city. Mr. Mylnes is believed to have been a squatter of
the Northern district. In the second cabin was Mrs. W. K. Brown and
child, a Mr. and Mrs. Healing and three children, and also, it is
thought, a Mr. Bynon. Mrs. Green, the Captain's wife, was at first
supposed to have been lost in this vessel, but there is reason to hope
that she did not accompany her husband in this, his last and fatal

The excitement in the city continued very great all day, and thousands
of persons went down to the Heads. The description of what had been so
appalling to the gazing multitude on Friday, still remained but too
strictly applicable to the same scene in the vicinity of the Gap at the
foot of the rocks (_see Engraving_). To quote the vivid language of the
_Era_ Newspaper.--"It was manifest that the ill-fated vessel must have
struck when all on board had retired to rest, as the majority of the
bodies were in a state of complete nudity or only covered with night

Corpses of men, women, and children, some of them fearfully mutilated,
were dashed against the beetling crags, and as rapidly borne back again
by the relentless surge, while here and there, heads or limbs which had
been torn off by repeated concussions against the rocks, were thrown up
as if in jeering mockery by the very element that had caused their

The sea was strewn with portions of the wreck, bedding, and wearing
apparel; in fact, it was impossible for a vessel to move a yard without
encountering fresh evidence of the extent of the heart-rending

At about noon, it was reported that a solitary survivor from the wreck
had been seen alive, far below, under the cliffs, and that exertions
were being promptly made in the hope of rescuing him from his dreadful
situation. Coffins were sent off down the harbour by the Washington, for
the dead, and such mangled remains as could be recovered, and tackle
&c., to draw up the living man, if such there were, to the top of the
precipice. This report as to one poor fellow having escaped, proved
true, but it gave rise to many others, as to three or four similar cases
having occurred, which were unhappily without foundation. More than four
or five brave hearts signalized themselves in this affair, and in their
hazardous and often successful efforts at rescuing the lifeless bodies
from the action of the waves. The man thus found alive and comparatively
uninjured (although of course in a very exhausted state) gave his name
as James Johnson, one of the crew of the Dunbar as soon as he came a
little to himself. An interesting account of this will be found
subjoined in the form of a letter, from the Mayor of Sydney, published
in the "Herald" Newspaper of Monday. He seemed to think that the Captain
must have mistaken the Gap for the true entrance to the harbour, as he
went on all sails set. He remembered little or nothing after, until he
found himself on the ledge of the rocks, stunned and stupid. Further
particulars were now constantly received of portions of the wreck,
which, from want of space, we cannot here state in detail. The following
particulars appeared in the second supplement of the "Herald" of this
day (Saturday.)


Having arrived at the scene of this melancholy disaster--the South
Head--about quarter to eleven, this morning, I, like most of the
spectators, mingled in the general excitement then prevalent, which may
be far more easily imagined than described; and, after walking about for
some time, listening to the fears here and hopes there--hopes that some
one or more might yet be found living to clear up the awful mystery that
must ever hang over such a disaster uncleared by such testimony--when
behold, the joy of everybody was expressed by a shout of "A man on the
rocks! A live man on the rocks! There he is! there he is!" And sure
enough there he was. This was about eleven o'clock. It was soon reported
that four others, among them a woman, were seen; but up till about two
o'clock it was not definitely known whether any others were there or
not, although it was very prevalently believed there were.


Of course the authorities were soon upon the spot, with ropes and a boy
to lower to him; and, after much anxiety and various attempts to bring
it within his reach, they at last succeeded, and soon brought him on
_terra firma_. He was then brought to the Marine Hotel, where he was
immediately attended to by Dr. West.

The following were some of the particulars elicited from him, in
reference to the sad disaster. They were coming in under close reef
topsail about midway between the two Heads, at a few minutes before
twelve o'clock, on Thursday night, when the Captain ordered the foresail
to be hauled up, which being done, she lost head way so fast that they
drove over, and struck the rock, and almost immediately broke up.

In answer to inquiries he said, "There were no cannons fired, but blue
lights were burnt. I (James Johnson) believe all the others are lost. I
have seen no others alive--only their dead bodies. I had a little sleep
on the rocks."

Dr. West now thought it best for us to retire, and let him have sleep,
which we did. I may state that the Doctor pronounced him to be perfectly
sane, and he looked better far than might naturally have been expected.
He is about thirty years of age, and a strong, tall, powerfully-built

5 o'clock p.m.

Seventeen bodies were found on the North Shore. One has been recognised
as Mr. Downey, the architect. On his linen his name was written "J.
Downey." The body of Mrs. Kilner Waller was recognised by her
brother-in-law, Mr. J. G. Waller. The body of Captain Steine, R.N., was
also known by marks on his linen and braces. There were two Jewish
children identified as belonging to Mr. Meyers. The body of a
midshipman, named Ward, was also known. The Supplement which gave these
particulars also contained a copy of the manifest of the ship, but this,
so important in a commercial point of view, was almost overlooked in the
contemplation of the sudden and frightful loss of life consequent upon
this sorrowful shipwreck.

Captain Green, the commander of this ill-fated vessel, was well known
and much esteemed by a large number of the inhabitants of the colony.
For several voyages in the Agincourt and Waterloo, he was mate with
Captain Neatby. For two voyages he commanded the Waterloo; subsequently
he has been in the Vimiera; and this was his second trip as master of
the Dunbar.--_Herald._

SUNDAY 23rd.--At ten o'clock this morning an inquest was commenced on
the bodies which had been recovered and placed in shell coffins in the
dead house on the Circular Quay. The gentlemen of the Jury were in
attendance according to summons, at the King's Arms Hotel, Lower George
Street, and after the ceremony of swearing them in, the following bodies
were identified:--Mrs. Waller, Mr. Meyers, 32 years of age, and a lad
about 12 years, by Mr. Jacobs; Mr. I. Simmons, aged 21 years, by one of
the family, and Mr. Downey by his Father. The bodies lay in the dead
house. The scene was most distressing,--one of the jurors fainted and
was carried away, whilst others were so deeply moved that they were
compelled to leave the place. The bodies of two of the females and of
one of the men were in such a state as to make them easily recognizable
by their friends, but they were not identified. The Steamer Black Swan
chartered by the Government left Sydney about the same hour as the
inquest commenced, and proceeded down the harbour in search of the
remains of the ill-fated passengers and crew of the Dunbar, Captain
McLerie, Captain Pockley and other officials, persons more or less
concerned also being on board. The Steamer first made for the North
Shore, and began to explore the various bays, successively visiting
Taylor's Bay, Chowder Bay, and finally Watson's Bay, on the opposite
side. At the latter place two shells were left, and the survivor James
Johnson received on board. Middle Harbour was the next spot, and there
the steamer waited a considerable time. A numerous party landed near the
spit, where we may remind our readers Mrs. Waller, a Midshipman, and Mr.
Downey had been picked up. Here the principal part of the wreck and
cargo seem to have been washed. The shore is literally white with
candles, and the rocks covered a foot or more deep with articles of
every kind--boots, panama hats, and bonnets are here in abundance. Drums
of figs, hams, pork, raisins, drapery, boots, and pieces of timber,
piled in heaps, and lining the shore for a considerable distance, give a
vivid idea of the havoc created. Among other things there were a barrel
of brandy and another of red wine perfectly uninjured.

Here also was picked up an interesting relic--a child's straw hat with a
feather in it which when shown to Johnson (the survivor) was by him
identified as worn by one of the children in the Tropics. We have heard
that a piece of crochet-work with the needle stuck in it, and a reel of
cotton attached, was picked up at North Harbour. This relic of the
calamity seems as if it were only just laid aside by the fair fingers
that but a few moments after must have been lifeless. The steamer after
calling at Manly Beach and sending a boat up North Harbour (which
however discovered nothing) stretched straight across for Watson's Bay
and received on board the bodies of three men, evidently seamen by the
marks on the arms--one, with the exception of the top of the scull, and
the loss of part of the left arm, was entirely whole, and seemed to have
been a fine man. The other two were only trunks, the mutilated remains
of unfortunate sailors.

Mr. P. Cohen of the Manly Beach Hotel reported that he saw two bodies
floating and tried to recover them, but in consequence of the number of
sharks, and the ferocity with which they fought for their prey, he was
unable to do so. The steamer having thus closely searched every nook and
corner, returned to Campbell's Wharf in the evening; leaving the bodies
brought up to Sydney at the Dead-house for identification. Thousands of
people in vehicles and on horseback, and an immense number on foot
visited the heads during the day.

The appearance of the Gap is described as having undergone a
considerable change. Fragments of the wreck were fast disappearing, and
the sea having greatly abated, several boats had approached close to the
base of the fatal spot. An intrepid fellow named Mulhall, in his skiff
ran down the coast to a considerable distance past the Semaphore, but
without seeing indications of any survivors from the wreck. Nearly
abreast of the Signal Staff several spars are to be seen, and as the sea
recedes portions of sail became visible shewing that some part of the
hull remains here. Part of a woman's apparel, marked J. Logan, was
picked up near the body of some poor unfortunate in a sadly disfigured

MONDAY, 24th. The principal item of news this morning connected herewith
was a communication addressed by the Right Worshipful the Mayor, to the
Editor of the _Sydney Morning Herald_, comprising the statement of
Johnson, the sole survivor. This letter was to the following effect.


SIR--I have been all day down at the scene of the wreck of the DUNBAR,
and had a long interview with Johnson, the man who was saved. If the
statement he made to me, and which I carefully noted, be of any service
to you as information of a correct character for the public, who all
feel a deep interest in this melancholy event, I shall be glad that I
have taken this course to forward it. He stated that they were off
Botany at half-past eight o'clock p.m., Thursday; the captain then stood
off shore, on the starboard tack, ship with double-reefed fore and main
topsails; a very dirty dark, and rainy night, two men were placed at the
wheel; Captain Green instructed them to keep their luff; he (Captain
Green) had not been off the deck for two hours since they first made
land, some days previously; at half-past eleven p.m., the captain gave
orders to square away, which was done; the ship then ran under
close-reefed fore and main topsails and foresail. As they neared the
"light" the captain ordered the foresail to be clewed up, sent the
second mate to the foresail to keep a look-out, then very dark; told him
to "keep a good look-out for the North Head." The captain asked if he
could see the Head. The mate replied no, it was solid darkness. The
second mate suddenly called out "Breakers a-head." The captain ordered
the helm to be put hard to starboard to bring the ship round, then
blowing strong; ship on a dead lee shore, having such small sail upon
her, the ship would not come round, (this was about 12 o'clock), and the
sea lifting her in, she almost immediately struck; the passengers, who
had been in bed, rushed up on deck in their night dresses; their shrieks
were dreadful (Johnson describes the scene at this time the most
terrible part of the whole; the ladies asked the captain, and entreated
the seamen to know if there was any hope; the ship was still holding
together, and the men thought and said there was hope.) Almost
immediately after, as if in angry denial of that expression, the decks
burst up from the pressure of the water, the ship was rent into a
thousand pieces, and all on board (except him) were hurried into the
foaming terrific sea.

[Illustration: THE SAILOR RESCUED.]

Johnson, with the old boatswain, and two Dutch seamen, were about the
last who were washed from the wreck, they four holding on a piece of
plank, from which the two Dutchmen were soon after washed; a huge sea
then threw Johnson and the boatswain on shore amongst some pieces of
timber, from which Johnson scrambled to a higher shelving rock to avoid
the next sea, which he did, but the poor old boatswain, less active, was
carried way, and perished. Johnson then climbed to a still higher
position, and, being much exhausted, laid down and slept. The next day
he saw a steamer (the Grafton) go into the Heads; he made signals to
her, but was not seen. During the day he saw another steamer (the
Washington) pass, and tried to attract her attention; as, also, that of
a schooner running in. Friday night was passed in this state. On
Saturday morning he endeavoured to get along the rocks; he could see
people on the cliffs above, but could not make himself seen, until a
brave lad, (Antonio Wollier, an Icelander,) who had gone down "Jacob's
Ladder," and along the rocks, noticed Johnson waving a handkerchief;
relief came, and he was soon after hauled up to the top of the cliffs,
which are there about 200 feet high.

The noble fellow, Wollier, was then hauled up, and received the hearty
manifestations of the thousands there assembled. I opened a
subscription, which was suggested by Captain Loring, of H.M. ship Iris,
and in a few minutes, about £10 was collected, and handed over to the
courageous boy, who, in answer to my compliment when handing him the
money, said, in broken English, "He did not go down for the money, but
for the feelings of his heart."

Johnson says that a blue light was burned when the ship struck, but it
was very dim, and could scarcely be seen; Captain Green must have taken
the bluff north end of the Gap for the North Head, for, in ordering the
helm to starboard, he must have supposed that to have been his position,
and North Head a lee shore; for had the helm been put to port, the ship
would have cleared, and run for the entrance to the Heads.

Afterwards, at the "Gap," another brave fellow, whose name I have not
yet learned, volunteered to go down to send up some of the mangled
corpses, now and then lodging on the rocks beneath us--now a trunk of a
female, from the waist upwards--then the legs of a male, the body of an
infant, the right arm, shoulder, and head of a female, the bleached arm,
and extended hand, with the wash of the receding waters almost as 'twere
in life, beckoning for help! then a leg, a thigh, a human head would be
hurled along, the sea dashing most furiously, as if in angry derision of
our efforts to rescue its prey; one figure, a female, tightly clasping
an infant to the breast, both locked in the firm embrace of death, was
for a moment seen, then the legs of some trunkless body would leap from
the foaming cataract, caused by the receding sea, leaping wildly, with
feet seen plainly upward in the air, to the abyss below, to be again and
again tossed up to the gaze of the sorrowing throng above.

We procured a rope, lowered the man, with some brave stout hearts
holding on to the rope above, and in this manner several portions of the
mutilated remains were hauled up to the top of the cliff, until a huge
sea suddenly came, and nearly smothered those on the cliff, wetting them
all to the skin. I caused the man to be hauled up, thinking it too
dangerous to continue. It was a heartrending scene and I was glad to
leave it, which I did soon after, and returned to Sydney about dark.

Wonderful to say, Johnson has not as much as a scratch about him, and is
otherwise quite well. He states that there were a great many bodies near
to one place where he was rescued, and his great fear was that he would
be starved. The ship was eighty-one days out.

Saturday evening.


At nine o'clock a.m. (on the 24th), Captain M'Lerie attended by a body
of Inspectors and several other persons repaired to the Dead House, and
began the harrowing task of attempting to identify the bodies.

A large crowd surrounded the place, who unfeignedly, so far as
deportment and general appearance went, sympathised with the mourners
who sought among the mutilated remains inside for relatives and friends.
This continued up to eleven o'clock, when all that it was possible to
identify were marked off, and in some cases given to their friends, the
remainder with the unknown and unrecognisable being placed in shells and
viewed by the jury already sworn on the inquest. These gentlemen,
attended by the coroner, assembled in the large room of the King's Arms
(Mrs. Stone's), a little after eleven, for the purpose of resuming the
inquiry adjourned from yesterday morning.

Thirteen gentlemen had been sworn on the jury, and these all attended,
Mr. J. V. Gorman being foreman. The first witness called was--

James Johnson, seaman, late of the DUNBAR, being sworn, stated, Belonged
to the DUNBAR, commanded by Captain Green. We sailed for Plymouth first;
the DUNBAR, is a first-class Ship; we sailed from Plymouth on the 31st
May, with general cargo; would not say how many passengers--there were
cabin passengers, male and female; there were also second-class
passengers, male and female, on board; I cannot state the exact number
on board; am positive of the day of sailing; we sailed on Sunday
morning; there were fifty-nine seamen on the ship's articles, including
captain, officers, able-bodied seamen, boys, and all; the chief
officer's name was Mr. Struthers; we had a prosperous voyage till we
reached the coast of New Holland; we first made King's Island a week
last Sunday, the 16th August, the wind fresh and blowing from west,
under double-reefed topsails; we had been looking out for land, and we
made it out according to the captain's calculation; there was a watch
kept on deck, and time called every half-hour; King's Island was the
land we first expected to make; we saw the island very plain; when first
seen the wind was from the westward; we then shaped our course for the
Straits; from where we made the land the weather was thick, wet, and
hazy; the sails were shortened from stress of weather; two reefs of the
topsail were taken; we did not shorten sail to meet the land; I cannot
exactly say what was the course we shaped; we made the Straits that
night, the 16th; King's Island was the land we were looking out for
before; we made it according to the captain's calculation, and saw the
island very plain; the wind, at this time, was from the westward; we
then shaped our course through the Straits; from the time we made the
land the weather was thick and squally the whole time, and sail was
shortened from stress of weather; our course was somewhere to the east,
but I cannot say the point we steered exactly; we made the Straits that
same night; we saw a light about two o'clock the next morning that was
said to be upon some land in the middle of the Straits; we also saw the
land; we did not alter our course; the light was rather on our port bow;
no change took place till next day, when the wind headed us, and we made
two boards which carried us clear of the islands, I have never been here
before, but I have been in Melbourne; I am an able seaman, and have been
eleven years at sea; I served my time on the coast of England, out of
Lancashire, principally trading between England and Ireland; after we
passed Kent's Group the next land we saw was the light at Cape Howe; I
was told that was the Cape Howe light; we made this light in the
evening; I do not know that there was any change of course; we were
under double reefed topsails, with all the yards braced sharp up; there
was no great stress of weather at the time; it was thick, hazy weather;
we saw the land at times, but not always; there was no heavy sea on; a
correct look-out was kept from the time we made the land; a person was
stationed forward, but there was no look-out from aloft; I have never
seen looks-out from aloft in ships that I have been in; we carried the
same sail throughout until we made the land at Botany; this was on the
Thursday evening: all hands saw the land distinctly; after that the
Captain ordered us to close reef the topsails, and we were close hauled
to the wind; the wind was then about E. and by S.; we were close to the
wind and lying about N.E. and by N., and lying along the coast; at the
time we made this land to the best of my opinion we were about ten or
twelve miles off, and the ship had her starboard tacks aboard; we were
under easy sail, sail having been shortened after we saw the land; we
had on no topgallant-sails, and we had three reefs in the main, and four
reefs in the fore-topsail; the mizen-topsail was stowed, and the spanker
was brailed up; the inner jib, and the maintopmast-staysail, were taken
in; the weather was squally with thick rain; when we made the land at
Botany, we kept on our course; this was between six and seven o'clock,
and when night came on, we still kept our course, and shortly afterwards
we saw the Sydney light; I saw it about seven o'clock, shortly after
getting supper; it was known to be the Sydney Head light; the vessel was
then lying a course about N.E. and by N.; she was lying her course in
that sort of manner that we had no difficulty--we had plenty of room;
she was not at all labouring with the sail she had on; I know that she
was making heavy lee-way; it is my impression that she had not got
enough sail on her, to prevent her making this lee-way; this was not
said on board ship, but I think so; Captain Green was on the deck; they
were not shaking the ship up into the wind, but keeping her clear full;
the Captain was not conning the ship; the chief officer was on the poop
likewise; the watch on deck went below according to orders, and were
relieved at eight o'clock; it was raining hard; the light was only seen
at intervals, but distinctly; it is a revolving light; I was on deck at
eight o'clock, as I belonged to the chief officer's watch; the captain
remained on deck when the watch was relieved, and gave orders the same
as usual; everything was attended to, and his orders were punctually
obeyed; everything went straightforward, and there was no annoyance of
any kind; all the men were quite correct and obeyed orders; we stood
along the coast till we fetched the light up to the lee mizen rigging;
the vessel was not labouring: she came to her helm willingly; one man
only was at the wheel until we began to square yards, when two men were
sent there; the lee mizen rigging was on the port side of the ship; the
Captain was on the weather side of the deck; he had no night glass, but
the second mate had a case of what we call opera-glasses; when the light
was brought to bear upon the lee mizen rigging, all hands were piped up
by the boatswain; the hands turned up; the boatswain sung out for "All
hands to wear ship;" these were the words that were passed along; the
usual orders were given; when we came on deck, orders were given to
square away the yards; we got the orders to square away; after a short
time, the Captain gave orders to haul up the foresail; it was then
reefed; the ship then kept before the wind; the light was clearly
visible at times; when the words were given to square the yards, the
light had previously been seen; the vessel was running in on a heavy
sea; it was blowing very fresh in squalls, with thick small rain; it was
about eleven o'clock when the hands were called up; there were two men
on the forecastle with the third mate, on the look-out for the land; the
third mate was on the forecastle with the two men, and the second mate
was afterwards sent there also; the captain sang out "Do you see
anything of the North Head?" and the mate said "No, I see nothing of
it;" I was on the poop at this time, standing by the braces; she had the
light a bit on her port bow when I saw it at this time; then the captain
sang out to the man at the wheel to keep his luff; the yards were about
a point or so to port; I heard these words; it was done; the course of
the ship was changed a small bit by this; shortly after this the second
mate sang out "Breakers ahead;" this was a few minutes afterwards; the
captain sung out to the man at the wheel to port his helm; we were all
at the braces: he told us to haul in the port braces, and brace the
yards sharp up; it was done quickly, without delay; there were thirteen
able seaman in each watch; there was no want of hands; we were well
manned, and we could see the light; it appeared to be right over us; I
heard no further orders given; a few minutes after we hauled the yards
round--about two minutes after--she went side on to the rocks; she was
trying to stretch out to the eastward, her head lying along the land to
the north; then we struck, and then the screaming began, the passengers
running about the deck screaming for mercy; the captain was on the poop;
he was cool and collected; there was great confusion and uproar on the
deck with the shrieks of the passengers; with the first bump the three
topmasts fell; the first sea that came over us stove in the
quarter-boats; none were lowered; the mizen-mast went first, then the
main-mast. The foremast stood a long time; it was not more than five
minutes after she struck that she began to break up; I was on the poop
at the time; I caught hold of the mizen chains; when these gave way, I
made for the cabin, but the sea was coming down there enough to smother
one; I went below and got out of the cabin skylight to leeward, and got
up the side of the chain-plates of the fore-rigging; this broke up at
last, and I was thrown over still holding by the chain plates, which
held some four planks together, and I was thrown upon the rocks in a
heap of timber and rubbish; we made one signal before we struck; we
burnt a blue-light; the steward held it in a bit of paper and burnt it
all; he held it over the port side; this light was visible for three or
four minutes; he got orders from the captain to do this before the
vessel struck; no one was near me when I was washed away; she kept
breaking up from aft, and I kept getting forward until at last I reached
the chain plates of the fore-rigging; I was washed away with planks and
broken timber upon a shelf of rock, but immediately on the sea receding
I got up a bit higher out of reach of the back current; we saw no
vessel; we could not stand off the land more than we were doing; I heard
nothing said about the captain not wishing to get further off the land
for fear of being driven to the northward; the captain could not stand
off the land more than he did; he did all that he could to keep off the
land so far as I can judge; I expected, when we squared away, that we
were going into the entrance of the harbour; I did not hear anybody say
this, but I thought from the squaring away that we were so; nobody said
that they saw the North Head; there was no opening that I could see that
would lead any one to believe that they were going into port; I only saw
the light; I was not frightened of anything; I thought it was all right,
and that we were going into harbour; this was my idea until the second
mate gave the alarm; the part that struck first was the port bow; she
struck the rocks below first, and then bumped heavily over them; the
vessel herself could not have formed a breakwater for lowering boats to
the leeward; besides, the boats went with the first sea; the sea did not
break right over her, and even when the weather side broke up the lee
side offered some shelter; there is no truth in the report that the long
boat was launched, and that some of the passengers were put into it; I
am sure there had been no drinking aboard; we had a glass of grog at 12
o'clock; the men were all very steady; they were good men, and many of
them were working their passages out at a shilling a month, intending to
stop in the country; when I got ashore I could see nothing, for the rain
and darkness, and I could hear nothing but the roaring of the surf; I
saw nobody besides myself anywhere; the first thing I saw in the morning
was the dead bodies brought in by the sea, and carried out by the under
tow; the ship was completely broken up, nothing remained but her fore
yard; I could see no persons; I was about ten yards above the sea, and
the spray came over me as the seas broke below; there was no hollow or
anything; underneath me, on the lower ledge, you could go a long way in
under the rock, but I liked to get higher up rather than to go in under
there; I had on a blue shirt, a singlet, and drawers; I hove everything
off--boots, trousers, and pea coat, when the first alarm was given; we
saw the light only a few minutes before the vessel struck. The witness,
who was further interrogated at some length by the Coroner and the
Foreman, gave his testimony in a very frank and straightforward manner,
and was followed by Captain Wiseman, of the Grafton, steamer, at the
conclusion of whose evidence the Court adjourned for the purpose of
allowing the jury to attend the funeral procession.

When the inquest was subsequently resumed, Mr. A. Fletcher (master of
the Nora Creina Steamer, trading to Shoalhaven) gave his evidence,
followed by Messrs. Gorman and Raphael. In the course of the melancholy
enquiry, the Coroner took occasion to speak in high terms of the zeal
exhibited by Captain M'Lerie, Mr. North, Inspectors Brown, Weale, and
Cowell, and the police and citizens generally, in the painful task of
recovering the bodies of the sufferers, and in preserving the property
belonging to the wreck. The evidence having been finished the Coroner
addressed the Jury on the duty they owed to the public, themselves, and
the lamented captain of the wrecked vessel, and urged upon them the
necessity of acting justly and conscientiously in the discharge of their
important functions.

THE VERDICT.--After some deliberation, the following verdict was
returned:--"The jury find that the bodies viewed are those of some of
the passengers and crew of the ship Dunbar, out of London, commanded by
Captain Green, and bound to this port, and that the ship Dunbar was
wrecked outside the Sydney Heads, close to the Gap, on the night of
Thursday, the 20th August last, causing the death of the said parties;
there may have been an error of judgment in the vessel being so close to
the shore at night in such bad weather, but the jury do not attach any
blame to Captain Green or his officers for the loss of the Dunbar. The
jury consider it their duty to put on record their opinion that the
present Pilot arrangements for this port are most inadequate, and desire
to draw the attention of the Government to the matter."

This concluded the proceedings, and the jury were discharged.


The procession moved from the dead-house at a little before five
o'clock. There were seven hearses, preceded by two officers of the
Mounted Police force. Each hearse was attended on its side by mounted
policemen, under the command of Captain M'Lerie. The last hearse
contained the remains of Captain Steine, a retired naval officer, and
the coffin was wrapped in the Union Jack, and was followed by a company
of sailors and two officers of her Majesty's ship _Herald_ and _Iris_.

There were four mourning coaches and a long string of carriages, of
which that of the Hon. Stuart A. Donaldson took the lead. One of the
mourners attending the funeral was Captain Macbeth, uncle to the late
Captain Green.

The band of the Artillery Companies formed a part of the procession, and
played the "Dead March from Saul" with fine effect. A company of
Artillery with two officers, between whom rode his Excellency the
Governor's Aide-de-Camp followed. The footpaths throughout the streets
of this city were literally walled with people. In proportion to the
number of inhabitants, never can we recollect a scene in which the
feeling of the people was so keenly and manifestly exhibited.

The shops were, with one or two exceptions, closed along the whole line
of road, and the streets thronged with silent and awe-struck spectators,
many of whom seemed much moved, while the knell, sounding from some of
the church bells, and flags hoisted half mast high, added materially to
the general gloom.

It was night before the funeral reached the Cemetery at O'Connell Town,
where the last sad obsequies were performed. The Rev. C. C. Kemp read
the service for the dead, in portions of which the large concourse
joined reverently: and, having taken a last look at the grave, began
slowly to disperse. It has been remarked that, although the _time_ had
not been specially chosen for the ceremony, the calmness of a dim
moonlight seemed not unsuited to the close of one of the most painful
tragedies which has yet taken its place in the annals of our Colony.

Opinions are of course somewhat divided as to the manner in which
(judging from Johnson's evidence and other circumstances) the ill-fated
Dunbar was commanded and manoeuvred on that dark and memorable night; as
to the amount of censure (if any) to be attached to Captain Green, and
as to numerous material facts, a large number of persons exonerate the
captain altogether; others, although delivering themselves with
moderation and delicacy, feel compelled to consider that much lamented
gentleman to have been in some degree to blame for his orders and
arrangements previous to the catastrophe. This latter view of the matter
has found a forcible but temperate expression in the columns of the
_Sydney Morning Herald_, on the 25th instant, in striking and eloquent
language. The justice however of such a view has not been generally
recognised, either by the public, or the friends of Captain Green. It is
easy for landsmen and other self-constituted critics to pass sentence
now on that brave man, whose cause must be judged in his absence--the
inexorable King of Terrors having forbidden him to enter upon his
defence, or even to hear his accusers. Nevertheless, it should be borne
in mind that the land at Botany, seen at about 7 p.m. on Thursday night,
was made by mere dead reckoning, the commander not having (as it would
appear) seen the sun for several days; the time when it was so made
being already night, the weather dark, tempestuous, and rainy. What if
the land thus seen through the murky atmosphere were but so imperfectly
observed that Captain Green might well be deceived as to its real
distance, and reasonably suppose himself to be a mile or two nearer to,
or farther off from it than he actually was? Would not that very
probable circumstance interfere with the course to be pursued, and
justify (nay even demand) measures, which have under adverse
circumstances, been attended with such unhappy results? Dead upon a lee
shore at an uncertain distance, and with a most uncertain light, the
wind and sea both setting in fearfully towards the land, it may have
been an awful fact, known only to one brave heart who fought it out to
the last, that under all these conjunctures the sailing qualities of the
Dunbar would _not_ permit her to keep out to sea that night. Hour after
hour, minute after minute, notwithstanding all careful steering she made
a lee-way, which, no change of wind occurring, must at last have thrown
her bodily somewhere upon the coast. This lee-way could not be securely
calculated upon, even by him who knew the Dunbar so well, because his
first idea of distance when he sighted Botany was, to say the least,
uncertain, if not untrue. Captain Green shaped his course for the North
Head (it was of that he spoke at the last), but he only fetched the
fatal rocks at the Gap. It seems doubtful to many if he could have done
anything more than what he did do, and thus his duty to the utmost
performed, Green met his death with calmness, as a brave man should. The
only particular pang that might then have shot through him would be
this--that he would be more or less condemned unheard, carrying with him
his own strong, unanswerable defence. God alone knows all he had to
struggle against, and to weigh in his mind that night.

One good result of this will probably be that we shall at length have
proper arrangements for lighting the rocky portal of our harbour, and
for something less feeble and inefficient than our present Pilot
system; crying defects for which it is ungenerous and unjust to blame a
Government recently formed, and still struggling against a powerful
Opposition. These two discreditable items are legacies for which, others
are virtually, although no longer legally, responsible. The following
practical remarks from a well known Colonial author on these matters
appeared in the _Sydney Morning Herald_ of the 26th instant, and seem to
merit particular attention. "I begin," says the writer, "by denying the
assertion often made, that Sydney Heads are safe to enter in any
weather; still, let it be understood that I speak of nightwork only.
With the wind off the land, smooth water, moon, stars, and all other
assistances of that kind, it may be well enough, but even then it is fit
to shake the nerves of a man coming off a long voyage, when he gets
fairly in the entrance--for the light is then lost--and sees nothing but
the towers of black rock in one unbroken line frowning defiance at him.
If such be the coast when a weather-shore, what must it be when a lee
one. The harbour is well enough to _make_, no one can contradict that,
but with a strong wind blowing on the land--the ship scudding, and thick
sudden showers of rain, the characteristic of our east winds, making the
darkness impenetrable; there perhaps is not another port in the world
more terribly confusing to a seaman to _enter_ than the loudly-lauded
one of Sydney. In most other ports, or estuaries, many mistakes may be
made, and yet with little or no loss of life; here there only can be one
made, but that is the final and fatal one. An error of a little
half-mile, as in the case of the poor Dunbar, and all is lost; a single
look from the most inexperienced eye reads on that rampart of cliffs
nothing but rude and mangled death. If I have said anything to shake the
general belief that Sydney is such a safe port to enter, let us now see
what may be done to make it safer, and to prevent, if possible, by human
means, the recurrence of two such shipwrecks as have slain their
hundreds before our eyes. [Alluding to the wreck of the Edward Lombe in
1834.] Although with only an interval of some twenty-three years between
them, methinks we have had time to think over the matter, and now to
move ourselves.

Prevention the first.--_More lights._ Had I--or any other, a twelvemonth
ago, written as much, we should have been "pooh poohed" for our pains;
had we been able to advance the matter in the House of Parliament, we
should have been told by the Opposition, or the Government, whichever
had the economical perplexity at the time, that "the country could not
afford any more lights." But "the country" can't, and the people won't
afford any more losses like the last one, and therefore now it can be
both boldly said and written, that something must and shall be done in
the matter.

As to the situation of any more lights for the entrance to Port Jackson,
no doubt there will be many opinions. The North Head has been mentioned
as a site for this leading light, but my own convictions, borne out by
the judgment of others of great experience, goes against the North Head
_only_ being lighted; and if only one light should be added, that there
is another situation preferable. Because every seaman knows that a light
on a high cliff in thick rain squalls, which is the weather we have here
to dread, is not so easily seen as a light placed a moderate distance
above the water's edge. Therefore, if one light only should be added,
that light should be placed where the turning point of the entrance
takes place--in this case the _low_ point of the South Reef--a red light
visible eight miles. And perhaps it would not be at all amiss to say, in
the Sailing Directions for the Port of Sydney (a copy of which, by the
way, I have not seen for a long time in places of resort for seamen,
being very likely out of print), that unless such leading light is seen,
no sailing vessel with an east wind at night (coasters excluded) should
attempt the entrance without a pilot, as long as she can keep to
sea.--Having stumbled upon the word pilot, we may write--

Prevention second.--A more effective system of pilotage at Port Jackson
Heads. Let me be understood when I say effective system of pilotage,
because I do not for a moment throw blame or slur upon the pilots now at
the Heads, but I think it disgraceful to the Government of New South
Wales that such a paltry _system_ should be kept alive when I see the
way they manage things in Melbourne. It strikes me very forcibly that a
pilot-cutter--one of those crafts that can keep the sea in any weather,
would be very beneficial in preventing any more wrecks like that of the
Dunbar. And I venture it as my opinion, that had such a vessel, with
six, or any other number of good men and true in her, been cruising off
the Sydney Heads, we should not now have to lament the loss of the ship
Dunbar, and all hands, save one, on the night of August 20th, 1857. That
cutter would have been cruising on such a night with Sydney lights
bearing from N.N.W. to W.N.W., or thereabouts, distant from 10 to 15
miles, she would in all probability have put a pilot on board the Dunbar
(if Johnson's account is correct) with daylight, and before the gale
came on. Had the cutter not been able to board the ship, the latter
would have been ordered to answer the flash-light which all pilot
vessels burn every half-hour, and there is little doubt that men
intimately acquainted with coasting work, which long-voyage ship-masters
cannot possibly be, would have seconded the first order by an urgent
request to make more sail and keep to sea, if possible; or, had the
pilots deemed the entrance at all practicable, yet without being able to
board the ship, the latter would have been directed to follow in the
wake of the cutter, as is continually done on the coast of England.

D. P."

       *       *       *       *       *

More bodies have been discovered in the North Harbour, since the
compilation of the foregoing narrative, but they have not, it is
believed, been yet identified. The matter of wreck was mentioned in the
House of Assembly, on Tuesday evening last. A debate thereon seemed at
one time likely to supervene, but the discussion was very properly
stopped by the Speaker as irregular.

Our readers may be interested to learn that poor Johnson has a trade
(that of a rough carpenter) and does not purpose for the present, at all
events, to return to the dangers of a seafaring life. We beg to suggest
that a _shilling subscription_ be set on foot in his behalf, so as to
buy him tools and clothing, and thus set him up in business. We feel
confident that if the subscription be made, thus low, hundreds will
willingly contribute. The Right Worshipful the Mayor, Captain McLerie,
and the Police Magistrates, who have already taken so warm an interest
in the sad event would doubtless not refuse their aid and sanction to
what is now proposed.

       *       *       *       *       *

A short description of the locality where the late melancholy
catastrophe occurred may be interesting to those not acquainted with it.
From the outer South Head (near which the lighthouse stands) to the
South Reef, at the entrance of Port Jackson, the distance is about a
mile and a half. It is between these two points that the catastrophe
occurred. The coast is very high and steep, and, indeed, may be said to
be inaccessible. Next to the South Reef is a small bight, commonly known
as the Gap, and here are large table rocks nearly level with the surface
of the water, and as smooth as if cut by the chisel of the mason. Here,
more perhaps than anywhere else, the breakers roll in with excessive

The Gap is a very short distance from the flagstaff at South Head, near
which place it is supposed the DUNBAR struck. In the fearful sea that
was running on Thursday night it is a miracle that a single soul has
been saved. Here in fact, must have been the place where the ship went
ashore, as on the morning of the wreck no traces of the ship could be
seen further south. When, however, the ebb tide made, the wreck would of
course be sent towards the entrance of the port, and the easterly wind
and sea, assisted by the subsequent flood tide, would drift the bodies
and floating masses into Middle Harbour, where, indeed, the greater
portion of the debris and a number of bodies were found to be deposited.

James Fryer, Machine and General Printing Office,
322, George-street, Sydney.

[Illustration: Map]

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Narrative of the Melancholy Wreck of the "Dunbar"" ***

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