Part One: voyage of the barque ‘Charles Eaton’


Chapter One

by Veronica Peek

John Ireland went to sea and became a famous ship’s boy. For decades, seafarers resigned to the terrors of cyclones and shipwrecks linked his name to their worst nightmares and darkest fears. What happened to him had a tragic impact on Australia’s development as a nation, with frightful and bloody retaliation the inevitable consequence.

A 19th-century cottage in Barn Street, Stoke Newington. Demolished c.1930s. Photographer: Alexander Guttridge.

His story began to unfold in September 1833, when he set off through London’s streets to St Katharine’s Dock on the River Thames. At one of the dockyard’s moorings was a new ship in need of a boy to assist with the fit out and John had just been hired for the job. He was leaving behind his parents, George and Charlotte Ireland,1 at Stoke Newington,2 a village about three miles from the London post office on the verge of becoming a suburb. Wealthy merchants had discovered it as a rural retreat close to the city, and were lining its main roads with mansions. John’s parents, however, lived at 7 Barn Street,3 one of the oldest streets in the village. Their home near the corner of busy Church Street was part of a row of workers cottages. By 1832 the entrance to St Mary’s parish school was in Barn Street, a few doors from the Ireland house. It taught about 110 students at any given time, in an antiquated building shaded by trees.4

John should have received some education, yet his numeracy and literacy skills were poor. Dispatching sons of employment age to the merchant marines was a stock solution for cash-strapped parents, willing to ignore all that talk of savage beatings and watery graves. More often, the boys themselves had dreams of escaping quiet schoolrooms or raucous rookeries for a sailor’s life on the waves.

John was born on Christmas Day, 1818, and christened on 17 January 1819 at the old St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington.5 He would later describe his parents as ‘aged’ (Sydney Herald 27 Oct. 1836) but in 1833 they were still in their thirties.6 George was a bricklayer, making a living from the new housing estates springing up in the area. He had five surviving children to support, ranging in age from John, who was approaching 15, to baby Eliza.7 His oldest son, George Jnr, was already an apprentice printer.

By the 1830s Stoke Newington was already being transformed into a suburb of London with streets of three-storied mansions. This old hand-coloured postcard is from a later period.

 When John passed through St Katharine’s gate and saw the Charles Eaton for the first time he had no reason to be displeased. She was a fine-looking barque, registered at 314 tons to carry 350 tons burden,8 and was about to embark on her first real trading venture to the Australian penal colonies, having just arrived from a shipbuilding yard at Coringa, near Madras in India. She was named after Captain Charles Eaton, a former port master at Coringa.9 Advertised for sale soon after her arrival in London, she was described in the Guardian and Public Ledger (6 Sept. 1833) as having: two flush decks, forecastle, bust head and quarter galleries, and is coppered to the wales in chunam [lime plaster] and felt’, the latter two being a common base for the copper sheathing of hulls. Her most attractive feature for first-class passengers was her two quarter galleries, common on the large merchant ships servicing the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), but much less so on small merchant vessels the size of the Charles Eaton. Externally, they added extra decoratively-carved touches to the sides of the ships stern; internally they were usually tiny windowed WCs (water closets) with their toilet holes over the sea.They were an extra luxury and could only be used by the occupants of the two largest poop cabins at the stern. The respectable shipping company, Gledstanes & Co, accustomed to such features on their India-bound ships perhaps, wasted no time in adding the Charles Eaton to their fleet.

Example of rear poop cabins with quarter galleries, an additional attraction for small merchant ships.

The barque was lovely to look at and acceptable by the standards of her day, but she was not particularly seaworthy. British-designed merchant ships had deep, flat-bottomed hulls and holds capable of carrying cargo well in excess of their registration. When blown by the wind towards a lee shore or reef they responded slowly to any efforts to alter course, with potentially dire consequences for all aboard them.

St Katharine Docks c. 1830s.
St Katharine Docks on the Thames as it looked c. 1830s. Note the tall warehouses encircling the docks but also the rickety cottages of riverside Wapping. Steel engraving by Joseph Swain from an original study by William Henry Prior, published in Cassell’s Old and New London Illustrated, London: Cassell, 1880.

John was one of the first of the new crew hired for the forthcoming voyage, his wage being no more than a few shillings a week.10 Since her arrival from Coringa the barque had been without a master. Captain Frederick George Moore, ex-HEIC, had now filled the vacant post. John was the apprentice steward but in the meantime, he had to run messages, scrub decks, stoke fires and fill water casks. As far as his employers were concerned, he was a cabin boy, with whatever additional duties that role entailed. The rest of the crew came aboard when departure was imminent. Tom Haviside was the shipping agent and he placed the following notice in the 5 October 1833 edition of The Times:

For Van Diemen’s Land. – To sail on the 1st of November direct for Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney, the fine new teak ship Charles Eaton, burden 350 tons, F. Moore, late of H.C.S., Commander—lying in the St. Katharine Dock. This ship has superior poop accommodation, and 6 feet 6 inches heights between decks, having been built expressly for passengers, is well manned and armed, and carries a skilful surgeon. For freight or passage apply to the Commander, on board; or to T. Haviside and Co., 147 Leadenhall street. . .

Gledstanes & Co., the barque’s new owner, already had a fleet of East Indiamen servicing India and China.11 The Charles Eaton was its newest and smallest vessel and the right choice to test the Australian market.12 The broker began advertising her with great vigour but passenger bookings were slow.

Example of a single cabin.

One cabin passenger who did book early was a young, London-based lawyer, George Armstrong.13 Irish-born Armstrong was about 25 years old and acquainted with Captain Moore through Gledstanes or a mutual friend.14 He was planning to set up a practice at Canton in China. Taking the long route via Australia aboard a potential client’s new ship was a smart move. Gledstanes was venturing into the lucrative Canton market and would need an agent there. Armstrong invested in a quantity of wine and added it to the cargo in the hold. He would easily sell all of it at Sydney and it would help defray the cost of his passage.15 He was adventurous and ambitious, with an interest in commerce.

Throughout October and November 1833, the broker received bills of lading for cargo booked to the barque. A large quantity of calico bales and 410 lead ingots came from Messrs Gledstanes, Drysdale and Co.,16 a merchant arm of the owner company. It was common for ship owners to top up their holds with their own speculative cargo when there were insufficient paid consignments. Gledstanes entrusted its cargo to Captain Moore, who would sell or barter it as the opportunity arose. His background with the HEIC’s merchant navy adequately equipped him for that role.17 Elsewhere in the hold were stacks of alcohol for Sydney – puncheons, cases, casks and hogsheads of wine, brandy and port.18 The rest of the space was filled with sundry cargo, ship’s stores and passengers’ goods, including quite possibly a piano. The Hull family of London had chosen the Charles Eaton for their emigration voyage to South Africa and Mrs Sophia Hull and her two oldest daughters were talented pianists.19

Then came the happy news that the Children’s Friend Society had booked steerage passages for 40 orphans to the Cape of Good Hope.20 It had already shipped six batches of children to Cape Town and was wasting no time in sending more.21 Only some of the children were orphans; many had one or both parents living. They had come to the Society because their parents were either destitute, negligent, or could no longer control them. Some of the boys already had convictions for petty offences, and the Society had rescued them from a reform school.22

Brenton Home for boys at Hackney Wick, run by Children's Friend Society.
Hackney Wick showing the old silk mill that became the Brenton Asylum for boys. Portion of a 19th-century Ordnance map for London and Surrounding Districts.

Many of the boys were coming from the recently established Brenton Asylum at Hackney Wick – a village adjacent to Stoke Newington – where they were given an elementary education, but also taught gardening, domestic chores and other useful skills such as basic bricklaying and carpentry. The Asylum also had ‘a rope-walk round the yard, and a mast; for the pupils were trained for sea’.23

One day in early December, John was climbing the barque’s superstructure of ropes and spars when he fell into the polluted waters of the dock. The chief mate, Frederick ‘Fred’ Clare, instantly dived into the water and saved him from drowning. John needed a hero and he got one. Thereafter he would never speak a bad word against the chief mate.24 Clare was 29 years old and a first-rate officer. He had travelled from India on the barque’s maiden voyage as the second mate, but since had a promotion to chief mate.25 His father was the Rev. John Clare, now widowed and semi-retired to the Wolverhampton Deanery in Staffordshire.26 The Rev. Clare’s loving influence made it inevitable that Christian faith would govern his son’s actions. One day the chief mate would make an excellent captain. In his present performance was that promise for his future.

The newly appointed second mate, William Mayor, was a Londoner with a sister who would soon be emigrating to Australia with her family,27 while the ship’s surgeon was listed on crew manifests simply as F. or R. Grant. Captain Moore, meanwhile, had been hiring his crew. Ten general hands signed on with their standard sea-kits – a pannikin, one or two utensils, a change of clothes and a thin straw mattress. Their identifying uniform was still their wet-weather tarpaulin, a tar-coated hat sometimes fashioned as a sou’wester. Their duck trousers were firm on the hips and loose at the ankles, while woollen pea jackets were comfortable for men who spent their working hours climbing rigging.28 Reputation branded them as uncouth. They had to put up with tough and tasteless rations and a fair amount of savage persecution from the captain and his mates on the quarterdeck. The cramped and crowded forecastle (fo’c’s’le) where they ate and slept was also a hotbed of gossip about the captain, the passengers and anyone who had some control over privileges. Shipboard journals, usually kept by passengers, have typically described ships’ crews as either decent enough as sailors go, or ‘as bad a set of lubbers as ever worked a ship’.29

In Leadenhall Street, not far from St Katherine’s Dock, there was at that time a wine shop and wholesaler partly owned by John Wardell. It catered for sailors and stevedores and Captain Moore was a regular customer. So much so, that John Wardell and his brother, William, were his closest friends. Ex-HEIC Moore was accustomed to private trading and may have encouraged George Armstrong to do the same. On the 13 December 1833, he entrusted his last will and testament to the Wardell brothers.30 In it he left most of whatever he owned at the time of death to his ‘excellent mother’ if then alive, otherwise brother James if then alive, otherwise his two sisters likewise.

One week later, on 20 December, apparently Moore wrote and signed a codicil appointing William Wardell and a business partner, Alex Gibbs, as the executors of his will. William Wardell would later say rather fulsomely of Moore that he was a man of ‘known intelligence and enterprise’.31 The image that emerges from Wardell’s own sworn version of events is rather that of a man who was occupied with finalizing his will with a codicil, when he should have been preparing his ship for departure.32 Moore had formerly been a second officer aboard the East Indiaman George IV,33 but had recently left the Company’s service, voluntarily or otherwise. The HEIC was about to lose its trading monopoly over India and China, and was already selling off merchant ships and sacking their seamen and officers, in anticipation of the inevitable reduction in its trade. Moore had returned to London and taken rooms at 26 Charles Street, Saint James Square. He was a middle-aged bachelor, and lived alone.

The Equestrian Coffee House was known for a time as Johnson’s and you can see it on the left in this advertisement, but under William Wardell it reverted back to its original name.

For a period of about 13 years, from 1830 till 1843, William Wardell was the proprietor of the Equestrian Coffee House at 124 Blackfriars Road, Surrey, usually with the help of business partners who came and went, doubtless taking what was left of their investment with them. Like most coffee houses of that era it was also a tea shop, wine bar, tavern and eatery. It was open for as long as there were customers, and that could mean past midnight, serving any theatre-goers or stray night owls who came in for the warmth of a fire, some congenial company and a tuppenny cup of tea. Like many coffee houses though, it was also run as a gentlemen-only club for its own regular clientele, with club facilities and private rooms. Captain Moore would have been a comparatively solitary figure, a stranger in his home city after so many long absences at sea. It’s easy to understand why he was attracted to Wardell’s coffee house and consisted its proprietor his best and most reliable friend.

The young Irish bachelor, George Armstrong, may also have been a newcomer to London in search of compatible company at the coffee house. His friendship with the older and more worldly ship’s master may have blossomed over pots of ale at ye olde Equestrian. In any event, all thoughts of a London practice were abandoned. Armstrong was about to embark on an exciting and life-changing adventure with dreams of amassing a fortune from China tea, perhaps with the help of a few hometown Irish investors.

It had taken Moore only a few months to find work as the master of the Charles Eaton. Ship owners were finding it difficult to hire experienced men to captain their ships on voyages to Australia and were snapping up ex-HEIC officers. It was a big promotion from second officer to ship’s master, especially for someone who had never been to Australia. Moore did, however, buy a copy of Horsburgh’s 1832 chart Passages through the Great Barrier Reef. He was worried about the accuracy of some of the charts for his forthcoming route. That sense of his own mortality is reflected in his will and testament, with its emphasis on past sins and God-willing salvation. He described no specific assets in it, apart from £400 to his brother, but HEIC ships officers usually made a good second income from private trade. The late codicil seems dodgy and may have been dreamed up to expedite the will for the benefit of Moore’s aged mother. You could also argue that it simplified the payment of creditors’ claims.

On 19 December 1833, with the winds finally favourable, the Charles Eaton sailed. The waifs from the Children’s Friend Society had boarded at London on 10 December, presumably with Mrs Sophia Hull, who would supervise the girls. The barque reached the Downs on 23 December, where she collected the bulk of her passengers.

The rest of the passengers for Cape Town and Australia now embarked, bringing with them their portable trunks, bedding, washbasins and other items recommended by the booking agent, such as sand and sandstone bricks, used for scrubbing down steerage decks. The bulk of their larger baggage had been loaded at London. The waifs numbered 18 girls and 22 boys and they ranged in age from 9 to 14. At least an additional 13 steerage passengers, including children, were going to Australia, although the real number was probably higher. Published passenger lists for steerage were sketchy at best.34 Most of them had travelled to the coastal village of Deal, in Kent, booking into boarding houses until it was time to board their ship, lying at anchor in the Downs, the roadstead for the English Channel. On any given day, there were usually dozens – but sometimes hundreds – of masters and commanders patiently waiting for the right winds to blow their ships safely through the dangerous waterway.

Sophia Hull probably embarked at London, while her husband, Henry, their eight children and Henry’s sister, Katharine embarked at Deal.35 Sophia was supervising the female juveniles from the Children’s Friend Society and had already hired one of them as a servant, while another girl, having presumably just lost or given up her own infant, was engaged as a wet nurse for the Sophia’s baby.36

After a two-day stopover, the Charles Eaton weighed anchor for the Channel. Christmas day – and John’s 15th birthday – was passed quietly while they were still off the village of Deal, with many of the passengers too busy vomiting into their washbasins to care tuppence about special treats. They were too seasick to do anything at all, let alone cook and eat a rich pudding.37

On 27 December the barque arrived at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, but was detained once more by unfavourable winds. Eight days later she quit the port, and was passing by the rocky outcrop known as the Needles when she collided with a schooner, which struck her across the bow, breaking off the bowsprit mast. ‘This accident caused great alarm among the passengers,’ commented the cabin boy, John Ireland, many years later, ‘and more especially among the children.’38 Well yes but the news when they received it in London must have alarmed the Messrs Gledstanes as well. There was nothing they could do about it though, except cross their fingers and hope they had hired the right master.

The accident forced the barque back to Cowes until the ship’s American carpenter, 33-year-old Laurence Constantine, had repaired the bowsprit and replaced the jib boom. As for the schooner, she was beyond repair. She made it back to Cowes but never put to sea again. The unexpected delay made it inevitable that some of the passengers would make up shore parties and put one of the small boats to use as a ferry. Captain Moore came back one day with a Newfoundland dog called Portland. As ship’s dogs go, he was a good choice. Newfoundlands are large and shaggy, but also intelligent, docile, and outstanding long-distance swimmers, known to have saved people washed overboard. The ship carried the usual caged livestock, but Portland would have ranked much higher in the entertainment stakes with the children.

 Newfoundland dogs were good ship's dogs.
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802–1873), Saved. Oil on canvas. A good example of how Newfoundland dogs were viewed in the 19th century. They were considered ideal ship’s dogs.

For a vessel to have an accident while leaving port on a maiden voyage was a particularly bad omen. There is no reason to believe, however, that while the children were aboard her, the barque was anything other than a happy ship. The voyage was their last chance to savour the remnants of their childhood. Unfortunately for the young seafarers there were further delays when storms lashed England’s southern coast, forcing all ships to take refuge in ports.39 For the seamen, dressed in their waterproof hats and jackets, the daily routine of rotating four-hour watches continued unabated. For the passengers it must have been a torture of boredom and discomfort. Only when the swells had moderated would they have ventured up on deck, to stretch their limbs and blink at rain-drenched Cowes.

When John Ireland had hugged his baby sister, Eliza, before his ship sailed, it really was a last farewell. While he was still sogging it out in Cowes, Eliza died aged 16 months.40 Perhaps that drenching winter was the death of her. It would be many years before the cabin boy caught up with the news. His suffering parents had now buried two daughters called Eliza in the graveyard at Stoke Newington’s St Mary’s church.

On 1 February 1834, the barque finally got under way again. She arrived at Falmouth in Cornwall four days later and loaded more cargo, plus at least one more steerage passenger. Eight days later the barque was underway ‘with a good wind, and every prospect of a happy voyage,’ according to John.41 What joy and relief for everyone but especially for the captain, who had to account for expenses. It had taken his ship seven weeks to quit England’s shores and there were well over 100 people on board, rapidly eating their way through the ship’s rations.

Tom Allom, Falmouth in Cornwall c. 1832
Falmouth in Cornwall. For many emigrants it was their last glimpse of Britain’s shores. John Britton & E. W. Brayley, authors, Cornwall Illustrated, Thomas Allom artist. Hand-colouring added at a later date. London: Fisher & Co, 1830–1832. Handcoloured version copyright the author.

Notes to Chapter 1

  1. UK Census, 1841.
  2. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  3. Ireland, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  4. The 1848 tithe map for Stoke Newington has a good image of Barn Street and its little worker cottages. John described it as being on the corner of Church Street, which locates it almost exactly. By 1832 the St Mary’s parish school was in Barn Street, a few doors from the Ireland house, so John should have received some education. Prior to that it was just around the corner in Church street.
  5. International Genealogy Index (IGI), St Mary’s birth and christening records.
  6. Sydney Herald, 27 Oct., 1836.
  7. Birth and baptism records from St Mary’s Stoke Newington, give us the following offspring for George and Charlotte in 1832: George, born 1817; John 1818; Eliza 1824, d. 1825; Charlotte 1826; Mary 1828; James 1830; Eliza 1832 (died 1834).
  8. Lloyd’s Register of British and International Shipping, 1834. Microfiche.
  9. ‘India Shipping’, Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australias, vol. XVI, 1834, pp. 181–82. The barque appears to have been named after Captain Charles Eaton, a former ship’s captain, trader and owner of several ships. When he gave up the seafaring life he settled ashore as the Port Master at Coringa, a town in the south of India to the north of Madras (Chennai). He died there in 1827. One of his daughters, Sophia, married William Gibson, at one time the manager of a shipbuilding yard in the region. Eaton’s son, Captain Charles W. Eaton, took over his father’s role as Coringa’s Port Master from 1828–1838 and he was the part-owner of at least three merchant ships. The barque was named in honour of Captain Charles Eaton Snr/Jnr, before Gledstanes & Co. bought her in London. Under the command of Captain Fowle, she arrived in London with 1000 chests of indigo worth about £45,000. On 14 June 1833 ‘Lloyd’s Shipping List’, had noted that: ‘The cargo saved from the James Sibbald, wrecked off Coringa, has been reshipped per Charles Eaton’.
  10. A weekly wage of 7s 6d was paid to ship’s boys hired as ordinary seamen. See ‘Letter to Editor’ from Captain W. S. Deloitte, The Times, 2 Sept. 1837.
  11. See the London Times, 24, 26 & 29 Aug. 1872, for the story of Gledstanes’ disastrous collapse.
  12. A list of ships owned by Gledstanes in 1833–1834 can be gleaned from the ‘India Shipping’ pages of the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register . . . for the years 1834–1836.
  13. Sydney Monitor, 5 July 1834 also lists a Mr William Young and a Lieut Bullock as being ‘in the cabin’ on her arrival at Hobart Town. They were not on the passenger list ex-London and probably boarded at the Downs.
  14. William Bayley file, letter from unknown writer to Bayley, 25 Dec. 1835. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. The writer’s name has been almost covered over, but the address is given as Rathicar in Ireland. George Armstrong was self-described as ‘esquire’, i.e. owned property, but no other details. In Sydney he may have posted a letter to Thomas H [St?] George Armstrong at Banagher (Sydney Herald, 10 Nov. 1834) but not confirmed.
  15. ‘Import Trade List’, Sydney Herald, Supplement, 21 July 1834.
  16. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 6.
  17. Allan E. Bax, ‘Australian Merchant Shipping, 1788–1849’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, vol. XXXVIII, part VI, 1952, pp. 274–75.
  18. Sydney customs list for barque: 400 pigs lead, 5 puncheons and 10 hogsheads brandy, 3 casks and 22 cases wine, 1 trunk of boots and shoes, 37 bales of woollen cloths, 7 cases of cambrics and calicoes (Captain Moore); 10 hogsheads porter (Campbell & Co.); 6 casks and 12 cases of wine (George Armstrong); 20 casks of blacking (Dawes, Gore & Co.); 15 cases and 10 casks of wine (J. G. Richardson); 3 cases of ribbons (J. Atterson); 1 bale paper, 3 cases haberdashery, 33 cases and 2 casks ironmongery (Marsden & Co.); 60 casks and 10 tons of loose salt (A. B. Spark); 6 cases and 1 bale of woollens and linens, 1 case of silks (T. Smith); see Supplement to the Sydney Herald, vol. IV, no. 285, 21 July 1834. In addition, enough alcohol, cottons and haberdashery were delivered to Hobart Town in Van Dieman’s Land to make it worthwhile as the first Australian port of call.
  19. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  20. According to Ireland’s account, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 7, the children were bound for Hobart Town. However, they were definitely delivered to Cape Town.
  21. Captain Edward Pelham Brenton founded the Children’s Friend Society in 1830. He opened the Brenton Juvenile Asylum in Hackney Wick, where orphaned, pauper or ‘at risk’ boys were taught agriculture. In 1834 the society opened a home for girls at Chiswick where they were taught domestic service. From 1832–1838 the society sent a large number of children to South Africa, but also to Canada and the Swan River Settlement in Western Australia. When the Society was forced to close in 1839 as a consequence of public criticism, Captain Brenton died soon after from grief and disappointment.
  22. Charles Forss, Practical Remarks on the Education of the Working Classes; with an account of the plan pursued under the superintendence of the Children’s Friend Society at the Brenton Asylum, Hackney Wick, London: S. W. Fores, 1835.
  23. Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan, Mary A. De Morgan ed., Threescore Years and Ten . . . , New York: Cambridge University Press, 1895, digitally published 2011, pp. 193–94.
  24. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 3.
  25. His father was not aware that he had been promoted and assumed he was still the second officer. See William Bayley file, letter from Clare to Bayley, 18 Aug. 1836, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  26. Frederick Clare: christened 8 April 1804 at Bushbury, Staffordshire, fourth of seven children born to Rev. John Clare and his wife, Ellen. Source: International Genealogical Index (IGI). He was raised with his siblings in the vicarage in Sandy Lane, adjacent to the Bushbury church. His father was also the vicar of Wednesfield and a JP. In 1827 Rev. Clare moved to North Street, Wolverhampton, where he died in July 1839.
  27. Possibly christened 1808 and aged about 25 but not confirmed. Source: IGI. William Mayor’s sister Elizabeth married Henry Bull in 1832. Source: IGI.
  28. See Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, London: Heron Books, 1968, p. 1. First published 1840. Dana sailed as seaman on 15 August 1834. Dana’s description of a sailor’s clothing corresponds with drawings of sailors produced in 1837 to illustrate the Charles Eaton story, some of which were published in Ireland’s book.
  29. Sir John Herschel, Herschel at the Cape, David S. Evans et al (eds), Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1969, p. 9. Extract from shipboard diary, 1834.
  30. Moore’s new will and codicil, held at the UK’s National Archives.
  31. Wemyss, 1884, p. 16.
  32. Moore’s new will and codicil, UK National Archives.
  33. Wardell’s sworn affidavit in relation to Moore’s will and codicil. UK National Archives.
  34. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 July 1834 and post for list of names.
  35. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  36. Geoff Blackburn, The Children’s Friend Society: Juvenile Emigrants to Western Australia, South Africa and Canada, 1834–1842, Access Press: Northbridge, Western Australia, 1993. p. 171.
  37. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  38. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 4.
  39. The shipping news columns of the colonies’ papers show that all of the ships destined for Australia at that time arrived much later than expected. Later, Moore would report in Hobart Town that all shipping ex-England had been delayed by storms.
  40. Source:
  41. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 7.



Chapter 2: A Shipload of Children

It took almost three months to reach Cape Town, but those aboard the barque soon settled into the routine of the Atlantic leg of voyages to the south. We can reduce most accounts of such voyages to a catalogue of common experiences. There was usually at least one severe storm while skirting the Bay of Biscay in winter, for example, which terrified the wits out of passen­gers and any novices in the crew. Fortunately, the Charles Eaton crossed the Bay intact.

Coal hole of survey barque HMS Beagle, built in 1820, in the bow hold with chain locker, sail storage and water casks. The hold of the Charles Eaton would have been similar.

A typical day at the quarter galley, on the quarterdeck close to the aft hatch, began at first light. The galley crew had to scrape the ash pits, collect coal from the coal hole or bunker in the hold, light the stove fires and fill and boil the water coppers. Breakfast was usually from 8.00–9.00 am. Each person got a couple of ship’s biscuits (double-baked bread) and enough hot water for a small pot of sweet tea. Supper at night was the same. The main meal of the day usually consisted of salted meat and one or two vegetables, with some days set aside for soup instead. On most ships, all galley fires were out by 10.00 pm, along with any kerosene swing stoves and lanterns still burning below deck. It was a long working day for the steward and his young assistant, but they were exempt from the four-hour rotating watch and had the benefit of an unbroken night’s sleep.

John’s chores were menial and required little skill. He was not particularly diligent and what little he did learn, he soon forgot. He would later admit that he gained nothing from the voyage that would stand him in good stead as an ordinary seaman.1 A sailor’s standard crafts remained a mystery to his untutored hands. The first-class cabins he helped to service were small and cramped but to those passengers quartered below deck, they were the pinnacle of luxury. Their status came from their exclusive isolation in the elevated poop.

The lower deck had a handful of tiny intermediate or second-class cabins at the stern, separated by a single bulkhead from the open-plan steerage for third-class passengers, which occupied the middle section. The Hull family probably had cabins in the intermediate section, so that Mrs Hull could supervise the girls. The fo’c’s’le at the bow doubled as a storage bunker and the sailors’ sleeping quarters.

Magnificent sketch of the intermediate quarters below deck, with a glimpse of the main hatch and crowded steerage through the open door. Royal Sovereign 1840 voyage. Artist is John Skinner Prout. Illustrated London News, 20 Jan. 1849.

Keeping a large group of children amused and out of harm’s way on a long sea voyage was hard work for everyone. When the vessel was tacking across the wind, it was common for the slippery upper deck to be sloping at an angle of 45 degrees or more, so that even routine tasks such as lining up at the pantry for the handout of rations, or collecting boiling water from the galley stove, were fraught with danger. The boys had their own supervisor but the Society often provided nothing more than a slightly older youth, who acted more like a school prefect. The claustrophobic steerage was also a breeding ground for infections, all but guaranteeing that there would always be patients in the hospital beds.

Ship’s quarter galley, set up between the aft hatch and the stairs to the poop deck. Everyone has their attention on the tap, at the bottom of the hot water urn. Perhaps the urn is low on water. The black smoke from the chimney indicates a coal fire, which also heats the oven and a stove top with its pots and ladles for soup and stew. Royal Sovereign 1840 voyage. Artist is John Skinner Prout. Illustrated London News, 20 Jan. 1849. Horses were common cargo.

There were two types of ship’s boys on merchant ships. Some, like John, were part of the cabin and galley crew. He spent most of his working hours lurking around the cabins and the quarter galley stove. If he applied himself, he might be a steward one day. Ship’s boys hired as general trainees spent more of their time tarring and painting, or aloft in the rigging. In time, they would earn their place in the fo’c’s’le as able seamen. For this voyage, there was one such lad, John Sexton, and the apprentice steward would describe him many years later simply as ‘a boy like myself’.2 John was always vague about this other ship’s boy and they were neither close friends nor bitter enemies. If John ever knew his name – and he must have surely – he soon forgot it.

Thomas ‘Tom’ Prockter Ching and William Perry were the mates’ apprentices and John always referred to them as the ‘two little midshipmen’.5 Ching was the youngest son in a middle-class family in Launceston, Cornwall, Ching being a traditional Cornish name. His father, John Ching, was a wine dealer and apothecary (pharmacist) whose patented treatment for worms had secured the family’s fortunes.6 Tom was 21 years old and diligently studying his way towards becoming a chief mate and, eventually, a master. Perry was probably of a similar age and, like Ching, had joined the ship at London.

The barque had no designated cook. The steward, William Montgomery, prepared basic hot dishes for the first-class cuddy (dining room), but the crew and lower deck passengers got measured rations and had to prepare their own meals. Montgomery wore a white hat to keep sweat and stray hairs out of the cooking pots. It was the common symbol of a ship’s cook but he was also in charge of all dining arrangements and provisions. He carried on his person a pocket watch to anticipate the ringing of the ship’s bell, which signalled the change of watch. Stewards and their assistants often kept themselves apart from the fo’c’s’le, largely because their sleeping hours were different, and sometimes bunked down in the cabin pantry.

When the Charles Eaton crossed the equator, the crew dressed up in makeshift costumes for the usual ceremony of paying tribute to King Neptune. They rigged up a sail between the masts and filled it with water. Any sailor or male passenger deemed to be disrespectful to the king got tossed in, clothes and all.7 According to a descendant, the Hull family males were spared most of the rough stuff but the steerage boys joined in and loved it. It was a good time in the tropical heat for them to have a rough scrubbing down and head shave.

The Island of Trinidade 19th century
The tiny island of Trinidade off the Coast of South America was an important landmark for early sailors. B&W gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage pittoresque autour du monde, vol. I. Paris:Furne et Cir, Libraraires=Editerus, c. 1834.

Once they had finally passed through the tropical calms, the sailors had to deal with the contrary trade winds. The time-honoured technique was to tack across the Atlantic towards the tiny island of Trinidade, about 700 miles ( 1125 kms) off the coast of South America, until they picked up the north-westerly trade winds, which carried them back across the Atlantic to Cape Town. This loop around the Atlantic added greatly to the length of the voyage but catching the trade winds usually shortened the sailing time.

Table Mountain when it finally appeared over the horizon in all its barren splendour was a distant but welcome landfall. Tapering away to the south were the majestic ridges and sandy beaches of the narrow peninsula known as the Cape of Good Hope, lush with wild grasses and cultivated crops, dissected by many streams. Its botanical gifts to the world included watermelon, cantaloupe and geranium. There had been a time when weary seafarers claimed for it no equal on Earth. It is hard to imagine a finer approach to a seaport.

Cape Town in the 1830s.
A beautifully moody sketch of Cape Town in 1834. Philadelphia: N.A. Bible Institute.

Cape Town, with its population of about 25,000, was a novelty for English visitors. The houses looked like they had transplanted from Amsterdam. Most had flat tops and looked roofless when viewed from a distance. Signs of industry were everywhere, in the hurry-scurry of foot and hoof traffic along the streets and in the valleys cultivated with orchards, grain fields and vineyards. The farm workers, however, invariably proved to be slaves. On 1 May 1834, the Cape Town government approved the emancipation of all of the British Empire’s slaves, with the date for their freedom set at 1 December 1834.8 The Cape colonists were alarmed, predicting an acute labour shortage. One easy solution quickly taken up by them was the importation of English children as apprentices. Their impact would prove to be negligible, however, given that there were many more slaves waiting to be set free.9

On that same day, 1 May 1834, the Charles Eaton arrived at Cape Town with her cargo of 40 children and the Cape colonists eagerly snapped them up. They had all arrived safely and in good health. They had many years of labour before they would be free of their apprenticeships, although the girls did have the option of early escape from their bondage through marriage. Apart from the rules governing their punishment and a tiny annual wage, the apprenticeship terms in British colonies were similar to those for transported convicts. Most of the girls found work as domestic servants, while the boys got jobs as farm hands, servants or trade apprentices. Two lads became boat boys, while one lad ended up as a ship’s boy aboard HMS Trinculo, at anchor off Cape Town at the time.10

Dutch housing in Cape Town 1860s
Dutch housing in a suburb of Cape Town. Illustrated London News, 5 March 1864.

A few days later, on 10 May, a local Cape Town resident, John Thomas Buck, sent a letter to the churchwarden of St Luke’s parish in London, and it ended up being published in The Times (14 Aug. 1834). Speaking of the children already delivered to the Cape, Buck remarked: ‘the elder boys have not conducted themselves well, and given much dissatisfaction to their masters, and many of the younger ones have proved troublesome’. His letter triggered the widespread criticism of the exportation of pauper children to the colonies that would ultimately lead to the dismantling of the Children’s Friend Society.

There was a vessel moored in Table Bay that now becomes relevant to those still aboard the Charles Eaton. The Jane and Henry was a South-African-owned, 146-ton brigantine-schooner, recently arrived from Liverpool. As schooners go she was tiny and old, with no rating of any value. She was a sturdy vessel all the same, with more than a dozen long sea voyages to her credit.11 On her previous voyage in 1832–33 she had attracted notoriety when it was found that her master, Captain Robert Latimer, was criminally insane. He was sentenced at Cape Town to six months’ hard labour.12 Fortunately the schooner was now commanded by Thomas Cobern,13 a master mariner and resident of Cape Town. She was loading cargo for the Australian colonies and may have been chartered by a consortium of Cape businessmen. Her cargo consisted of Cape wine in ‘pipes’, which already had a small market in Australia, plus some general merchandise, including china, shawls and pickles. Having discharged her cargo, the Jane and Henry would return to Cape Town via Batavia (now Jakarta). For a time, the small schooner would follow the same route as the Charles Eaton.

From Cape Town, Moore headed south to Australia, going as far as he dared below latitude 40°. When, after a cold but uneventful passage, his crew moored their vessel at Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, their arrival was greeted with more interest than they might have expected – but there was a reason. Most ships’ captains collected local newspapers along their route and passed them on to reporters at their next ports of call. On 28 March, having received November editions of the London papers from a passing ship, the Hobart Town Courier had confidently announced that ‘the ship Charles Eaton, 350 tons, Capt. Moore, . . . may be daily expected with goods from London for this port.’ By mid-April, none of the expected merchant ships had arrived. Unaware of the storms that had delayed their departure from England, the colonists began to fear the worst.14

When the Charles Eaton finally turned up in mid-June and anchored just off the town’s foreshore in Sullivan’s Cove, a reporter from the Courier sought a reason for the long passage from England. Moore explained that he had been held up in England by storms but refrained from mentioning the collision with another vessel that had caused much of the delay. He was soon busy signing bills of lading for additional cargo to Sydney, including five cases of hats and one case of bonnets from a local milliner.15 He also got two more cabin passengers, Mr and Mrs Severin Kanute Salting, who had travelled from the London Docks aboard the brig Meanwell. Moore had a variety of consigned cargo for the port, including barrels of salted meat and fish for a ship’s chandler. He soon discovered, however, that Hobart Town was going through a brief economic downturn and was not particularly receptive to speculative cargo. He managed to sell some alcohol and the usual popular food items such as raisins and treacle for ships’ puddings, but not much else. The Jane and Henry’s captain had little luck in Hobart Town either, and soon sailed for Sydney. Moore did, however, have one more visitor. Captain Thomas D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery was seeking passages to Sourabaya for himself, his family and his Hindu servant. The D’Oylys have left behind a detailed account of their lives, and the chain of events that brought them to that fateful moment. Many of the personalities introduced in the following chapter will re-emerge later to make their contributions to the wake for the voyage of the barque Charles Eaton.

Notes to Chapter 2

  1. Sydney Monitor, 11 Nov. 1836.
  2. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  3. Curtis later wrote an account of the Charles Eaton shipwreck. See John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . to which is added, the Narrative of the Wreck of the Charles Eaton, London: George Untree, 1838.
  4. Captain Carr’s deposition to Lord Mayor of London, The Times, Sept. 1836, p. 3.
  5. William Bayley file, copy of statement by Captain Igglesden, Tigris, 31 July 1836, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. His use of the word ‘midshipmen’ suggests that in common sailor’s parlance it was not a term restricted to apprentice officers in the navy.
  6. See Laurence Green, A Hollow Sea: Thomas Prockter Ching and the barque ‘Charles Eaton’, Ashprington, Devon: RGY Publishing, 2007, for biographical information about Ching’s family.
  7. Email from D. Morris, a descendant of the Hull family, to the author.
  8. John Fisher, The Afrikaners, London: Cassell, 1969, pp. 58, 99.
  9. Lacour-Gayet, Robert, A History of South Africa, Stephen Hardman (trans.), London: Cassell, 1977, p. 71.
  10. Geoff Blackburn, The Children’s Friend Society: Juvenile Emigrants to Western Australia, South Africa and Canada, 1834–1842, Northbridge, Western Australia: Access Press, 1993, pp. 170–71.
  11. Lloyd’s Register of British and International Shipping, 1834, microfiche.
  12. Hobart Town Courier, 23 Aug. 1833. The story of what happened on board the Jane and Henry on its voyage to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1832 is interesting in its own right. An early example of shocking exploitation of pauper emigrants by a ruthless operator, with the additional hazard of a master and a chief mate who were psychopaths. Captain Larimer had been released from prison just prior to departure from Liverpool and was later described in contemporary accounts as criminally insane. The brigadine was confiscated by the Cape Town government to pay off debts and resold in time for the 1834 voyage to Australia.
  13. This spelling of Cobern’s name has been taken from Cape Town’s 1833 census. Other spellings include Cobairn and Coburn.
  14. ‘Domestic Intelligence’, Hobart Town Magazine, vol. III, no. 14, April 1834.
  15. Sydney Herald, Supplement, 21 July 1834.

Chapter 3: The D’Oylys of India on Destiny’s Road

Just outside the village of Kirby Wiske, near the town of Thirsk in Yorkshire, there once stood a very old stone-built house, called Sion Hill. The estate and all its structures fell into disrepair until Mr Edward D’Oyly bought it in 1799.

Sion Hill manor, the childhood home of Captain Thomas D’Oyly until he sold it to Joshua Crompton in 1822. At the rear is the original 15th-century Hall, subsequently used for servants’ quarters. Additions to the ancient building and its estate, added in the 18th and 19th centuries, included two Georgian-era wings built by Edward and Hannah D’Oyly c.1802, to house their growing family. Artist is Henrietta Matilda Crompton. Gifted to her younger brothers, Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton and Robert Crompton. Sepia watercolour paintng. Veronica Peek Collection.

Captain Tom D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery, briefly introduced at Hobart Town in the previous chapter, was Edward’s son. Born with his twin brother, Edward Jnr, in 1794, he moved with his parents to Sion Hill in 1800. Edward D’Oyly and his wife, Hannah, spared no expense in renovating the hall and adding new wings, landscaping the grounds with gardens leading down to the River Swale. In time Sion Hill was reborn as one of the most attractive estates in North Riding, and its owners were considered by all to be ‘one of the happiest and most united of families’.1

The D’Oylys relished their life at Kirby Wiske for nine years. Then a run of grievous luck terminated their good fortune. Edward Jnr wanted to become a mariner, so his father bought a large share of the huge chartered East Indiaman, Jane Duchess of Gordon, which had previously belonged to her master, Captain Cameron.2 The captain then obliged them by employing Tom’s 11-year-old twin brother as a midshipman on their own ship.

In March 1809, a convoy consisting of 15 East Indiamen and one brig-of-war was caught in a fierce hurricane south of the island of Mauritius that lasted for three days. Five of the ships, including the Jane Duchess of Gordon, sank with the loss of all lives.3 Edward was 13 when he perished. At about the same time, his older brother, James, died of a fever while still a cadet at Calcutta (now Kolkata) in India. Captain Cameron’s widow and 11-year-old daughter, Anne Cameron, visited Sion Hill when they heard the news. They found the family in a terrible state. Not only were they still mourning the deaths of James and Edward, but an ailing infant son, Josephus, would die within days.4 Edward and Hannah were hospitable to the captain’s widow and Anne Cameron exchanged letters with the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, for a time. Twenty-eight years later, Anne Slade (née Cameron) re-emerged to play an important role in the D’Oyly family’s history.5

Edward and Hannah, with their dream of being ship owners now extinguished, had insufficient external income to supplement their income from the estate. To their credit, they were certainly trying. By 1808 Hannah, who was quite inventive, had set up a chicken farm and sold eggs and chickens to the local markets. She had a large stock of hens and roosters and came up with a new way to raise chickens that earned her a prestigious science award. She envisioned a future in which chickens could be commercially raised anywhere, including in city backyards, in cages with an artificial ‘mother’ hen. With a high survival rate, these healthy chickens would become free-ranging egg layers but also the cheaper meat of choice at the markets. Hannah D’Oyly was a woman 150 years ahead of her time. She also indulged her family with her chicken pies.

Hannah D’Oyly’s chicken hatchery for up to 60 chickens, warmed by a stove and with an artificial ‘mother’ hen. With more capital she might have been able to realize her dream of a commercially successful business. The Philosophical Magazine, vol. 31, p. 352. Hannah D’Oyly’s name and pioneering techniques were known in agricultural circles.

Her husband, for his part, turned one of the farm sheds into a large machinery workshop well stocked with an array of tools. He had a gift for building and repairing machines and it wasn’t long before local farmers began bringing their broken machinery to him for repair. Edward, however, was very sociable and well liked, and couldn’t bring himself to charge the farmers for his labour. Mechanical engineering as a hobby was one thing; charging his neighbours as a mechanic made him a tradesman, unbecoming perhaps to his other roles as lord of the manor and justice of the peace.

To the great chagrin of his children, Edward was often virtually without cash.6 His solution was to asset strip and remortgage, until there were very few assets left. The begging letters that he wrote to his bank at this time make distressing reading. By 1815 he was too afraid to attend the Thirsk market for fear of running into one of his creditors. Tom, their oldest surviving son, missed most of the deepening misery at Sion Hill when he joined the Bengal Army in 1810, and was among the first intake of students at the HEIC’s Addiscombe College near London.

Two years later, in 1812, he was posted to Bengal as a subaltern/fireman in the artillery.7 A relative, Sir John Hadley D’Oyly, the HEIC’s Controller at Calcutta, and later his son, the enthusiastic amateur artist Sir Charles D’Oyly, took an interest in Tom’s career and promoted his merits in every quarter, introducing him into the highest echelons of Calcutta’s society. During his first year in Bengal as a ‘griffin’ or greenhorn, Tom lodged for a time with the baronet. He was the second ‘griffin’ to experience the hospitality of the baronet’s household, for his older brother, James, also enjoyed that welcome while a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. James joined his wealthy relative’s circle for a spot of hog hunting and died soon after from a fever thought to have been caused by an infected wound. Sir Charles would subsequently publish the illustrated burlesque poem Tom Raw the Griffin, which records some of the shared experiences of griffins like his two relatively distant and impoverished cousins.

Tom-Raw Sits for His Portrait Sir Charles D'Oyly
The artist, George Chinnery. at his newly opened studio in Calcutta c.1812. Sir Charles D’Oyly (artist) from Tom Raw the Griffin, 1828. Hand-coloured engraving. Charles D’Oyly was Chinnery’s pupil. Tom D’Oyly was staying with cousin Charles in 1812 and would have visited the artist’s studio. The point of the burlesque poem, though, is that many greenhorns in India shared similar experiences and Tom Raw is a composite from many sources.

In 1817, Lieut Tom D’Oyly finally took part in one brief battle and ended up in a safe staff position. Apart from that, he passed an uneventful eight years in Bengal until Charlotte Williams arrived on the scene.

Charlotte was the daughter of Henry Williams, for many years the Company’s commercial resident at the Commercolly (now Kumarkhali) station.8 In those days it was a river village in the low-lying and often flood-soaked region known as the Ganges delta.9 Today it is a major city in Bangladesh. Henry and his wife, Agnes, had two daughters, Charlotte (1796) and Fanny (Frances Sophia 1798).10 By 1800 they had parted acrimoniously amid claims that Agnes had been unfaithful, and the two girls lived in England with their wealthy grandparents. Charlotte’s grandfather, ship captain Stephen Williams, was a director of the HEIC (1791–1804), while his wife, also Charlotte and sister of Sir John Hadley D’Oyly, was a former nurse to the two youngest of the 15 children of King George III, Prince Alfred (died aged two from a smallpox inoculation) and Princess Amelia.11 

When Mrs Williams finally left the royal household, she maintained her ties with the royal family. Her brother-in-law, the wealthy banker and MP, Robert Williams, of Bridehead in Dorset, owned a fleet of East Indiamen and the family named one of them the Princess Amelia.12

King George III and Queen Charlotte were possessive parents and their six daughters did very little socialising outside their own households.13  Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, was their third daughter and she doted on children, making it inevitable perhaps that she became young Charlotte’s favourite royal. The impressionable little girl grew to womanhood treating Princess Mary as a much-loved friend. The princesses were often delightful companions but they could also be demanding and thoughtless. Given their royal status, it was only to be expected. The same traits in Charlotte were less easy to accept. There is no detailed description of Charlotte but there is a small bonus in knowing that her hair was brown-gold or auburn. In later years she would braid and/or twist it up into a coiffure with combs.14

In 1818, Henry Williams returned to England on leave and escorted his two daughters back to India. Their second cousin, Sir Charles D’Oyly, now the seventh baronet following the death of his father, was one of the Company’s opium agents, and he organised a ball at his palatial Calcutta home to introduce the two Williams girls to society. His other relative, Lieut Tom D’Oyly of the Bengal Artillery, was also a guest. Charlotte found Tom’s charms irresistible and their marriage, on 10 May 1820, united two branches of the D’Oyly family.

Tom was based at the Dum Dum artillery station, on an extensive plain four miles (seven kilometres) north of Calcutta. Married officers lived in spacious bungalows around a small drill ground, but Tom and Charlotte bought their own more substantial bungalow, at Dum Dum but off the station.15 Children, when they began to arrive, were welcome distractions. Their first son, Thomas (Tom Jnr) was born in October 1821, followed by Edward in 1823 and George three years later.16 

The D’Oylys weren’t wealthy so it’s likely that they borrowed money from a rich Indian money-lender to buy their large off-station bungalow. In status-conscious British colonial Calcutta it was all about keeping up appearances and many a young British officer ended up in financial straits when he couldn’t meet the interest on his loan. Tom, as main heir, expected something from his late father’s will. He got his share of the Sion Hill estate all right, but once it was sold and the multiple mortgages paid off there wasn’t a great deal of it left. Fortunately Charlotte was also an heiress.

Both the real Lieut Tom D’Oyly and the fictional Lieut Tom Raw in Tom Raw the Griffin had scolding wives called Charlotte and in 1824, when the book was being written, they both had two sons, the oldest of whom was also called Tom. Each then had another son. The poem makes it clear that the baronet had little time for army wives, while his mischievous choice of names suggests that he may not have had a whole lot of time for his cousin, Charlotte, either. But Charlotte, who had always been proud of her relative’s achievements, may have been both puzzled and hurt by his satire. She may even have scolded Sir Charles or expressed her dismay. If so, then it had the desired effect. For the rest of his life Sir Charles did not publicly acknowledge any involvement with Tom Raw the Griffin. The book’s illustrations in particular attracted a lot of praise so it was quite a sacrifice on his part.

‘Tom Raw in the midst of difficulties’. Sir Charles D’Oyly’s take on young army officers who lived beyond their means in India, especially when an inheritance didn’t eventuate or was less than expected. The moneylenders were not sympathetic.
Chunar Fort, window of Muslim palace by T. D'Oyly
B&W engraving of a watercolour sketch of a decorative balcony of the Muslim palace at the Chunar Fort. Artist is T. D’Oyly, thought to be Captain Thomas D’Oyly, described by his nephew, D’Oyly Bayley, as a ‘clever artist’. Held by the India Office Library.

Tom’s oldest sister, Elizabeth, had married a conveyancing solicitor, William Bayley, of Stockton-on-Tees in Durham.17 When Tom faced the usual dilemma of sending his two eldest sons to England for their education, the Bayleys agreed to take them. Those leisurely years in Calcutta were ending, however, for Tom got a promotion to Captain and a posting to the Company’s ordnance at the Chunar Fortress, in the Mirzapoor district of northern Bengal. The promotion came at a price. Chunar had a reputation for being one of the hottest British stations in India.18 It is on the southern bank of the River Ganges, about 17 miles (28 km) southwest of the holiest Hindu city of Benares (now Varanasi).

Fortress at Chunar in India, with Nabob's party in foreground
The fortress at Chunar circa 1828–1840. Chunar had a reputation for being one of the hottest postings in India and the cantonment was often visited by cholera. Black-and-white engraving from an original watercolour by William Daniell.

During the D’Oylys’ time, there were about 1000 invalids19 stationed at Chunar. It was the Company’s invalid station, where they herded their chronically sick and wounded British soldiers, together with their families. They guarded an ancient and decaying fort that no one attacked. Some of the soldiers were old but most were young, victims of India’s cholera epidemics. Officers, however, enjoyed ‘the usual East Indian splendour’20 at Chunar, by which we can assume that they actually lived in an airy bungalow shaded by trees. Many of the officers stationed at Chunar were also invalids. Captain D’Oyly may have been unwell for some time. Additionally though, Chunar attracted a generous remote-station allowance, and he needed the money.

Chunar fort c. 1820s by Sir Charles D'Oyly
B&W engraving of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s watercolour sketch of the Chunar fort, c 1820s. The miniature has been placed inside an irregular, embossed mount. The Muslim and Hindu palaces inside the castle-like fortress can be clearly seen. Captain Tom D’Oyly’s ordnance took up the whole of the larger and more impressive Muslim palace and he spent his working days there. Part of an album of 15 watercolour miniatures gifted to Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, by Charlotte D’Oyly and now held by the India Office Library.

In August 1831 Charlotte gave birth to their last child, a son called William, preceded by the death of an infant daughter in 1829.21  When Charlotte fell pregnant with William, having already lost a daughter, she returned to her Calcutta bungalow for her confinement and William’s birth and refused to return to Chunar. A few months later, the D’Oylys received the news that Tom’s oldest sister, Elizabeth Bayley, had died suddenly at Stockton-on-Tees on New Year’s Day, leaving her husband to raise their five children alone, including a newborn son.22 William Bayley was now the sole guardian of their two eldest boys. Despite their brother-in-law’s reassurances, it must have occurred to them that this was an unreasonable burden.

The following year, Tom applied for overseas sick leave, on the basis that his health had suffered under Chunar’s heat. He was also running out of time. Every one of the Company’s officers and civil servants in India was entitled to two years of fully paid sick leave – and they invariably used their benefit. Tom’s choice of destination for his leave should have been obvious: go home to England and Tom Jnr and Edward, now aged 12 and 10. Yet he nominated Hobart Town in Van Diemen’s Land instead. It was an Australian penal colony but it had a mild climate, making it a favourite destination for invalids from India. Charlotte, who was ‘pining to be restored to her absent Children’23 shed many tears of disappointment. At the same time, the arrangement Tom and Charlotte had with William Bayley was very convenient for them. Bengal Army officers aimed to retire back to England on at least the full pension of a major, a goal they could only achieve after 25 years of service in India. If they retired early, they received a half-pension instead. Captain D’Oyly needed one more promotion and three more years in India and they would be financially set for life.

The family left Calcutta on 21 March 1833 with a hold stacked with furniture, plus crates and trunks of household goods. They disembarked at Port Louis on Mauritius for what would prove to be an extended sojourn. They posted their en-route letters to their sons from this port. The first ship to come along bound for Van Diemen’s Land was the Indiana, out of London. Her master, Captain Webster, had detoured to Mauritius to pick up a cargo of sugar. On 9 September 1833, the Indiana took on board a pilot for the final navigation up the Derwent River. Hobart Town (now the city of Hobart) when it finally came into view proved to be a charming replica of an English town. It was spring when they arrived and flowers were blooming under a soft southern sun. Within a week of their arrival, they not only had three assigned convict servants, they had already settled into a large, recently vacated, house in the little town of New Norfolk.24 Rental properties were difficult to come by in New Norfolk, particularly at short notice. Captain D’Oyly may have had, through their Calcutta lawyer, a local contact, a landowner called Richard Armstrong.25

The muddy road to remote New Norfolk in 1834, when it was a small village. Yet this is where the D’Oylys chose to spend most of their leave. New Norfolk had formerly been known as Elizabeth Town. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.

New Norfolk is about 22 miles (35 kms) north-west of Hobart along what was, in 1833, an uncomfortably rough road. In those days it was flattering to its inhabitants to call the tiny settlement a town, since it consisted of little more than a handful of cottages scattered haphazardly around a church, a school, a hospital and a few fine houses and inns. For India invalids, however, it was ideal. It was an enchanting village with a moderate climate. It also had an excellent new invalid hospital for settlers and convicts that dealt at that time with both physically and mentally ill patients. It was a long way from Calcutta to New Norfolk. Despite its curative qualities, only the most seriously ill India invalids bothered to make the effort to get there.

India invalids suffered from respiratory complaints often exacerbated by smoking the hookah pipe, and liver complaints caused by drinking too much alcohol in the sub-continent’s sapping heat. More seriously, bouts of cholera and chronic diarrhea had destroyed their health. They often moped and left it up to their spouses or friends to make the necessary decisions. Many of them wanted to return to England but their surgeons advised against it. The dramatic change of climate would have an adverse affect on their damaged lungs. Sick leave in England too often proved fatal. The East India Company’s own surgeons recommended the Australian penal colonies instead.26

Charlotte must have endorsed the decision to go to New Norfolk. Her husband had been a prolific letter writer to his friends and relatives in England, tiring them no doubt with copious details of his lifestyle in India. His pen was now still. It was left to his wife to exchange letters with William Bayley and their sons in England.

It does appear, though, that Charlotte was not completely forthcoming in her letters to her benefactor, William Bayley. The wage of an artillery captain in the Bengal Army was modest, yet the lifestyle the D’Oylys created for themselves in Van Diemen’s Land was extravagant for holidaymakers. The virtual bankruptcy of his parents at the Sion Hill manor in North Riding, Yorkshire, had made Tom frugal with his money. No one made that claim about Charlotte, who relished the lifestyle of a British memsahib in colonial Calcutta and was happy to duplicate it at New Norfolk. She had also inherited a large sum of money from her grandmother, Mrs Charlotte Williams, and was probably keen to secure a future for her four sons in one of the British colonies.

Theirs is not just the story of a family holiday in the backwoods of Van Diemen’s Land, with smoking wood fires and leisurely walks while Captain D’Oyly recuperated, although that was certainly a part of it. Was Bayley told, for example, that Tom and Charlotte had initiated the purchase of almost four acres of land on Warwick Street, in the centre of Hobart Town, previously owned by a carpenter called Montgomerie and already planted with fruit trees? Perhaps they intended to return and settle in the penal colony or perhaps it was a wise investment. Hobart Town’s reputation was growing and land values in the township were expected to skyrocket . Unlike officers in Britain’s own armed forces, Bengal Army officers were seen as mercenaries employed by a private company and had never been eligible for free land grants in Britain’s Australian colonies.

The house and grounds that the D’Oylys rented at New Norfolk must have been vacated by tenants or owners who were leaving the colony. Tom and Charlotte probably bulk bought almost everything the previous occupants couldn’t take with them, including farm animals and equipment. To this they added many precious and exotic possessions they had brought with them from India, with the expectation of entertaining in lavish style. By mid-May 1834, however, the captain was preparing for his own return to Calcutta. He handed all of their goods and chattels over to the local auctioneer, John Stracey, who placed the following lengthy and overly descriptive advertisement in his free and short-lived newspaper, the Trumpeter General, 27 May 1834:

On Wednesday, the 18th June, and following days, commencing at 12 o clock, on the Premises, at New Norfolk, without reserve, MR. STRACEY, WILL SELL BY PUBLIC AUCTION, ALL the Valuable furniture, musical instruments, books, horses, carriages, plated goods, live stock, &c. &c., the property of Captain D’Oyly, who is about to return to India—comprising very handsome European made dining tables, 17 feet by 5, forming, if required, several convenient tables, very handsome dining room chairs, mahogany Cleopatra couch on casters, with mattress and pillows, mahogany footstools,, iron wood tea trays, hearth rugs and carpets of the most costly description, English and Indian manufactured mahogany bagatelle board, with mace, cue, and balls, an elegant backgammon box, with dice and men complete, a remarkably handsome and curious set of ivory men, breakfast, loo, drawing room, hall, lamp, camp, and bedroom tables, drawing room chairs, one pair of very splendid China jars, liquor case with cut bottles and plated stands neat tea and medicine chests, teak wood cheese stand, a superb ladies dressing case, fitted up with scent bottles, jug, basin, brush, trays, &c., with several drawers, compartments, and conveniences, large and handsome teak wood bedsteads, teak wood drawers, wardrobes, and clothes cupboards ; the whole of the bedding is the best that could be purchased. Fenders, fire irons, and fire guards, kitchen utensils all, nearly new. The China ware is of a beautiful and elegant pattern ; the cut glass desert service is splendid and costly in the extreme ; the dinner service is one of Spode’s best; the fowling pieces and rifles are in cases nearly new, by the first makers, and complete, with apparatus ; a set of Golf clubs are very rare ; the plated goods, candlesticks, and lamps, have been but little used; the piano-forte is by one of the first makers; the Stanhope is very handsome, built by Barton and Co, of London, with hood, lamps, and patent axle, colour, straw picked out black, has spare linings, boxes, caps, nuts, and new wheels; the phaeton has been little used and turns remarkably light ; the harness corresponds in neatness and quality with the carriages ; the saddles, bridles, and martingales are nearly new; the horses, pigs, poultry, bullocks, and husbandry implements need no comment till the time of Sale; the stock of wine is really superior and rare, and the porter will be found very good. The miscellaneous articles will comprise about two hundred lots, and are all very useful. The library contains many standard curious and valuable works elegantly bound. It can so very seldom happen in this part of the world, that an Auctioneer has the gratification to offer the public property of so truly valuable a description as Captain D’Oyley’s [sic], that comment upon its first cost, its elegance combined at once with the strictest regard to comfort, and the great care which has been taken of it might only tend to throw a doubt upon its great value ; suffice it therefore to say, that to those who may not wish to purchase, it will be a great treat even to take the opportunity of getting a sight of eastern magnificence at the time of sale, which will commence daily at 12 o’clock. The mode of payment will be cash for all purchasers under 25l. That sum and upwards, bills with two names, at three months. 

Phew! Clearly the family hadn’t been roughing it in Van Diemen’s Land. They were certainly leaving behind in the colony a lot of unfinished business. Eight months after their arrival, the Caledonia had arrived from Calcutta, with a letter for them containing the news that Captain D’Oyly had been promoted to a more senior position.27 With his health now seemingly restored, he was anxious to get back to work. Misfortune was on his side, for the barque Charles Eaton had also just arrived and it was bound for Calcutta via Sourabaya and Canton.

Anyone who did business with the D’Oylys at that time would have assumed they intended to settle permanently at New Norfolk and Hobart Town. Yet they abruptly auctioned all of their recent purchases, along with everything they had brought with them, and rushed to sail away upon the first ship heading in the general direction of Calcutta.

D’Oyly had just been informed of a duty promotion that would presumably have allowed him to buy a seniority promotion from captain to major. This had long been his aspiration and he was anxious to get back to Bengal before the post was offered to someone else. As yet, he had not formally resigned from his position with the HEIC.

Charlotte wasn’t convinced that going back to India was necessarily the right thing to do. She would later admit to her brother-in-law, William Bayley, that a full retirement pension was their preferred retirement strategy but her husband’s health took precedence over financial considerations. She was already considering the possibility that Tom’s ill health might return in India’s oppressive heat. With her additional desire to be reunited with her two oldest boys, coupled with an equally strong wish to be back with her numerous relatives in Calcutta’s colonial splendour, she was conflicted and often tearful.

The letter from India may have forewarned them that the full annual pension the HEIC offered to their military and civilian employees after they had completed 25 years of service in India would soon be available after only 23 years of service. D’Oyly had only to remain with the HEIC in India for another eighteen months and if he played the right cards he would be eligible for retirement on the full annual pension of a major. Remaining in Van Diemen’s land would have meant a half-pension based on a captain’s salary. It was a big difference in retirement income.


Merchant ships at anchor in Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart Town, c. 1838. Dumont d’Urville, Journey to the South Pole and Oceania on the Corvettes L’Astrolabe and La Zélée to Execute the Order of the King during the Years 1837–1838–1839–1840 under the Command of Dumont d’Urville. Pictorial Atlas, Paris: Gide OCLC..
Hobart street scene, Battery Point, 2019 with Mt Wellington as a striking backdrop. A number of 19th-century cottages and buildings have been preserved in Hobart, including the Ship Inn. Tom and Charlotte may have stayed at that inn for a few days when they first arrived in Hobart Town. Photo by Veronica Peek.
This fine mansion was built in 1829, on a rise overlooking Sullivan’s Cove, and was the home of a former harbour master. Incoming immigrants probably aspired to something similar. Photograph and copyright Veronica Peek.

Notes to Chapter 3

  1. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: D’Oyly Bayley, 1845, p. 148. Much of the information in this chapter has been taken from D’Oyly Bayley, pp. 131−55.
  2. The ship’s largest shareholder was Charles Christie. D’Oyly, however, was a substantial part-owner.
  3. The North American Review, 1844, p. 342.
  4. The D’Oylys lost five children in a little over one year, including a stillborn daughter and another son who collapsed and died on his way home from school.
  5. William Bayley file, letter from Slade to D’Oyly family, 14 Nov. 1836, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  6. Sion Hill was remortgaged in part to Mr William Bayley, of Northallerton. His son, also William Bayley, a solicitor in Stockton, married Edward and Hannah’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth. Private correspondence of Edward D’Oyly, in the possession of the author, dated 1815. The hall continued to exist for more than 100 years before being demolished for an architecturally superior new manor.
  7. For details on Captain Thomas D’Oyly, see Hodson, V. C. P., List of Officers of the Bengal Army, London, 1927–47, vol. ii, pp. 83–84; IGI; India Office Records L/MIL/10/23, ff. 171–72.
  8. East India Register and Directory, London: East India Office, 1818 and post.
  9. Edward Thornton, A Gazetteer of the Territories under the Government of the East India Company . . . 4 vols, London: W.M. H. Allen & Co., 1854, vol. 2 p. 10 and vol. 3 pp. 178–79. Also known then as Commercholly, Comercolly and more recently as Kumerkhali, it is now in Bangladesh, on the Ganges river north of Dhaka. Pubna is now called Pabna. Henry Williams was employed in the Company’s service from 1792–1833.
  10. See the will of Mrs Charlotte Williams, dated 1811, held by the National Archives UK. Mrs Agnes Williams, in a letter c. 1845, supplied the family genealogist, D’Oyly-Bayley, with their birth years. According to IGI the girls were born at the Williams ancestral home in Winterbourne Herringston, Dorset. It is possible, however, that they were born in Bengal.
  11. The occupation as a writer/clerk in India was reserved for close relatives of HEIC owners and directors. Mrs Williams (née Burrington) does not appear to have played a prominent role in her daughters’ lives. In those days, when a couple separated the father automatically under law had first claim to any children.
  12. Charles Hardy, revised by Horatio Charles Hardy, A Register of Ships, Employed in the service of the Honorable the United East India Company, from the Year 1760 to 1810 . . . , London: Black, Parry, and Kingsbury, 1811, p. 120.
  13. For information about Princess Mary, see Flora Fraser, Princesses: The Six Daughters of King George III, New York: Anchor, 2006.
  14. A comb thought to have belonged to Charlotte was later found on an island called Aureed.
  15. Ultimately inherited by their second son, Edward Armstrong Currie D’Oyly until his death in 1857.
  16. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London, 1845, pp. 131–55.
  17. Married 27 May 1819, at Northalleton, Yorkshire. Source: IGI. (William D’Oyly Bayley was their eldest son).
  18. Walter Hamilton, ‘Chunar’, East India Gazetteer 1825, London: W. H. Allen, 1828, p. 284.
  19. Right Rev. Reginald Heber D.D., Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India from Calcutta to Bombay, 1824–1825 (with Notes upon Ceylon,) : An account of a journey to Madras and the Southern Provinces, 1826, and letters written in India, vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1843. Section on Chunar, Chapter XIII, pp. 401–13.
  20. D’Oyly-Bayley, p. 155.
  21. Losty, pp. 75–82.
  22. IGI.
  23. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to Bayley, 20 July 1834, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A1074.
  24. Hobart Town Courier, 20 Sept. 1833.
  25. Hobart Town Courier, 12 July 1838.The newspaper advertisement, placed by Armstrong on behalf of the Calcutta lawyer tasked with finalising Captain Tom D’Oyly’s affairs, does suggest that the D’Oylys were checking out the colony with their forthcoming retirement in mind.
  26. For a description of the complaints suffered by India invalids, see James Johnson, M.D., An Essay on Morbid Sensibility of the Stomach and Bowels . . . to which are added, observations on the diseases and regimen of invalids, on their return from hot and unhealthy climates, 4th edn, London: Thomas & George Underwood, 1827, pp. 12966.
  27. Initially posted to the ordnance at Allahabad in a senior position, but subsequently changed to an even more important role at the ordnance in Agra..

Chapter 4: Towards the Abyss

Eugene von Guérard, Hobart Town c.1860s.
Hobart Town by Eugene von Guérard, c. 1860s. Source: Flickr Hobart Town. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Abu Dun. Impressive distant image of the township with snow-capped Mount Wellington. Colour engraving.

The crews of British ships got a half-day off once a fortnight, always on a Sunday. When they were at anchor in a healthy port, one half stayed on board after the customary morning religious service and were assigned to light duties, while the other half spruced up in what passed for their Sunday best. Their usual practice was to extract as much of their due wages as their captains were prepared to give them, then head for the inns and taverns and blow the lot in one glorious binge that could often last for days. The Jane and Henry crew was on hand as fellow drinkers for the Charles Eaton crew, as also were the sailors from the Arab, a recent arrival with another load of 228 male prisoners. The assistant cook on board the Clyde was less fortunate. His body had just been found ‘dried up in the hold of the vessel, lying beside a spirit cask, having been some days missing.’1

Moore had trouble with his crew but so also did Captain Cobern of the Jane and Henry and John Harvey of the Red Rover. All three masters were called before the Hobart Town court, each on a different day, and fined five pounds with costs for ‘neglecting to keep sufficient watch’ on their ships.2

When the D’Oyly entourage – and Mr and Mrs Salting – joined the barque, dinners became a time for lively conversation. The D’Oylys and the Saltings shared a common interest in India. The Saltings were destined to become respectable pillars of Sydney’s society but in 1834, they were an adventurous young couple who had married just prior to booking their passages to Australia on the Meanwell. Severin was a 29-year-old Dutchman who had worked as a trader in India for 10 years. Back in London in 1833, he had married Louisa Fiellerup, whose Danish parents had also lived in India for a time.3 Although they were together only briefly, the two couples got on well and the Saltings would later describe Charlotte and Tom as an amiable couple.

Louisa was probably pregnant before the Meanwell left London. Unwilling to linger in the Van Diemen’s Land colony while their captain advertised and sold his cargo of merino rams, the Saltings transferred across to the barque, due to depart almost immediately for New South Wales. Louisa would certainly have been grateful for the presence of other women, as she had no female companion of her own.

While the barque was still sailing up the Derwent River, she passed the Indiana, out of Calcutta and still under the command of Captain Webster.4 She was carrying more India invalids and would return directly to Calcutta. It must have been a poignant moment for the D’Oylys. Had they delayed their stay in the colony for a few days, they could have booked return passages aboard her. Instead, they were now committed to a slower route on a much smaller vessel and the possibility of tramping around many ports.

With his stiff military bearing, Tom must have cut quite a dashing figure on his strolls around the deck. He would later be described by his nephew, William D’Oyly Bayley, as ‘a sensible and upright man; prudent from his earliest childhood; a clever artist; a fine soldier; and of a tall fair handsome person’.5 Charlotte was a more robust memsahib and her special talent was the gentle but crushing reprimand. Their two son s, George and William, were especially appealing with their delicate complexions and flaxen hair. George was a very handsome and friendly boy but William attracted more attention, for he had the unusually broad countenance of a perpetual ‘babyface’, virtually guaranteeing that others would judge him as younger than his years.

The cook in the ship’s galley is mixing pudding. Caption reads: ‘Christmas at Sea: the Captain’s pudding’. Drawn by C. Gregory.

If you had to embark on a long sea voyage with children in those days, taking an Indian ayah (children’s nurse) with you was one way to make it more bearable. Even the most fervent Anglophile had to admit that the Indian traditional sari was a much more practical garment for cabin life than the extraordinary gowns being worn by their European mistresses, with their wide skirts bloated with petticoats and their puffy sleeves. It is probable that Charlotte did know her servant’s name. Yet her identity remains unknown. She probably slept in the children’s cabin and took her meals there alone. Ayahs rarely occupied a vacant cabin berth and never dined at the captain’s table. John Ireland would later describe her as a ‘servant girl’6 so it is possible that she was quite young but not necessarily childless. Ayahs almost invariably began their working lives as wet nurses to English mistresses, for whom breastfeeding was an irksome and exhausting chore. They stayed on to perform more general duties, including brushing and braiding their memsahib’s hair. We can only guess at how well Charlotte treated her children’s ayah, given that her grandmother had performed a similar duty for Princess Amelia. Perhaps she followed royal example and treated her as a confidante and friend.

Women's dress fashion in 1834.
Modes de Paris, Women’s dress fashion in 1834.

Three days after leaving Hobart Town, Tom D’Oyly celebrated his 40th birthday.7 Four days later the barque arrived in Sydney. The much smaller Jane and Henry was close behind. The Meanwell’s captain was still selling rams at Sullivan’s Cove.

By the time the Charles Eaton arrived at Sydney in July 1834, shipping trade with the Australian colonies was in a healthy state. Sponsored pauper passage had begun and would lead in time to an explosion in the number of emigrants. With the Swan River settlement recently established and two new colonies, at Port Phillip and South Australia, incubating into existence, it was a busy period in the country’s white colonisation. In addition, the Jane and Henry carried London newspapers containing the news that England’s convict hulks were being broken up. Over 8,000 prisoners (including the last 3,000 still left on the hulks) were about to proceed to Australia’s penal colonies.8

The wide harbour was remarkable on both sides for its many wooded coves and inlets but the pilot’s destination soon became obvious. To the west of Sydney Cove was a sandstone outcrop dotted with white cottages, to the east there were the Government House gardens, and to the south a number of tall warehouses. Behind the warehouses was a modern town. At anchor within the cove were a dozen or more merchant ships. Once the barque had secured her moorage, a military guard came on board and took up temporary residence in one of the cabins. His job was to prevent any cargo from being landed without proper clearance.9

If Moore had expected that his small barque would slip into the colony unnoticed, he was in for a surprise. Every merchant ship dropping anchor in or near Sydney Cove had her arrival noted by the shipping reporters of the colony’s four major newspapers. The Sydney Gazette also got in first and secured from Moore the latest news from Cape Town: ‘By the arrival of the ship Charles Eaton, we have received South African Advertisers down to the 3rd May. They do not contain much intelligence of particular interest.’10

So much for Cape Town. Four days after his arrival, Moore berthed his vessel at King’s wharf and the newspapers announced that he was trading, presumably straight off the ship with samples displayed on benches in the now-vacant second-class deck. At the same time, cargo consigned to Sydney had to be unloaded. Consignees already had their bills of lading and they began arriving at the wharf with their drays to collect their goods.

None of Gledstanes’ lead and calico found buyers, but there were still opportunities to sell it at Sourabaya, Singapore or Canton, for spices and China tea. Bright cotton calicoes were popular in South-East Asia while the Chinese market was also interested in cotton shirting calicoes and English woollen goods. The Chinese combined lead with tin alloy and pounded it into paper-thin sheets to line their tea chests. It is likely, however, that for the time being, the lead ingots were doing double duty as ballast. Lead was one of the few trade goods that the Chinese would accept and savvy merchants planning to trade at Canton for tea often found it convenient to have some ingots in their cargo holds.

Gledstanes had prepared for the voyage with great care. Formally, the HEIC had the monopoly on trade with Canton. They were the sole importers of China tea to England and they made huge profits from it. An Act of Parliament, passed in April 1834, made trade with Canton available to all British subjects. Gledstanes, confident that the Act was a certainty, had purchased a new ship to couple together the Australian and the Cantonese markets. In the past, many convict transporters and emigrant ships had collected tea from Canton on their homeward voyage, but always under contract to the HEIC. Some of them even went whaling for a time – under contract to the HEIC. The HEIC’s trading monopoly over China angered the residents of the Australian colonies, and they were delighted when the British Parliament revoked it. With Australian imports from England linked to Cantonese exports back to the motherland, the future of the Australian colonies was that much more secure. Australia had yet to seal its own export future with merino wool and minerals such as gold and tin. For the time being, tramping traders and transporters had to work hard to avoid an unprofitable return to England.

Based on a statement by Charlotte that they lived in Sydney during their stopover, the D’Oylys disembarked with the Saltings and went in search of a hotel room. Hot baths, comfortable beds and decent meals would have been the irresistible attractions. After only eight days at sea, Charlotte was already tired of living in cramped cabins with two little boys. There were many neat inns to choose from but since the Saltings finished up in a room at Cumming’s Hotel on Church hill, it’s likely that the D’Oylys went there too.

For artists, this was a popular view of Sydney from a hotel on the Rocks, c. 1834–1835. Published in Saturday Magazine, c. 1836.
View of Sydney from the Rocks in 1834, by Adolph Jean-Baptiste.
A 21st-century view of Sydney from a hill on the Rocks. Photographer and copyright holder, Veronica Peek..

The Saltings had a more pressing need than a conveniently located hotel. With Louisa due to begin her confinement, they had to find a cottage as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, dwellings for rent in Sydney were hard to come by, and four weeks later, on 13 August, Louisa’s child was stillborn in her hotel room.11 One year later, on 15 August 1835, Louisa gave birth to a healthy son and the couple named him George. Their second son, William, was born 18 January 1837.12 Perhaps it was the young parents’ way of expressing fond memories of masters George and William D’Oyly.

View of Sydney c. 1834. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.

Charlotte and Tom, for their part, had been doing a bit of soul-searching and had concluded that it would be better if their two oldest boys were sent to a boarding school. In a letter to her brother-in-law, received by him on 16 June,13 Charlotte raised with him the need to make further arrangements for her sons’ education. For Tom Jnr in particular, it was time to move him on to the next stage of his journey through life.

There had probably been a time when the D’Oylys had hoped that the boys would follow their father into the Bengal Army’s Addiscombe College. It is questionable whether Charlotte in particular still felt that way. She had shared her years at Chunar with almost 1000 young invalid soldiers – and they were the lucky ones who were still alive. Many young Addiscombe graduates died from cholera soon after their arrival on the subcontinent. It is unlikely that she would have wanted her sons to face that risk. One possibility she raised with her brother-in-law was the Charter House School in London.14 By 1834 it was establishing its reputation as one of the best public schools in England. Bayley had instantly attended to Charlotte’s wishes. He soon discovered, however, that it was now very difficult to get into Charter House. Besides, Tom Jnr was now 13 years old and already too old for entry.

Meanwhile, back on board the Charles Eaton the steward, William Montgomery, had penned a letter to his lady friend in Sourebaya, no doubt advising her of his pending arrival. At the same time George Armstrong had written to a male relative in Ireland. Both letters finished up in Sydney’s dead-letter office because whoever had been tasked with posting the letters had failed to purchase the necessary stamps.

The most likely candidate for the errand to the post office was John Ireland. Looking after the needs of the steward and the first-class passengers was part of his duties. He was a quiet youth but he could be grumpy and lazy as befitted his age. The harsh words likely to have been dished out by Montgomery and Armstrong must have left him feeling resentful at times. It’s likely, then, that he posted the letters but kept at least some of the stamp money to buy rare treats for himself. Armstrong could be pretentious. He insisted upon the title of Mr George Armstrong Esquire because his family owned land in Ireland. No surprise then if his superior airs invited retaliation.

Barring a personality clash, it seems inevitable that the young lawyer, George Armstrong, and the second mate, William Mayor, would have been friends. They were about the same age and they were both financially well off, although Mayor had yet to receive his inheritance. They shared an interest in the shipping trade and had plans for adventurous careers. They would have been impressed with the prosperous town’s pleasant climate and perhaps even a little envious of the Saltings, with their commitment to putting down roots in Australia. It was certainly something the D’Oylys had been considering. Tom’s brother, Robert, had already settled in New Zealand in the ultimately misguided belief that he would amass a fortune there.15 Charlotte and Tom, however, were still fretting about the lack of any news from their two oldest sons in Stockton. Five days after her arrival in Sydney, Charlotte posted her own two letters at the Sydney post office:

To Wm Bayley, Esq. Stockton, Durham.

I cannot refrain, my dear brother, from writing a few lines to you, that I may convince you the hearing of or from you forms one of our greatest pleasures, and so assured am I that you have a heart formed in nature’s finest mould, that when you are certain that the communicating with us does give us such true and sincere delight, such long silence will never occur again, surely I am not asking too much when I request to know of your welfare and that of your interesting family, twice in the year. The time may yet arrive, when I shall show by actions, not words, that your children are most interesting objects of our love – can we ever forget the offspring of him who has shewn kindness and affection to our absent boys – could we ever forget they have found a home where we could have wished, and as good as any we could most ardently desire – May God reward you and yours for all your kindness to them!

To shew how greatly my husband is liked by the heads of his department, I will tell you that since our departure from India, he has been promoted a step, at a time when we had no reason to expect it. This is highly gratifying to his feelings, as it openly shows the great estimation in which he is held. May he be blessed with sufficient health to enable us to remain a few years in India, to prove that the confidence placed in him is just, and to enable us to realise a competence to retire with. Hoping that you and your family are well, and that our darlings (the two boys) still hold your entire affection.

I remain, with our united love, your attached sister,


P. S. When we went in pursuit of health on my beloved D’Oyly’s account, do not suppose that we would not have bent our steps to England, to your abode, and to our children – how did inclination tempt us to do this! But Providence said, No.16


Charlotte is chiding the hapless William Bayley, but her letter does contain clues to her emotions at the time. She guessed that her two oldest sons would wonder why their parents decided not to return to England. She disguised her feelings of guilt by focusing on what she perceived as neglect on her brother-in-law’s part, although she must have suspected that insufficient time for an exchange of letters was the real reason for the absence of mail. They had given Bayley no warning of their intention to go to New Norfolk. Both Bayley and their two older sons had continued to address their letters to Calcutta.

The guardianship of the children of those employed in the India service was always a heavy burden for stay-at-home relatives and Bayley was a widower with his own five children to raise. He had just turned 41 and was running one of the largest conveyancing practices in North Yorkshire. He had very little spare time. The Durham Chronicle (15 October. 1847) would say of him:

His countenance was the index of his mind—beaming with intelligence, cheerfulness, kindness, and generosity. He possessed a degree of soundness of judgment and clearness of intellect and ability which bespoke the man of highly-cultivated mind.

Whatever Bayley’s private opinion of the decision not to return to England for Tom’s sick leave, he publicly displayed equanimity. The last thing he needed was a chiding from Charlotte for neglect.

Charlotte’s second letter, despite its scolding tone, is a heart-rending address to Tom Jnr and Edward:

Your father and myself are experiencing the deepest anxiety, my beloved children, in consequence of the length of time which has elapsed, since your last communications were received – Sometimes the painful idea haunts me, that time and absence have effaced us from your little minds, and that we are as entirely forgotten as though we had long since been dead. This thought is so sadly painful, that I try to drive it away, by recalling to mind your dear affectionate ways, when you were both but infants. I am loth to attribute your silence to mere idleness, for I hope that your minds are so properly trained that a wish formed by your parents will be considered in the light of a command, and that the performing of this command will be one of your greatest pleasures. To honour your father and mother, my children, is the command of God, the fulfilling of which carries a blessing along with it, and the neglect a curse. You cannot know how deeply we both feel our absence from you: a firm conviction that we were doing our duty in sending you to England, enabled us to put this separation into execution, and that for the benefit of your education; the same conviction alone enables us to bear up under it, for often, my boys, do tears of anguish flow down our cheeks, because our darlings are far far away; however, could we frequently hear of your health and happiness, our minds would be more reconciled and easy. I hope I have said enough to induce you to write regularly.

We quitted Hobart Town about a fortnight since, and after a week’s trip by sea arrived at this country – take your map, and you will trace our movements. We are now living in the capital of an immense country (Sydney) of which but little is known, possessing a lovely climate. What does not energy of mind accomplish – how does it overcome every obstacle ­– but a few years back, this spot was unknown to Europeans, it was inhabited by a race of blacks, who are now on the decrease, while the former are increasing wonderfully, and filling the country. Once this very spot was unacquainted with noise, now the bustle of a commercial city reigns throughout. Learn all that is in your power, for by wisdom and understanding all things can be accomplished.

We leave Sydney for Sourabaya next week, where we hope to meet with a ship direct for Calcutta, but we may visit many ports, before we arrive at dear Calcutta, however I am quite tired of this wandering life, and long to get settled. Your beloved father’s health is, through the bounty of a merciful God, quite restored, therefore in this respect I am happy – he is looking rosy and robust, but my heart trembles at returning on his account to the land of the sun, and should he suffer by it, nothing would induce me to remain longer there, for life with him is bliss, without him would be wretchedness extreme. Your brother George has become a fine healthy tall boy, very mild and amiable, and getting on in his studies. Little Willy is in the enjoyment of health, but too young to begin his lessons. And now, may God for ever bless my children – keep his commandments, and be his servants on earth, that at death you may enter into his eternal rest.

I ever am your most attached friend and mother,


Oh what would I give, what would I not give, to kiss my absent lads – God for ever bless you – such is my constant prayer.17



Notes to Chapter 4

  1. Hobart Town Magazine, vol. III, no. 17, July 1834.
  2. Colonial Times, 15 July 1834. As a point of clarification, Harvey of the Red Rover had formerly been chief mate, but took over the captaincy after her original master, Captain Christie, was lost overboard on the voyage from the Cape. The position was later offered to one of the passengers, the experienced master mariner Captain Walker.
  3. Hazel King in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1788–1850, gen. ed. Douglas Pike, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967 p. 415. Severin, through his firm Flower, Salting & Co., became the wealthy owner of sheep stations and sugar plantations. He died in 1865.
  4. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 July 1834.
  5. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: D’Oyly Bayley, 1845, p. 155.
  6. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  7. IGI. Captain Tom D’Oyly was born 12 July 1794 at Wakefield in Yorkshire.
  8. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 15 July 1834. It was an optimistic report, for England’s prison hulks continued to exist for several more decades.
  9. ‘Port Regulations and Orders’, New South Wales Almanack, 1811, quoted in Alan Birch and David S. Macmillan (eds), The Sydney Scene 1788–1960, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1962.
  10. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 July 1834.
  11. Australian, 19 Aug. 1834.
  12. King, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, pp. 61–64.
  13. Bayley file, Bayley to Mrs Robert Williams, 24 June 1834, with reference to Charlotte’s letter, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  14. Known today as the Charterhouse School, relocated in 1872 to Godalming in Surrey. The original almshouse is still located behind St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.
  15. William D’Oyly Bayley, 1845.
  16. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to William Bayley, 20 July 1834, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074.
  17. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to Thomas and Edward D’Oyly, 20 July 1834, Dixon Libary, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074.




Chapter 5: Torres Strait, the widow maker

George Street, Sydney, c. 1834. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Lib raires-Editeurs, 1839.


The sailors began their Sunday shore leave with a visit to the respectable side of Sydney and ended it by drifting back to the less censorious delights of the rocky outcrop known simply as The Rocks. Although the whole of the rocky outcrop on the western side of Sydney Cove was famous for its low life, most of the rowdy behaviour occurred on Sundays and centred on a row of crude wooden huts on Lower George Street near King’s wharf, where the ships’ crews hung out. All of the huts were taverns, with the ‘Rum Puncheon’ perhaps the best known and noisiest. On 21 July 1834, while the barque was still moored at King’s wharf, the Sydney Herald published the following remark:

A range of little wooden houses opposite the dock-yards are complained of as being the receptacles for drunkards, and so forth: on Sunday, singing, drinking and fighting are the engagements of the day. If the police were as vigilant as they are formidable, these nuisances would not exist in so public a situation . . . .

The dockyard taverns, however, were not the only source of complaint. Flights of steep steps gouged out of the rock led up from the dock to streets and yet more streets. Here the thirsty crews could take their choice of any number of hotels, or cosy cottages used as grog shops. They offered, as additional charms, reel-playing fiddlers, heavy-footed dancers and raunchy, out-of-tune singers. Captain Moore lost his boatswain and two of his crew to the boozy delights of The Rocks, and hired six new men to replace them. When, on the day he was scheduled to sail for Sourabaya (28 July, 1834), Moore signed the required customs certificate, this was his new composition of the crew:

Frederick George Moore, master; F. Grant, surgeon; Frederick Clare, chief mate; William Mayor, second mate; George Piggott, third mate & boatswain; William Perry, midshipman; Tom Ching, midshipman; John Carr, seaman; Charles Robinson, seaman; W. Hill, seaman. William Williams, sailmaker; John Barry (or Berry), seaman; Laurence Constantine, carpenter; George Lourne, seaman; William Montgomery, steward; William Jefferies, seaman; James Wright, seaman; William Grindall, seaman; Richard Quin, seaman; James Miller, seaman; Francis Quail (or Quinn), seaman; James Price, seaman; Samuel Moore, seaman; John Ireland, ship’s boy [plus John Sexton, ship’s boy]

John Sexton’s name was missing from the first official copy of the crew list later issued by Governor Sir Richard Bourke and forwarded to Lord Glenelg at the Home Office. Perhaps it was a transcription error. Or perhaps Moore assumed the ship’s boy had absconded but he returned just prior to sailing. The omission would initially have vexing consequences but later copies of the crew list always rectified the oversight and included his name. The official document, witnessed as a true copy of the crew list at the time and signed by the Customs House surveyor, Thomas Jeffrey, was subsequently ignored.1

Of the ship’s crew of 13 seamen, or ‘Jacks’ as they were frequently called, five had signed on at Sydney. One of the latter was James Price of Ireland. Another was William Hill, a resident of Sydney. The remaining three were Richard Quin, aged 29, from County Wexford in Ireland, James Wright, aged 19, from Edinburgh in Scotland, and William Grindall, a 22-year-old Englishman from Whitehaven.

In the crowded fo’c’s’le that served as the crew’s quarters, these five men were still outsiders because they were newcomers. Like so many of the boozy sailors rehired at Sydney by captains to replace their own absconded crew, they could be insolent, disloyal and self-serving. Their allegiance was to their third officer and boatswain, George Piggott, who had also just been hired at Sydney.2 William Hill was an exception; he blended in with the original crew.

Moore clearly had some concerns about his men. The Sydney Monitor twice published the standard notice from him advising that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by his crew. Captains were heartily sick of the pimps and touts who preyed on drunken sailors and encouraged them to spend all their wages in advance. They would then front up to their victims’ captains with hefty invoices, demanding payment for services rendered. Sydney’s Rocks area was notorious for that kind of over-servicing.

Of more interest to Moore once the crew had been sorted out was a notice posted at the abandoned navy dockyard next to King’s wharf, where it could be seen by any sailors who went there to fill their water kegs at its taps:

It being intended that His Majesty’s Ship Alligator should sail for India forty-eight hours after her arrival from Norfolk Island, proceeding through Torres’ Straits, Captain Lambert will be happy to convoy any ships going that route, should the masters of them wish to avail themselves of the opportunity.3

HMS Alligator would be departing too soon to be of benefit to Moore. The notice was a timely reminder all the same of the dangers ahead – and one that the captain heeded now that he was about to proceed with his ship to the Strait. Moore was a professional navigator and he was confident of his skills. He was unhappy with the chart he had brought with him from London, and obtained a copy of a map compiled by Captain Samuel Ashmore – Sydney master mariner and ship owner. It was Tracks through the Barrier Reefs of N.S.W. by Capt. Ashmore and Others 1822 to 1830 and it roughly indicated a number of passages through the Barrier Reef that had been used previously by ships approaching the Torres Strait.4

Mariners were well aware of the Strait’s reputation as a ship-wrecker and they greatly feared it. It cried out for a properly surveyed chart, with every obstacle and deep-water channel laid down. No such chart yet existed. Most mariners knew, however, that one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk was to pass through the strait in the company of another ship. If one vessel founded on a reef, the other would be on hand to rescue the crew. The Jane and Henry’s master, Captain Cobern, had originally planned to sail on 25 July for Batavia, but decided to leave in company with Moore instead. There is some reason for believing that Cobern had no chart of the Barrier Reef entrances and was relying on Moore to act as his guide.

Moore had failed to secure any bales of merino wool for the return journey, or even any of His Majesty’s troops. Nor was he freighting any whale oil. In his hold, there were still 37 bales of woollens, seven cases of muslins, the 410 lead ingots, and a large quantity of calico bales. Of Gledstanes’ own adventure cargo, Moore had sold their alcohol at Sydney – and little else.5 Based on his projected route, there is good reason to believe that this had been Moore’s expectation all along. As a former officer in the HEIC’s merchant navy, he had ample first-hand knowledge of South-East Asian trade. By calling at Sourabaya, he would very likely sell more of his cargo, while at the same time picking up freight (rice, spice, sandalwood) for either Singapore or Canton. He could then restock his hold with Chinese exports such as tea, silk and china goods. The barque was primarily a tramp trader and its prospects were now very good. In the first year after the abolition of the HEIC’s trading monopoly, the export of China tea to Britain increased by about 30 per cent.

Satellite photo showing both the inner and outer passages up the coast of Queensland to the Torres Strait.
NASA satellite photo showing the clear waters of the outer route at the top right and the Queensland coastline at bottom left. In the middle you can see the massive Great Barrier Reef and King’s inner passage, on the land side of the reef. There are some islands and other obstructions but the route was carefully charted by Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King. Despite that, many mariners continued to use the outer route. When they were almost parallel with the Torres Strait they would have to pass through the uncharted reef.

The Charles Eaton and the Jane and Henry left Sydney together on 29 July and headed up the eastern coast of Australia on the ocean side of the Great Barrier Reef. The alternative route between the reef and the coast had been well surveyed by Phillip Parker King R.N. King was a vigorous advocate of the inner route and he was held in high regard as a hydrographer. Despite this, most British merchant ships used the outer route. They were exposing their ships to boisterous weather but the open sea was largely free of hidden hazards. All mariners agreed, however, that the main drawback to the outer route was the great risk involved in finding a safe passage through the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait. If, at the time of approach, bad weather blew up and reduced visibility, the chance of dashing the ship against a reef was very high.6

For the first two days of their voyage, the crew aboard the Charles Eaton enjoyed fine weather and favourable winds. On the third day, an accident briefly disrupted their pleasant routine. Chief mate Clare was guiding an anchor onto its hook at the bow when the pole he was using snapped and he toppled overboard. John Ireland later described his rescue. ‘We immediately stopped work and let down the boat,’ he said, ‘and he being an excellent swimmer, was able to keep up until the boat reached him.’7

Lowering the quarter deck boat to rescue a man overboard.
‘Man Overboard!’ Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black and white engraving by E. H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July 1893.

On the day following Clare’s accident, a gale replaced the pleasant breezes. The Jane and Henry was too slow to keep up with the much larger barque,8 whose sails soon vanished below the horizon. If the two ships really were sailing together for safety, as reported in the Sydney press, then Moore’s action in forging ahead of his companion vessel was foolhardy to say the least.

On the fifth day of the voyage, William D’Oyly celebrated his third birthday. John Ireland, who watched the two brothers playing together in the cabin passage as he went about his chores, guessed that George was eight years old and thought that William, who was probably more unsettled by the voyage, was aged about 15 months.9 His older brother had a mild disposition and was a much more stoic child.

For almost nine months, the crew made do with the fo’c’s’le. Now at last the steerage and most of the cabins were empty. There was plenty of space for the men to spread out. Up in the poop the cuddy had also become more convivial. Even the usually inconspicuous George Armstrong seems to have loosened up and joined in the party mood. The barque was still carrying some casks of wine and beer for onboard consumption. Unlike water, which turned foul on long voyages, it improved with age.

When his barque was almost parallel with Cape York Peninsula, at the northern tip of Australia, Moore changed course and sailed back towards the mainland. On the evening of 14 August 1834, the barque was close to the point where Moore planned to cross through a gap in the Barrier Reef then proceed to the Torres Strait. Although there are many safe channels through the Great Barrier Reef, merchant vessels in the 1830s used a group of four or five tracks,10 between latitudes 12°8′ and 11°47′ south. Sir Charles Hardy’s Island is one of the few islands off Cape York Peninsula that mariners could clearly see from the Reef. There are actually two islands close together, but sailors in the early nineteenth century referred only to the larger island. A lofty chunk of volcanic rock, it was an important landmark for early mariners, who took their bearings from it before attempting a crossing.

One of the tracks in the group near Sir Charles Hardy’s island is via the Indefatigable entrance, named after the first vessel to use it. Although popular for a time, it was a risky choice for an entrance. A large detached reef lies in the path of any vessels approaching it from an easterly direction.11 This reef is about 12 miles (20.8 km) long and bears southwest to northeast.12 It snakes along the general line of the Great Barrier Reef and can be considered part of it, although it has its own name as the Great Detached Reef. This is no small, submerged rock ready to trap the unwary, but a massive obstruction that ships can avoid without difficulty – providing visibility is good.

Reducing canvas to slow down speed.
Stowing a Topsail. Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black-and-white engraving by E H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July 1893.

When Moore sighted Sir Charles Hardy’s Island, it was raining and blowing a gale. Not wishing to pass through the Great Barrier Reef at night, he ordered the reefing of the topgallant sails, to reduce canvas and slow his vessel down. ‘However, at daylight the next morning we again set sail,’ said John, ‘although the wind was very high and the water getting rough’. Even the cabin boy, blessed with the wisdom of hindsight, thought that the captain was being foolhardy. There were so many heavy clouds that Moore was unable to take a reading for latitude. Yet it would appear that he had managed to line up his vessel for a direct approach from the east to what he fairly calculated was the Indefatigable entrance. We can assume, too, that Moore placed lookouts at the mastheads. Armed with that necessary precaution, Moore steered boldly for the entrance, unaware of the hidden obstacle lying directly in his path.

The Barrier Reef is a magnificent spectacle. The closer you get to it, the more it presents itself as an unbroken line of white surf, as waves hit the coral and shoot up into the air in clouds of spray. Nineteenth-century mariners, with no accurate charts to guide them, sailed parallel to the white spray and the foaming waves at a safe distance until they encountered a wide gap of calm sea. Moore found such a gap in the surf and assumed from his charts that it was the Indefatigable entrance. He was mistaken. The Great Detached Reef bends and twists and must have created the illusion that there was a gap that he could safely pass through.

At the wheel in gale conditions was the work of two men.
 ‘At the Wheel’ Artist: Frank Brangwyn. Black-and-white engraving by E. H. Del’Orme. Scriber’s Magazine, vol. 14, no. 1, July, 1893.

By the time Moore realised his error, it was already too late. The helmsman attempted to tack, but the barque responded slowly, continuing to bear down upon the breakers. There was, however, still time to prevent a collision – or so it appeared. The crew dropped both anchors and fully played them out. They found no holding seabed. There was too much depth on the seaward side of the reef. The barque ploughed into the reef with a splintering, sickening crunch. Her keel and rudder dragged and splintered across the coral until it wrenched them off and the sea carried their remains away. She fell broadside and the sea briefly swallowed her. When the waves receded, debris littered the upper deck. The large longboat, carelessly tethered it would seem, had slid across the deck and been dashed to pieces against the bulwark (railing). The tiny jolly boat had suffered a similar fate. The two small cutters on the quarterdeck, however, were secure and they both survived the collision intact.

Charlotte D’Oyly was in her cabin, trying to drinking a cup of coffee essence while William slept beside her in one of the bunks. She would have known that the barque was approaching the most perilous part of the journey, would have heard the roar of the waves. John Ireland was going about his chores when the sea flooded into the cabins. Within seconds, a panicking Charlotte joined him. ‘The distracted mother instantly ran on deck in alarm,’ he later reported. ‘I went into the cabin, where I saw the poor child [William] washed out of its berth, and crying on the floor.’ Fearing he would drown, John carried the boy to his mother, who thereafter never gave him up to another’s care. In a similar way, Tom now attached himself firmly to George. Faced with such overwhelming and immediate peril, Charlotte and Tom made the safety and survival of their sons their paramount concern.


Cutting down the mast. A great 19th-century engraving of a shipwrecked timber ship. Illustrated London News, 6 Nov. 1880.

Sailors were accustomed to dealing with emergencies and once they were over their initial shock they tended to act with commendable speed. At this point, said John, the chief mate ‘cut away the masts’.13 It was a common response to a shipwreck, since the combined weight of the superstructure, including rigging and sails, was considerable. Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King was in no doubt that Clare cut away at least some of the masts. Clare’s swift action made no difference to the barque’s perilous position, and she remained impaled upon the reef.14

A quick inspection revealed that the hull was broken and water flooding into the hold and lower deck had already completely spoiled everything they contained. The vessel was unquestionably doomed. Fortunately, the upper decks were reasonably intact, ‘though there was so much danger from the water rising,’ said John, ‘that everyone expected to be washed over.’ The situation called for calm and order. Instead, Captain Moore announced that the barque was lost and ‘ordered the boats to be got ready and furnished with provisions, to save the ship’s company and try to reach Timor.’ He expressed regret, said John, at the ‘stern necessity which urged him to such a step in such a sea.’ There was just one problem. The smaller of the two cutters could safely carry about six people, while the larger cutter could probably squeeze in a dozen. The other two boats were shattered and useless. If the 13 sailors carried out the captain’s orders, most of them would be left behind to perish.

There was so much confusion it was inevitable that conflicting accounts would emerge. One thing all eyewitnesses agreed on: when the crew launched the small cutter, too hastily and unwisely, one of the newcomers, James Price, leapt aboard her, only to drown in the heavy surf when it immediately swamped as it hit the water.

In the wake of the disaster with the small cutter, Moore came to his senses. The Charles Eaton had settled on the reef and there was a good chance her upper decks would remain intact for some time. It would be pointless to launch the second boat in the heavy swell. Instead, he announced without acceptable alternative, they would hold onto the ship. At least some of the crew, however, had a different plan. Three of them tossed a couple of kegs of stores and the carpenter’s tools into the remaining cutter, released it from its lashings and safely launched it. ‘They thought only of themselves and made no attempt to assist those on board but after getting what they could from the wreck made off,’ said John, and he was still angry about it many years later.

The men who took the large cutter later staunchly maintained that the captain and the two mates were present at what would otherwise have been an impossibly hasty and surreptitious launch on such a crowded deck, but their account conflicts with Ireland’s later claim that they selfishly seized the boat. What we do know is that a strong current caught the boat, sweeping it away and depositing it on the leeward side of the reef. Its occupants were Laurence Constantine, the American carpenter, the boatswain and acting third officer, George Piggott, and the 22-year-old English sailor, William Grindall. One of the men in the cutter later gave this version of the reaction to their departure: ‘the Captain and the officers were asked to join, they refused however to do so, saying the boat had no chance of escape’.15 The rest of the crew and the hapless passengers received no such invitation.

Grave peril. A timber ship breaking up after being wrecked. The Graphic, 1 March, 1872, double-page spread, left side. Depicts one passenger clinging to a main chain and a sailor comforting a distraught female passenger. There is seemingly no hope.

Suddenly someone spotted another vessel, about three or four miles (five or six kilometres) to windward. For a brief moment, everyone thought that rescue was already at hand, and cried out with joy and relief. Then they realised that she, too, was stuck on the reef, with her masts standing, royal yard arms crossed and sails set.16 John heard Moore confess ‘that he was sorry he had not made use of his own chart, instead of one that he bought at Sidney [sic], lest there might be any mistake in his own.’17

As the day wore on and the tide receded, calm and discipline prevailed. The passengers inspected the flooded cabins at the stern and were heartened to find that their circumstance, though grim, was not yet hopeless. The D’Oylys still had a large chest of dry clothing, although Armstrong was not so lucky. All his spare clothes were lost. There were some kegs of salted pork, plus water, biscuits and beer. Incredibly, the steward recovered some unbroken wine glasses from the cabin pantry. The poop was badly damaged but it was still capable of providing shelter.

The sailors were a good deal less fortunate, for their sleeping quarter was at the bow. Fo’c’s’les, as every sailor could testify, were barely fit for human habitation. Even under the most favourable conditions, they were dirty, smelly, wet, cramped and dark. Now, however, one side of the bow was a gaping hole. The men who sought shelter in the fo’c’s’le were cold and uncomfortably wet – and with nightfall, they were exceedingly frightened. Above the howl of the wind and the din of the sea, they could still hear the sounds of more and more planks being wrenched from the sides of the hull. As John put it: ‘we felt that we were approaching nearer and nearer to a death from which we could not hope to escape’. The superiority of the stern cabins, however, was an illusion. With each strong wave, more bits of it tore off and washed away.

Dawn brought relief and a surprise. The cutter containing the carpenter and the two other sailors was still in the lee of the reef. Having no grapnel with which to secure their boat, the men had held their position by rowing all night. In the aftermath of the wreck, the panicking seamen had launched themselves to safety in a boat then waited around to see what happened next. Once their terror had subsided, they were reluctant to leave their ship’s vicinity, hoping perhaps for a rescue ship or a miracle. In the ocean’s seemingly endless emptiness, the disintegrating wreck was still their familiar hearth and home.

Two of the sailors on the wreck now decided to take their chances with the cutter, by swimming across the reef. They were Richard Quin and James Wright. John, however, believed that Quin and Wright had conspired with Constantine and Piggott, and that the three men in the cutter were simply biding their time and waiting until it was safe for their two friends to join them. Since both these men also joined the barque at Sydney, the cabin boy’s version does have credibility. That four newcomers were among the five men in the cutter is unlikely to have been a coincidence. They were ‘loose cannon’ not yet tied by bonds of respect or friendship to Moore and their new shipmates. Of those in the cutter, only Constantine had been with the barque for the whole of her voyage.

Six other sailors also dived off the wreck and swam over the reef towards the cutter. As soon as Quin and Wright reached the boat, however, it immediately sailed away. The cutter was big enough to take another six men but it had barely enough stores to keep five men alive for several weeks. The men in the cutter were not interested in trying to save as many people as possible, John thought. They were only interested in saving themselves. One of the cutter’s occupants (unidentified) later claimed that their last view of the Charles Eaton ‘shewed part of the lower and upper deck beam standing high out of the water, part of the poop however was standing, in which it appeared as if the crew and passengers had taken shelter.’18 Quin, however, stated that when he abandoned the barque all of the passengers and crew were gathered together on the f’c’s’le deck at the bow.19 As for the six sailors who had also tried to reach the cutter, they returned to the wreck dripping water and venom, in no doubt that they had been cruelly abandoned. Captain Moore and the D’Oylys, however, had witnessed their willingness to flee the scene.

A day or two later the poop finally disintegrated and much of it was carried away by the surf. Charlotte and Tom had managed to rescue their chest of clothing before their cabin flooded and they now donated its contents to the general pool. John later expressed gratitude for ‘the kind manner in which they requested us to make use of any of their clothes, part of which were the only ones saved’. The cabin passengers on the crowded main deck were rubbing shoulders with rough sailors and a spirit of equality appeared to prevail.

The men had a consultation about what to do next and it was at this point that Tom D’Oyly probably took a more prominent role. Tom had spent two years at the HEIC’s Addiscombe College and his studies had included civil engineering. He knew how to construct anything from the simplest of rafts to pontoons, bridges, dams, survival distilleries, roads and artillery fortifications – and had the training to do it with whatever materials and tools were at hand. He also must have had the mechanical engineering knowledge necessary for maintaining his ordnance. He could confidently assure Moore that they would be able to use the materials around them to make a raft big enough to take them all. The plan was to sail the raft to the mainland, some 40 miles (66 km) away. By sailing northwards up the coast they might, with luck, reach the mouth of Escape River. If they found fresh water there, along with some shellfish and roots, it would dramatically improve their chances of survival. There was also a chance that a passing ship’s crew would spot their raft.

According to John, everyone went on a daily ration of a few pieces of broken biscuit and two wine-glassfuls of water, while the men set to work on building the raft. There were, however, still a few casks of salted pork, wine and beer. There were those on the wreck who ate broken biscuits and there were those who probably fared a little better.

With the steerage deck awash, the main deck was now the only place where everyone could safely congregate. It also had to hold the few provisions that they had managed to save, plus the materials they needed for the raft. There was so little space that people kept bumping into each other.20 The raft was limited in its dimensions by the size of the space available for the men to work. The other problem was the very small supply of water and someone hit upon the idea of constructing an evaporation plant. The steward kept the quarter galley coppers filled with seawater. A funnel was fashioned to channel the steam through a long condensation pipe, and the fresh drinking water that dripped from its end was collected in casks and bottles. The spare masts and spars and much of the timber had coatings of tar, so dry woodchip was available. Of the coal hole I’m not so sure. It was well and truly under water. John Ireland was probably involved with the steward in the simple but important task of keeping the galley fire burning, for he later stated with some pride that the condensed water was ‘one of the greatest helps during our stay upon the wreck.’

The most useful description of what conditions must have been like on the wreck was supplied by John, when he mentioned that the steerage had been flooded to a depth of about four feet (1.2 metres), with everything else above that level still high and dry (so to speak). Everyone had to find their own cubbyholes in what was left of the fo’c’s’le and the poop, with crates and sheets of calico doubtless providing additional protection from the elements. The main deck at night must have resembled a makeshift camp. During those long, dark and sometimes squally nights aboard the wreck, the passengers, the surgeon and the captain would have stuck together in a huddle for mutual comfort and there is a very good chance that they plotted their own survival. Next time, if needs be, it would be women and children first.

August can be an unsettling month in the region where the survivors were marooned, with clear skies repeatedly invaded by storm-bearing clouds. On particularly fine days, with the sun on their faces and the wind flapping their sleeves, it must have been easy for the now industrious party to believe that providence would be kind. Their ship had settled into the reef and was holding fast, in a conspicuous position on the sea route from Sydney to South-East Asia. The reef was reachable and there were many strong men to rummage around underwater for edible crustaceans. Other sailors may have rigged up fishing lines and dangled them over the side. Despair had given way to a glimmer of hope. Everyone wanted to believe they could survive the disaster that had befallen them.

John thought that it took about seven days to build the raft, although later events suggest it was probably much less than that.21 They were greatly hampered in their labour by not having any carpenter’s tools since Constantine had taken them with him. They had to make do with axes, knives and ropes. With so many willing pairs of hands at work, it must have been quite a raft. It had to be. Their survival depended upon it.

With each high tide, the barque lost a few more of her timber planks and as the days passed, it became a cause for increasing alarm. At low tide, the men swam through the hatches and down into the hold, trying to find any stores or water casks that might have been overlooked on previous dives. They found nothing except some calico, which Williams the sail maker used to make the raft’s sail. As for the kegs of water and stores, most of those had long since floated away. By the light from the holed hull and the open hatches, the swimmers would have seen many reef fish, already exploring the unexpected addition to their territory.

Throughout their long ordeal aboard the disintegrating wreck, Charlotte D’Oyly and her Indian nurse remained remarkably calm, expressing gratitude for services rendered and with Charlotte and Tom ‘extolling the sailors to further effort’. In later years, John would forget many of the details of his time on the shipwreck but he did remember their encouraging words of praise.

By the time the raft was finished, stores were very low and everyone knew it was time to go. They could no longer afford to wait around for the Jane and Henry or any other rescue ship. They gently lowered the raft into the water and the D’Oylys, their ayah, Armstrong, the surgeon and the captain climbed down onto it. Moore’s dog, shaggy-haired Portland, also took to the water. He was an excellent long-distance swimmer and loyally followed his master. He was also, potentially, fresh meat. Also on the raft was a basket containing all of the distilled water, a cask of pork and some beer (or possibly broken biscuit). Then the crew scrambled down to the raft and they cut its holding ropes and let it drift away.

As soon as they reached deep water, it was clear the raft was not buoyant enough to take them all. It sank beneath them until they were standing waist-deep in water, and it was so unstable that it threatened to capsize. In a panic, the men turned around and frantically paddled back to the wreck. One frightened sailor carelessly jettisoned a basket containing provisions. The two mates, Clare and Mayor, then led the way for their crew by climbing back onto the wreck, while Moore remained on the raft with the passengers and the surgeon. The steward, Montgomery, was unable or unwilling to abandon his role as the passenger’s servant. John, however, preferred to follow the chief mate. Two strong seamen, Lourne and Berry, also remained on the raft. In the end there were 11 people on the raft while 10 men, the two midshipmen and the two ship’s boys returned to the wreck.22 To prevent the raft from drifting away, it was firmly attached to the stern with a new rope.

It is possible now to view the first raft as a planned-for contingency, albeit ultimately executed out of genuine necessity. Its occupants included all of the passengers and the two most senior members of the ship’s company, Captain Moore and Surgeon Grant. Montgomery was the passengers’ servant and two strong seamen handled the heavy oars. The first raft had also taken all of the water, most of the weapons and the bulk of the food supplies.

By nightfall, the sailors on the wreck were asleep, satisfied that Moore would not abandon them. Tomorrow, he had promised them, they would begin work on strengthening the raft so that it could take them all. Either that or they would build a second raft. Common sense dictated that Moore should set sail and go. For the D’Oyly family the predicament must have been increasingly ridiculous. Waves over the reef would have been bouncing them against what was left of the stern, with Charlotte and Tom struggling to protect and comfort their two terrified sons in the face of this new but still unbearable peril. William, in particular, would have been sobbing throughout the entire ordeal. At some time in the middle of the night, when all the sailors were asleep, someone slashed the rope that tethered the raft to the stern. When the crew awoke next morning, the raft and its occupants had vanished.


Notes to Chapter 5

  1. Historical Records of Australia, vol. XVIII, p. 575. Also Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , 2nd Edn, Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 47. The official crew list from the customs office included William Hill and omitted John Sexton, while the Batavia deposition of the four surviving sailors, omitted Hill and included Sexton. It was based on the crew list ex-London and contained several mistakes.
  2. For information about the crew ex-London see Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 4.
  3. Sydney Herald, 14 July 1834.
  4. Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Hist. Soc. of Qld, 24 February 1983; Samuel Ashmore, letter dated 13 May 1836, Nautical Magazine, vol. 6, no. 4. pp. 211–14.
  5. Sydney Monitor, 30 July 1834.
  6. See for example Phillip Parker King, letter, 1 December 1832, Nautical Magazine, vol. 11, no. 18, August 1833, pp. 433–35.
  7. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 8. All quotes attributed to John in this chapter come from this book. His oral account, however, has been either refined by the publisher or adapted from other published sources. Because it’s a small book I have chosen not to endnote every quote.
  8. Phillip Parker King, Voyage to Torres Strait in search of the Survivors of the Ship “Charles Eaton” . . . , Preface, Sydney: the NSW Govt., 1837.
  9. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  10. They included the Nimrod Passage, Brown’s Passage, Stead Passage and the Indefatigable entrance. Of these, the Stead Passage was arguably the most popular with mariners because it was almost due east of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island and therefore easier to locate. Its main disadvantage was Yule Reef, which lay in the path of approach from the southeast and had to be carefully avoided.
  11. The Indefatigable (Master Matthew Bowles, retired Lieutenant RN) left Sydney on 13 July 1815 in company with two other vessels. Bowles stumbled across a passage through the reef more by luck than skill and the three ships were almost immediately surrounded by a labyrinth of dangerous sand bars and reefs. They spent the next two or three days torturously weaving a zigzag track through the reefs until finally rounding Cape York Peninsula. That the Indefatigable passage was subsequently indicated on some maps was perhaps regrettable, given that there were better tracks. For an account of the Indefatigable’s voyage see Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Roebuck Society Publication no. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, pp. 45–48.
  12. J. Beete Jukes, M.A. F.G.S. Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly . . . , 2 vols, vol. 1, London: T. & W. Boone, New Bond Street. 1847, p. 328. Jukes supplies this description of the Great Detached Reef: ‘Six miles N.N.E. of Yule Reef there commences a large detached reef of irregular outline, twelve miles long from north to south, bounded on three sides by an almost continuous mass of reef, but open on its western or leeward side, where is an irregular-shaped bank of soundings, with patches of reef upon it. Inside the lagoon of this detached reef there is a depth of 20 to 30 fathoms, but outside the reef the depth is very much greater, and generally unknown. There is a passage five miles wide between this detached reef and the line of the Barrier, in which bottom was reached in two places, once with 105 and once with 135 fathoms, fine sand being brought up on the lead. On other places ineffectual soundings were tried with 130 and 150 fathoms of line.’
  13. Phillip Parker King, Voyage to Torres Strait in search of the Survivors of the Ship “Charles Eaton” . . . , Preface, Sydney: NSW Govt., 1837, p. v.
  14. It may be useful to compare Clare’s action with that of the chief mate aboard the Stirling Castle, wrecked on Eliza Reef on 25 May 1836: ‘To ease her, Baxter suggested cutting the main rigging, and soon after this was done a violent surge carried away the mainmast complete with the foretopmast and all the complicated superstructure of a ship in full sail.’ In Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 28. This action of cutting the rigging to bring down the masts was described as contriving to ‘cut away the masts’ in ‘Wreck of the Stirling Castle’, Tales of Travellers; or A View of the World, no. 48. 2 Sept. 1837. Other stories of that era, however, indicate that in particularly perilous circumstances some of the masts were literally felled like trees.
  15. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  16. Phillip Parker King’s belief that this was the wreck of the Flora (grounded on Detached Reef 1 May 1832) has been queried because it’s difficult to see how she could have survived intact for more than two years. Her captain, Sheriff, described extensive damage to her rigging even before the crew abandoned her. (Nautical Magazine, vol. II, Oct. 1833, pp. 595–98.). The captains of the Strathfieldsay and the Asia sighted a wreck high on Detached Reef in September 1833, when they were passing through the Indefatigable entrance. It was then in such a sound condition as to appear to have only recently been abandoned by her crew. (Nautical Magazine, vol. III, no. 34, p. 712). Then the ship Othello with the barque Planter in company approached the Detached Reef on 23 May, 1834, and Surgeon Mitchell of the Othello reported in his journal: . . . ‘we saw within the reef upon a sand bank the wreck of a large ship her lower masts & Topmast were standing with yards across and the sails had been blown away from them the boltsprit Jib and flying jib boom were standing the sails stowed, the fore and main spencers were brailed up the bulwarks break of the poop and every thing on deck appeared to be washed away she was lying upon her beam ends and appeared to have been lost recently’. At the time of their approach to the Indefatigable entrance, visibly was so poor that the two vessels tacked back and forth for three days before they were game to tackle the entrance. Even so, they had no difficulty in sighting the wreck. The description of the location of the wreck is consistent with that of the Flora’s final resting place. The crew and sole female passenger of the Flora took to the longboat and they did make it safely to Timor.
  17. If Moore’s own chart was an Admiralty chart, he would not have been much better served, since it, too, gave only a rough idea of the Detached Reef’s dimensions. Moore’s action in bearing away to the reef under adverse conditions was one for which he alone was responsible. Alluding to the dangers of such an action when approaching the Barrier Reef from the outer passage, Phillip Parker King wrote of ‘the possibility, nay, the probability, of thick weather preventing the sight of the land-marks, or, of not being able to procure an observation for the latitude, without which no prudent navigator would feel justified in venturing to bear away to leeward, for any particular passage through the Barrier Reef’ (Nautical Magazine, vol. II, no. 18, 1833, p. 434.)
  18. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  19. William Bayley file, Batavia deposition, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, A.1074. The sailors’ Batavia deposition was copied by Gledstanes & Co. and circulated to interested relatives.
  20. Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 13.
  21. Although seven days seems a long time to build a raft, the party may have delayed starting in the belief the Jane and Henry would rescue them.
  22. One account by John Ireland puts 10 people on the first raft and 15 left behind on the wreck. Based on the names he supplied at different times, however, there would have been 11 people on the first raft and 14 on the wreck.


Addendum to Part One: the charts

Portion of a Horsburgh Chart. Full chart held by the National Library of Australia. The Great Detached Reef is represented as the oval shape sitting on lat. 11° 50′ S., long. 144° 11′ E, well to the east of the general line of the Great Barrier Reef at that point.

Before Captain Moore left London, he obtained a copy of Horsburgh’s 1832 chart. We can accept that because he said that he had got a chart of the area at London, and the 1832 version of this one was the current one then available. Horsburgh’s charts were among the most trusted in the world, renowned for their accuracy. In this instance, however, he has produced a sketch based on information provided by ship captains, and it is consequently vague. The Great Detached Reef is given a simple oval shape but he has placed it reasonably correctly in terms of its longitude and latitude. He provides co-ordinates for the Indefatigable passage or entrance that was later surveyed by Captain Blackwood and renamed the Raine Island Entrance and passage to the Torres Strait. A copy of the chart has been digitized and can be viewed at the National Library of Australia website. I recommend that you check it out.

Ashmore’s chart published at Sydney in 1835. Original held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, U.K. The Great Detached Reef is situated on latitude 11° 50′ S., but its longitude is to the west of 144°E. However, most ship’s masters at that time were not skilled at reading longitude and would have relied more on latitude readings and sightings with clear visibility.

Given that Ashmore’s chart wasn’t printed until 1835, it’s fair to ask: How did Captain Moore have a copy of it in 1834? He must had either an early proof or a hand-drawn copy of a chart that Ashmore had drawn up for his own private use. On it he had marked out five passages that had been safely used to cross through the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait. Ashmore made the crossing nine times without incident. In Sydney in the 1830s it gave him an almost legendary status among seafarers. A few conscientious captains, wanting to use the outer passage but fearful of what lay ahead of them, sought information from Captain Ashmore on the best tracks through the Barrier Reef. Ashmore by this time had given up the seafaring life and settled in Sydney. He was generous with his free advice and even allowed a few of them to copy his chart. Captain Moore must have been one of them. It was precisely that kind of interest that encouraged Ashmore to pass his hand-drawn chart over to a Sydney draftsman to prepare it for printing. Before that happened though he laid down two more safe passages on it, supplied to him by the captain of the Argo, who safely traversed the reef as late as 1834. The fact that Moore had Ashmore’s chart copied by hand in 1834 indicates his concern about the accuracy of the Horsburgh chart. His hand-drawn copy would not have been as clear as the printed version below.

In the wake of the subsequent disaster that befell the Charles Eaton, Ashmore was accused of producing a chart that was leading mariners to their destruction, by encouraging them to use the outer route to the Torres Strait instead of the inner route. Ashmore and his supporters could counter-claim that most masters of merchant ships already preferred the outer route and the chart helped most of them to avoid shipwreck. Both charts were misleading and when used together they were particularly confusing, but the onus was always upon each individual captain to approach the barrier reefs with extreme caution and to proceed through them only when visibility was very good. In the end, the much safer inner route laid down by Phillip Parker King RN should have been the obvious choice.

According to Captain Blackwood, R. N. who surveyed the reef in HMS Fly,

A ship intending to enter the Barrier by the passage of Raine’s Island, should shape a  course so as to make the southern extreme of a large detached horse-shoe Reef in lat. 11° 50′ S., long. 144° 11’E. ’ . . . Having sighted the breakers, which may be safely approached within a short mile, a north (compass) course will be steered along the outer edge of this detached reef, when this distance being run, Raine’s Island will be seen, and a N. W. by N. course should be shaped for it. (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 March, 1844).






Part Two: the long wait for news

Chapter 6: Bad Tidings about the Charles Eaton


by Veronica Peek


On 27 August 1834, 29 days after leaving Sydney,1 the Jane and Henry was still bobbing along the outer route and had not yet passed through the Great Barrier Reef and into the inner passage. A fierce tropical storm on 22 August would also have slowed her progress. A faster vessel was bound to overtake her and the first one to appear over the horizon was the 412-ton ship Augustus Caesar, ex-Sydney 10 August, under the command of Captain William Wiseman.

Wiseman’s ship fell in with the Jane and Henry and the two vessels proceeded in company through one of the more southern entrances in the region of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island, and into the inner passage. For the next four or five days the two masters guided their ships through a maze of reefs near the tip of Cape York Peninsula, taking constant soundings and seeking safe night anchorage.

NASA satellite image of the tip of Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait, showing the maze of islands, islets, coral reefs and sand banks to the right of the entrance. Navigating through them without a proper chart was a terrifying experience for mariners.

Wiseman was a seasoned master and well aware of the dangers of the route.2 In 1829 he had been master of the barque Lucy Davidson on the London–Sydney route, and in 1832, he had been in command of the convict transport ship Isabella. He had an experienced crew on this voyage and he approached the Torres Strait with caution. On 31 August, the two vessels rounded the corner into Torres Strait and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the Augustus Caesar anchored on the lee side of Nalgi.

Nalgi, also known then as Double Island but now called Twin Island, is in the centre of the main passage through the Torres Strait and about 20 nautical miles north of the tip of Cape York. Having anchored for the night, Wiseman allowed his second mate, Hartley, to go ashore with two of his men. They were shocked to discover that a beach on the southeastern side of the island was strewn with ship’s wreckage. Spread out along the sand was a quantity of light driftwood, including cuddy doors and windows and two planks from the side of a ship. Hartley and his men set off and walked around the island but could find no trace of the main wreck, or any of the passengers or crew. After three hours, they returned to their ship to report their find. According to Wiseman:

They brought with them a window frame, a keg and other fragments of wreck, sufficient to convince me it was the Charles Eaton, and that she must be at a considerable distance to windward of Double Island, probably near Mount Adolphus, Cape York, or the reefs or Islands in their vicinity, they being directly to Windward.3

The window was probably from one of the barque’s stern cabins. There were also several brass locks with her name upon them that must have been attached to the wreckage of doors or windows, while one of the kegs had the name CHARLES EATON written on it. The Augustus Caesar and the Charles Eaton were moored together at the St Katharine’s dock for many weeks and Wiseman was familiar with the barque’s appearance. He was in no doubt that the wreckage had come from her.

Booby Island in the Torres Strait. National Library of Australia

The crew of the Augustus Caesar then spent what must have been a nervous night anchored off Nalgi. The saw a number of fires on nearby Maururra (Wednesday Island) that might have been lit by survivors from the shipwreck, yet no one considered it safe to investigate. For whatever reason, Wiseman also failed to tell Captain Cobern and the crew of the Jane and Henry about the wreckage. The following morning the two vessels proceeded through the strait and anchored at Booby Island.

Booby Island is a rock near the main shipping route through the Torres Strait, regularly visited in those days by the crews of European ships. They were giving themselves, as Captain Stokes RN later wrote on his visit there, ‘a short period of repose and relaxation after the anxieties and danger of the outer passage’.4 The rock is invaded every year by colonies of nesting boobies. Its most noticeable feature is the bird droppings that cover its summit, hence the name given to it independently by both Captain William Bligh and Captain James Cook. It was also the first stop for any survivors shipwrecked on the Barrier Reef. Wiseman sent officers and some of his crew ashore but they found no trace of any castaways. Cobern now learned for the first time of the fate of his former companion vessel and that Wiseman’s men had found a cuddy door and a cask labelled Charles Eaton. He was unaware that the debris was at Nalgi, and assumed it was on Booby Island.

The Jane and Henry continued on to Batavia (now Jakarta) and remained there for six weeks before returning to Cape Town. The news of the Charles Eaton’s fate was contained in a letter from Messrs Borradaile and Co. of the Cape of Good Hope, addressed to Messrs Gledstanes.5 It was received in London on 26 February 1835. It gave the owners the terrible news about the loss of their vessel but implied that sailors had found wreckage from her at Booby Island. Not long after, Lloyd’s of London posted Wiseman’s accurate account, with the observation that: ‘from the weather they had on the 22nd [Aug.] they much feared for the safety of the crew and passengers.’6

It was the Irish Protestant newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal, however, that was among the first to publish the news of the shipwreck, with details reportedly from a ship’s passenger recently returned to Dublin from the
southern seas. In its 14 Feb. 1835 issue the journal reproduced the following news item:

BARQUE CHARLES EATON.–We regret to hear that a letter is in town from a passenger in a ship just arrived, in which it is mentioned that some Cabin stores of the Barque Charles Eaton, from Sydney to Singapore and Calcutta, have been picked up somewhere near Torres’s Straights [sic]; whence the loss of that vessel is inferred. She sailed from Sydney on the 29th of July, and therefore was greatly out of time. The following is a list of the passengers given in the Sydney papers; –C. G. Armstrong, Esq; Captain and Mrs. D’Oyly, W. and E. D’Oyly, and a native servant.

The journal’s editor was unaware that Armstrong had relatives and friends in Ireland who knew of his overseas movements, probably from letters posted by him en route. The news had come completely out of the blue and they were understandably shocked. One of them even demanded a retraction of the shipwreck claim. The Freemason’s Journal obliged in their next edition (17 Feb. 1835):

We copied from the Courier into our number on Saturday, a paragraph relating to the Bark Charles Eaton calculated to give distress to the minds of some connections of those on board, for which we believe there is no foundation. The Charles Eaton left Sydney we learn intending to proceed to Sourabaya and China – for the last place Mr. Armstrong was a passenger. His not arriving at Singapore therefore, is accounted for by the fact of her not having been destined to go there at all. The cabin stores said to have been picked up “somewhere near Torres’ Straits” by what vessel is not stated, consist we are informed of the lid of a chest, which of course may have been thrown overboard. The vessel may not have been able to fetch Sourabaya and have gone round to the northward of New Guinea. She might not therefore have reached China at the date of our last intelligence, but there is no particular reason for alarm about her. The passengers who embarked for Calcutta would of course have to wait at Sourabaya for an opportunity for Singapore.—

Armstrong’s agitated connections were in denial and their hopes were soon dashed when the official notice of the shipwreck was posted at Lloyd’s of London. Included among those connections were the Armstrongs of Banagher in King’s County, a few of whom were among the wealthiest land-owners in Ireland. During his Sydney stopover, the young barrister (or a creditor perhaps) had addressed a letter to Thomas H. (St.) G. Armstrong at Banagher. It was later listed in the Sydney Herald (10 Nov. 1834) as still at the post office because its paid postage was insufficient.

News of the shipwreck had already reached India by this time, possibly via the Jane and Henry. At about the same time that the barque had disappeared, the HEIC changed Captain D’Oyly’s recent promotion to the Agra station to a similar position at the Delhi magazine and the company expected him back in Calcutta by December or January 1835 at the latest. When many months passed and the D’Oylys failed to show up, their Calcutta relatives endured a ‘painful interval of suspense’7 during which ‘the most gloomy surmises were entertained as to the possible fate of the captain and his family’.8 Their fears were confirmed by the arrival of Sydney newspapers dating from July 1834, which contained the barque’s passenger list.

For a time the only other news of the barque’s fate came to the D’Oyly relatives via rumours. The crews of passing ships had sighted the Charles Eaton wreck, firmly wedged on the Great Detached Reef and reasonably intact. It meant that there would have been time for survivors to leave the wreck in boats. Later, stories began to circulate throughout the main trading ports of South-East Asia that some of her crew were captives on an island. They were probably spread by the crews of Dutch trading praus recently returned from Timor. They were certainly both widespread and persistent, though not reliable enough to encourage anyone to do anything about them. In the Dutch East Indies, meanwhile, other events connected with the Charles Eaton were already unfolding.


Notes to Chapter 6

  1. Twenty-nine days does seem like unusually slow progress. On her subsequent voyage the Jane and Henry covered the distance in 20 days. The Charles Eaton reached Sir Charles Hardy Island in 17 days, as also did the Augustus Caesar. We don’t know for certain why the two ships parted company and to be fair to Captain Moore, it’s possible that the Jane and Henry had to make a scheduled or unscheduled visit to a seaport. You can also argue that it would have been impractical for Moore to slow down his barque to match the smaller schooner’s speed.
  2. Mr Wiseman to Mr Nicholson, Master Attendant, letter dated 1 April 1836. Historical Records of Australia, vol. XVIII, 1836, pp. 432–34, enclosure.
  3. The Times, 23 Sept. 1836. Hartley and Wiseman also inspected some bones near the remains of a fire. They are unlikely to have been human and are more likely to have been canine or marine, e.g. the remains of a dugong. Despite this, many people did believe that the bones found by Hartley and Wiseman were the remains of some of the crew and passengers and that their discovery was further proof that the unfortunate castaways had been wholly cooked and eaten.
  4. J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia . . . , vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide Library Board of South Australia, 1969. The Booby is a gannet, so named because it trusts enough to be considered stupid, and thus is easily caught and killed by hungry sailors.
  5. William Bayley file, copy of Borradaile letter, Gledstanes to Bayley, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  6. Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Historical Soc. of Qld, 24 February 1983, p. 22.
  7. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 12.
  8. Wemyss 1884, p. 12.

Indonesia-map-two (2) copy

Chapter 7: The Tanimbar Connection

About 220 miles (350 km) north of Australia is a group of islands collectively called Tanimbar. They are Australia’s nearest neighbours in the Arafura Sea.1 There is a channel south of the largest island of Yamdena that separates it from the smaller island of Selaru, while to the north of Yamdena there are two more islands called Fordate (more recently Vordate) and Larat. These islands were almost unheard of in Australia in the nineteenth century — and that is still the case today.

Map of Tanimbar Islands in the 19th century. Shows location of Lauran village and what was then called Olilit village. It refers only to the two islands of Yamdena and Selaru. Similarly Vordate is now used instead of Fordate or Fordata. Copyright Veronica Peek.

Although the islands of Tanimbar are part of the Moluccas, the Dutch administration at Amboyna had no official contact with their inhabitants until 1646. At that time, the islands’ leaders gave the United East India Company of the Netherlands sole trading rights to the trepang (sea slugs) caught off their surrounding reefs.2 Although the trepang had little value to the islanders, they were a much-fancied delicacy on the Chinese market. The Dutch built a fort on Fordate, to protect their exclusive trade. They also posted a missionary there and later a schoolteacher. Their goal was to convert the islanders to Christianity.

Yamdena village c.1910.
Yamdena village c.1910 but virtually unchanged from 19th century. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dorpsgezicht op de Tanimbar-eilanden TMnr 60015598.

Trading vessels were showing signs, even then, of being reluctant to have much contact with the Yamdenans, so it was good news for their captains when the Dutch residents and soldiers started promoting the town of Sebeano, on the western coast of Fordate, as christianised and a protected trading post. For a time the remote little post flourished, and many trading praus called there. The Fordate islanders were hospitable but most European mariners still preferred to avoid the region. Murderous pirates infested the Timor and Arafura Seas.

Sebeano eventually became so popular with visiting trading praus from the islands of Banda, Macassar and Garem that they undermined the Dutch trade monopoly over the Tanimbar Islands. By the middle of the 18th century, the Dutch had concluded that trade at Tanimbar was too unprofitable to warrant the cost of maintaining a presence in the islands.3 They withdrew from Sebeano and had no further contact with the Tanimbar islanders until 1825, when a Dutch brig-of-war under the command of Lieutenant D. H. Kolff sailed through the outer reaches of their trading empire. He reminded everyone that all trade was still under Dutch control and appointed representatives called Oran Kayas to protect Dutch trading interests.4

Lieut. Augustus L. Kuper, a navy officer temporarily serving with Lieut. Owen Stanley, commander of the British navy’s brig H.M. brig Britomart, which called there in March 1839, provided the first published account of an English vessel’s visit to the much-feared and avoided island of Yamdena. On making landfall near Oliliet (now Olilit) village, the men aboard the brig observed two large praus flying Dutch colours coming out to greet them. Describing the meeting that followed, Kuper wrote:

At 9, we observed two large canoes under sail, standing out from the land towards us – they shortened sail several times as if in doubt what to do, but about noon they came alongside, and several natives came on board. They came from the village of Oleillet [sic], off which they gave us to understand there was a good anchorage, and as it was the nearest place we could reach we stood in for it, taking their canoes in tow. An elderly man, apparently the head man of the party (man’s name – Gamble or Grindall), handed us a small flat basket containing several old leaves from an old remark-book, written in pencil, a torn leaf of a navigation book, and two small pieces of black lead pencil. . . . As I could not prevail on him to part with them in exchange for anything I had to offer, I took a copy of as much of it as I could decipher, although the contents were of little value. 5

Tanimbar canoes
Tanimbar canoes under Dutch flags, probably to indicate they have the sanction and protection of the Dutch government at Amboyna. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dorpsgezicht op de Tanimbar-eilanden.  Each canoe can hold up to 20–25 rowers. Not to be confused with the large 19th-century praus used for war, some of which, ostensibly, could be jam-packed with 150–200 men. This photograph was taken early in the 20th century.

The old man was one of the chiefs of Oliliet village. He kept repeating the name ‘Grindall’ and the Britomart officers assumed he was identifying himself. Only later did they realise that his name was actually Lomba. He was a ‘little thin shrivelled old man’dressed in a long black serge coat and a blue striped or checked shirt, which he pointedly displayed to the navy officers. The name ‘T. P. Ching’7 was marked upon it and the materials he presented to Lieut. Kuper in a neat little basket were crude relics of the Charles Eaton story.

Five years earlier, on about 1 September 1834, Oliliet’s peaceful day had been interrupted by the arrival of a large ship’s cutter containing five sailors. They had been at sea and under sail in the open boat for 15 days and their provisions were almost gone.8 On landing at the beach below the village, they went ashore and helped themselves to fresh water and coconuts, before returning to their cutter and continuing down the coast. The villagers, however, had noticed their presence and they followed the cutter and surrounded it with canoes. Too exhausted to resist and having no weapons, the five men surrendered to the islanders.

Their boat was upset and they were stripped of their clothes, then taken naked and quaking back to Oliliet beach, where the violent gestures of the villagers let the sailors to believe they were about to be killed. Fortunately two old chiefs, Pabok and Lomba, intervened to spare their lives. To prove they meant no harm, these two leaders made sure the sailors got back most of their clothes. The five sailors were lucky to be alive. They had stolen tradable resources from the beach and it was not the practice of the Yamdenans (who were themselves great pirates) to spare the lives of other thieves.

The five sailors in the ship’s cutter were the carpenter Laurence Constantine, the boatswain George Piggott, and three seamen − Richard Quin, William Grindall and James Wright. The men who now surrounded them were mostly healthy and athletic, with handsome features. Although by no means completely isolated from the Indonesian archipelago, there were aspects of their appearance that suggested their culture had developed its own hybrid qualities.

Their single garment was a very short sarong, sometimes adorned with shells. Enormous solid earrings, roughly shaped like padlocks and almost touching their shoulders, had extended the holes in their ear lobes. They fashioned attractive turbans from their own black hair, by cutting it to a length of about 10 centimetres, bleaching it fair with lime paste, then growing it very long so that it was two-toned. They then coiled their hair around their heads in a variety of fancy and fantastic shapes and fastened it with large wooden combs.9

Oliliet village was directly above the beach and hidden from view by thick vegetation. To reach it, the villagers escorted the five men up a long, steep flight of steps, cut into the side of the hill. That was the easy part. To reach the summit it then became necessary to climb two wooden ladders, placed almost perpendicularly against the cliff face and clearly intended for defence. Their removal would make it impossible for anyone to attack the village from the seaward side.

Tanimbar islands and a set of cliff-face steps with a glimpse of village rooftops. The top sections were originally constructed as ladders that could be hauled up if the village was attacked.

From the top of the cliff, the sailors had a panoramic view of the sandy bay they had just left behind. All along the beach were coconut plantations, interspersed with thatched boat sheds housing outrigger canoes. Within the bay were several small, rocky islands. Constantine and his companions could hardly have failed to notice them as they were passing by in their cutter, since on at least one of them there were several decomposing bodies, packed into shells or woven grass boxes. That island was Oliliet’s current graveyard and a useful way to keep the stench of decay at bay. For anyone passing by in a boat, however, the odour from the island was awful.

Dutch visitors with Tanimbar islanders, c.1910. Some of the men have bleached their hair with lime and many of them are wearing heavy earrings. They are tall by 19th-century standards and have fine physiques. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The village had more than 150 houses and a population of about 1000. Entrance to it was along a single narrow path to a gate, guarded by a timber fort flying the Dutch ensign and manned by soldiers armed with bows and arrows. There was one long and wide main street and two parallel secondary streets and the whole village was enclosed on the jungle side behind a wall. All of the houses faced towards the main street and sat on stilts. Their most striking feature was their tall, steeply pitched thatched roofs. The peak of each gable had large wooden carvings shaped like stylised buffalo horns, from which strings of twine tastefully decorated with shells hung almost to the ground. The overall effect was very picturesque.10

Tanimbar women with their fine headpieces and earrings.
Tanimbar women wore multiple shell armbands and their headpieces and earrings were made from silver filigree. Their single garment was a woven skirt. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The five sailors soon discovered that the interior of each house was a single room divided by a wooden alter panel dedicated to Oliliet’s god, with arms raised to convey the impression it was supporting the roof beam. Most of these panels were finely carved and exceptionally beautiful, while the roof beam was the place where the occupants stored the heads of ancestors – but not those collected as spoils of war. The Tanimbar islanders were headhunters but after the heads of enemies had served their purpose as ritual offerings, the men tossed them over the wall and into the jungle.

The women and girls were uniformly dressed in dark wraps reaching to their knees or ankles. They, too, wore very large earrings but they were lightweight gems of lace-like filigree, often made from metal, while their numerous arm and ankle bands were fine circles of polished conus shells. Like their male counterparts, the younger women were strikingly attractive.

Stone boats like this one used to be used as meeting places and for sacrifices, but by c.1910 they were being used as stages for village dancing. COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Expeditieleden op de Tanimbar eilanden.

The Dutch-appointed Oran Kaya had his house near the centre of the main street. Adjacent was a circle, marked out by a low stone wall. When decisions had to be made that affected the whole village, as had now occurred with the arrival of five shipwrecked sailors, everyone assembled there, forming a large circle around the perimeter of the wall. Although it may not have looked like it, the stone circle represented a boat. The bow of the boat faced towards the sea and contained a wooden post and the sacrificial alter. The most valued offering to their god was a human head. At the stern of the boat was a woven wicker bench for the senior ritual officials, the mela snoba in charge of sacrifices and offerings and the meta fwaak, or herald, who walked through the village crying out all decisions.11 As far as the five sailors could see, Pabok and Lomba were chiefs. It is possible they were the heads of Oliliet’s two main clans. Lomba’s black serge coat was a common badge of authority around the islands but he certainly was not the Oran Kaya, although that man also proved to be quite elderly and courteous.

The villagers finally sanctioned saving the sailors’ lives. Lomba gave the five men his personal protection and if trouble erupted, he would intervene on their behalf. As a token of gratitude, they gave him Ching’s shirt, which one of them must have been wearing at the time they abandoned the barque. The sailors would later say that the Yamdenans never treated them as slaves or forced them to work – but they were prisoners, with no freedom to leave unless granted by the chiefs.

Women tended crops and livestock, fished on the reefs, cooked the meals and raised the children. The men burnt off gardens, fermented the popular and potent palm wine, went on long trading voyages, built canoes, fished for trepang and continued their war with the nearby village of Lauren. Slaves had no status and had to do all kinds of menial chores.

Exactly what triggered the war between Oliliet and Lauren was buried under layers of payback. In any event, if Oliliet had been on good terms with Lauren, it would have been doing battle with another village. The Yamdenans were militant and easily offended, and they made inter-village agreements for mutual support that dragged them into a mesh of disputes.

Although the Oliliet villagers used Javanese as the language of trade when dealing with the crews of visiting Dutch praus, at all other times they spoke their own language. The five shipwreck survivors needed to pick up the rudiments of it quickly, and this they apparently did with enough success to procure their survival. After a time they learned that another European sailor was also being held captive – at Lauren. According to the Oliliet villagers, a brig had wrecked off Lauren village some years ago and all the crew murdered except two boys, one of whom had since died.

Thirteen months after their arrival, a Dutch-owned trading prau en route to Amboyna (Ambon) called at Oliliet. It was an unusual event. No amount of tempting offers of iron axes or calico could induce the villagers to give up their livestock or vegetables. The five sailors immediately sought permission from Lomba and Pabok to leave with the Dutch prau. They got their freedom when they promised to come back in an English ship with arms, gunpowder and ammunition, so that Pabok and Lomba could defeat their enemies at Lauren. This was the gamble that Lomba was taking. He wanted and expected that there would be a generous reward as the sailors had promised. William Grindall gave Lomba a few items off the Charles Eaton that the old chief must have assumed was a contract, reference or proof of identity.

Before leaving the island, the prau visited Lauren village and the five men tried to get permission for the other shipwrecked sailor to come with them. His name was Joe Forbes and he had been a ship’s boy aboard an English schooner called the Stedcombe. It had been attacked and sunk off Lauret in 1824 and all the crew killed save Forbes and another ship’s boy who had since died. Forbes was a frail figure who had almost forgotten his native tongue, with the result that the sailors were unaware that he was English. He understood enough of what they were discussing, however, and was devastated when his own Oran Kaya refused to let him go. Although taken as a 14-year-old ship’s boy and now about 24 years old, he was so small and delicate that he looked much younger. He had been exposed to strong sunlight for a long time yet his skin was very pale. His hair had never been cut during his time on the island and it now reached almost to his knees, although he wore it in the local style, twisting it gracefully around his head like a turban and securing it with combs. It had been bleached with lime, for it was the colour of raw silk.12The sympathetic feelings of those who met him were most aroused by his expression. He looked at the world with eyes that were always sad. He was about 5’2″ (157 cm) tall but his legs were bent and crippled from having been bound too tightly and too often, to prevent him from escaping.

Forbes had witnessed many cruel deeds. On one occasion, the Lauren pirates had boarded a Chinese junk, plundering it and murdering the crew before burning it down to the water. On another occasion, they had attacked a schooner. He had played a part in other acts of piracy and had his share of the spoils. He had a box filled with clothes and money — dollars, half-crowns, sixpences; these alone were his treasured possessions.13 The Charles Eaton sailors would later claim that Forbes had ‘reconciled himself to the manners and customs of the natives.’14 He was useful and a great favourite with the villagers, they said. So dismissive were they of Forbes that the English-speaking world forgot all about him until his rescue five years later, in 1839. His rescuer was Captain Thomas Watson of the schooner Essington, a vessel formerly better known as the colonial schooner Isabella.

Notes to Chapter 7

  1. The name ‘Timor Laut’ (An ancient Malay name meaning Timor East or eastern sea) is no longer used for the islands of Yamdena/Jamdena and Selaru. Indonesians still refer to the Tanimbar or Tenimbar islands.
  2. See Susan McKinnon, From a Shattered Sun: Hierarchy, Gender and Alliance in the Tanimbar Islands, USA: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, pp. 3–9 for more detailed information about Yamdena’s history.
  3. McKinnon 1991, pp. 3–9.
  4. D. H. Kolff, Voyages of the Dutch Brig of War Dourga, through the Southern and Little Known Part of the Moluccan Archipelago, and along the Previously Unknown Southern Coast of New Guinea . . . , trans. from the Dutch by George Windsor Earl, London: J. Madden & Co., [c.1837].
  5. Owen Stanley in J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coast and Rivers Explored and Surveyed during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in the years 1837–38–39–40–41–42–43, vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of S.A., 1969, pp. 439–40. First published 1846. At the time of the visit to Timor Laut, Augustus Kuper, First Lieut. aboard the HMS Alligator, served as temporary First Lieut. to Owen Stanley on the brig H.M. brig Britomart. Kuper was the son-in-law of Sir Gordon Bremer, at that time the commandant and founder of the British station at Port Essington. Owen Stanley, who was often not a well man, concentrated on taking soundings and later prepared excellent charts of the voyage. Both officers kept journals. See Augustus L. Kuper, Sydney Herald, 22 July 1839.
  6. Kuper 1839.
  7. A shirt that once belonged to the young midshipman, Tom Ching, and possibly borrowed or stolen.
  8. See the sailors’ Batavia deposition, William Bayley File, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074, for details of their time at Yamdena.
  9. Stanley pp. 456–57; Kuper, Sydney Herald 22 July 1839.
  10. Kuper 1839.
  11. See McKinnon 1991, pp. 68–75 for a description of the rituals surrounding the ‘boat’.
  12. For a full description of the rescue of Joseph Forbes in 1839, see the logbook of Captain Thomas Watson on file at the National library of Australia; for a shorter version, see Captain Watson’s report to Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer, in Geoffrey C. Ingleton, True Patriots All, or News from Early Australia as Told in a Collection of Broadsides . . . , Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1988. Reprinted Sydney: Angus & Robertson, pp. 204–07. However, I do recommend that you read Watson’s logbook. It is available online.
  13. Sydney Herald, 20 July 1839.
  14. Batavia deposition, William Bayley file.




Chapter 8: Amboyna and Batavia

The Dutch prau carrying the five shipwrecked sailors arrived at Amboyna (Ambon) six days later, on 7 October 1835. As they sailed into the deep harbor, they would have seen many clove-tree plantations, mixed in with the natural mountain growth. The Dutch administrative centre of the Moluccas (Mulukas) on Amboyna still exported spices in large quantities, but the Dutch were paying more attention now to trepang, the Chinese delicacy easily caught around the islands. What had happened to the Moluccas had been tragic. Within a century of the arrival of European merchants, senseless over-production undermined a spice trade that had flourished for perhaps 1500 years.1


800px-Atlas_pittoresque_pl_110 Amboine copy
River and kampongs at Amboyna. French caption reads: “Rivière de Batou-Mera sur l’île d’Amboine”. Artist Louis Le Breton. In Jules Dumont D’Urville, Atlas pittoresque, Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes L’Astrolabe et La Zélée, plate 110: Paris, 1846.
Amboyna in 1834. The government jetty can be seen in the middle ground, next to the old walled fort. The kampongs (villages) were extensive but they are hidden amongst the trees. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

The sailors remained at Amboyna for two months. If they had to cool their heels in some distant port, there were a lot worse places than Amboyna. The Portuguese had selected it for their base in the Moluccas before the Dutch drove them out and it was the healthiest of the many trading centres in South-East Asia. The Dutch were on good terms with the British and gave the sailors a kind reception. The men said later that Captain Clunies of the Dutch brig Patriot took care of them.2

Meanwhile, the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, responding to an appeal from friends and relatives of the D’Oylys, sent a dispatch to Jean-Chretian Baud, the Governor-General of Batavia. Bentinck asked Baud to ‘exert his influence in furthering the discovery of certain persons, passengers and crew of the ship Charles Eaton, supposed to have survived the wreck of that vessel in Torres Straits’.3 The dispatch arrived in Batavia on 20 November 1835, prompting Baud to send a vessel to Tanimbar and its neightbours. Rumours about the presence of white men on Yamdena must have been circulating around the Moluccas for months. Baud was not to know that the five sailors had already been rescued and taken to Amboyna, on the fringe of their far-flung empire.

On 3 December, the Patriot arrived in the Batavia Roads and made her way up the crocodile-infested main canal. On both sides, Javanese and Chinese kampongs were visible among the trees. Augustus Prinsep, who visited the city in 1829, described Batavia as a ‘proverbially unhealthy colony’4 and the ‘stagnant depot of Dutch commerce.’5 He gives this description of the approach:

There is a bar at the mouth of the river, over which the water is so shallow, that loaded boats can only pass at high tide; for which reason two long quays are built on either side of the entrance, a considerable way into the sea.6

The two exceptionally long jetties provided sufficient wharfage for one of the world’s busiest ports. Ships with the ensigns of many nations travelled half way around the world to anchor in its roads. The English naturalist, George Bennett, who visited Batavia in 1833, commented on the ‘dead and putrid bodies of dogs, hogs and other animals floating in the river and impeding boats in their passage.’ The crocodiles on the mud banks, however, did remove the ‘putrefying substances’.7

Batavia street scene. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

Batavia’s reputation as one of the world’s unhealthiest cities was well known. It had nothing to do with its temperature, which averaged 85°F, and everything to do with overcrowding and its swampy locality, exacerbated by the Dutch penchant for canals. Batavia, like Calcutta, suffered from mysterious and unhealthy ‘emanations’ that were thought to come from a large marsh which lay between the town and the sea. No one at that time linked malaria to mosquitoes, or realised that boiling all drinking water could reduce or prevent many complaints such as dysentery. The stagnant swamps and canals were the prime sources of Batavia’s malignancy.8

By 1835 the Dutch colonists had long since moved their homes to suburbs away from the swamps, with the result that Old Batavia was now used solely for business. Bennett praised the new suburbs for their shady arbours, flower-filled gardens and fine Dutch residences. Visiting ships’ crews continued to regard the rest of Batavia as dangerously unhealthy.

When news of the sudden arrival of the five shipwrecked survivors spread around the port, an Englishman had a chat with them. There were at that time only seven or eight English merchants living in Batavia, and its possible he was one of them. Alternatively, he was the master of a visiting ship. All five sailors were present and gave a brief account of what had happened to their ship. The Batavia correspondent immediately sent a summary of the interview to the Messrs Gledstanes:

We have just received some intelligence respecting the unfortunate Barque Charles Eaton, which we hasten to impart to you. Five of the crew arrived here yesterday in a coasting vessel called the Patriot, commanded by Capt. Clunie [sic] from Amboyna and the following is their account of the loss. It appears that, when the Charles Eaton was close to the entrance of Torres Straits, she mistook a light of land for them and, before the ship could be put about, struck on the reef, the sea breaking heavily on them at the same time when the long Boat was instantly stove. When the five sailors left the Ship in the Jolly Boat, Capt. Moor [sic] was clinging to the Main chain9 and a Capt. D’Oyly, one of the passengers with his Lady and children, standing near him. The Sailors think all remaining on board must have perished; and, the sea being tremendous, the ship must have gone to pieces.10

This account includes what appears to be a deliberate deception. They had used the largest of the ship’s cutters, capable of taking at least another six people, and not the tiny jolly boat as they claimed.

The Governor-General also received the news of the sailors’ arrival, and ordered them to appear before a magistrate the next day. Before that could happen, Piggott was hospitalised with a fever that would prove to be fatal. The remaining four were interviewed at the suburb of Weltervreden, where the Dutch administration had its offices, a courthouse and the Governor-General’s staterooms. A few days later, Governor-General Baud sent a dispatch to Lord Bentinck in Calcutta, which contained the sailors’ deposition. Additional copies reached Amsterdam and, eventually, London. Richard Quin, speaking also for the other three sailors, declared that on 15 August 1834, at about 10 o’clock in the morning, their vessel struck on a reef, called Detached reef, at the entrance to Torres Straits.

On being asked whether they had not been able to save any more of the unfortunate passengers and crew, they answered that such was quite impossible, as they could not pull up the boat against the strong current; and no individual among the passengers or crew would venture amidst the heavy breakers to reach the boat by swimming.11 That they in consequence are unable to say or state what is become of the captain, passengers, and the rest of the crew; they can only affirm, that at the time Richard Quin and James Wright left the wreck, all the passengers were alive on the forecastle of the vessel, with the exception of one sailor named James Price, who was drowned by the smallest of the cutters swamping at the time she was lowered.

And the appearants further declared, that not seeing any possibility of saving any more of the ship’s company, and not perceiving a single person in the morning of the next day on the wreck,12 they concluded that these unhappy persons had been washed off the wreck by the increasing swell of the sea in the night, and all found a watery grave; that they took to sea on Sunday morning, the 17th of August ensuing, without being provided with a compass or any other nautical instruments. The whole of their provisions consisted in about 30 lbs of hard bread, one ham, and a keg containing about four gallons of water, which had been immediately put in the boat before she was lowered.13

The lengthy deposition continued with details of their time on Yamdena and their rescue. Baud remarked in his own dispatch to Lord Bentinck that it encouraged him to hope the rest of the crew and passengers might be on islands easily attainable in an open boat from the Torres Strait.14

The deposition circulated among relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew, but only after the shorter first version sent to Messrs Gledstanes by a correspondent had already done the rounds. Now everyone was talking and writing about what appeared to be the mutiny or desertion of the surviving sailors.

The wreck of this particular barque (unlike the multitude of other ships that met a similar fate in 1834) attracted an extraordinary amount of attention, in four countries and at the highest levels of government. Partly it was because of the persistent rumours of survivors, partly because of reports that she had been sighted ‘high and dry on the Barrier reef in Torres Strait’,15 and partly because the D’Oylys had contacts in high places beyond their own modest station. History has tended to exonerate the five sailors and dismiss any charge of desertion, despite the obvious lies in their deposition. It would be pointless to condemn the men on the grounds of ‘women and children first’ since no such moral principle then existed. In the wake of any shipwreck, every Jack was as good as his master.


Notes to Chapter 8

  1. See Hamilton, East India Gazetteer, vol. 1, London: W. H. Allen, 1825, pp. 25–27 and Swadling, Pamela, Plumes from Paradise, Queensland: Papua New Guinea National Museum with Robert Brown & Assoc. Pty Ltd, 1996, pp. 34–44, for brief histories of Ambon and the spice trade.
  2. Batavia deposition, William Bayley File, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  3. Phillip P. King, Capt. R. N., F. R. S. (ed.) ; A Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship Charles Eaton, which was Wrecked upon the Barrier Reef, in the Month of August, 1834, in His Majesty’s Colonial Schooner Isabella, C. M. Lewis, Commander, arranged from the journal and log book of the Commander, by authority of His Excellency Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, K. C. B., Governor of New South Wales, etc, etc, etc. Sydney: E. H. Statham, 1837., pp. iii–iv.
  4. Augustus Prinsep, Journal of a Voyage from Calcutta to Van Diemen’s Land : comprising a description of that colony during a six months’ residence : from original letters, selected by Mrs. Augustus Prinsep, 2nd edn, London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1833, p. 30.
  5. Prinsep, p. 30.
  6. Ibid, p. 34.
  7. See George Bennett, F.L.S., Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China; Being the journal of a naturalist in those countries, during 1832, 1833, and 1834, 2 vols, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1834, pp. 350–71 for a record of his visit to Batavia.
  8. See Hamilton, East India Gazetteer, vol. 1, London: W. H. Allen 1825, pp. 86–96 for a lengthy description of Batavia in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
  9. The captain and his passengers were standing next to a set of strong, linked ropes (shrouds, main chain) that extended from the main mast to the side of the ship and provided the mast with one of its main supports. There is, of course, an identical set on the other side. They are the supports that we are all familiar with that look like linked rope ladders.
  10. William Bayley File, Gledstanes to Bayley. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  11. My italics. This was not true but the sailors were not about to admit that they had abandoned some of their comrades.
  12. My italics. The sailors did not stick around for long enough to find out what had happened to rest of the ship’s company, and certainly not for an additional day.
  13. Batavia deposition, William Bayley file.
  14. Phillip P. King, A Voyage to Torres Strait, preface, p. iv.
  15. Ibid.


Chapter 9: The Convict Ship Mangles

It was late afternoon on 18 September 1835 when Waki climbed a hill on Mer, an island in the Torres Strait and the largest of the Murray Islands group. There was merry-making going on in the village below but he did not feel like joining in.Suddenly he saw a ship approaching the island. From his vantage point on the hill he was the first to see it. He tried to attract the sailors’ attention with silent waving, but the ship was too far away. Soon the rest of the islanders saw the ship too and his father, Duppa, took Waki back to his hut in their compound, where the women painted his skin mahogany and streaked his face and hair with red and yellow ochre. Tassels of plaited grass were hung from each ear and shell ornaments festooned his body. Waki and Duppa then gathered on the hill with the rest of the villagers. The ship came closer and everyone broke branches off trees and began waving them furiously, to show they wanted to trade.

The Torres Strait Islanders were experienced traders. Not only did they have their own inter-island network, but they had also been trading with Papuan villagers, Australian Aborigines and the occasional visiting Malay-Indonesian prau for many centuries. European trading vessels were comparative latecomers to their network, when the trading techniques employed by the islanders were well honed. They would attract the attention of a passing vessel to indicate they had goods to trade and as soon as the ship had anchored, they would begin loading canoes with their stockpiles of brown trepang and the decorative shells from the tortoiseshell turtle. Trade would be brisk and they would drive a hard bargain, with iron goods preferred in exchange. They had no knowledge of the true value of tortoiseshell on the Chinese market but they sure did know the value of a good iron tomahawk and were in no doubt they were getting the better deal.

To Waki’s great joy, this ship did drop anchor some distance from shore but no boat pulled away from it. He went down to the beach with Duppa, collecting on the way his friend Uass, and with other islanders they waited until it was dark, shouting ‘Tooree, tooree’ i.e. ‘Iron, iron’ to show they wanted to trade for iron – axes, knives and pots. Still no boat pulled away from the vessel. Sometimes they called out ‘Wallee, wallee’ for clothing, but iron goods were always preferred. The monotonous and constant chant of so many united voices carried across the waves to ships often anchored a mile offshore.

By sunset, their arms were tired from waving branches and their voices hoarse from shouting, so everyone retired for the night. They would take the initiative and row their canoes out to the ship tomorrow, in the expectation that the ship really did have goods to trade. All along the beach, families gathered around fires for their evening meal.

The ship at anchor off their island was the Mangles, Captain William Carr, a regular trader around the seas off northern Australia. Carr had his only child, an illegitimate son called William Carr Jnr, with him. His wife, Anne, may also have been enthroned in the cuddy since it was her habit to share his travels. She was Carr’s ‘beloved wife’ but he was similarly fond of her sister, Elizabeth Robinson, and had set up an amicable threesome in Limehouse, London.2

The deck of a convict ship.

The Mangles had just completed her seventh voyage to Australia as a convict transporter. If you knew what to look for, the telltale signs were there: barred hatches; high bulwarks, exercise yards and a well-armed crew. Aside from that, she was arguably the biggest ship at that time to regularly visit the Murray Islands.3 Originally built at Calcutta in 1802 for the F. & C. F. Mangles shipping company to service the India trade,4 she had three decks above her cargo hold and had been registered to carry almost 600 tons burden. Her elevated poop at the stern was particularly commodious and comfortable. She was built from Indian teak but nevertheless boasted a copper-clad sheath on her hull to repel wood-boring worms, and by some trick of design she was also incredibly fast, consistently making the journeys to Australia in almost record-breaking times.5 Her past voyages had been occasionally marred by the usual infections and fatal accidents but on this particular voyage she had delivered 310 convicts to Van Diemen’s Land with no loss of life.

It was voyage number four for Carr as her captain (he was formerly her chief mate). He was a man of good character but the constant exposure to so much human misery may have left its mark. He had a reputation for catering for the well-being of his convicts in terms of his ship’s unusually good accommodation, plus he supplied materials for self-education and self-entertainment on the voyages out, but in every other respect he was, first and foremost, a businessman. Overheads were minimised by avoiding calls to any ports en route for fresh produce unless scurvy outbreaks compelled him to do so.  He was part-owner of the Mangles but the current voyage would be a financial success and in 1839 he became her sole owner.6

The convict ship Mangles. Oil painting held by the State Library of Victoria.

For most of her years as a convict transporter, the Mangles had attracted little attention, despite the fact that she usually lingered in Sydney for long enough to fill at least part of her large hold − by no means an easy achievement given that she didn’t accept whale oil, preferring bales of merino wool instead. On this particular voyage, however, the Mangles got a fair bit of newspaper coverage, primarily because her cargo of prisoners had included about 140 juvenile chimney sweeps aged between 16 and 20. According to the Sydney Herald (31 Aug. 1835):

The prisoners by the Mangles, we regret to say, are to be numbered among the most miserable of mortals, and by far the worst sample of human kind that has yet been brought to our shores. They consist for the most part of poor decrepit chimney sweepers thrown out of employment by the operation of the late act7 and those who do not belong to this unfortunate class of men are of a still uglier race, inasmuch as not being so black outside, they are yet blacker within. It is ‘too bad,’ as the late Lord Liverpool said, to father these poor creatures upon us, and attempt to make us pay for them into the bargain.Courier.

What the penal communities needed were tradesmen, or mechanics as they called them, and what they got was almost half a shipload of bedraggled juvenile sweeps.

On a previous voyage, in June 1833, Carr had called at Mer and collected large quantities of tortoiseshell and curios for the Canton market, as well as coconuts, yams, sweet potatoes and bananas for the ship’s stewards.8 Now he was back for more of the same. He did not entirely trust the Murray Islanders, however. His normal ship’s compliment was 48 but he had lost six sailors at Hobart Town. The Hobart newspaper Colonial Times reported (11 Aug. 1835): ‘Three seamen had been removed from the Mangles at Hobart Town for most violent outrages and insubordinate conduct on board that ship while lying in the harbour.’ They were jailed for three months. The remaining three must have absconded.

Carr, who had sailed direct from Van Diemen’s Land, was troubled about his reduced ship’s company and decided to deal with the islanders in the morning. In the meantime, he increased the night watches in case of trouble.

Mer’s natural beauty has always won compliments from visitors. The island is formed from volcanic rock, ground down in many places to fertile soil. Its most striking feature is its silhouette, dominated by Gelam, a majestic hill that sweeps down to a smaller hill near the centre. The southwestern end of the island is quite rocky but at the northeastern end, there is a large plateau of fertile and densely cultivated land, extending right down to the island’s northern beaches.

A long narrow reef extends from the southeastern corner of the island, while not far from its southwestern corner are two smaller islands, which with Mer make up the Murray Islands group. These two sister islands are separated from Mer by a wide deep-water channel but joined to each other by a sand bank and a single, enclosing reef.9 Douer, the larger of the two, is made up of two grassy hills with a fertile valley in between, while Waier is the cone of an ancient volcano. In 1835, there were huts and coconut trees in Waier’s more sheltered recesses.10

William Brockett, a sailor who visited Mer nine months after the Mangles, described an island ‘thickly covered with trees of various descriptions and shades’11 with coconut plantations spreading up the lower reaches of the hills. Along the fine beaches was an almost unbroken line of thatched beehive-shaped huts, grouped into villages. Drawn up on the sand were many large outrigger canoes, while bamboo fences protected the beachfront gardens and plantations from the monsoonal gales that regularly blew in from the sea. When the crew of the Mangles changed watch at dawn on the following morning, their gazes took in a distant but tantalising scene.

Soon after sunrise, 14 or 15 large canoes made their way out to the ship. Each was carrying about 16 men, many of whom were carrying bows and arrows and spears. It looked as if a fearsome armada was about to engulf the ship but the canoeists were coming out to trade and their weapons were part of the goods they were carrying for barter. The Mangles, once they were close enough to identify her, was a familiar sight and they were relaxed about her arrival.

Mer Islanders in the Torres Strait trading with visiting Europeans
The Murray Islanders were enthusiastic traders and welcomed visits by European ships so that they could trade their tortoiseshell for iron. They had no idea of the true value of their goods on the Chinese markets. In this instance it is the crew of H.M.S. ‘Fly’ in 1843. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’ . . . , vol. I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

Their 20-metre canoes had a single sail and two outriggers, which made them virtually unsinkable. Large platforms displayed their trade goods, including some that were popular souvenirs. Men with long paddles were standing fore and aft of each platform, propelling their craft through the water. With one exception, all were Mer islanders. One of the last canoes to draw alongside the ship dropped directly under her stern and the sailors on the poop deck could see that one of its paddlers, though naked like the rest, was a white man.

NASA satellite photo of the Murray Islands group in the Torres Strait.

It was Waki. The sailors judged him to be between 18 and 20 years old, of stout build and about 5’8″ tall (173 cm). His skin appeared to be stained to a deep brown and his hair was so encrusted with red ochre its colour was impossible to judge. His only clothing was the usual protective waistband made from turtle skin, commonly worn by the male islanders, and he seemed by his gestures to be just as keen to trade as everyone else.

For the moment, Captain Carr was interested in more pressing matters and took little or no notice of the white man. Most of the canoes had gone to the starboard side, where the crew had lowered a quarterboat half way down for the purpose of trade. It was ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ time. Carr and his officers stayed on the starboard quarter, bartering for tortoiseshell and curios. They watched the islanders carefully and kept their guard up until several of the canoes had returned to shore. Carr was troubled. He had often traded at Mer and always allowed on board an old man called Madoo, whom he took to be one of their chiefs. Madoo always offered himself as a hostage to guarantee peaceful trading. ‘He is a well-conducted man,’ Carr would later explain, ‘but until this voyage he uniformly recognised and spoke to me. Upon this occasion, however, he would not speak to me at all; but he afterwards, I am told, spoke of me and Mrs Carr.’

Waki, meanwhile, had called for a rope and one of the sailors threw one down to him, which he grabbed and tried to use to climb aboard the half-lowered jolly boat. ‘But I had sprained my wrist, by a fall a day or two before,’ he explained many years later, ‘and waving the branch had made it exceedingly painful, so that I could not climb. One of the crew held out a roll of tobacco to me, but I could not reach it; so I asked him to lower the boat for me to get in.’

Carr turned around just in time to see Waki making one attempt to climb the rope but it broke and he fell back into his canoe. The sailors were in the act of lowering the jolly boat closer to sea level when their captain abused them. One of them would later state that as far as he could recall, Carr had cried out, ‘Damn the man, I do not want the man I want tortoiseshell’. Other witnesses would later claim that Carr gave the order to lower the boat. The trade going on around him distracted Carr. He was either not fully aware that the man trying to board was a European, or else he was unconcerned, perhaps even disinterested. He wanted to finish his business quickly before any trouble erupted.

One of the sailors asked Waki how he came to be on the island and he explained that he was a castaway but Duppa and the other men in his canoe were pulling him back and in the resulting confusion, his lengthy but somewhat garbled reply was misunderstood. The fourth officer, Jim McMicken, then asked Madoo how many white people were on the island. The old man quietly approached, touched McMicken’s face to indicate, ‘white people like you’ then held up both hands. McMicken concluded that Madoo was trying to tell him that there were another eight or ten white people ashore.

Duppa’s canoe had drifted a short distance from the stern. When he was finally free to do so, Carr turned his attention to the white man. He ordered that the cutter be manned and armed, sending ‘the second officer, the boatswain and six men to take him at any price’.12 But when Duppa and his friends saw the sailors putting pistols and naked cutlasses into their cutter they became alarmed. ‘They thought mischief was intended to me and to themselves,’ Waki later explained. ‘They immediately let go the rope, and paddled towards the shore. I stood up in the canoe, but Duppa took hold of me and laid me down in the middle of it.’ The cutter, he said, made only a half-hearted attempt to overtake his canoe.

Portrait of Madoo by Commander Igglesden of the India Station’s brig-of-war Tigris. B&W sketch published in W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage . . . , 1836.

According to Carr, the men in the cutter caught up with Duppa’s canoe and hooked it with their boat hook. The second officer, Bill Eames, asked Waki to step into the cutter but Waki pointed to one of the other islanders and replied, ‘Take that man, he will go with you.’ ‘No’ said Eames, ‘I am come for you, and you I will have.’13 Waki, Carr later claimed, then immediately threw down the paddle he had in his hand and dashed under the canoe’s platform amidships. The second officer contradicted his captain by claiming that Waki dived overboard and swam away. Carr ordered the cutter’s return, proclaiming, ‘If he prefers a life with savages, let him remain.’ He was puzzled all the same, he would claim, for ‘what his motive could be for not coming into my boat, I am at a loss to conceive’.14

Duppa’s concern for Waki’s wellbeing was based partly on his fear of the white man’s firearms and partly on the perception among Torres Strait Islanders that ‘white people live always in ships, and possess no terrestrial home, and that they subsist upon sharks, porpoises, and dogs’.15 Their lifestyle excited no envy.

McMicken now told Carr that the white man was a shipwrecked Englishman and that Madoo had indicated to him that there were eight or 10 other survivors on the island. Carr spent the next two hours pacing up and down the deck trying to decide what to do. His chief mate suggested he detain Madoo until the white man had been handed over but the captain ignored his advice and the opportunity to use the old man for ransom passed when Madoo, satisfied that the trading was over, returned to Mer.

Finally the captain manned and armed the cutter again, put himself in charge of it and sailed it in close to the shore. For two hours he scanned the beach with his spyglass looking for more Europeans and ‘observed a matted screen not quite reaching to the ground, and saw among the native feet passing to and fro, some white feet, and what seemed to him part of a lady’s petticoat.’16 Waki was watching him and thought the captain had come to the shore to shoot birds, something that ships’ crews often did to supplement their rations. He was, he later explained, ‘kept among the bushes all this time, by Duppa and his sons; but I could plainly see every thing that took place.’ The cutter’s crew was armed with pistols but fired no shots at birds or any other target.

A standoff now developed between the men in the cutter and a large group of people on the beach, with Carr making signs to the watching crowd to come near his boat and the islanders indicating that they wanted Carr and his men to come ashore. In an attempt to break the impasse, a man emerged from behind one of the bamboo fences carrying a young boy on his shoulders. He walked along the beach towards Carr, making beckoning motions as if to say, ‘Come!’ The little boy was Waki’s friend Uass and he was as brown and naked as any child of the Torres Strait; would have passed for one were it not for his blue eyes and flaxen hair. From his vantage point behind the bushes, Waki could see what was happening and believed he understood. ‘I had often mentioned to the natives that the white people would give them axes and bottles, and iron, for the little boy,’ he later said. ‘I told them his relatives were rich, and would be glad to give them a great deal if they would let them have him back.’ The men on the beach were terrified of artillery fire. Waki was in no doubt that if enough axes and iron goods had been handed over at that point, both he and Uass would have been given up in exchange.

Carr could see that the boy was small and guessed him to be less than three years old. The child now beckoned to him to land, speaking words the captain couldn’t understand. An offer to swap the boy for iron axes drew no obvious response from the assembled crowd, who stood around silently watching Carr bobbing around in his cutter and waiting to see what he would do. Carr now saw that several canoes were trying to get to the seaward of him and became afraid his party would be cut off from his ship. Before he hastily retreated he wrote a message on his hat promising to make known what he had seen and threw it on the shore. The cutter then returned to the Mangles and Carr spent the rest of the day scanning the island with his spyglass but could see no more white people. He remained off Mer all night, ‘thinking it might be possible for some of them to make their escape.’ At nine o’clock the following morning he weighed anchor and sailed away. Waki watched the ship go with a heavy heart, convinced that all hope of deliverance had gone.


Notes to Chapter 9

Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter has been constructed from three main sources: John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans . . . New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, pp. 47–48; the London depositions of the captain and crew of the ship Mangles, The Times, 5 Nov. 1836; and Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.

  1. According to William Brockett, John Ireland confessed that during his time upon the island he had been compelled to marry. William Bayley file, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. It is possible that the merrymaking was Ireland’s own wedding, since it was the custom at Murray Island for bridegrooms to go off alone and hide among the bushes until they were summoned to return and fight to claim their new bride.
  2. UK National Archives UK, May 1841.
  3. The Australian newspaper, 18 Nov. 1824, commented of her: ‘She is larger than any ship that ever sailed from this port laden with colonial produce. Her burden is not less than 600 tons. Her accommodations must be wonderfully superior to those of small ships – calculated, if any thing is, to lessen materially the privatations to passengers’.
  4. The ship Mangles had a varied ownership can be tracked through Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Also see information on the Mangles shipping company on Wikimedia.
  5. Sydney Gazette 4 Nov. 1824 for a description of her copper-clad hull and her three decks.
  6. Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1840; Carr’s will in the UK Archives.
  7. The Chimney Sweepers Act 1834 stipulated that apprentice chimney sweeps had to be over the age of 14 and no master was allowed to employ more than six apprentices. The Act prevented child labour exploitation and slavery but it did reduce employment opportunities for juvenile chimney sweeps. The government’s solution was to ship them off to Australia.
  8. Ian J. McNiven, ‘Torres Strait Islanders and the maritime frontier in early colonial Australia’, in Lynette Russell (ed.), Colonial Frontiers: Indigenous-European Encounters in Settler Societies, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001, pp. 187.
  9. J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly, commanded by Captain F.P. Blackwood, R.N. (during the years 1842–1846), 2 vols, London, 1847, pp. 196–97.
  10. See Jukes 1847, pp. 196–97; W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’. Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p.24; Capt. C. M. Lewis, ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella.—In search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 662 for descriptions of the Murray Islands in 1836.
  11. Brockett 1836, p.12.
  12. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . .  2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, pp. 18–19. Extract from a letter written by William Carr and also published in a number of newspapers.
  13. Wemyss 1884, pp. 18–19.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Lewis 1837, p. 754.
  16. William Bayley file, letter from James Drew to William Bayley, 14 November 1836.

Chapter 10: Coupang and Canton

Coupang c.1845. Pl. no. XXIII of: Sketches in Australia and the adjacent islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

After a brief stop at Booby Island, where he read the logbook kept there but made no entry on what had occurred at Mer, Carr sailed directly to the Dutch colony of Coupang (Kupang) in West Timor, a popular victualling port for whalers and trading ships. Free water could be got from a pipe on the beach and fowls, coconuts and bananas were on sale at the local markets. Rum was available from the Chinese trade stores but it was expensive. A better buy was the locally fermented coconut wine, which was cheap but potent. Many – if not most – of the European sailors who worked the Timor and Arafura seas and victualled at Coupang were intoxicated for the duration of their stopovers. They were an insubordinate and undisciplined rabble but most ship masters seemed to tolerate their behaviour as a necessary respite from their otherwise dangerous and arduous lifestyle. Their often obnoxious and drunken misconduct, however, did make them easy targets for murderous pirates.1

The Coupang market at West Timor was an essential stopover for ships in the Arafura Sea, while many whalers made Coupang their home base while they fished the northern seas of Australia. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

Chinese capitalists were much more successful at colonising South-East Asia than European merchants and governments and this was nowhere more evident than at Coupang, where they owned all the shops and most of the money. Unlike the Dutch and English, the Chinese shopkeepers had no interest in being soldiers and tax collectors. Nor did they waste their profits on lavish homes. Brockett, who visited the town a few months later, unkindly commented on the number of rich Chinese living in hovels, ‘not much superior to an English pig-sty.2

Coupang had never been a profitable colonial entrepôt. On a small headland along the beach the Dutch had built their Fort Concordia, a small and inferior structure manned by a few dozen Timorese soldiers and a couple of Dutch officers, in charge of just two mounted cannons. Although the Dutch claimed to have control over the west and south sides of Timor, their influence was limited to the town. If its 20-or-so Dutch residents had vanished one night the town would simply have carried on without them. The miserable fort and its two guns, on the other hand, were vital to the town’s survival, offering traders and whalers protection from the marauding pirates. Many whale boats used the port as their home base while they fished the Arafura and Timor seas.

Dutch fort at Coupang (Kupang) in West Timor c.1834.
Coupang Harbour at West Timor, showing the Dutch-manned walled fort. Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

The town was little more than two long, parallel dirt streets, stretching along the southern side of Coupang bay and lined with Chinese-owned houses, shops and warehouses. The dwellings of the handful of Dutch administrators were clustered around a square behind the town where the Resident had his large government house, and there was also a Dutch Reform church and a school.

The Malay Timorese who daily invaded the town with their produce had long ago emigrated from other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. They lived in kampongs on the outskirts of Coupang and in all the fertile valleys, building neat white houses with red-tiled roofs and surrounding them with plantations and vegetable gardens. In the wetter, deeper valleys they had planted rice paddies, ringed with tropical vegetation.3 The mountainous aspect and green paddy fields were a nice contrast to the flat and uninviting Australian coastline.

The original inhabitants of the island had long since been dispossessed of their fertile lands and driven into the barren interior. Physically they were Melanesians, with attractive brown complexions and crisply frizzy hair. They had their own language, were head hunters, and shared with the Tanimbar Islanders a love of gold and silver ornaments. With no land left to them worth cultivating, their lives were frugal, their villages being not much more than clumps of a few thatched-roofed but open-sided shelters. Wealthy and cruel rajahs had enslaved many of them. Indeed, it would be fair to say that most of the Timorese at that time were under the control of the island’s rajahs.

Timorese Malay-Polynesians by Harden S. Melville. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’ . . . , vol. II. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

Coupang was the closest safe haven for passengers and crews shipwrecked on the Barrier Reef. The fact that so many of them successfully rowed the 1200-mile (2000-km) journey to the little seaport in open boats seems amazing. Fortunately the strong, west-flowing currents made the journey less arduous than it might appear. In 1832 the 36-man crew and one female passenger from the Flora shipwreck made it safely to Timor in a single longboat. Their achievement was both remarkable and routine. Coupang’s residents were used to the sight of sunburnt crews in longboats or cutters, with blistered hands and salt-encrusted eyelashes, rowing like skeletal zombies towards their bay.

Carr was to discover when he got to the town that a shipwrecked crew had arrived there the previous day. It was Captain Cobern and the exhausted sailors of the schooner Jane and Henry, recently wrecked on the Barrier Reef. Cobern, having successfully negotiated a passage through the Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait in the company of the Augustus Caesar, had been game enough to tackle it alone on his second trip a year later – with disastrous results. Cobern later gave an account of his schooner’s final voyage.4 The Jane and Henry had left Sydney on 23 August 1835, bound for Batavia. At ten o’clock on the evening of 11 September she was in the vicinity of Sir Charles Hardy’s Island when she struck a small detached reef called Yule Reef, a few miles to the seaward of the Barrier Reef. ‘The vessel soon bilged,’ wrote Cobern, ‘the sea making a clean breach over her so that all hope of saving her was abandoned.’

At daylight Cobern and his ship’s company of six sailors and three boys launched the longboat and set off for Timor. After brief stopovers at Forbes Island, Bird Island and Escape River (where they found fresh water), they arrived safely at Coupang on 30 September, having been rescued by the Dutch brig-of-war Meerman, Captain Enslie, off Bali island. Enslie had been charting the West New Guinea coastline and the western approaches to the Torres Strait when he spotted their longboat.5

Sourebaya was Java’s second busiest sea port after Batavia. This sketch c.1834 shows its main port canal, bordered by tree-shaded kampongs (villages). Black-and-white gravure based on the artwork of M. de Sainson. M. Dumont D’Urville, Voyage Pittoresque autour du Monde, vol. II. Paris: Furne et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1839.

At Coupang the shipwrecked sailors found a British barque and two whalers and the three commanders took pity on the Jane and Henry crew and ‘vied in hospitality with each other,’ wrote Cobern, supplying the distressed survivors ‘with clothing and all that was necessary for comfort.’6 Carr made a statement to the Dutch resident at Coupang about the two white boys he had seen at Mer, which must have been relayed to Batavia. The captain had not yet had time to make up any stories to portray himself in a favourable light, so this statement may be one of his more accurate versions of events and his story did vary with each retelling. In it he states that the cutter sent to rescue the white man at Mer had only been allowed to approach to within speaking distance. The white man ‘had called out that he would not be allowed to go–that he was one of the Charles Eaton’s crew, and that there were more of them upon the island.’7

Later Carr took Cobern, his crew and their long boat aboard the Mangles and transported them to the northern side of the Somlach Straits. Any fly on the wall would have been privy to some interesting conversations in the Mangles cuddy. The two captains had interesting stories to exchange. Carr and his men were soon put in the picture about the wreck of the Charles Eaton the previous year, although some of the Mangles crew formed the impression that the disaster was recent. Five days after leaving Coupang their long boat was fitted out with all necessary supplies and relaunched, and Cobern and his crew spent the next two days rowing to Sourabaya (Surabaya).The owners of the shipwrecked schooner were obliged to pay the cost of transporting their sailors until they eventually arrived back at their home port of Cape Town. Carr, however, being part-owner, extended a small charity to Cobern and his men. He was steering clear of Sourabaya and possibly avoiding Indonesian customs so that he wouldn’t have to declare his tortoiseshell.

A few days later a troubled Carr wrote letters while he was sailing past the island of Lombok, addressed to the editors of the Canton Register and the Singapore Chronicle. After he had dropped off the Jane and Henry sailors he continued to tramp and trade around the islands of South-East Asia for many months. Carr at this stage was already showing signs of being defensive about his actions. If we seek the simple truth about what happened that day at Mer, we probably can’t get any closer than this: Carr was far too timid and fearful in his dealings with the islanders and, later, too embarrassed to admit it. He was travelling with his son and that may have made him overly cautious. Already in advanced middle-age, he would die in 1841 with his reputation in tatters.9

‘Whampoa from Danes Island’ in China its Scenery, Architecture, Social Habits, etc. Artist Thomas Allom, engraver W. A. Le Petit. Steel engraving. International ships anchored there while they waited to engage in trade at Canton.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Governor at Batavia, acting on a request from the Governor-General of Bengal but also, presumably, Carr’s report at Coepang about sailors being held on an island, sent out their own scout-and-rescue mission. The outcome was both fortuitous and disastrous:

The Dutch barque, Alexander, Captain Harris, respecting which there have been such numerous and frequent surmises, we also learn, with all her crew excepting three sailors, had been cut off by the natives of the Aroo Islands. The Dutch frigate, Diana, which had been away in that direction in search of the Charles Eaton, touched at one of the Islands on her return, and there found the three men who had escaped the cruel fate of their comrades. The Diana forthwith manned and armed her boats, and sent them on shore, and a scene of retaliation then ensued . . . – Singapore Free Press.10

The village was actually on the island of Larat. According to a later account, the village and all the plantations and coconut trees were burnt down and ‘some elderly persons who were unable to leave their huts perished in the flames.’11

In the second week of February 1836, Carr’s ship took on board a Chinese pilot and sailed up the Canton (Guangzhou) river to the island of Whampoa. Both sides of the wide entrance to the river were guarded by forts, their main purpose being to prevent any illegal cargo – especially opium – from being smuggled into China. Captain Carr was no stranger to Canton; he had visited it many times. When he reached Whampoa, downstream from Canton, he knew that was as far as his ship was allowed to go. The Mangles had to join the many other merchant ships at anchor there. Whampoa was the docking zone for the good guys, engaged in legitimate trade with China. The bad guys, the American’s and English East India Company’s outlawed opium ships, gathered like vultures in a harbour north of Macau, or lurked behind the island of Lintin, waiting for the opium runners to sneak out to them under cover of darkness.12 Carr, however, had his hold filled with tortoiseshell, trepang and other marine delicacies and if he wanted to do business at Canton, all he had to do was travel by barge boat (sampan) up a junk-crowded river and bargain with Chinese merchants for the legitimate sale of his cargo in exchange for tea. The usual time-frame for such transactions was about six weeks because the custom controls were so stringent.

Canton Bird’s eye view, showing one of its canals and one of its busy shopping streets. The Graphic, 22 Sept. 1883.

Canton was a sectioned-off piece of land allocated to overseas merchants for the sole purpose of trade. Much of its space was taken up by the hongs, or warehouses, of many different nations, with the East India Company’s hong by far the most impressive. There were two wide shopping streets, called Old China street and New China street, where foreign tourists could take their choice from the best that China’s artisans had to offer, including carved sandalwood chests and lacquered furniture. Entry to the walled city of Guangzhou was via a large gate and there were other smaller gates around its perimeter. All were heavily guarded. No foreigner was allowed to enter the Chinese city without permission and that was rarely granted. The best that most visitors could hope for in 1835 was a panoramic view overlooking the city, from the balcony of one of the hongs.13

The legitimate Chinese merchants and traders weren’t that interested in European goods and the balance of trade, largely through the export of tea, was in Canton’s favour. The HEIC had established opium plantations in India expressly for the illegal Chinese market, while American ships wanting to challenge their monopoly had to fill their holds with opium from the poppy fields of Turkey and Afghanistan. It was an extraordinarily long detour, travelling to China via the Middle East, but worthwhile for the American shipowners nonetheless.

As for the ‘Honourable’ East India Company, it was profiting from the ruined lives of as many as 12 million addicts in China alone.14 By 1833, the senior member of the Board for Customs, Opium and Salt, in charge of the booming illegal opium trade from India, was Sir Charles D’Oyly. After the Governor-General and the Bishop of Calcutta, he was the next highest-ranked man in Bengal. He had tied his career to the Company’s infamous opium trade without, it seems, the slightest prick of conscience, and had grown his own private fortune from their generous wages. His years at Patna were spent surrounded by poppy fields and opium factories, yet he had contrived as an artist to avoid including them in his landscape paintings and sketches. You can say of D’Oyly that he was of his time, but ‘his time’ was already aware of the tragic consequences of opium addiction. The devastating impact of the drug on China and Indonesia in particular, did not seem to trouble him at all.

For small operators like Captain Carr, the challenge was to make the return voyage to England from Australia profitable by finding other sort-after goods to trade at Canton for silver and tea. On an earlier voyage Carr had discovered the tortoiseshell being bartered in the Torres Strait. The supply was limited, however, so he wanted to keep it a secret if possible. The Malay trading praus would have been a bigger threat to his income than the merchant ships of rival British traders. Five months after he had written it, Carr finally delivered his letter to the English-language Canton Register and it appeared in its 16 February 1836 edition. ‘GENTLEMEN,’ it began, ‘I beg you will make known to the public, and those connected with the vessel mentioned below, the following circumstance.’ Carr then went on to give the details of his visit to Mer and his encounter with a white youth and child. ‘I thought it right to make this known to you, to act on the information as you may think proper,’ he concluded. ‘I shall also write to London by the first opportunity.’ The editor of the Canton Register published his letter with the following comment:

The news of the wreck of the ‘CHARLES EATON’ in Torres Straits, reached China many months ago; as likewise a rumour that many of the crew were detained by the natives. The foregoing account, which Captain Carr has handed to us, has set the question at rest; and we must conclude, that the commander-in-chief on the East India station has before now adopted measures to rescue these unfortunate men from their captivity. Captain Carr deserves every praise for his perseverance in endeavouring to induce the man he saw to join the Mangles; but it is a question whether it would have been justifiable to have used force on the occasion. Ransom in that case, we think, would be the most just and wise mode of proceeding; by which the natives would be encouraged to exert themselves hereafter in saving the lives of shipwrecked sailors, and protecting them afterwards, in hopes of the reward.15

Carr made no mention of tortoiseshell in the letter but the word soon got out anyway and his lucrative little trading secret became common knowledge among competitors. The Torres Strait islanders caught and ate their way through a fair number of turtles but not enough to sustain a big demand without quickly fishing out the supply. Tortoiseshell needed to be (but wasn’t then) protected as a rare commodity.

Copies of the Canton Register were taken out of Whampoa by merchant ships and transmitted along the shipping news network. By the time Carr reached Calcutta en route to London, friends and relatives of the D’Oylys were waiting to pounce on him. He got an urgent request from Sir Charles D’Oyly to present himself for an interview – and on 7 May 1836 he did so. John Currie was also present and representing his wife – Charlotte’s younger sister, Fanny. Currie had resigned from the army to become a merchant and had joined with Sir Charles D’Oyly in soliciting the HEIC to send an armed man-of-war to the Torres Strait. Their efforts had been successful, and the brig-of-war Tigris had been dispatched from Bombay in March. It was the first time that the India station had sent one of their war ships to look for shipwreck survivors off the coast of faraway Australia, a testament perhaps to Sir Charles D’Oyly’s influence in India at that time.

At the meeting with D’Oyly, Carr didn’t add a great deal to what was already in his letter, but what he did say included seeing what seemed to be part of a lady’s petticoat, draped over one of the bushes. He also mentioned that the little boy had curly blonde hair and blue eyes and that there were possibly nine or ten survivors on the island. The elated D’Oyly relatives received the news as proof that William and Charlotte were alive. And if so, why not the rest of their family?

That was the official line, but dates on documents can tell a different story. In 1829, Henry Williams had made his will and named Sir Charles D’Oyly and his two sons-in-law, Tom D’Oyly and John Currie, as his executors. Henry had returned to England in 1833 with his two youngest illegitimate daughters, having long since separated from their mother – and he died there in mid-1835. On 26 May 1836, less than three weeks after Carr’s Calcutta deposition, Henry’s will was finally probated, on the basis that Sir Charles D’Oyly and John Currie were now the only surviving executors. Captain Tom D’Oyly had been declared deceased. The Baronet then swiftly arranged for a lawyer to appeal the precise terms of Henry’s will. Henry had left his entire estate to a favourite illegitimate daughter but the two executors succeeded in having the will overturned, and Charlotte and Fanny were reinstated as joint heiresses in law. Five thousand pounds was set aside for Charlotte or any of her surviving children.16


Notes to Chapter 10

  1. See Thomas Watson, ‘Journal and associated papers, 18381844’, National Library of Australia, MLMSS 7563. Watson, who was familiar with the area, had a lot of trouble with his own crew on the schooner Essington (formerly the colonial schooner Isabella). On p. 39 of his journal he commented: ‘I am advised by Mr Domas [a Dutch resident] not to go to the Island of Babber (where the ‘Lady Nelson’ was cut off) on account of that propensity for strong drinks which he has observed in my men; he is quite sure that the Natives would cut us off, if they saw the least opportunity.’
  2. See W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ . . . , Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p.47–48 for a description of Coupang in the 1830s.
  3. J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly, commanded by Captain F.P. Blackwood, R.N. (during the years 1842–1846), 2 vols, London, 1847, pp. 367–82 for a particularly good description of Coupang (now Kupang) in the first half of the nineteenth century.
  4. Australian, 3 May 1836.
  5. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Roebuck Society Publication No. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, p. 127, quoting Hobart Town Courier, 14 Oct. 1836.
  6. Nicholson 1996, p. 127.
  7. Singapore Free Press, quoted in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 10 Dec. 1836.
  8. Hobart Town Courier, 20 May 1836.
  9. National Archives UK. His will was probated in May, 1841.
  10. Sydney Herald 1 Dec. 1836. The newspaper account, published in Sydney at a particularly sensitive time, conveyed the impression that the Dutch government sanctioned the use of indiscriminate retaliation to punish acts of piracy and murder. The Colonial Times (3 Sept. 1839) incorrectly stated that it was the village of Oliliet that was destroyed.
  11. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 20 July 1839. The Diana’s commander didn’t act alone. He was accompanied by two additional Dutch men-of-war.
  12. See George Bennett, F.L.S., Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China; Being the journal of a naturalist in those countries, during 1832, 1833, and 1834, 2 vols, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1834, pp. 81–113.
  13. Bennett 1834, pp. 81–113.
  14. W. Travis Hanes, 3rd, William Travis Hanes, Frank Sanello, The Opium Wars: The addiction of one empire and the corruption of another, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc, 2002, p. 25.
  15. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 19.
  16. UK National Archives.


Part Three: their fate is so horrible


Chapter 11: Faraway Places

Paradise Row in Stockton-on-Tees, where William Bayley lived and raised his family. Nineteenth-century Black-and-white engraving, artist unknown.

Most of the relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew lived in England, where there was a long delay on news from the Torres Strait. The letters they have left behind reveal the unwavering hope and deepening despair that inevitably follow in the wake of those who fail to make it home.

One of those relatives was William Bayley. Having received the two oldest D’Oyly boys into his home he had ensured they got a good education, sending them – in accordance with their mother’s wishes – to a private boarding school, that of a Dr Ferminger, near London. Bayley’s loyalty to the D’Oyly family was due to his devotion to his late wife Elizabeth. When she died in 1832 he had a tall marble monument erected in the Norton Church cemetery at Stockton-on-Tees, upon which he had inscribed a poem that concludes with the words:

And I–But ah, can words my loss declare, Or paint th’ extreme of transport and despair? Oh, thou, beyond what verse or speech can tell My guide, my friend, my best beloved, farewell!1

The verse was probably written by his friend, Thomas Wemyss, who also wrote a poetical lament for Bayley entitled Reflections in Norton Churchyard, which Bayley circulated in 1834. Wemyss was a teacher and bible scholar who edited the journal The Dissenter.

Norton Church near Stockton-on-Tees. Hand-tinted postcard c.1905, property of the author.

In her last letter to her brother-in-law, Charlotte had disclosed that she and her family were about to embark on the long sea voyage back to India, thereby causing anxiety until confirmation came of a safe journey ended. It never did come. By March 1835, Bayley must have known that the D’Oylys had been shipwrecked near the Torres Strait and, by September 1835, that there was a possibility they might still be alive. By that time, they had already been missing for 13 months. He was devastated by the news. He had in his charge two boys whose parents and brothers had been among those lost and speculation about their fate was rife.

Armed with what little he knew, he travelled down to London and called upon Sir John Burrow at the Admiralty, to request a rescue ship. Advised to put his request in writing, he sent Burrow an emotional appeal, inviting ‘the attention of His Majesty’s Government (through you) to one of the most dreadful cases of shipwreck and murder or slavery or both that perhaps ever occurred’. He added, ‘ . . . as it is not unusual for the inhabitants of those Islands to preserve the females for purposes worse than death itself, I do implore the interference of His Majesty’s Government to send out a Frigate of War to rescue the poor surviving sufferers’.2

Governor Sir Richard Bourke. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Artist unknown.

Burrow realised that Bayley’s appeal was based on speculation. He was sympathetic nonetheless, and passed it on to the Home Office, in charge of England’s colonies. A few days later the Home Secretary, Lord Glenelg, sent a dispatch to Governor Sir Richard Bourke at Sydney, instructing him ‘to adopt such measures as may appear to you most advisable for ascertaining the fate of these unfortunate persons, and for rescuing them from their present position’.3 Similar instructions were sent to Rear Admiral Capel, commander-in-chief on the British Navy’s East India station at Bombay. In those days, the Australian colonies were still under the East India station’s command. Since the information supplied was still scanty and without foundation, the usual practice in such cases was to instruct any ships passing through the area to inquire about any shipwreck survivors.

Bayley, meanwhile, continued to write letters to anyone he thought might have information or influence. Among the D’Oyly family’s relatives, imaginations were in full flight on both sides of the Indian Ocean, with particular concern reserved for Charlotte and her fancied existence as a sex slave. Bayley’s name was being mentioned in newspaper accounts, and he began to receive letters from anxious relatives and friends of the other missing passengers and crew.

One such letter was written by a Reverend at Dublin in Ireland. On Christmas Day 1835 he put aside church duties and festivities for a time to write to Bayley for information. ‘I had two friends on board the Charles Eaton – namely Captain Moore and Mr Armstrong,’ he wrote. ‘Paragraphs have appeared in the newspapers stating there was reason to believe the crew reached the Island of Timour [sic].’ He concluded that he entertained ‘very little hope’ that his two friends were still alive.4

In March 1836 the letter from the correspondent in Batavia, with the first brief statement about the four surviving shipwrecked sailors (Piggott having died at Batavia), arrived at Gledstanes. It was copied by their writers and distributed to interested persons. William Wardell – the coffee house proprietor and self-described bosom friend of Captain Moore and later the executor of his will – copied it again and passed it on to Bayley, who was both appalled and elated by its content. If nothing else, he thought, the sailors’ safe arrival at Batavia proved that survival in the seas north of Australia was possible.

A few days later an excited John Wardell sent Bayley a copy of the letter written by Captain Carr and just received by Gledstanes. In the letter, Carr claimed that there could be as many as nine shipwreck survivors at the Murray Islands. The news was ‘of such nature as to encourage the expectation of seeing or hearing of them again,’ wrote Wardell.5

Bayley immediately sent copies of both documents to Lord Glenelg at the Colonial Office, with his own distraught comment on the five sailors who had arrived at Batavia:

There had been a Mutiny on board, for why otherwise should they have left their Captain (Moore) clinging to the Main-chain, and my relatives Captain and Mrs. D’Oyly and their children standing near to the Captain, when the sea was so tremendous as to threaten immediate destruction to all remaining on board.6

Lord Glenelg sent another, more urgent, request to Sir Richard Bourke in Sydney, instructing him to ‘use every exertion in your power for the discovery of the sufferers and for relieving them from the deplorable position in which they are represented to be’.7

The Batavian deposition reached England in June 1836, and it, too, was distributed. John Wardell was greatly heartened by it, despite the grim nature of its content. He was confused about the difference between Timor Laut and the Torres Strait, and he wrote to Bayley, ‘I feel very confident about seeing our friends again; for it appears very evident it is not the custom of the natives to murder their prisoners.’8

Through all of this, no one supplied information to the chief mate’s father, the Rev. John Clare, and the same neglect applied to the families of the rest of the crew. With no news coming their way from Gledstanes, they had been depending on scraps of news picked up from shipping columns.

The Bushbury Church in Stafford where the chief mate, Fred Clare, spent his childhood. Black-and-white engraving published in The Romany Rye by George Borrow, 1903.

Clare was now an old and somewhat melancholy widower of 70. Although officially still the incumbent clergyman for the old Bushbury church in Staffordshire, he had abandoned the vicarage and moved to the Wolverhampton Deanery, where he had closer contact with his three spinster daughters and one other son, the Rev. George Clare, the first vicar of St. Georges at Wolverhampton.9 He knew that his son was assumed lost at sea, but the suspense of not knowing why so many rumours were circulating about survivors became intolerable. He contacted William Bayley, and thereafter the two men maintained a correspondence that sustained them both through their long wait for news. Clare found in Bayley a sympathetic friend who shared his family’s agony. He introduced himself to Bayley with the following letter:

My son was on board the CHARLES EATON, which, I am informed by the newspapers, has met with a disastrous fate; but the nature of that fate I cannot ascertain. In this dreadful state of hope and fear have I and my family been kept, for alas I cannot flatter myself that any rational gleam of hope can be indulged—if they are still alive, the state of slavery and misery in which they are left, is too appalling for the imagination to reflect upon. Perhaps the same wave that engulfed Captain D’Oyly has engulfed my son, and the same moment perhaps has closed the life and sufferings of both: pray communicate what you know, and do an act of kindness to an aged and unhappy father, who can too truly say, that since he heard of the melancholy fate of his son, he has never known a day of comfort, or a night of ease.10

Bayley sent Clare a warm and prompt reply, enclosing copies of Carr’s letter and the sailors’ Batavia deposition, the only fresh tidings he had at that time. Clare and his children eagerly received the information. Within days Clare was writing again to Bayley:

The depositions I have read with unwearied attention, and the result which burst upon my agonised heart is, if these are safe, why may not others be so? Every moment therefore, until the real fact is known, brings with it the alternative sensations of hope and fear, which the transition of a few months must make known to us.11

Clare was, by this time, one of Wolverhampton’s best-known citizens. An Oxford University masters graduate, he had been a lecturer in a protestant seminary for 10 years before becoming the vicar at the village of Bushbury, four miles from Wolverhampton. His teaching years had made him a confident and powerful speaker, capable of delivering stirring – if somewhat stern – sermons from his pulpit, for the benefit of his impoverished congregation of often unemployed coal-mine workers and farmers. Bushbury was part of England’s ‘black country’ of coalmines, but the workings around the village had already been largely exhausted.

For almost 40 years (1800–1839), Clare was also one of the region’s two senior magistrates. It was his true calling and career, but a position that he could only hold by also retaining his position as a clergyman. In order to be a magistrate in those days, one had to be either a member of the wealthy elite or aristocracy, or else you were a clergyman. Clare brought to the magistracy the disciplinary punishments of an old-fashioned religious zealot. The Sabbath day was sacrosanct and any indolent youth who failed to appreciate that fact was liable to end up in the town’s stocks for a few hours, where he had ample time to reflect upon his wicked ways.12 At the same time Clare tried to protect the interests of the poor, particularly against any unfair treatment at the hands of the wealthy mine owners who were the major employers.

The Black Country, Wolverhampton. Staffordshire was transformed by the industrial revolution and the demand for coal. Illustrated London News, 8 Dec., 1866. A representation of the impact of coal mining on rural life.

Clare was a pioneer in industrial relations, trying to tread a cautious path between the mine owners who fuelled the local economy and bands of angry workers who felt their labour was being misused or abused. The industrial revolution was transforming Staffordshire and the magistrates were a part of it. When one angry man damaged some mining property, the crime was such that any other magistrate might have handed down the sentence of transportation to Australia. Clare, however, upon hearing that the mine owner had failed to pay the man his due wages, let him off lightly.

On another occasion he read the Riot Act at a meeting of angry voters in Wolverhampton in his capacity as the local magistrate, and several people were injured – one child very seriously – when troopers opened fire. It was a sad day that tainted the melancholic old man’s reputation and fuelled the argument that clergymen had no business being magistrates. Clare was called before parliament to explain his decision to read the Riot Act but no further action was taken.13

Growing up in the Clare household could not have been easy, with a father who was loving but also judgmentally strict and devout. Clare was now a widower, and his ongoing religious responsibilities at the villages of Bushbury and nearby Wednesfield, where he was also the resident curate, consumed the lives of two of his three daughters. Every Sunday they travelled with him to one or other of the villages, to help him to conduct the service and organise the choir. His life was their life, and all three girls never married. His other son, George, also took up the religious profession and became a vicar. Fred was the adventurous one. He escaped the oppressive life in the Bushbury vicarage and went to sea, becoming a midshipman in the Honourable East India Company’s maritime service. He wrote to his father, probably from Madras (now Chennai), when he transferred across to the Charles Eaton as the second mate, but when he got to London he did not visit the old man and did not tell him that he had now been promoted to first mate. He was, in his own way, still a devout Christian but he had his own life to lead.

His father loved all of his children, but as is so often the case, he loved his absent son in a special way. He was powerless to control his son’s destiny as he controlled the lives of his daughters, and could do no more now than pray for his son’s deliverance from death or, if not that, then pray for his soul.

Every second Sunday the bell at the old Bushbury church would toll out across the valleys to call the faithful to church, and announce that the Rev. Clare was in attendance. Now the toll, toll, tolling of the bell had an especially haunting sound. There stood the old stuccoed vicarage that Clare had organised to have built for his young family, vacant now except for caretakers, and overlaid with images of his son as a child, playing in the long grass of the churchyard. Those images belonged to a simpler time, when Clare had presided over a community surrounded by pastures and sectioned by cottage lanes, where the only sound on most days was the rumbling of cartwheels.

The old man’s heart was breaking, but he tried to put aside his pain by immersing himself in his increasingly onerous duties as a chief magistrate for Stafford. Clare subsequently learned that the man-of-war Tigris had left Bombay in March 1836, on a rescue mission to the Torres Strait. His friends had begun to add to the general pool of news and the old vicar was delighted to be able to make a contribution to the ongoing circulation of information.

A family friend in Sydney had written directly to Governor Bourke asking about any plans to rescue the shipwrecked passengers and crew. He was told that the colonial vessel Isabella would be sent to the Torres Strait to search for them and he immediately conveyed the news to the Clare family by the next ship to England. Another friend in London had been busy compiling news items collected from shipping columns, from which Clare learned that the ship Mercury was supposed to have proceeded with troops from Sydney to India via the Torres Strait, and intended to detour on the way through to look for the castaways. ‘It appears she did not get the troops,’ wrote a disappointed Clare, ‘and she did not sail through Torres Straits so that I must look to the Tigris alone.’14

William Wiseman, still commanding the ship Augustus Caesar, arrived in London in early September 1836 and was summoned on appeal from Bayley to appear before the Lord Mayor, Alderman Copeland, at Mansion House. Wiseman had been following the developments in the story with interest but in his deposition he could add nothing new to what was already known.

The ship Mangles arrived back at London in late September, more than 12 months after her visit to Mer. Captain Carr could hardly have been expecting a warm reception. James Drew, brother-in-law of Thomas Prockter Ching, a midshipman aboard the Charles Eaton, sought him out at the office of Mr Buckle, the then other part-owner (with Carr) of the Mangles,15 and his interview with the captain left him angry and dissatisfied. Carr, he complained, ‘gave a most meagre account of the circumstances’16. Nor was he happy with the responses of two of the ship’s mates, who ‘gave accounts which varied considerably’.17

In the end Drew managed to track down a sailor called Anderson who had been aboard the Mangles when Carr visited Mer, and he proved to be more forthcoming. He prepared a statement in which he outlined his own recollections of what had happened at Mer and received a half crown as payment from a grateful Drew. Anderson had corroborated what would later become Waki’s version of what had transpired. He would later admit to Carr, though, that he had been drunk when Drew interviewed him.18

Armed with Anderson’s testimony, the always impulsive and emotional Drew rushed down to the Lord Mayor and requested that his Lordship ‘give directions to the captain and crew [of the Mangles] to afford all information they possessed on the subject.’ He had reason, he said, ‘to suppose that more was known than had been stated’. Drew based his claim for the Lord Mayor’s assistance on the fact ‘that he had been on intimate terms of friendship with some of the unfortunate passengers, whose relatives and friends were in the most dreadful suspense as to their fate’ and also that he was ‘acquainted with Mr Bailey [sic]’.19 More importantly, his wife, Mary, was midshipman Tom Ching’s sister.

Drew was a partner in a wholesale and manufacturing pharmaceutical company called (at that time) Drew, Herward & Co., which had its premises in Great Trinity Lane, Bread street, close to Mansion House, the dockyards and Leadenhall Street. It was one of the largest wholesale druggists in London and in the 19th century it was a household name in England. His father-in-law, Thomas Ching Snr, was a druggist in Launceston, Cornwall, and Drew was also claiming intimacy with other members of the crew, including perhaps the other midshipman William Perry. He was well placed to take a prominent role on behalf of the Ching family and other anxious relatives and friends, and he plunged into that role with gusto. He had also contacted William Bayley in Stockton-on-Tees and the solicitor came to London to question Carr.

Alderman Copeland had previously shown deep interest in the mystery surrounding the Charles Eaton wreck and had personally interviewed William Wiseman, but on this occasion he refused to oblige. ‘Mr Buckle,’ he said, ‘was a person of first respectability and wholly incapable of concealing any information which it might be proper for the friends of the passengers and crew to receive.’20 Drew’s request, however, made it into the Times and brought the desired response from Buckle and Carr, with the latter not only volunteering to appear at Mansion House but also giving the London newspapers copies of his letter. Although it had already been published in China and Australia, it was the first time it had been released to the public in England. The Times published it on 4 November 1836 and like the Canton Register it added its own critical comment:

It appears extraordinary that on such an occasion as that described, more questions were not asked of the white man, and that, in fact, a narrative should have been written so destitute of minute particulars after so long a survey, and upon a subject of such deep and frightful interest . . .

At three o’clock on the same day that the above press item appeared, Carr appeared at Mansion House. Many relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew, including William Bayley, attended the meeting. Drew and William Wardell were there, as also was the Rev. Mr. J. W. Worthington, from the parish of All Hallows London Wall.21

Questions came from the assembly and voices were raised in anger. Bayley was a solicitor and he listened patiently while Carr gave his by now standard testimony then began his cross examination:

BAYLEY:—Did not the European mention his name, or the number who were on the island?

CARR:—Not to my knowledge. He did not say a word to me, neither did the natives. His skin was of the colour of mahogany, and he was naked, with the exception of a piece of skin round his waist. He tried as I heard from part of my crew, to get into the jolly-boat, but the savages drew him back.

BAYLEY:—Did you offer any ransom for him?

CARR:—No. I told my men to lower the boat and take him in. There was no time. I afterwards thought the best thing I could do was to go ashore myself, and I accordingly went into the cutter with six men and my second officer, and approached the shore. They brought an European boy, who appeared to be nearly three years old, towards us, and I offered them some axes for the child.

BAYLEY:—What sort of child was he?

CARR:—He had light curly hair, and was naked. They brought down the boy evidently to induce us to land. I saw a matted bamboo screen, behind which there appeared to be several savages passing and repassing.

BAYLEY:—Did you not fancy you saw some white feet amongst them?

CARR:—No; but I saw a boat building about 30 or 40 yards off. The child was about six yards from me at the time. It was decidedly an European-built boat,22 five planked, and capable of carrying from 20 to 25 persons to Java, at that time of the year. It was built with planks, but of what kind of wood I cannot tell.

BAYLEY:—Did you not see a lady’s petticoat hanging on the bushes?

CARR:—I saw with my glass what appeared to me to be a female garment on the bushes; but I have, when I have touched at the island on previous occasions, given female apparel to the natives. On my previous voyage, I sent one of their females ashore dressed in Mrs. Carr’s clothes.

Then the Rev. J. W. Worthington asked some pertinent questions:

WORTHINGTON:—How many guns do you carry?

CARR:—We have eight guns mounted on board.

WORTHINGTON:—Are not the savages greatly afraid of guns? Do they not throw themselves on their faces when a gun is fired?

CARR:—They do. They are excessively afraid of them.

WORTHINGTON:—My object in asking is to show that there was an adequate force to attempt to rescue those Europeans who might be detained in the island.

LORD MAYOR:—If it is meant to charge Captain Carr with having committed an offence in not making an attack upon the savages, I must stop the investigation. The captain might have hazarded the vessel and her large cargo if he had made any hostile attempt. His heavy responsibility was a serious consideration.

CARR:—If I had killed a single savage, the lives of all the Europeans on the island would in all probability have been sacrificed, and there is no knowing what lamentable consequences might have resulted.

DREW:—Did you offer no ransom for the Europeans when you heard that eight or ten of them were on the island?

CARR:—No; I offered ransom for the child.

At this point Drew began to express himself strongly on Carr’s failure to offer a ransom. He ‘seemed to be so much overpowered by his feelings as to excite general commiseration,’ wrote the Times reporter (probably John Curtis). ‘He was lamenting the fate of his wife’s brother, detained most probably by the natives of the island.’23 Drew, meanwhile, had been anxiously awaiting Anderson’s arrival, for the sailor had promised to attend. When it became clear he had reneged on his promise, the Lord Mayor read out Anderson’s statement. It contradicted Carr’s version of events on many points, claiming in particular that the cutter launched to rescue the man had not overtaken and hooked Duppa’s canoe. The Lord Mayor was dismissive, saying that no credit could be given to that part of Anderson’s statement that differed from those of other witnesses. Carr angrily denounced it, saying that he could not understand Anderson’s motive for ‘interlarding his statement with falsehood’24 as he was a good, sober and steady seaman.

The meeting was drawing to a close, but Bayley and Drew couldn’t resist a parting shot. In their opinion, ‘Captain Carr had not done what it was his duty to have done’.25 The parties then left Mansion House, with Bayley, Wardell, Drew and Worthington having achieved nothing except the satisfaction of giving Captain Carr a thorough dressing down.

A few days later, three sailors from the Mangles visited James Drew at Great Trinity Lane. The account they gave of Carr’s conduct appalled him. ‘They all agree in stating that Captain Carr could have bought them [the man and boy] with the greatest possible ease if he had been so inclined,’ wrote Drew in a letter to Bayley. ‘This conduct is altogether beyond conscience.’26

One of the sailors told Drew that the white man in the canoe had identified himself as Price, a native of Dublin, and that a lady and child had been saved from the wreck along with seven other seamen. Another sailor said the white man had told him another nine sailors had also been saved. Their evidence suggests that the survivor at Mer had a long but garbled and confusing conversation with them in which he tried to explain the circumstances surrounding his shipwreck, but on most points he had been misunderstood.

The Clare family, meanwhile, had received a clipping from Sydney’s Colonist newspaper in which an offer of 100 guineas had been made, specifically for the rescue of one person in particular:


Loss of the Charles Eaton.: To Masters of Vessels going through Torres’ Straits, from this Port, and from this date.MR. WILLIAM MAYOR, an Officer on board the barque Charles Eaton, cast away in Torres’ Straits in 1834, being as yet unheard of; but believing, from the account of Captain Carr, of the Mangles, recently published in the Singapore papers, and copied from thence into The Sydney Herald of the 28th April, and THE COLONIST of the 5th May that some of the Officers, Crew, &c., are still on Murray’s Island, I hereby offer a Reward of One Hundred Guineas to any Commander of a Merchant Ship (not specially employed by Government for the purpose) who shall succeed in rescuing the said William Mayor from Murray’s Island, to be paid in London on receipt of certificate from the said W. Mayor; and I will remit approved endorsed Bills on London for the amount, to be lodged in the hands of the Agents of the Merchant here, who will endorse him.

HENRY BULL, Brother-in-Law of the said W. Mayor. Colonist Office, Sydney, May 12, 1836.

CAUTION.The lives of all, if force is used to attempt their rescue, will assuredly be sacrificed-ransom by barter is the only chance.H.B.27

Henry Bull had married William Mayor’s sister, Elizabeth, in 1832. They had sailed from England with their infant daughter in April 1834, arriving at Australia in September.23 One hundred guineas was a very generous reward from a man who was still recovering from two failed business attempts, including the loss of the schooner Friendship at Norfolk Island one year previously.28 Bull had jointly owned it with the vessel’s captain, John Harrison, and the family was left destitute when it sank in a gale. Since then he had become a part-proprietor and editor of one of the colony’s many newspapers, the above-mentioned Colonist, which may have improved his prospects. Also Elizabeth Bull stated that her brother had been about to come into considerable property when his ship was wrecked,29 so her husband must have been confident there would be no problem with the reward.

Throughout late April and early May of 1836, the Bulls had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of action from the New South Wales government in sending a rescue mission to the Torres Strait. As editor of the Colonist, Bull took full advantage of his position to express both his own and his wife’s dissatisfaction and to offer some suggestions for mounting a rescue mission (Colonist 28 April 1836):

There are at this moment no less than three vessels belonging to the same owners offered to Government for that particular service, viz. the brig Alice, the barque Francis Freeling, and the schooner Currency Lass—either of which, but more especially the latter, would answer the purpose; and His Excellency has not far to look for a commander, Captain C. N [sic] Lewis late of His Majesty’s Colonial Brig Governor Phillip, is well qualified for this important service.

The Governor Phillip had a damaged hull and would be in dry dock for many months, leaving Lewis temporarily without work. He got himself a nice little recommendation from the Colonist but he was probably the best choice to lead a rescue mission anyway.

When the Bulls got no response from Governor Sir Richard Bourke, Henry followed it up with another reprimand (Colonist 5 May 1836):

We have again to complain of the lethargy of the Government in not sending a vessel in search of the crew of this unfortunate barque. Another week has passed, and the humane instructions of the Home government appear to be no nearer execution than when the dispatches were first received. We have seen a letter from Captain King of Dunherd, since our last publication, but it appears that gentleman has merely been requested to lay down certain regulations for the guidance of whoever may go in command.

One week later, with still no official response for the colony’s government, the Bulls had placed their own advertisement in the 12 May edition of the Colonist, offering a reward to anyone prepared to undertake a rescue mission. A cutting was sent to Clare, possibly by the Bulls, who would have been aware of the chief mate’s background from letters sent by the second mate to his sister. It prompted another letter from Clare to Bayley: ‘My family and my daughters particularly wish me to contact you on this occasion and I shall be much obliged by your opinion and advice,’ wrote the reverend, for ‘some of the principal inhabitants of this town [Wolverhampton] came forward in the kindest manner to offer any sum for the same purpose’.

Clare ultimately declined the offer of the generous townspeople, believing any ransom offer was now too late ‘as the fate of the Charles Eaton is so universally known and so many efforts employed to seek them’.31 In an outpouring of emotion, the unhappy father concluded, ‘I cannot help thinking that now something decisive has taken place and that a few months will bring us the tidings of a joyful or heart-rending termination of all our hopes and fears.’32

Clare was correct in believing that they would soon receive definite news. Two days before Christmas 1836, a brief outline of recent events in the Torres Strait reached Gledstanes from Batavia via the homeward-bound Tigris. Their writers made many copies of it and letters were despatched by the next mail coaches. The relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew spent the Christmas and New Year period overcome with shock and grief. Nothing and no one had prepared them for the news when it finally came. Once again it was the Rev. John Clare who summed up the prevailing despair when he sent a final letter to William Bayley in which he wrote: ‘their fate is so horrible that it precludes the possibility of comment.’33

In April 1839, Clare resigned as magistrate.34 He had no choice. The community he had served for so long considered him too old and too set in his ways. In 1838 he had sent a quarrelsome pauper girl to a penitentiary for a month and the sentence had provoked outrage. It was time to separate the Church from the law. Clare was planning to move out of the Wolverhampton Deanery, and had just spent more than 1000 pounds on a new home called Wood’s End at Wednesfield.35 On 11 July 1839, he was found hanged in the kitchen of the Deanery. A coroner’s inquest into his suicide received evidence that Clare’s health and spirits had suffered a severe shock two years before, owing to the fate that befell his son when he was shipwrecked in the Torres Strait. Mr. Clare never rallied after receiving that afflicting intelligence.36

It was a very sad end for a man who had devoted his life to Christianity and the administration of justice. In his own eyes suicide would have been deemed a heinous crime.

Princess Mary the Duchess of Gloucester c.1834. Published at the time of her death. Illustrated London News, 9 May 1857. Hand-coloured engraving property of the author.

The other person with a close connection to the D’Oylys was Princess Mary the Duchess of Gloucester. Her husband had died in 1834 leaving his widow not unduly distressed. By October 1835 Princess Mary had already been informed that Charlotte had been shipwrecked and she wrote to Bayley, offering her assistance. It was accepted. In July 1836, Princess Mary went to Europe to visit her older sister Elizabeth, the Queen of Homberg, and stayed with her for five months. The holiday was a timely distraction, given that the Duchess was also enduring the painfully long wait for news from the Torres Strait.

The royal family’s extraordinary holiday home, the Brighton Pavilion, in the 1830s. Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, was staying there with her brother, King William IV and his consort, Queen Adelaide, when she first received the news about the fate of the Charles Eaton. Illustrated London News, 15 Feb., 1845.

By Christmas 1836, Princess Mary was back in England and she travelled to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton in the New Year to stay with the King and Queen. It would have been at this time that she first received the full details of the recent events in the Strait, either via the newspapers or perhaps in a letter from William Bayley.

Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) aged 16. Her innocent diary notes for January 1837 alert us to Princess Mary’s distressing illness at the time that the news about her long-time friend reached England. Black-and-white engraving from a painting by Sir George Hayter.

Princess Victoria kept a daily diary and her entry for 10 January 1837 reads: ‘My aunt Gloucester was taken very ill last week with a violent nervous fever, and continues still very ill. She is quite delirious.’37 In those days the now antiquated term ‘nervous fever’ was occasionally used to describe a form of typhoid fever, possibly picked up in this instance while the princess was overseas. More commonly, it was used to describe the symptoms of what was subsequently called a nervous breakdown. Princess Mary was now in her late fifties. She had always been the carer in her family and had nursed her siblings through patches of both short and prolonged ill health. She had suffered a similar breakdown after the death of her sister, Princess Amelia. Now her brother, King William IV, was there for her, as she worked her way through her severe illness and her grief at the news. She had known Charlotte D’Oyly since she was an infant and had witnessed and shared her growth to womanhood. For both women the friendship had been long and genuine.


Notes to Chapter 11

  1. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: J. B. Nichols and Son, 1845, p. 153.
  2. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, p. 168–69 for whole of letter. Robert D’Oyly, lawyer and brother of Tom D’Oyly, made a similar appeal but it was not forwarded to New South Wales.
  3. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, p. 168.
  4. William Bayley file. Letter to Bayley, sender’s name obscured by thought to be the Rev. Worthington, 25 Dec. 1835, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074,
  5. William Bayley file, J. Wardell to William Bayley, March 1836. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074,
  6. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, pp. 372.
  7. Ibid.
  8. William Bayley file, Letter from J. Wardell to William Bayley, 22 June 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  9. For biographical information about the Rev. John Clare, see The Annual register or a view of the history and politics of the year 1839, vol. 81, London, J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840, p. 136; The Gentlemen’s magazine, vol. 166, p. 209; Roger Swift, ‘The English Urban Magistracy and the Administration of Justice during the Early Nineteenth Century: Wolverhampton 1815–1860’, Midland History, 17, 1992, pp. 75–92.
  10. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , Stockton-on-Tees: W. Robinson, 1837; 2nd ed. Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 16.
  11. Wemyss 1884, pp. 16–17.
  12. Midland History, vols 13–17, p. 79.
  13. David J. Cox, ‘ “The wolves let loose at Wolverhampton”: a study of the South Staffordshire Election “riots”, May 1835’, Law, Crime and History, 2011, p. 2.
  14. William Bayley file. Letter from Rev. John Clare to William Bayley, 14 Oct. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  15. By 1835, Captain Carr was also being described as the owner of the Mangles, so presumably they were joint owners before Carr became sole owner.
  16. The Times, 1 Nov. 1836.
  17. Ibid.
  18. See The Times, 5 Nov. 1836 for Anderson’s complete statement.
  19. The Times, 1 Nov. 1836.
  20. Ibid.
  21. The Times, 5 Nov. 1836 for details of the Carr interview. Worthington’s connection to the Charles Eaton was given as being a close friend of William Bayley. He was teaching at the All Hallows at London Wall church school in the City of London at a time when the parish was sending pauper and orphan children to the Children’s Friend Society for shipment to the colonies. Even that connection, however, does not quite fit. Perhaps a relative of Armstrong, Captain Moore, or one of the crew was a parishioner in his church and he had been communicating with Bayley on their behalf.
  22. There is no supporting evidence that this boat ever existed. Carr saw the wrecked stern of an old boat previously washed up on the island and revered by the natives as a kind of religious relic.
  23. The Times, 5 Nov. 1836.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. William Bayley file. Letter from James Drew to William Bayley, Nov. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  27. Henry Bull married William Mayor’s sister, Elizabeth, 10 October 1832, at St Andrew’s Holborn, Middlesex, England. Source: IGI. They arrived in Sydney with one infant child in late 1834. After two failed business attempts, Henry became the editor and joint proprietor of the Colonist in October 1835.
  28. Bull’s own brief autobiography, published in the Colonist 1 October 1835, states that he first met the Rev. Dr. Dunmore Lang in January 1834, when the Bulls were about to sail for Upper Canada. Lang was Australia’s first Presbyterian minister and the proprietor of a religious newspaper in Sydney called the Colonist. He sang the praises of the NSW colony and persuaded the Bulls to change their destination to Sydney. Shipping passenger lists indicate that they came out aboard the Rossendale, which docked at Hobart Town 10 Sept. 1834 and a few weeks later in Sydney. Bull, acting as his own agent, apparently stocked some of the hold with his own adventure cargo, hoping to sell it for a profit at Hobart and Sydney, but the venture failed. Lang had advised Bull not to do that, but he had gone ahead with the idea anyway.
  29. The Sydney Monitor, 22 Aug. 1835, p. 4, gives Bull’s own lengthy and graphic account of the Friendship shipwreck and it makes compelling reading.
  30. William Bayley file, letter from Rev. John Clare to William Bayley, Nov. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  31. William Bayley file, Clare to Bayley, Nov. 1836, A1074.
  32. Ibid.
  33. William Bayley file, Clare to Bayley, undated but probably January 1837, A1074. For a long time it was assumed that the Rev. John Clare was the clergyman described by George Borrow in his book The Romany Rye (published in 1848 but describing events in 1825). While there is no concrete evidence to support this, Borrow’s description is remarkable for the way in which it does actually appear to describe the widowed Clare and his daughters, or at least people very like them. Clare was no evangelist – or at least not officially – but years of writing sermons had made him a passionate and powerful wordsmith. Bayley was so touched by his letters that he quoted them extensively in his book and they have since been acquired by the State Library of New South Wales as part of the Bayley collection. Today it is still possible to be moved by the old vicar’s tears and fears. He was clearly respected by many of the townsfolk of Wolverhampton and the villagers at Bushbury and Westerfield (he was the vicar for both villages), and the son was like the father in that he enjoyed the respect of his crew.
  34. Records of the Staffordshire County Quarter Sessions, April 1839, item 44.
  35. Law Journal Reports,vol. 24, part 2, 1855, p. 110. Lengthy court case about the title to the house and land purchased by Clare. Clare’s unfounded belief that he would lose his money may have contributed to his suicide.
  36. Annual Register or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1839, vol. 81, London, J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1840, p. 136. Also see: The Gentlemen’s magazine, vol. 166, p. 209. It was the second sudden death in the Clare quarters at the Wolverhampton Deanery. In April 1838, the Rev. John Clare’s orphaned niece, Sarah Lee Clare, died there at the age of 26 and the circumstances of her demise were not included in her short death notice. It’s known, however, that the Clare womenfolk were devastated by Chief Mate Fred Clare’s death.
  37. Flora Fraser, Princesses: The six daughters of George III, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005, p. 362.


………. …… …. ….

Chapter 12: Colonial Schooner Isabella to the Rescue

In a seaport obsessed with its harbour, custom dictated that one of the best views of it would be reserved for the incumbent of Government House. For Governor Sir Richard Bourke, the vista of busy Sydney Cove in late May 1836 included the activity around the Governor’s Wharf and the colonial schooner Isabella. The prison service employed the vessel primarily to carry stores, troops and convicts to the penal colonies on Norfolk Island and at Moreton Bay. For her next voyage, however, she was taking on extra stores for a mercy mission to the Torres Strait.

When Governor Bourke had received the dispatch from Lord Glenelg raising the possibility that as many as nine shipwreck survivors were being held captive in the Torres Strait, and instructing him to ‘adopt such measures as may appear to you most advisable’,1 he had been less than enthusiastic. In his opinion, sending one of His Majesty’s men-of-war from Bombay or the South Seas to investigate the claim was a more appropriate response. He had to obey the order from the Home Office, however, despite the fact that it would engage the Isabella for several months. The prison service would have to charter another vessel in her absence, placing a strain on its tight budget. Bourke was humane and reasonable but the rumours about survivors appeared to be groundless. The publication of Captain Carr’s letter in the 28 April 1836 editions of Sydney newspapers,2 however, put the question of survivors beyond doubt. Thereafter he acted with commendable speed, although he did have to wait until the schooner had returned from her latest trip to Norfolk Island.

The penal colony at Norfolk Island, serviced in the early 1830s by the colony-owned navy vessel HMS Isabella. Illustrated London News, Dec., 1856.
Moreton Bay penal colony, Queensland 1832
Convict Barracks, Moreton Bay. Detail from a sheet of pencil drawings of public buildings at Moreton Bay, September 1832. Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, NSW. Attrib. to Sockering. Reproduced in J. G. Steele’s Brisbane Town in Convict Days. The Moreton Bay penal settlement was serviced by the colonial schooner Isabella.

The Isabella was registered for 126 tons and measured in feet 76 x 19 x 11 (approx. 23 x 5.8 x 3.4 in metres). Commander for the Torres Strait mission would be Captain Charles Morgan Lewis R.N., who volunteered for the assignment. He was a navy skipper employed by the colony on another colonial vessel. Born in Norfolk, England, in 1804,3 he was an ambitious 31-year-old who had previously been a master mariner in the navy of the King of Siam (Thailand).4

Interest in the survivors was widespread and the public expected action. Sailors lined up for a voyage bound to be more interesting than the monotonous treks back and forth to the two penal settlements. The schooner’s full crew compliment was usually 18, but for the rescue mission it was increased to 31.5 Despite the obvious activity surrounding the little schooner, no official statement was issued. Nevertheless, newspaper reporters picked up her destination, possibly via the customs and shipping documents they habitually perused. It was ‘supposed to be the recovery of the survivors of the wreck of the Charles Eaton,’ guessed the Australian in its 17 May edition.

The news excited the attention of a retired seaman, William Barnes, who was now a resident of New South Wales but who had once been the master of a vessel called the Stedcombe. Barnes had his own story to tell. In 1825 the Stedcombe and the Lady Nelson had left a short-lived British settlement at Melville Island, on the northern coast of Australia, on a mission to trade for buffaloes from one of the islands in the Timor sea. Both vessels had been cut off by pirates and everyone assumed that all aboard them had been murdered.6

The Batavia deposition from the five sailors, recently published in Sydney papers, gave an account of two other boys cast away on Timor Laut many years previously. Barnes concluded that they were, in all likelihood, the two ship’s boys from the Stedcombe, names John Edwards and Joseph Forbes. He was horrified to think that they had been in bondage and slavery for so long and he wrote to Governor Sir Richard Bourke with a special plea. The Isabella would be passing near Timor Laut on its return voyage. Could it stop at Timor Laut to make enquiries about the other two boys?7

Captain Lewis of the Isabella received instructions from the Colonial Secretary to call upon Barnes and he did so. Barnes was now a portly stock and land auctioneer, residing in Paramatta but a frequent visitor to Sydney. He gave Lewis every scrap of information that he had collected from his voyages around the Timor seas, including his time aboard the Stedcombe. He also lent Lewis his ship’s journal. In return, he received from Lewis an assurance that on the homeward journey he would make a thorough search for the two English boys presumed to be in slavery at Timor Laut.8 Lewis said his farewells to the talkative former adventurer and sea captain with what appears now to be no intention of keeping his promise.

By 24 May most of the crew were aboard and helping with the fit-out. Included among them was William Edward Brockett, who kept a journal that he later published as a booklet. Brockett was from Newcastle in England, and the rescue mission to the Torres Strait would be the highlight of his Australian experience. He was in his twentieth year and was enjoying what we would probably call today his ‘gap year’, while he decided what he wanted to do next. An adventurous seafaring life was appealing but was it right for him? He seems to have been testing his choice by working his way around the world as an ordinary seaman.

Brockett was the son of John Trotter Brockett, a well-known attorney in Newcastle, England and a prominent personality in that city. His father had many other interests besides law, including writing and illustrating books on coins and medals. His best-known book, however, was a useful glossary on the numerous words unique to northern England, for the benefit of southerners who struggled to understand the local idioms. But John Trotter Brockett was also an addicted collector of books, artworks, stamps, coins and antiques. His son had grown up in a house that was described in the following terms by an old friend, the bibliomaniac, Dr. Dibdin:

More than once or twice was the hospitable table of my friend, John Trotter Brockett, Esq., spread to receive me. He lives comparatively in a nut-shell—but what a kernel! Pictures, books, curiosities, medals, coins—of precious value—bespeak his discriminating eye of his liberal heart. You may revel here from sunrise to sunset, and fancy the domains interminable. Do not suppose that a stated room or rooms are only appropriated to his bokes; they are ‘up-stairs, down-stairs, and in my lady’s chamber.’ They spread all over the house—tendrils of pliant curve and perennial verdure.9

William Brockett had spent his childhood in a household where almost constant literary output was a part of everyday life, but living in a small dwelling with a compulsive collector and hoarder couldn’t have been easy.

Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King. Portrait held at the National Library of Australia.

On 30 May, Lewis received his final instructions from Governor Bourke, with sailing directions supplied by Captain Phillip Parker King, RN. He was to proceed directly to the Murray Islands via the outer passage, passing through the reefs at either the Investigator or Cumberland entrances.10 It must have been one of the few occasions when King recommended the outer passage, but Lewis would be following the chart laid down by Matthew Flinders. Flinders had called at Mer – something that King had never done. If there were white people on the Murray Islands, Lewis and his men had to rescue them without resorting to violence, unless it was necessary for the defence of life.

The Isabella sailed from Port Jackson on 3 June, fitted out with cannons and plenty of ammunition, plus a good supply of iron axes and trinkets. Lewis had also accepted a box of goods from Elizabeth Bull specifically for her brother, second mate William Mayor, in case he was alive. Everyone believed that in addition to the lad and child seen by Carr, there were nine or more other survivors at Mer.

A two-masted East India Company brig man-of-war ‘Caught in a breeze’, c. 1830s. Possibly the Tigris but no name given. Oil Painting, artist unknown, British Maritime Museum. H.C. Tigris was almost swamped during a squall in the Indian Ocean and also struck by lightning, followed by heavy rain. This occurred when she was en route to Sydney from Bombay in 1836 and it prevented her from calling at the Cocos/Keeling islands. This fine painting can be imagined as depicting that sequence of events. The title is intentionally ironic.

Four days later the Indian navy’s brig H. C. Tigris, dispatched from Bombay under Commander Igglesden, left Hobart Town for Sydney en route to the Torres Strait. Also on board was 2nd Lieut. George Borlase Kempthorne. Caught in a gale on 11 June almost within sight of Sydney’s lighthouse, she sailed into the colony on 12 June with some damage to her hammocks and top deck. It was a sunny Sunday and a large crowd gathered at vantage points along the government domain and at Garden Island to witness the arrival of what was, for most of them, their first sighting of an Indian man-of-war. The ‘novel attire’ of the Indian lascars (sailors) and sepoys (soldiers) may have ‘excited their curiosity’.11

The ‘novel’ attire of a sepoy. Small watercolour from a sketchbook by Sir Charles D’Oyly, property of the author.

Most of the spectators knew why she was there. The plight of the shipwrecked sailors had aroused their sympathy and they had been demanding action. The smaller government schooner had already been dispatched for that purpose, but the 255-ton Tigris, with her 10 guns and her larger ship’s company, was a much more impressive and reassuring sight.

The H. C. brig-of-war Tigris had been launched in 1829 for the Company’s service and was not registered with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. At the time of her visit to Australia, the Indian Station (formerly the Bombay Marine until 1830) was in a depressed state and there was even talk of disbandment. It no longer had a practical purpose and morale among the navy’s many talented captains, commanders and officers was low.12 Even the smallest of pirate ships could easily outrun the Tigris.13 In size, the two-masted brig-of-war was similar to the average three-masted mercantile barque, but its rigging was more complex and it needed a bigger crew. Brigs-of-war could turn on a sixpence but they often lacked the necessary speed to chase down and engage the enemy. The Tigris, however, was considered both fine looking and fast by the standards of her class. The Company’s warships were divided into six classes, depending on their size and the number of guns. The Tigris was on the bottom rung as a Class Six, with a lower-ranked Commander in charge rather than a more senior Captain. Assigning her to a rescue mission for shipwrecked survivors was in keeping with her current standing in the Indian navy as a reliable work horse.

The Cocos/Keeling Islands are a mere dot in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Today, the islands are a part of Australia. NASA satellite image.

Sending the brig-of-war to the Torres Strait seems like a crazy decision, but at least it kept the crew busy for a time. The Tigris looked exotic with all those smart Indian sepoys and artillery gunners in their uniforms, but scurvy had broken out by the time the brig reached Hobart Town, simply for the want of enough fresh or appropriate produce in the ships’ stores. Kempthorne was understandably cross that keeping costs to a minimum had endangered the lives of all aboard the ship. ‘The “penny wise and pound foolish” system was in this instance very apparent,’ he later complained.14 The rebuke might have been levelled against Commander Igglesden, who had originally intended to call at the friendly Cocos/Keeling Islands, to procure fresh water and supplies. The Cocos/Keeling Islands are a mere dot in the middle of the Indian Ocean but they were the ideal stopover for any vessel sailing between India or Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia. The Tigris missed the landmark because of severely adverse weather and Igglesden decided to push ahead rather than waste time turning back. The time saved in not visiting the islands was negated by the desperate need to stop over at Hobart Town instead, with his pursers running out of drinking water and food.

Without the planned-for stopover at the Cocos (Keeling) islands to top up water and fresh supplies, it was a long leg from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with the larger ship’s company of a man-of-war.

Fortunately the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Colonel Sir George Arthur, rendered them every assistance and, said Kempthorne, ‘did all in his power to expedite the departure of the Tigris on her important mission.’15 The immediate supply of water and fresh food quelled the dreadful disease. There would have been many free settlers in Hobart Town who met the D’Oyly family during the almost nine months they lived in New Norfolk. They had arrived in the colony with impeccable references and Colonel Arthur himself may have organised the swift supply of their convict servants.

Commander William Igglesden in later years.

Governor Bourke had been unaware of the action taken by the Bombay station and he would have been unimpressed by the overkill in sending two rescue ships to the same tiny island. Fortunately, repairs to the Tigris stretched out to 28 days and the man-of-war did not depart for the Murray Islands until 10 July, placing the decision to send the Isabella beyond reproof. The Tigris had left Bombay with a man on board who was found to be suffering from smallpox and the brig had been quarantined at Ceylon for a time, contributing to her delayed arrival at Sydney. Bourke, however, was kind. He gave Commander Igglesden a duplicate of the instructions given to Captain Lewis, so that he could meet up with the Isabella schooner in the strait.

Brockett, meanwhile, was maintaining his journal of the Isabella’s voyage. The captain, he wrote, had ordered him to scratch some empty glass bottles with the following inscription: ‘C. M. Lewis, Commander of His Majesty’s Schooner, Isabella, is despatched by Government to obtain the people who were lost in the Charles Eaton; June, 1836. (From Sydney). Secret.16 

Governor Bourke had ordered Lewis to prepare and distribute a number of these bottles around the islands on the off chance that any shipwreck survivors who read the message would find an opportunity to escape. Lewis would have known by that time that Brockett was up to the task and his scratched words would be legible.

The colonial schooner Isabella anchored off Mer. The Isabella was a small two-master, rigged fore-and-aft and clearly not at all intimidating. Drawn by W. E. Brockett and published in Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’, p 11. Sydney: printed at the Colonist office, 1836.

Sunday 19 June began as a thick and hazy day. At nine o’clock Mer was seen by the lookout up the masthead and at 11 o’clock, having successfully negotiated Cumberland’s passage through the Barrier Reef, the schooner anchored on the northern side of Mer. A group of islanders gathered on the beach, extending their arms in signs of peace and indicating they wanted to trade. Among them the sailors and officers could plainly see a naked white man. It was Waki. He had seen the schooner coming and had gone straight down to the beach, where some of his friends were already launching their canoes.

Lewis, in some doubt as to whether the islanders could be trusted but wanting to encourage them to visit, ordered all the loaded cannons to be pulled back and sent half the crew below. His men were armed, however, and ready to repel an attack if necessary.17 As the canoes were being pushed off from the beach, Waki tried to get into one of them, but his island father stopped him. Duppa was convinced that the last time a ship [the Mangles] had called at Mer, the crew had tried to take Waki away and kill him. Waki pleaded with Duppa for some time but the old man refused to let him go out to the ship. He told Waki to go and hide among the trees on the hill instead.

Four canoes soon reached the schooner and their occupants began making signs of friendship, calling out ‘poud, poud’ (peace, peace). Their platforms were laid out with trade items which they held up in the air, calling ‘torre, torre’ for iron axes and knives in exchange. The schooner’s crew now began to make signs, pointing at their own faces then at the island, by which they managed to ask if there were any white people there. The islanders gestured to indicate there were two. With more signs, Lewis pretended not to understand what the canoeists wanted, hoping they would fetch the white person as an interpreter. The sailors held iron axes aloft to excite the visitors and when there was no progress with the trading, sure enough, the islanders decided to fetch Waki, and returned to the beach. Duppa, however, still refused to let Waki go. ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ Waki reassured him, explaining that he only wanted axes and other articles like everybody else.18 Finally he was allowed to get into Duppa’s canoe and he sat down on the platform amidships while the men rowed him out to the vessel. This time he was determined that there would be no misunderstanding, so he asked everyone to keep quiet until he had spoken to the people on the ship. Lewis had issued similar instructions to his crew and there was total silence as the canoe reached the Isabella. Brockett wrote in his journal, ‘the unfortunate boy exhibited the mingled emotions of fear and delight.’ Everyone, wrote Brockett, ‘appearing to listen with the greatest attention.’19

‘What is your name?’ asked Lewis.
‘John Ireland,’ the boy replied.
‘How many are upon the island?’
‘Only a child about four or five years old.’ The rest of the white people, said Ireland, had either drowned or been murdered.20

As he later explained it:

My agitation was so great, that I could scarcely answer the questions which were put to me; and it was some time before I recovered my self-possession. Captain Lewis took me down into the cabin, and gave me a shirt, a pair of trousers, and a straw hat. He ordered some bread and cheese and beer for me; but the thoughts of again revisiting my home and friends prevented me from eating much of it.21

Now that one boy had been rescued, brisk trade was permitted, with the scratched message bottles being handed out as presents in the hope they would be found by other survivors. In the cuddy, Captain Lewis waited until he could see that the boy had recovered his senses and was ready to tell his story.


Notes to Chapter 12

  1. HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, Lord Glenelg to Governor Sir Richard Bourke, p. 158.
  2. This is the letter dated 4 October 1835 and written by Carr while en route to Canton.
  3. England and Wales Census, 1851.
  4. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser , 25 Dec. 1832.
  5. HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 9 June 1836, pp. 432–34.
  6. Charlotte Barton (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children. Sydney: printed at the Gazette Office, 1840, pp. 100–136; J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coast and Rivers Explored and Surveyed during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in the years 1837‑38‑39‑40‑41‑42‑43, by Command of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. Also a Narrative of Captain Owen Stanley’s Visits to the Islands in the Arafura Sea, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33. Adelaide: Library Board of S.A., 1969, pp. 440–78.
  7. Sydney Monitor 30 July 1839.
  8. Ibid.
  9. John Trotter Brockett and Charles Edward Brockett (ed.), Glossary of North Country Words in Use, with Their Etymology, Affinity to Other Languages, and Occasional Notices of Local Customs and Popular Superstitions, 2 vols, 3rd edn, Newcastle-on-Tyne: Emerson Charnley, London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1846, vol. 1, p. xxi.
  10. Named after the first vessels to use them, including Matthew Flinders’ Investigator. Both are close to the Murray Islands.
  11. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship Charles Eaton performed in the year 1836’, Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. 8, 1847-1849, pp. 210–36.
  12. Jean Sutton, Lords of the East: The East India Company and its ships (1600–1874), Chap. 11, pp. 127–39.
  13. Sutton pp. 127–39.
  14. Kempthorne, p. 217.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Wiliam Edward Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres’ Straits : in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printer Henry Bull, 1836, pp. 10–11.
  17. Captain C. M. Lewis, ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella . . . ’, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, pp. 654.
  18. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 56.
  19. Brockett p. 13.
  20. Australian, 20 Oct. 1836.
  21. Ireland p. 56.

Raine Island and Detached Reef

Chapter 13: One Night at Boydang Cay

Image from John Ireland’s book The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 15.

The tradition about a captain being the last to leave his ship is an old one. The crew left behind on the wreck after Moore’s raft disappeared, felt so abandoned, for a time they gave into despair. With their popular chief mate now in command, however, they soon set to work on another raft, made from the remaining spars. The second raft, like the first one, took a few days to build. It was a solid piece of work, with its own mast and calico sail. With only a few damaged biscuits and a little water, the unhappy sailors launched it, trying to steer with the wind. The simple craft sank under their weight, leaving them at the mercy of the current.1

The Great Detached Reef as it looked in the 1890s, based on Admiralty Chart No. 2354. All Australian shipwrecks are heritage protected. There are a number of wrecks on the reef and it is a popular diving site for tour groups out of Port Douglas. Copyright Veronica Peek.

The heavily laden raft made very slow progress. It drifted for many miles before the sailors encountered another reef with enough shelter on its lee side to offer a safe haven for the night.2 After that they saw no more reefs and had entered the inner passage. For two more days they drifted, with all their biscuits and water soon gone.

On the fourth day, they passed an island and could see more low isles ahead. Before they could reach them a canoe came out to meet them, paddled by 10 or a dozen natives who had been fishing on a nearby reef.3 As they approached, the men in the canoe stood up and extended their arms in a gesture that showed they were unarmed and friendly. ‘On their reaching the raft’, Ireland later explained, ‘several of them got upon it, and were gently put back by Mr Clare; he at the same time saying that he thought from their manners that they were not to be trusted. They were very stout men, and quite naked.’4 One man, however, stayed behind on the raft, attracted by a piece of white cloth at the top of the mast. He tried to climb up and get it but the mast snapped, throwing him into the sea. At any other time it might have been amusing but not now, for the raft’s single mast and sail were gone.

Even so, the mood remained friendly. The sailors gave the natives a mirror and a piece of red cloth. The gifts pleased them and they invited the white men to transfer across to their canoe. For a time the sailors hesitated, until midshipmen Tom Ching took the lead. ‘I’m going with them,’ he said, ‘because it might mean getting back to England sooner. At any rate,’ he added as he scrambled into the canoe, ‘I could not be worse off.’ Then everyone followed him and left the raft, at which time the canoeists searched it for iron tools but could find nothing but a few old keg hoops, probably from the empty water cask. These they placed in their canoe and let the raft drift away.

‘It was about four in the afternoon when we left the raft,’ said Ireland, ‘and after passing three islands on our right, and one on our left, we landed on an island which I afterwards found the natives called Boydan [Boydang]. We could plainly see the main land, about fourteen or fifteen miles distant.’ As they approached the beach, Ireland could see a second canoe drawn up on the sand but no huts or shelters of any kind. The ominous signs were already there that this tiny island was fine for turtle and lagoon fishing but hostile to habitation.5

As soon as they had landed, the sailors pointed to their mouths and made signs to show they were hungry and thirsty. With their rescuers walking beside them and still giving every sign of being friendly, they set off around the island, hoping to find food and water. Their journey was short but they were so exhausted by fatigue and hunger, by the time they returned to their starting point they could barely crawl. They had found nothing to eat and no water supply, and could do no more than throw themselves down on the sand in despair. Sensing their weakness, the mood among their rescuers changed. They laughed and seemed to take pleasure in the sailors’ anguish. No longer their hosts, they had become their captors.

Observing this change in their attitude, the chief mate warned his men to prepare for the worst. ‘He read some prayers from a book which he had brought from the wreck,’ said Ireland, ‘and we all most heartily joined with him in supplication. We felt that probably it would be our last and only opportunity while here on earth.’ The men prayed together in a group for a long time but eventually they crawled under some bushes, too tired to resist sleep any longer.

‘Although it will readily be imagined we were little in heart disposed to slumber, yet such was the state to which we were reduced, that most of us fell almost immediately into a sound sleep,’ Ireland later explained. They were encouraged by the islanders who sensed their weak attempts to resist sleep and sought to induce it by putting their own heads down on one shoulder and closing their eyes so that they, too, appeared to be dozing off.

Sleep came slowly to the young ship’s boy. The sun was setting but it was still possible to see a few islanders moving around on the beach. One of them went down to his canoe and came away from it walking in a strange manner. He was advancing cautiously with a club in his hand but hidden, as he thought, behind his back. Later he dropped it stealthily upon the beach. ‘I told this to the seaman, Carr, who was lying next to me,’ said Ireland, ‘but he, being very sleepy, seemed to make no notice of it, and soon after was in a deep sleep.’

One by one the sailors drifted into slumber and as they did so, the ship’s boy observed with dread that the islanders were creeping forward and placing themselves so that there was one of them between each sleeping form. Ireland was so weary, however, that he, too, eventually fell asleep. As he would later explain, ‘It was utterly out of our power to resist; as we had not so much as a staff or stick to defend ourselves with; and our exhaustion was too great to allow us to quit the place’.6

Image from John Ireland’s book The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 22.

After he had been asleep for about an hour, Ireland woke up suddenly to the sounds of terrible shouting. He jumped up instantly and saw that the islanders were killing his companions. The first to die was the little midshipman, Tom Ching, followed by his young friend, William Perry. The next victim was William Mayor, the second mate. ‘The confusion now became terrible’, said Ireland, ‘and my agitation at beholding the horrid scene was so great that I do not distinctly remember what passed after this.’

Some of the sailors had their brains smashed and skulls cracked, while others were stabbed with spears and knives. As they fell wounded, their attackers rushed forward and, seizing them by their hair, slashed or hacked off their heads with razor-sharp knives.

The last person Ireland saw murdered was the chief mate, who put up a tremendous fight. He cleared a path for himself through a group of advancing attackers and raced down to the shore, with several islanders in pursuit. Reaching a canoe, he pushed it off into the sea. His pursuers plunged into the water after him and soon overtook him. Grabbing up the paddles one by one, Clare lashed out at them and was successful for a time, but in the end there were too many attackers and they overpowered him. Abandoning the canoe, he jumped back into the water and again dashed into the midst of his attackers. Breaking through them, he raced through the shallows until he regained the shore, and made off into the bushes. He was increasing the gap between himself and his pursuers when a party lying in ambush jumped up and felled him to the ground, where they immediately killed him and cut off his head.7

When Ireland, who had been staring in shock at Clare’s horrendous death, finally looked around again he could see that he and the other ship’s boy were now the only two people from the raft left alive. A large man, whose name, he would later learn, was Bis-kea, came towards him with a carving knife in his hand, which Ireland the young assistant steward now recognised as having belonged to the cabin galley until placed with the stores on the first raft. Bis-kea seized him and held the knife in such a way that the lad believed his throat was about to be cut. ‘I grasped the blade of the knife in my right hand and held it fast,’ he explained. ‘I struggled hard for my life.’ Finally, Bis-kea threw Ireland down on the ground and, placing a knee upon his breast, tried to wrench the knife away. Still the boy held tight to it, until it cut one of his fingers to the bone. While struggling with Bis-kea, he saw that Sexton was in the grip of a man whose name, he would later learn, was Maroose. In desperation, Sexton bit Maroose and took a piece out of his arm. ‘After that,’ said Ireland, ‘I knew nothing of him, until I found that his life was spared’.

For a brief moment, the boy got the better of Bis-kea and he let go his hold on the knife and ran into the sea. He stayed semi-submerged for a long time with no one in pursuit. He was determined, he said, ‘to swim out and be drowned rather than be killed and eaten.’ In the end, however, fright and weariness got the better of him and he gave up and return to the shore, it being, he said, ‘the only chance for my life’.

Back on the beach, the islanders were going about their gruesome business. They had built a large fire and appeared to have forgotten about the boy. Even so, as he crept back through the shallows in the enveloping darkness Ireland expected death at any minute.

There are two versions of what happened next. In the one recounted by Captain Phillip Parker King, Bis-kea was waiting for him on the shore and came towards him in a furious manner, shooting an arrow at him which struck him in his right breast. ‘On a sudden, however, he, very much to my surprise, became quite calm, and led, or rather dragged me to a little distance, and offered me some fish,’ said Ireland.8

Another version was given to a Sydney reporter, ‘When I returned to the beach the same man again got hold of me, but instead of further molesting me, he gave me some food and water’.9 Bis-kea, said Ireland on another occasion, ‘saved me from violence from the hands of the others.’10

Ireland was left sitting on the beach. He was very hungry but too afraid to eat any fish for fear it was poisoned. Not far off, his captors were dancing around a large fire they had lit upon the sand, before which they had placed, in a row, the heads of all his dead countrymen, still recognisable despite their bloody wounds and sightless eyes. The headless bodies were naked now and carelessly left on the beach. ‘I should think the tide soon washed them away,’ Ireland explained, ‘for I never saw them afterwards.’

The heat from the fire partially cooked the heads, at which time the men began to cut off pieces of flesh from the cheeks and other parts of their faces, plucking out the eyes and eating them with triumphant shouts. ‘This, I afterwards learned, it was the custom of these islanders to do with their prisoners,’ the ship’s boy explained, ‘they think that it will give them courage, and excite them to revenge themselves upon the enemy.’ It was ritual cannibalism in other words. The central islanders, like the rest of the Torres Strait Islanders, had no taste for human flesh. There was an abundance of fish and turtle meat.

In what would become the final version of his story, Ireland stated that Sexton also survived for a time. The two terrified boys sat close to the fire, he said, where the mutilated heads were still on display. Some of their captors, ‘sat like tailors, dividing the cloth and other articles which they had taken from the bodies of the persons killed.’ Already, however, some of the men were showing signs of wanting to be kind. Two of them went down to a canoe, took down its woven-grass sail, and covered the boys to keep them warm again the cold night. To Ireland’s annoyance they ignored his badly cut finger. What followed was a very long night indeed. As Ireland said:

It is impossible for me to describe our feelings during this dreadful night. We fully expected, every moment, to share the fate of those whom we had so lately seen cruelly murdered. We prayed together for some time, and after each promising to call on the other’s relations, should either ever escape, we took leave of each other, giving ourselves up for lost.

At length the morning came; and the Indians, after having collected all the heads, took us with them in their canoe to another island, which they called Pullan, where the women lived.11

Notes to Chapter 13

  1. It’s possible that when the crew were up to their waists in water, as Ireland put it, they were sitting or kneeling down on the raft.
  2. Possibly the other side of the large lagoon at the centre of the Great Detached Reef.
  3. Ireland’s estimate of their number increased over time to 15 or 20. In one account, Ireland was quoted as saying two canoes came out to meet them.
  4. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 19. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this chapter have come from this book.
  5. See J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia . . . , vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of SA 1969, pp. 362–63 for a complete description of the island now called Boydang.
  6. In another version of his story, given to Tigris commander, young Ireland said that they did have some arms with them but were too exhausted to post a watch. It cast the chief mate in a poor light, however, by implying that he had been careless, and that may be why the lad subsequently made no further reference to weapons.
  7. ‘Voyage in search of the survivors of the Charles Eaton’. Tales of Travellers: or, A View of the World. vol. 1, no. 56, Saturday, October 28, 1837, pp. 441–43.
  8. Capt. C. M. Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 658.
  9. Sydney Monitor, 19 Oct. 1836.
  10. London Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  11. Ireland p. 29.

…. ……. … ..

Chapter 14: Mysterious Pullan

Pullan is a low sandy isle with trees and bushes growing on it, a short distance from Boydang. When their canoe arrived there, Ireland saw Portland, the ship’s dog, running along the beach. Next, he saw George and William D’Oyly. A native woman was carrying William but he would not stop crying. George, however, was calm and he came down the beach to the canoe in which Ireland was sitting. ‘What has become of your father and mother?’ Ireland asked. ‘The blacks have killed them,’ George D’Oyly replied, ‘and the captain, and Mr Armstrong, and our ayah.’ He said that he and his little brother were all that remained alive.

Ireland could see cabin doors used in the construction of the first raft decorating some of the canoes. The natives had attached them with great care and they were clearly prized. In the interior of the sandy isle, there were a number of open-sided shelters, within which the ship’s boy recognized several articles of clothing. There was Montgomery’s watch and white hat, and the gown worn by Charlotte D’Oyly when she left the wreck.

Nearby, a number of decomposing heads were hanging by ropes from a pole stuck in the ground. Charlotte’s head was easily identified because some of her long hair was still on it; another he knew as Captain Moore’s face. Ireland spoke to George D’Oyly again. ‘The little fellow gave a very distinct account of the dreadful transaction,’ he later stated. ‘He said he was so frightened when he saw his father killed by a blow on the head from a club, that he hardly knew what he did; but when his mother was killed in the same way, he thought they would kill him and his little brother too, and then he hoped they would all go to heaven together.’1

The attack had been over very quickly. After several days and nights on the raft, the first party had landed on one of the islets, probably on the side facing the Barrier Reef. Pullan is the largest cay in the group labelled by Captain James Cook as the ‘low sandy isles’. It has the tallest vegetation and to the thirsty party on the first raft it would have offered the best prospect of finding water.

It is probable that the people on the island had spotted their raft and sent a canoe out to intercept them. The canoeists would have been friendly and escorted them back to Pullan. The sudden arrival of white people always aroused genuine excitement and curiosity. The women in particular had probably stroked their clothes and hair and fussed over the small D’Oyly boys. There is a good chance that the raft party lived for a brief time and their hosts remained friendly. They would have been utterly exhausted by their ordeal and overwhelmed with relief that they had actually made it to safe land.

Some of the men on the first raft were armed. Based on Ireland’s various accounts we can be reasonably sure that there were men in the party who had a cutlass or knife and there’s a good chance that the two captains, Moore and D’Oyly, had at least one pistol each. What the D’Oylys, Armstrong and Moore should have guessed is that the Torres Strait islanders were obsessed with iron in any shape or form. It was number one on their wish list. They had stumbled across a party of islanders on a fishing expedition, but they were also on the lookout for trade items. The one thing that they desired most to possess was the white man’s ‘magic stick’, the iron object that made a loud noise when you pointed it at someone and that person died from a wound either instantly or very soon after. As a trade item, it was priceless, despite the fact that they had no idea how to use it or any understanding of how the ‘magic’ worked.

The weapons the castaways carried may also have meant that they were potentially dangerous and unpredictable and on no account to be trusted. Everyone except the two D’Oyly children was struck down from behind when their guard was down and instantly decapitated. George said that William had been in his mother’s arms at the time a savage head blow felled her, but was saved by one of the women, who rushed forward to snatch him up and afterwards took care of him. Another woman rescued George in a similar way. These women appear to have been surprised and shocked by the sudden and unexpected attack.

Ireland’s captors at Boydang and Pullan were from one or more of the islands in the Torres Strait. Captain J. Lort Stokes, who visited the cays a few years later, thought that the annual migration to some of the southern islands and sandy isles in Shelburne Bay off Queensland was a recent practice. The visitors, he thought, would make camp there around July and August because it was a favourite time for ships passing through the Barrier Reef. Every time a ship founded, they would hasten to the doomed vessel to strip it of iron, cutlery, cloth and anything else useful to them as trade goods.2 This view was a knee-jerk reaction to the Charles Eaton murders, for the islanders regularly went south for the fishing or turtle-laying season, sometimes remaining at Shelburne Bay for many months.

Many (but not all) shipwreck survivors encountered by Torres Strait Islanders in the first years of contact were likely to be murdered. As far as the islanders were concerned, there were sound reasons for this and Ireland gave a good example of one of them when he described the condition of his own crew-mates. They were so weak from starvation and thirst they could barely crawl along the sand and were insensible with pain. Each of them had apparently lost his senses and the Torres Strait Islanders considered them dangerous. They might kill people, behave irresponsibly, fire at them, or make other harmful magic. Even more worrying, they might try to steal one of their canoes, thereby jeopardizing the safety of the entire fishing party.

White people were at particular risk of being killed because they were initially thought to be ghosts and thus already dead. The severed head of such a person was all that had any value, for trade or ceremony. The skulls of Ireland’s tragically unlucky shipmates were used for the latter purpose. He had already noticed the pole with the heads attached to it, swinging around at the ends of ropes while the flesh rotted away in the sun. As he explained:

Every morning about sunrise, and every evening at sunset, one of the natives went close to the pole, and blew seven or eight times through a large shell; which made a noise somewhat like blowing through a cow’s horn; at the same time looking up steadfastly at the heads.

After this, the other people decked themselves with green branches of trees, and some painted or rather rubbed their bodies over with a kind of ochre, of a red colour and white, and came to the pole with great parade, holding their clubs and spears. Then they made a sort of corraboray [sic] or dance; but I could not trace any signs of religion in these ceremonies, nor detect anything like reverence paid to the pole.3

Image from John Ireland’s book The Shipwrecked Orphans, p. 28.

It was a terrible sight for the children, yet there clearly was ritual in the daily services. Studies by the Cambridge anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait show that one feature of the social life of the central and eastern Torres Strait Islanders was the hero cult known as the Cult of the Brethren. It embraced head hunting, with collected heads often displayed in lodges as trophies for their hero.4

The campers at Pullan were well aware that taking the heads of ‘ghosts’ could lead to retribution from more of their kind. After the boys had been on the island for about seven days, a single ship passed the island at a distance. A week later, two ships sailing in company came closer to the shore, sailing with a fine breeze and with studding sails set.5 ‘The natives seemed very much frightened at this,’ said Ireland, ‘and were in the utmost confusion; they took us, and all the skulls, with the dog, and hid among the bushes until the ships were gone.’ The ship’s boy indicated that he wanted to go to the ships and one of the men, irritated by this, fired an arrow, hitting him in the breast. Speaking of the incident later, Ireland said, ‘a great quantity of blood came from the wound; another then shot at me, but fortunately for me missed his aim.’6

According to Ireland’s accounts, the party stayed on Pullan for either a short time or more than two months, i.e. until early November. The island was used as a base because it had a plentiful supply of fresh rainwater, collected from a man-made spring. Not all sandy reef isles have the ability to trap fresh water at their centre, but Pullan was one that did. There were about 60 people on the island, including the women and children, and they drew water from the hole in large quantities for drinking and cooking, yet somehow the hole was always full.

Isle 4 (Wallace Islet) is small with low bushes and no water supply. Isle 1 (Boydang), is the largest island. It has tall trees and the remnants of a man-made waterhole. In the 19th century it was the home-base for Torres Strait Islanders visiting Shelburne Bay and 19th-century visitors reported that there were remnants of huts in its interior.

At least some of the men bonded with the white boys and took them spear fishing in their canoes, while at other times they helped the women to collect shellfish from the reefs. Ireland would later recall the names of only four of the men. They included his own saviour, Bis-kea, and three others called Maroose, Uni-uni and Malgoor. Fish and turtle meat were either broiled in ashes or boiled in large volute shells. If the men had a good fishing day, there was enough to eat. If not, the boys got fish heads and entrails. Once when he was very hungry, Ireland tried eating some grass, but it gave him abdominal pains, which were still recurring many years later.

The only edible vegetation was a small plum fruit, although there were times when the older boys managed to steal a small piece of coconut from their captors’ limited supplies. As for George and William, their pampered lives in India had deprived them of even the most basic survival skills. The islanders had wasted no time in stripping the boys of their clothes and they had no choice but to run naked with the other children. Mosquitoes or sand flies infested the cay and they were soon covered with itchy bites. William cried so much that he drove the women to distraction. They called him Uass, a name that seemed to mimic his heartbroken wailing. In the end, the women used to tie him up to a tree and beat him with a bamboo for making a noise. ‘On one occasion, when the women were beating him, I went and released him, and very nearly lost my life,’ Ireland said, ‘for an arrow was shot within an inch of my head. They sometimes tied him up and left him for several hours.’


Admiralty Chart of the Boydong sandy isles (more commonly called Boydang or Boydan in the 1830s), published in 1894 under the superintendence of Captain W. L. J. Wharton. Of the five cays, only three are named: Boydong Islet, referred to by King as No. 1, Little Boydong Islet (No. 2), and Wallace Islet, (No. 4). Wallace Islet has bushes and no water, and matches in physical description and location the cay referred to by Ireland as ‘Boydan’. Little Boydong Islet has trees to a height of 20 ft but no water, while No. 1 Islet has trees to a height of 50 ft and there once was a man-made well. It matches Ireland’s description of Pullan. The unanswered question is: to what extent can we trust Ireland’s memory of their names? The islets are so tiny they can barely be seen on even this map. What each does have is vast sandy shallows and coral reefs. Little wonder they were perfect breeding grounds for turtles.



The first English captain to visit these low islands and describe them was Captain James Cook, who anchored on their leeside of No. 1 island (see map) on 21 August 1770, on his pioneering voyage up the eastern coast of Australia in HMS Endeavour.

Upon this island which is only a small spot of sand with some trees upon it, we saw a good many hutts [sic] or habitations of the natives which we supposed comes over from the main to these islands (from which they are distant about 5 leagues) to catch turtle as these animals come ashore to lay their eggs.7

Although Captain Cook may have been correct in concluding that the natives he saw were from the mainland, it’s likely that they were actually from the Torres Strait. Cook passed by in August, the very time when, according to Ireland, many islanders relocated to the cays for the turtle laying season.

The next recorded visit to these Shelburne Bay islets appears to have been that of HM Colonial brig Kangaroo, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys RN. On 24 July 1817 the brig came to anchor off one of the sandy islands in the bay and from the description provided in the diary of a passenger, Thomas Hassall, it may have been Halfway Island.

The next afternoon they came to anchor off one of the sandy islands about lat. 11o 22′ where they saw some natives and canoes. The Captain and a party went ashore where the Aborigines held up both hands, in one of which was a small branch as a token of peace. . . . Salutations and gifts were exchanged and the visitors came away with the unusual Aboriginal weapon, of some arrows and a bow. Their canoes were also of interest, measuring from 60 to 65 feet in length, and hollowed out of a single tree, with an outrigger on each side supporting a small platform.8

Again, this appears to be a typical encounter with Torres Strait Islanders. HMS Beagle, commanded by J. Lort Stokes, visited the islet already labelled as being Boydan or Boydang on 11 July 1839 and found it unoccupied. Stokes wrote:

Captain King drew his conclusions relative to this island from the circumstance of young Ireland’s stating, that on their way to it in the canoe, after leaving the raft, they first passed three islands on the right northward, and one on the left southward. From the bearings, however, and from our run on the following morning we found it necessary to correct the chart . . . and I am further inclined, from these corrections, to draw the conclusion that No. 4 of the group [Wallace Island] is Boydan island.9

Captain J. Lort Stokes, commander of HMS Beagle, concluded that Wallace Island was the real Boydang. Portrait by unknown artist, c.1864.

Most people accept King’s view that No. 1 of the group is Boydang, although King himself never challenged his friend’s navigational and observational conclusion. Stokes had, after all, been there and checked it for himself. From the physical description supplied by Ireland, Wallace Island does seem a more likely choice, while the island now called Boydang or Boydong matches the boy’s description of Pullan. The remains of an old, man-made well can still be seen there, so the island was once capable of supplying rainwater. Ireland did state that Pullan had sheltering trees and a man-made well.

The British anthropologist, Alfred Cort Haddon, who compiled Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, read the various reports about the shipwreck and came to the same conclusion, that Pullan was part of the Boydang group. In his introduction to Volume IV of the report (p. 2), Haddon writes: ‘The latitudes of Pullan and Erub are about two degrees (120 nautical miles) apart. We thus have evidence that the Central Islanders voyaged to the islands and sand banks within the Great Barrier Reef to a distance of over 100 miles.’

From this quote we can see that Haddon places Pullan in the same group of cays as Boydang. A positive identification of the historically important Pullan has yet to be made but it is probably the No. 1 islet now known as Boydang. In terms of the maps and charts however, it hardly matters since the whole group of small sandy isles is known collectively as the Boydang Cays.

Notes to Chapter 14

  1. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, pp. 30–31.
  2. J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia . . . , vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of SA 1969, p. 364.
  3. Ireland p. 30.
  4. A. C. Haddon (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits . . . , vol. I: General Ethnography, Cambridge at the University Press, 1935, p. 90 and pp. 347–48.
  5. On tall sailing ships, advantage would be taken of a particularly fine wind by extending the cross-yards with ‘arms’ to which extra sails, called ‘studding’ sails, were attached.
  6. Sydney Monitor, 19 Oct. 1836. This version contradicts the King/Lewis account, in which John Ireland apparently claimed that the arrow wound in his chest was caused by Bis-kea. The ship’s boy, however, was often difficult to understand, a circumstance which frequently resulted in his interrogators drawing the wrong conclusion.
  7. Captain Cook’s Log, 21 Aug. 1770. In Ray Parkin, H. M. Bark Endeavour: Her place in Australian History . . . , Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997, p. 433.
  8. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Nambour, Qld: Roebuck Society Publication no. 48, 1996, p. 53. This is clearly a description of canoes from one of the eastern islands of the Torres Strait.
  9. Stokes pp. 360–61.

Chapter 15: The Cabin Boy’s Adventure

One morning the group at Pullan split in two. One group took John Ireland and William D’Oyly away in a single canoe, while the other two boys stayed with the rest of the party. Someone told Ireland that the two boys who remained behind would be going to another island, but he was never able to learn its name. George D’Oyly was intelligent and deeply distressed by his parents’ murders. It is not hard to imagine the tears he must have shed when the division of spoils separated him from his little brother. He had already expressed the wish to join his parents in heaven and the loss of his brother must have been unbearable.

Ireland’s party left early in the morning, and by midday, they had arrived at a small island some distance to the north. They camped on a sandy beach for the night and set out again the following morning. The canoes contained sealed bamboo joints and coconut shells, filled with water from Pullan. The canoe journeyed north for many weeks, stopping at one island for a fortnight, at other islands briefly and finally at one island for about a month. They stayed at each island for as long as they could get enough food and water, and their diet was the same as it had been on Pullan. Based on Ireland’s account, they avoided the island of Aureed, an important cultural base.1

An accurate depiction of the shelters constructed by the islanders on the exposed sandy beaches and cays. Note the hair wigs plastered with red ochre, the waistband as the only form of clothing, and the bow and arrows that were traded from the Papuan coast. This sketch was made at Mt Ernest Island (Naghi or Nagheer). Pl. no. XVI of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

To understand why this might be so, it is necessary to outline the significance of Aureed’s role in the affairs of the Torres Strait at that time. The people of the Gam-le tribe who now possessed the two boys inhabited a cluster of central sandbanks called Aureed, Uta, Zogarid, Sirreb, Mekek and Warabe.2 Aureed had a few small coconut and tobacco plantations and some she-oaks (casuarinas) and like the rest of the central islands it was fringed by coral reefs well endowed with marine life. However, it had no permanent water supply. It was, nevertheless, an important bartering centre for visitors from other islands.

The Gam le, with few resources of their own, led a precarious existence and depended upon trade with the fertile eastern islands, where garden produce was relatively abundant. In return, the Gam le offered stones from Forbes Island off the Queensland coast, spears from Cape York, and canoes, drums and weapons from Papua New Guinea. They also made turtle oil, collected sea and turtle shells and bartered precious red ochre. Within the Torres Strait trading network, they offered sought-after items in exchange for food and water. They were also prepared to travel long distances for good fishing and turtling grounds and to scavenge from shipwrecks, with everything portable taken from ships having value. Necessity had made the resource-poor Gam le vigorous participants in the Torres Strait economy and because of this, Aureed had become a trading and cultural base, supporting a small but permanent population.3

The central islands shared with the eastern islands the great hero cults of the Brethren, based on the legendary arrival of four brothers in the strait. Malo (also Malu) went to Mer; Segar went to Yam Island; Saeu went to Massid (Yorke Island); and Kulka went to Aureed, where a ‘lodge’ or shrine was kept in his honour and where heads were displayed as trophies.4 Had the canoe party taken the two white boys to Aureed, it might have been well nigh impossible to keep them alive.

William, meanwhile, was still a very unhappy little boy. Every time they stopped at an island, he wanted to stay there. He would sit in the canoe as it glided away from the island and cry for a very long time. Eventually the roving canoe party arrived at the island of Erub (also Darnley Island), in the northeast of the strait, where they were given the customary welcome extended to friends and trading partners. Erub, with its ‘lofty hills and tranquil valleys’5 is one of the greenest of the Torres Strait islands. Its main watering place in those days was a lagoon at Bikar Bay (also Berka Bay), on the island’s northwest coast. The Erub islanders had enlarged the lagoon, so that rainwater collected in the wet season would last through the long dry season, when no rain fell on the island.

Canoes at Bikar Bay c.1943.
Canoes at Bikar Bay 1843. Artist: Harden S. Melville in J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S.Fly’, vol.I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

The English called the bay Treacherous Bay, after the murders that had occurred there. In 1793, the merchant ships Hormuzeer and Chesterfield had anchored at Erub and traded on friendly terms. Later, when an eight-man boat party went to the lagoon for water, the islanders killed five of the men, and the sailors may have been trying to take more water than could be spared. The three survivors, prevented by the wind from returning to their ships, eventually reached Coupang at Timor in an open boat. Meanwhile, crews from the two ships, incensed by the killings, destroyed 135 huts, 16 canoes and a number of sugar plantations. They also killed several of the islanders, including at least one man reportedly decapitated as an act of revenge.6

The Erub islanders had no reason to trust or like white people during their early years of contact. The merchant traders who arrived in their ships were afraid of the islanders because of their reputation for murderous treachery. They concealed it, however, behind a great show of hearty bravado, going ashore with friendly smiles and handshakes but with belts stuffed with pistols and cutlasses. At the first sign of trouble, they were liable to panic and discharge their weapons and over the years a number of people had been killed. They were not merely treacherous, but dangerously, alarmingly so, with tempers which could by ignited by a simple act of theft. In the 40 years since the Treacherous Bay incident, the Erub islanders – and the Murray Islanders – had learned how to negotiate and trade in a way that flattered their visitors’ egos, and had begun to develop a good, though always tense and mutually suspicious, relationship with white traders.

Bikar Bay village, Erub, Eastern islands, Torres Strait, c.1943.
Village at Erub (Darnley Island). Plate no. XVII of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands, by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

About 400 people lived permanently on Erub and there were seven villages dotted around its coastline.7 Ireland’s party camped at Bikar village, built on the exposed northern coast but sheltered by Bikar Bay.8 Each village consisted of a cluster of beehive-shaped huts and some open-sided sheds, pleasantly shaded by coconut trees. Within each village were a few family compounds, separated from surrounding huts by bamboo fences. The ship’s boy would later recall the Bikar people with gratitude for, he said, ‘it was here that we were first treated with some kindness.’9 Two men in particular, Mamoose, who had his property close to the fresh-water lagoon, and Ag-ghe, were very good to him. For the first time since the shipwreck, the boys were well fed, tucking into yams, sweet potatoes and bananas cooked in the ashes of a fire, plus large fish grilled in the embers and small fish boiled in shells, washing the lot down with the delicious milk of the green coconut.

Satellite photo of Erub, Torres Strait
NASA satellite photo of Erub (Darnley Island). Bikar village and the clear waters of Bikar Bay are on the upper (northern) side of the island.

The eastern islanders knew that the central islanders lived precariously and were generous with their hospitality. At the same time, they recognised the parasitic nature of their visits. Confronted by the arrogance of their more fortunate neighbours, the central islanders maintained their own sense of equality by offering difficult-to-procure trade goods in exchange. On this occasion, they offered remnants from the first raft to leave the Charles Eaton, including window frames and a calico sail.

Mamoose at this time was still a young man. The Torres Strait Islanders had no system of chiefs but Mamoose went out of his way to be obliging when trading ships called. He also led trading expeditions to a ‘sister’ village on the nearby coast of Papua New Guinea. It was a chore that he disliked, being wary of the coastal Papuans and their reputation as particularly ferocious headhunters. He and several others in his party would be killed eventually on just such an expedition, when they allowed themselves to become embroiled in a local dispute.10

The canoe party stayed at Erub for a fortnight, before sailing back in the direction of the central sandbanks, finally stopping at the island of Sirreb (Marsden Island), a short distance from Aureed and presumably the party’s home base. The women were protecting the two boys and looking after them reasonably well. They called John Ireland Waki and William D’Oyly Uass, as did everyone on the eastern islands. The Torres Strait Islanders rarely used the ‘j’ pronunciation, and Waki was possibly the closest they could get to what may have been Ireland’s childhood name of Jacky. Later, when he was an older youth and young man, Ireland always gave his Christian name as John, and Waki (pronounced Wawkie according to the author John Curtis) is equally likely to have been a traditional island name.

One week later, a canoe arrived at Sirreb from Mer carrying a man called Duppa, his wife Panney, and a few of their relatives and friends. Duppa was a good friend of Ag-ghe, one of the men who had shown kindness at Erub. Ag-ghe had told Duppa about the two white boys now at Sirreb and Duppa and Panney had decided to rescue them. Duppa and his party brought with them two branches of bananas, which they offered as payment for the ransom. They stayed on at Sirreb for three days, taking the boys for canoe rides and treating them with compassion. The ransom payment seems modest but the Mer Islanders would later report that at the time of the shipwreck, they had been at war with the central islanders. It may also have been a form of appeasement.

Duppa’s face wore a gentle expression and he quickly won young William’s trust. The three-year-old became more cheerful than he had been since he had witnessed his parents’ murders. Adoption, although practised throughout the Torres Strait, was a particular trait of the Murray Islanders, which they extended to include children from other islands. The odds were always in favour of someone from Mer bartering for the two boys.

Before Duppa returned to Mer, he stopped en route at Massid (Yorke Island). Some of the men from the group that had elected to stay behind at Pullan had since arrived there, and were now proudly showing off some of the skulls. There was no sign of George D’Oyly and John Sexton. Since Ireland and his little companion now belonged to Duppa’s party, however, no harm came to them. Behaving in a provocative manner towards resource-rich Mer would not have been a good idea.11

When Duppa beached his canoe near his house, the two white boys instantly aroused great curiosity. Ireland described the moment:

. . . the natives flocked around us, wondering who we were. They began asking those who had brought us a great many questions, and speaking to us in a language very nearly like that of the other natives, and which I was just beginning to understand. Some of the children were very much frightened by us, and ran away as soon as they saw us.12

The Mer men were tall and athletic, with their hair sometimes worn down to their shoulders and twisted into pencil-sized pipes or ringlets. The curled mops, however, usually turned out on closer inspection to be wigs made from human hair, often dressed with oil and red ochre. The women, by contrast, kept their heads close shaven, save for a narrow ridge of hair extending over the crown.13 It was, as many visitors observed, a reversal of the European custom of long hair for women and short hair for men.

Overall, the men were more inclined towards body alteration and vanity, with many of them wearing either a circle of tortoiseshell or a large piece of bamboo through their perforated noses. Some of the men had also cut their ear lobes and distended them down to their shoulders with large pieces of bamboo. All of the men and boys were close to naked, while the women and girls wore knee-length grass skirts.14

Duppa and Panney adopted Ireland. They continued to call him Waki and treated him as their son. Their property was the last one on the western side of the island, right next to a rocky cliff face that terminated the long beach. Within their compound were three very good huts surrounded by a bamboo fence, with a small but excellent plantation out the back.15 The couple had five other children: three boys, one of whom was also called Duppa; another son was Bowdoo; and two daughters called Yope and Sarki. Their youngest son, Kabbi Duppa (Little Duppa), was born after Ireland left Mer and he was also given the English name of John.16

Notes to Chapter 15

  1. In a despatch to Lord Glenelg dated 14 October 1836, Sir Richard Bourke wrote that Ireland was unsure whether they were taken to Aureed. HRA Series 1, vol. XVIII, July 1835–June 1837. p. 575. In 1836 the island was spelt Aurid. Today it is spelt Aureed.
  2. John Macgillivray, Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, 2 vols, vol. II, London: T. & W. Boone, 29 New Bond Street, 1852. p. 2;. Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 118, Adelaide: Libraries Board of SA, 1967, p. 2.
  3. A. C. Haddon, (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, 6 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1901–1935, contains useful and interesting information on the central islands. See in particular vol. I, pp. 88–90.
  4. Haddon pp. 88–90 for information on the Cult of the Brethren. See also vol. IV, p. 299 & vol. V, p. 378.
  5. Alexander Morton, ‘Notes of a Trip to the Islands of Torres Straits and the South-east Coast of New Guinea’, Geographical Society of A/Asia, Sydney Proceedings, special vol. 1885, p. 82, described Erub thus: ‘An undulating sea of tropical verdure clothes lofty hills and tranquil valleys, broken only by rugged cliffs and crags of sombre-tinted rock’.
  6. Haddon p. 196.
  7. John Ireland’s estimate; Captain Lewis thought the population was about 260, while an officer aboard the Tigris put the total number at about 200.
  8. John Sweatman, (Jim Allen and Peter Corris, eds), The Journal of John Sweatman: A Nineteenth Century Surveying Voyage in North Australia and the Torres Strait, St Lucia, Queensland: Queensland University Press, 1977, p. 24.
  9. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 34.
  10. Macgillivray vol. II, p. 47.
  11. One theory is that the islanders had a pair of ghost boys plus a pair to spare. Once Duppa and Panney had identified Ireland and William D’Oyly as the ghosts of their two dead sons, who had drowned in a canoeing accident, the other pair became superfluous and when no other islander came forward to claim them as the ghosts of dead relatives, only their skulls had value as trading goods.
  12. Ireland pp. 34–35.
  13. Sweatman p. 21; J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly . . . , 2 vols, vol. II, London: 1847, p. 196.
  14. Sweatman ibid and Captain C. M. Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 743. The eastern and central islanders are thought to have settled the islands between 3000BC and 2000BC.
  15. J. Beete Jukes p. 203.
  16. Ibid. In later years, Duppa’s sons would be instrumental in fostering a good relationship with visiting whites. Duppa and his family must have realised – or been told – that Waki’s preferred name was John. In 1843 Duppa met the crew of HMS Fly and he had his youngest son (or grandson) with him, a small child he introduced as Little Duppa but also known as John. Jukes made no claim that there was anything about the child’s appearance to suggest he was actually Ireland’s son. According to the author John Curtis, John’s island name was pronounced Wawkie (Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . p. 311.)


Bing Translator

Part Four: a tale of two boys

Chapter 16: Torres Strait Island Home

Duppa began to teach John Ireland how to collect shellfish and grow yams, bananas and coconuts. He also gave the lad a piece of land to cultivate and later, a 20-metre-long canoe from Papua New Guinea. These extraordinary acts of generosity towards a stranger does support the view that Ireland was accepted as the ghostly resurrection of a dead son and brother. Another man called Oby, who had his hut close by, adopted William D’Oyly and he, too, probably saw in the pale-haired child some resemblance to a young relative, now dead. Oby and William quickly formed a strong attachment and everyone assumed the boy had forgotten his parents.

In this watercolour sketch by Melville, Duppa is wearing a red wig and is seated with his with Panney. His oldest son, also Duppa is standing with his new wife, an Erub (Darnley Island) girl. Circa 1845.
In this sketch done at Erub, Duppa is wearing a red wig and is seated with his wife Panney. His oldest son, also Duppa, is standing with his new wife, an Erub girl, c 1842–1843. Pl. no. 18 of Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

In time, Ireland began to speak the Meriam language but not as well as William, who soon spoke it as his native tongue. The once miserable youngster ran free and naked around the beach and in the sea, until he was as brown as his playmates. Still, as Ireland observed, ‘Although William was in general more cheerful, he would now and again appear very uneasy. On these occasions, I used to ask Dupper [sic] to allow me to sleep along with the child.’2

Ireland soon mastered a variety of fishing skills and techniques. Large fish were caught from canoes with a spear or a hook and line, while small fish were driven into the shallows before being speared. To catch lobsters, he would go with a party to a sandbank at night and hold up bunches of burning coconut leaves. Attracted by the light, the lobsters would emerge from their holes and were instantly dispatched with a spear. Whenever someone spotted a turtle in the water, a canoe with seven or eight men would move quietly towards it, with half the party crouching in the bow. As soon as they were close enough, the men in the bow would leap out and tie a rope around each flipper, hauling the frightened creature into the canoe.

Weapons were difficult to master. The huge bamboo bows used by the Murray Islanders came from Papua New Guinea and were so taut that only the very strong could pull the twine. Their arrows had sharp tips made from stone or shell and, according to Ireland, were sometimes smeared with poison.3

Although the Murray Islanders had little direct contact with the Australian Aborigines they did, through trade with the central islanders, obtain and use their spears and spear throwers. Nothing terrified them quite so much, however, as the white man’s firearms, about which they were very curious. Duppa asked Ireland about them one day. ‘Some of our people have been killed by them but we couldn’t see or understand what had struck them,’ he said. Ireland was unable to give Duppa a satisfactory explanation. ‘I scarcely knew myself’, he later confessed. ‘All I could tell him I did, but this only made him more curious.’4

Everyone on the island was fascinated by iron and most had at least one piece hung up inside their hut, often of a peculiar shape and size and useless in its present form. Despite their insatiable desire for the metal, there were times when they could find no use for it. Ireland showed them what to do:

One morning, Dupper was trying to straighten a piece of iron bolt, and was beating it very hard with a large piece of stone, without being able to make an impression on it. I told him to make a large fire, and put the iron into it, which would soften it. He did so, and his astonishment was very great when he found it answered the purpose.5

Illustration from The Shipwrecked Orphans. p. 50, depicting Ireland teaching Duppa to bend iron with fire. The artist played it safe with the modest clothing for a children’s book.

The two boys had been at Mer for a few months when a man who lived in a hut near Duppa’s compound died. Duppa warned Ireland that something ‘very dreadful’ was about to happen. The lad was immediately convinced that he would be harmed because of the man’s death. He was lying down in his hut to rest soon after sunset, still feeling very uneasy, when he heard two people outside, rattling shells and breathing very hard. Duppa cried out in a strange language and everyone in the hut hid their faces in the sand. When Ireland asked Duppa what the noise was, he replied, ‘The spirit of the dead man.’

These spirits were called lammoors (or lemurs), which also meant ‘white men’ in the language of the eastern islands. Not convinced they were genuine, Ireland hunted through all the huts near the recent haunting, looking for the costumes the two figures had been wearing, but failed to find them. In time he came to believe in spiritual and magical forces. They had a powerful influence on the lives of Duppa and his friends and they eventually dictated Ireland’s own actions as well.

Sketch of a Mer Island mask by W. E. Brockett. From Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits . . . , p. 16.

The Murray Islanders were active participants in the hero cult. Of the four legendary brothers, they worshipped Malo (or Malu, secret name Bomai) and there was a lodge in his honour. According to a comment attributed to Captain Lewis, who visited the island in 1836, ‘The N. E. extremity of the island is held sacred by them, and only visited for the purpose of feasting or preserving the dead’.6 It is likely, then, that this was also the site of their lodge. A number of similar cult lodges were scattered around the central and eastern islands but Malo’s lodge was one of two chief lodges, the other being the lodge at Yam Island. Each shrine had officials, called the zogo-le,7 and at Mer they were drawn from the northern and eastern clans. They organised the ceremonies associated with Malo and practiced his magic, usually for the benefit of their community, but it made other islanders anxious when visiting Mer, for fear they would become victims of their magic.

The photographer who took the original image of a secret traditional ceremony at Mer (Murray Islands) was none other than A. C. Haddon, better known for his involvement with the 6-vol. The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait. Black-and-white lithograph loosely based on a black-and-white photograph, property of the author.

Ireland made no mention of initiation into the hero cult; nor did he appear to be familiar with its rituals. He was a lammoor so that is not surprising but he feared the magic powers of the zogo-le. He knew about the islanders’ magic stones and later explained one of their uses to Captain Lewis, who recorded the following comment in his ship’s journal:

. . . the Murray Islanders . . . when they wish the wind to blow hard, are in the habit of suspending a stone to the branch of a tree, by a string, and of vociferating loudly, and talking to it, and spitting on it, whilst they turn it about; which they suppose causes a gale. The stone is called by them Dowyumbe [doiom]8

Mer had a number of clans and groupings, broadly divided into those who lived on the eastern side of the island and those who lived on the western side. The east-siders were excellent gardeners and owned most of the fertile land that made up the northern half of Mer.9 The Komets on the western side, on the other hand, excelled as traders. They had gardens but seemed to spend more of their time catching fish.10 According to this greatly simplified and probably inaccurate division, Duppa, Oby and their relatives, who lived on the western side, were either a part of – or were grouped with – the Komet clan and it is certainly true that they were great traders.

Trading canoe at Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait. Plate no. XIX of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands, by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

One day Duppa announced that a party was going on a trading voyage to the coast of Dowdai (Papua New Guinea) and that Ireland was to be part of it. It proved to be quite an expedition. There were 12 large canoes, each containing between 10 and 16 men, women and children. Before they left, everyone collected as many shells as their canoes could hold. They were popular with the Papuans and the Torres Strait Islanders exchanged them for canoes, bows, arrows and much-prized feathers. By the time the traders got to Erub, however, Duppa had changed his mind and left Ireland behind with his friend, Ag-ghe. He must have received updated news that alarmed him. He was, said Ireland, ‘afraid the New Guinea people would steal or murder me.’11

The following evening the canoes were back. They had stopped for the night at the island of Damuth (also Jarmuth, Dalrymple, Zamut) and a quarrel over a pipe of tobacco had developed into a bow-and-arrow fight and several people were hurt. The trading voyage was off and everyone returned to Erub. Later, the Damuth people sent a peace message to Duppa’s party but they rejected it and the ill feeling between the two islands remained for some time.

On another occasion, a trading party from Aureed came over and camped on the two small islands of Dauar and Waier, where they received a friendly welcome. Aureed traders were frequent visitors and they brought with them the usual ochre, spear-throwers and shells, plus the stones from Forbes Island prized as zogo stones by the zogo-le.

The central islanders traded with the Peibre clan of Dauar or the zogo-le of Mer but had less to do with the Komet people. Their visits were usually so commonplace they attracted little comment. This time, however, the arrival of the Aureed party greatly alarmed Duppa and Oby. They hid the two boys they had adopted among the trees until the party had gone.

The arrival of the Mangles in September 1835 and her departure without him left Ireland moping and depressed. He stopped eating for days and eventually became ill. ‘I think at times I was lightheaded,’ he said, ‘for I did not know what I was doing.’ He would later say that his body ‘had wasted to a mere skeleton’12 while William was also ill for a time.13 Their life on the island had been far from easy. They had many ulcers, but that was a common complaint in the Torres Strait and the islanders had no treatment for it.

The Mangles visit occurred at a time when cholera epidemics were ravaging the world. Australia was remarkably free of it due to its strict quarantine controls. Nevertheless, Ireland’s statement that both he and William D’Oyly fell ill after the departure of the convict ship suggests that they may have contracted an illness. When Matthew Flinders visited the Murray Islands in 1802 he estimated their population at 700. Commander Igglesden of the brig Tigris, who visited the islands in 1836, thought that their total population was no more than 200. Both estimates were rough but their great difference suggests that the Torres Strait islands were not isolated enough to be protected from the infectious diseases that were frequently transmitted by visiting traders. In 1879, the population of the Murray Islands was head-counted at 374.14

Ireland asked Duppa to make inquiries about George D’Oyly and John Sexton. ‘He could not learn any tidings for a long time; but at length he told me that he understood they were both dead,’ he later said. Then again Ireland also said, ‘When I got acquainted with their language I heard one of them tell another that George D’Oyley [sic] and Sexton had been killed by the natives of Boidang (Boydang) Island. They never told me anything about it, and I only understood it from the conversation between each other.’ A different version of the conversation appeared in his book, in which he claimed to have heard a man say George D’Oyly had ‘got sick and died’ and that Sexton had been ‘speared by one of the natives’. He made no further inquiries about their deaths, being in no doubt that both boys had ceased to exist.15

One evening Duppa and some of his family, including Ireland, the adopted son they now called Waki, went up the hill to look after the house belonging to Duppa’s brother, while he was away in his trading canoe. They were among the first to see the Isabella approach the following morning and they watched as she dropped anchor off the northern end of the island.

Endnotes to Chapter 16

  1. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, pp. 654–62 plus map; pp.753–60; pp.799–806. p. 754.
  2. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven, Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 38.
  3. Ireland p. 46.
  4. Ibid p. 41.
  5. Ibid p. 52.
  6. King p. 754.
  7. A. C. Haddon, (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, 6 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1901–1935, vol. I, p. 75.
  8. King p. 756.
  9. Wolfgang Laade, ‘Ethnographic Notes on the Murray Islanders, Torres Straits’, Zeitschrift fur Ethnolgie vol. 94, no. 1, 1969, p. 34. Laade later disclaimed his article because of the number of errors it contained in its printed form. However, his description of the basic division between the gardeners of the east and the fishermen and traders of the west, although obviously an over-simplified breakdown of the island’s economy, appears to be sound enough for the purpose of this book.
  10. Laade p. 34.
  11. Ireland p. 53.
  12. Ibid p. 54.
  13. Ibid p. 51.
  14. Captain Pennefather’s ‘report of a cruise among the islands lately annexed’, dated December 19, 1879. Queensland State Archives Item ID 847019 80/460. Commander Igglesden thought that the population of Darnley Island (Erub) was much greater than that of the Murray Islands. Pennefather head-counted 80 persons on Erub in 1879. Family migration, ‘blackbirding’ or kidnapping for work on the Queensland canefields, plus voluntary recruitment to other industries, would account for much of Erub’s dramatic drop in population.
  15. Ireland p. 56.
Portion of a painting by John Wilson Carmichael that its title tells us depicts the handing over of William D’Oyly to Captain Lewis, master of the Isabella. A better title might be that it imagines the moment of John Ireland’s rescue. The lad in the white shirt is proportioned as a young adult and it makes sense that Carmichael painted two different events. Part of the Silent World Foundation art collection.

…. …. …….

Chapter 17: Exploring the Murray Islands

Outrigger canoe with platform, making it ideal for trading voyages. Canoes like this one were traded from Papua New Guinea, with skulls of enemies and shipwrecked castaways sometimes offered in exchange. Atlas Pittoresque p. 189, Wikimedia Commons. In: Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes L’Astrolabe et La Zélée, Jules Dumont d’Urville, Gide Paris, 1846. Exemplaire de la bibliothèque patrimoniale de Gray.70100 France.

At the time of his rescue, John Ireland was 17 years old and had been living in the Torres Strait for 22 months. He had forgotten English and mixed what little he did remember with the language of the eastern islands. It suggests that he had spent little time on the retentive process of learning how to read and write. English was an oral tool, easily discarded when no longer useful. Nevertheless, Captain Lewis soon extracted from him a few sparse sentences, and it quickly spread throughout the schooner.

Brockett, the sailor on board the Isabella who published an account of her voyage, concluded that Ireland’s incoherence was caused by his ‘long residence amongst the natives, and the dangers to which he was constantly exposed’.1 He thought that the lad appeared almost stupefied, ‘arising, I should imagine, either from fear of the natives, or from overjoy at his emancipation’.

The general opinion of the schooner’s crew was that the dazed lad had temporarily lost his intellect. Ireland, however, had enough sense about him in the first minutes of his rescue to point out that, contrary to Brockett’s conclusion, the Murray Islanders had treated him with great kindness. To Duppa in particular he owed his life.2 Duppa, meanwhile, was still waiting anxiously in his canoe. Lewis invited him aboard, covered his naked body with a linen outfit and loaded him with presents, so that Duppa was both pleased and satisfied.

The story that Ireland gave Lewis was much, much shorter than the version contained in the previous two chapters, which drew upon many sources. Captain Lewis’s journal, the log book of an unidentified Isabella sailor and Brockett’s published book are united in recording that all aboard the two rafts had been murdered at Boydang almost immediately, save for Ireland and William D’Oyly. At this stage, the ship’s boy said nothing to Lewis about George D’Oyly and John Sexton.3  

Later, after Ireland had eaten a small meal, Lewis assigned to him the role of interpreter and told him to ask for William. Fearing that the islanders might hide the boy to keep him, Lewis suspended all trading until the islanders handed the child over. The canoes returned to the beach but one of them quickly came back, reporting that the child was crying and refused to leave. He was on the other side of the island, said the men in the canoe.

At about seven o’clock the following morning, five canoes came out to the schooner to barter. Lewis continued to forbid any trade, stressing that bartering would resume only after he had the younger boy. For a time the islanders offered passive resistance, standing by the schooner in their canoes but not attempting to send for the boy. Lewis finally ended the impasse by opening the ports and running out the cannons. The men in the canoes instantly understood the threat. One canoe promptly went back to the island but returned with the proposal to give up the child for a payment of iron, made in advance.

Oil painting (1841) by John Wilson Carmichael, commissioned by William Bayley, the uncle who subsequently adopted and raised William D’Oyly. Portrays the moment when five canoe loads of Murray islanders escorted William out to the colonial schooner Isabella. Held by the National Gallery of Australia. I have taken the liberty of reproducing it here in what I hope is its original, unvarnished colour tones.
A clearer close-up of William D’Oyly from the above oil painting by Carmichael (1841).

Lewis refused the offer, repeating his demands for William. The next day the captain got the result he wanted. A group of about 100 men assembled on a hill, in deep consultation. Among them was a naked white boy, playing with children of about his own size. It was several hours before the group on the hill reached a decision and a party moved down to the shore and boarded canoes. Oby was cradling William in his arms. When man and boy were assisted aboard the Isabella they descended into the cabin, where Lewis gave Oby presents and the usual clothing that such occasions seemed to demand.4 William was sitting on Oby’s shoulders and he made it clear by his screaming that he wanted to stay there. He clutched so tightly to Oby’s hair that Lewis and his men had to use force to break his hold. Lieut. G. B. Kempthorne of the Tigris gives us this description of the two boys when they boarded the Isabella:

These unfortunate boys were quite naked when found by Captain Lewis, and young D’Oyly had become, in manner and appearance, a perfect little savage, being quite brown and freckled, and his body covered with a thick whitish down. . . . his countenance was rather broad, but pleasing, and he was tall for his age. His hair, which had never felt a comb, was flaxen, and was long and shaggy, and his eyes were blue: these were characteristics plainly showing his Anglo-Saxon origin. Ireland was tall and thin, complexion and hair dark, and much sunburnt. They both spoke the native language fluently,— so much so, that the latter had almost forgotten his own tongue. He could hardly, when first discovered, put a sentence together, and seemed quite at a loss for words; but he soon got over this defect, and in a week or so after being on board of the Isabella, he spoke as well as any one in the vessel.

. . . Poor young D’Oyly, when given over to strangers, cried most bitterly, and wanted much to return to his old protectors: his grief at parting with those who had been so kind to him, lasted for several days, and none but Ireland could pacify him. He shunned the faces of all on board, and endeavoured to hide away in some dark corner of the vessel, quite dreading the approach of any one. At night his fears were beyond credence: he would not allow his companion in misfortune to be out of sight for one instant.5

Kempthorne guessed that William was three and tall for his age, but the lad had his fifth birthday a short time after his rescue. Later, in Sydney, when he was almost seven, he attracted the comment from the author, Charlotte Barton, that for a five-year-old, he was remarkably tall for his age.6

The Isabella had no surgeon, and both boys needed treatment for their many ulcers. Brockett observed with some satisfaction that neither of them had tattoos, a circumstance he found surprising. To provide some cheer, Captain Lewis ordered the firing of guns and small arms, to amuse his hosts with a bit of light and a rocket. Judging by the shouts from the beach, the noise frightened some people.

Johns dramatic weight loss seems to have occurred in the nine months since the departure of the convict ship Mangles. Until then, both boys had been well cared for and fed. Post-Manglesvisit, the older lad was malnourished, with illness and attendant loss of appetite the likely cause. Several people also commented on the fact that thick white down covered William’s body. It could be a description of the fine down called ‘laguno’, which is supposed to appear in some of the worst cases of anorexia.7 More likely, his flaxen body hair was particularly noticeable on his sun-darkened limbs.

Within a few days of his rescue, William was happily running around the schooner’s deck. ‘One of the sailors made him a frock and trousers,’ explained Ireland, ‘and another gave him a cap; he looked very curious in them, but at first they made him uncomfortable.’8 William was expressive with his face and hands. He would sit beside the sailors and describe what appeared to be everything that happened after the shipwreck, using signs to demonstrate the murders. It is possible that he remembered some of it; more likely, he was repeating what Ireland had often told him. He adapted so quickly to his new surroundings that Brockett smugly concluded he had already forgotten his island family, becoming ‘more partial to us than he had ever been to them.’9

Weapons of war. The large bows and arrows from Papua New Guinea were particularly prized. According to Ireland, the arrows were sometimes tipped with poison.
Two drums and a tobacco pipe. The home-grown tobacco was stuffed into the top of the smaller pipe and set alight. The smoke was then sucked down into the larger pipe and inhaled.

The schooner remained off Mer for nine days, with the crew going ashore almost every day to barter and, in the case of Brockett and Lewis, make observations and notes. Brockett also made a number of crude sketches of people, scenes and artefacts, scoring a good deal when he bartered some trifle for a curious bamboo instrument that had actually come from Papua New Guinea (as it is now called). Most of what the sailors traded for curios was rubbish. One sailor traded an old stocking. Another got several artefacts for the sleeve of an old blue flannel shirt, while Brockett boasted he got several items for an old steel pen, plus some large, attractive shells for an old brace. He had inherited his father’s passion for collecting.

Sketch by W. E. Brockett of Murray Islanders spearfishing off the beach and cooking their catches. One man is wearing European trousers presumably gifted by Captain Lewis. The landscape appears to be  fanciful. From Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits . . . , p. 26.

The Murray Islanders, meanwhile, were trying to outwit their guests to much the same extent that the sailors were attempting to palm off rubbish. One of them tried to steal a knife, while Ireland later admitted that he saw Duppa steal a pair of compasses, but said nothing for fear of offending the man who had saved his life. Lewis thought them harmless, ‘but great thieves and also very much afraid of a gun or small arms.’10

The islanders were actually quite suspicious of the white men, who never ventured ashore without weapons. They would not permit any of their women to go out to the schooner, although Brockett did observe one curious exception. Two women came off in a canoe and waited patiently for a time but were not allowed on board, so they returned to Mer. Ireland then told Brockett that while he had been living on Mer he had been compelled to marry.11 He never spoke of it again and the women may not have been connected with his confession. On the other hand, one of them may have been his bride, anxious to speak to him but thwarted in her efforts.

On another occasion Ireland told Lewis that he ‘was offered a wife, and a plot of ground, if he would only remain amongst them,’12 but he refused, he said, hoping for rescue. How to explain, then, that Duppa did give him a plot of land, as well as a canoe? A possible explanation is that Ireland either married or was betrothed to a local woman but was later too shy to admit it.

Rainwater collecting in huge bi-valved shells, Torres Strait. Atlas Pittoresque p. 188, Wikimedia Commons. In: Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes L’Astrolabe et La Zélée, Jules Dumont d’Urville, Gide Paris, 1846. Exemplaire de la bibliothèque patrimoniale de Gray.70100 France.

One day a boatload of sailors from the Isabella went to a waterhole with eight casks they hoped to fill. There was only enough water left in the hole to fill one cask and it was so muddy it was unfit for use, but the sailors took it any way. As Lewis dryly commented with remarkable lack of concern, ‘It appears that the island is very deficient in water’.13 There was a stream in a valley on the southeastern corner of Mer but it flowed only briefly after each downpour of rain. Man-made waterholes or wells dug deeply into its bed, however, stored enough water to last for months. During the wet season, the islanders collected rainwater in huge bi-valved shells; in the dry season, coconut milk was the principal drink.

While the sailors were busy scooping out the dredges from the waterhole, one of the islanders, an unfortunate fellow disfigured by something like leprosy, clumsily tried to remove an empty cask. It was one white man’s artefact that the ship’s crew could doubtless spare – but Lewis and his crew were incensed by what they regarded as an act of unforgivable deceit. Trying to steal a large cask from under the noses of the watching sailors seems so unlikely that it is probable that the poor man, wishing to prove his usefulness, had merely intended to fill it from another source.

Many of the descriptions of the Torres Strait Islanders in the 1830s have come from men like those aboard the schooner. They are superficial observations but they are useful, even if they do reflect the white man’s prejudices at that time. The following extract from the logbook of an anonymous sailor aboard the Isabella is less widely known and may therefore be of interest:

Thursday 23rd.—Fine weather, the natives on board, offering their trifles for sale and viewing the different things about the decks, especially the small arms, which they did not appear to like after having seen one or two birds shot by the Captain; lowered the boats down and man’d them to go to a small Island divided from Murray’s by a narrow passage, called by the natives Dower [sic]; upon landing with one of the natives of Murray’s Island, the Captain and four men went to see if they could find any inhabitants, or any thing that might lead to any further discovery of the unfortunate ship; there were about ten or twelve small huts surrounded by a bamboo fence entirely forsaken by the inhabitants and nothing left but a very dismal spectacle of about 25 human skulls hung in a line at the foot of a large tree, and two or three in several of the huts surrounded by shells of different kinds, several things of very rough workmanship were obtained by the Captain, the principle of which were masks, and about six or eight wooden swords made of a very hard wood, and appeared to be very formidable weapons.14

Captain Lewis, assuming that the island was uninhabited despite clear evidence to the contrary, simply helped himself to any masks, swords or shells he found there. The definition of theft did appear to depend upon the nationality of the offender. Ireland hastened to assure Lewis that the human skulls were those of relatives of the island’s inhabitants and not connected to any shipwreck.

At eight o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 28 June, the schooner left her anchorage off Mer. Before she sailed, Duppa collected coconuts, yams and tobacco from his garden and brought the produce out to the schooner as a gift for his adopted son. ‘He then asked who was to have the care of my canoe, bows and arrows, and other articles?’ reported Ireland. ‘I said, his son, Bowdoo; with which he seemed very well satisfied.’ On the previous night, Lewis had entrusted Duppa with a note for the captain of the next ship to call, in which he outlined the fate of those aboard the Charles Eaton and stated categorically that he had rescued ‘the only two living.’15

Unknown, 19th century face mask from an island in the Torres Strait, Australia Rietberg Museum Accession number RME 1. Donation from Eduard von der Heydt, Oceanian section of the Museum. Source/Photographer Guérin Nicolas, Wikimedia Commons.

Notes to Chapter 17

  1. W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits: in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p. 19.
  2. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 655.
  3. See Brockett and King/Lewis accounts. Also Anon., Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  4. King/Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 661. On 21 June, 1836, a white boy called William was taken from Mer. Coincidentally, exactly 100 years later, on 21 June 1936, a boy was born on Mer who would grow up to challenge the notion of terra nullius and mount the first successful claim in Australia for native title. It was, of course, the great Eddie Mabo.
  5. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in Search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton,” performed in the year 1836’. Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. VIII, 1844, pp. 336–351 but in particular p. 227.
  6. Charlotte Barton, (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children. Sydney: printed at the Gazette Office, 1840, p. 81.
  7. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton . . . ” ’ p. 227.
  8. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 60.
  9. Brockett p. 15.
  10. King, Nautical Magazine, vol. VIII, 1839, p. 110. Written in the letter Lewis left behind with Duppa and collected by Captain Igglesden.
  11. William Bayley file, thought to be Brockett to Bayley, undated but probably August 1837. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  12. Ditto.
  13. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 662.
  14. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  15. King, Nautical Magazine, vol. VIII, 1839, p. 110. Also William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes, inclusion.

….. …”” ….. ……

Figs. 1. Flying Squid; a singular description of flying fish. 2,6,7,8,9 Marks cut in the natives’ shoulders. 3. Hut. 4. Shows the manner in which they bury their dead. John Ireland informed me [i.e. Brockett] that there were a great number of people hanging up in different parts of the island, as represented in the figure. 5. Wooden instrument, which they wear in their ears to extend them. From Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits . . . , p. 21.


Chapter 18: Return to Erub

John Ireland told Captain Lewis that the Erub islanders frequently visited Boydang and were on good terms with the men who had murdered his shipmates. However, said Ireland, there had been no contact between Erub and Mer for about 14 months. It was an unusual circumstance, given that intermarriage between these two neighbouring islands did occur and there were many individual ties of friendship. Lewis decided to pay Erub a visit. According to Duppa, the skulls of the white people were on a small island to the southwest, but the captain was unsure how to find the island and hoped the people at Erub would give him better directions.

On Tuesday, 5 July, the Isabella anchored off Erub’s Bikar Bay. In the usual manner of the Torres Strait, a large group of islanders assembled on the beach and began waving boughs and making signs of peace. A delegation in a single canoe approached the schooner soon after, while several other canoes launched at the same time held back and kept their distance. When the men in the vanguard canoe came close, they immediately showed signs of alarm, perhaps because of the two white boys standing on the deck, or perhaps from the sight of so many armed sailors. The moment of anxiety passed, and the canoeists began calling out ‘Waki!’ and ‘Uass!’ Ireland quickly identified two of the men as part of the group who had murdered his companions and thought they had been present at the time. Using the ship’s boy as an interpreter, Lewis made it clear there would be no barter until the islanders had given up any white men they were holding on the island. The men in the canoe vigorously denied the accusation.

On the following day, many canoes visited the schooner to barter their trifles. Included among their occupants were two or three women. The sailors took this to be ‘a token of wishing to be upon friendly terms,’1 but ‘no information to be got of any of our unfortunate countrymen, although they profess to give every information in their power’.2 That evening, Lewis proposed once again that they fire off the schooner’s cannons. There were several islanders on board at the time and the loud reports terrified them, while those still on the beach scampered for cover, convinced they were under attack. When told the rockets were entertainment, they were not amused.

As the days passed, the relationship between the villagers and the ship’s crew became guardedly friendly, though Brockett guessed that it was ‘occasioned principally by the fear of the fire arms which we had in our possession.’3 The schooner, meanwhile, was running seriously short of water. Having seen the reservoir at Bikar Bay, which seemed to hold an ample supply, Captain Lewis struck a bargain, promising one iron axe for every two full casks. To test the deal, the sailors took two empty casks ashore. A group of women rolled them to the reservoir and filled them, while the men sat on the grass and watched.

On a subsequent watering excursion, the Erub Islanders ‘immediately stuck a small green bough in the cutlass belt of each man’4 and the schooner’s crew took this as a ‘sure sign of friendship’.5 One man even insisted on sleeping aboard the schooner, and the crew initially took this as another sign of wanting to be friendly. However, he was ‘observed by many of the different watches to be watching them very narrowly as they were walking up and down with their side arms.’6 The warm and fuzzy feelings produced by the gesture with the green boughs soon wore off, and the sailors succumbed to paranoia, convinced that their water was poisoned. Their suspicion evaporated when the islanders collecting the water freely drank from it.7

The atmosphere during the time that the government schooner was at anchor off Erub was very tense. The schooner’s crew was suspicious and anxious. Even so, Lewis continued his inquiries and insisted on inspecting the interiors of all the dwellings, something that the Erub islanders deeply resented. Although assured by the Murray Islanders that he had rescued the only two survivors, inconsistencies in the boy’s story convinced Lewis of the need for a thorough search at Erub. Governor Bourke had also instructed him to look for survivors from other shipwrecks at every island where he made landfall.

Old Duppa (left), Mamoose (centre) and Seewai (right) at Erub. Duppa’s oldest son, also Duppa, married an Erub girl and went to live at Bikar Bay, where he established cordial relationships with visiting crews. His parents became regular visitors and were staying with their son and his new wife when this portrait was drawn. Melville spells Mamoose as Mammos – and he may be right. Harden S. Melville 1843. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’, vol. I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.
Sketched at Erub by Harden S. Meville, c.1842. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’, vol. II. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847. the group is named from left to right as: Doodegas, Manoo, Warti and Darras.

The Isabella remained at Erub for so long that it began to look as if the captain was reluctant to leave, despite ample signs that his hosts were becoming increasingly anxious to get rid of him. Duppa’s friends, Mamoose and Ag-ghe, were always courteous guides around the island and the sailors appreciated their efforts, showering the two men with presents. The rest of the islanders quickly began to ignore the visitors and resumed their daily chores. They were great anglers and had built a number of stone piers that they used to trap fish. During the visit by Captain Lewis’s expedition, many of them were hard at work building an exceptionally large one.

On 17 July, the schooner finally left Erub, although Lewis still had no additional information about where to find the skulls of the murdered castaways. She had gone only a short distance when visibility became so poor that Captain Lewis ordered the schooner back to Bicar Bay. This time the reception was far from friendly. The white men were like guests who refused to leave and the Erub islanders were bored with them. For Brockett, their lack of enthusiasm for the second coming was further proof that they were not to be trusted.

A native dance at Darnley Island [Erub]. Pl. no. XX of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

The islanders, to their credit, wisely decided upon forbearance, and that evening they entertained the ship’s crew with a dance. The performers decorated themselves with leaves and headpieces, while about 50 squatting musicians supplied the beat, some by striking a piece of bamboo with a stick, others by slapping their rumps. At the end of the evening, every one of the entertainers insisted on shaking Captain Lewis by the hand with their characteristic scraping and clawing motion, accompanied by affectionate embraces.

While this spirit of goodwill prevailed, Lewis was able, the next day, to have a useful conversation with a large group of islanders. With Ireland acting as interpreter, they told him the heads of the lammoors murdered at Boydang were at the island of Aureed. A canoe loaded with Aureed islanders had left some days ago, they said, to prepare for the schooner’s visit. The plan was to collect piles of tortoiseshell as a gift of appeasement. For two weeks, Lewis had tried in vain to extract any useful information about Aureed’s location. Yet the Erub islanders had steadfastly denied that they had any information to give. Not even offers of iron had persuaded them to betray their friends. On this occasion, however, they flocked around Lewis in great numbers competing with each other to blab out precise directions on how to find Aureed. Could it be that word had reached Erub that Aureed was now safely deserted?

Lewis decided to sail directly to Aureed to collect the remains. The Erub islanders assured him that he would have no difficulty finding it, since it was the only one of the flat central islands with coconut palms. According to the King/Lewis account, the suddenly quite chatty group also told Ireland that a man called Cut-Cut killed Charlotte D’Oyly. George D’Oyly’s murderer came from Zamut (Dalrymple) and was called Maam, while Sexton had been killed by a man called Abuyu, who came from an unnamed island near Papua New Guinea.8 The ship’s boy further claimed that he easily recognised the latter two, although he had never met them and they were not among the group at Boydang. None of this information was passed on to Lewis, although it may be an example of Ireland being so obtuse and contradictory in his statements that people had trouble understanding him. He would claim in his own book (The Shipwrecked Orphans) that no islander had spoken to him directly about George D’Oyly and John Sexton.9

Before leaving, Lewis extracted a promise from the villagers that they would never harm any white person cast upon their island. They assured the captain that ‘all the people who had been hitherto murdered, had been destroyed by their fathers, and not by any now living’.10 It was probably a reference to the murder of the Hormuzeer’s boat crew. More than 40 years after the event, the consequences of that occurrence still weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.  The last thing the islanders wanted was to get caught up in another white man’s vengeance party. Better to send Lewis to Aureed where he could collect the skulls he was looking for and leave the Strait. By making that statement though, they were also assuring Lewis that no Erub islanders had killed any of the Charles Eaton shipwreck survivors.


Notes to Chapter 18

  1. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Edward Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres’ Straits : in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printer Henry Bull, 1836, p. 29.
  4. Australian, 21 Oct., 1836.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, pp. 759–60.
  9. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  10. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 800.

Chapter 19: Looking for Answers

Lewis was on the move again, and the schooner sailed past many small islands before finally dropping anchor for the night off Sirreb. When the crew went ashore, they predictably found it deserted. Knowing that the schooner would be coming their way, the inhabitants had stripped the islet before fleeing. Lewis and his men searched it thoroughly but found nothing, not even any huts to burn.

NASA satellite photo of the Yorke islands in the Torres Strait

NASA Satellite photo. Yorke Islands group. Yorke Island on the right is made up of two islands, with Massid the larger and Kudala the smaller. The other three islets are Rennel (L), Marsden (C) and Keats (R).

….. ””’

Lewis then set his course for Yorke Island. It was made up of two isles, the larger being Massid, the smaller he called Cuderal (Kudala). Ireland had told Lewis that when he had stopped at Massid for a few days with Duppa while en route to Mer, he had seen the skulls of some of his former shipmates there.

A small group of people appeared on Massid’s beach, waving the usual branches as a sign they wanted peace. They were very nervous and offered a few coconuts and tortoise shell but refused to take anything in return, although they eventually accepted a few empty bottles. They gave every sign of wanting to bolt for the bushes at the first sign of trouble. The ship’s boy was now bold in his role as the only interpreter and demanded they hand over the lammoors. They had none, the islanders anxiously assured him. Nor had they any white man’s skulls. The men that Ireland had previously seen on their island with the skulls had been visitors from Aureed, they said, who had brought them to show off. They had left Massid, ‘having heard that the schooner was on her way to punish them for the murder they had committed’. They also said that ‘all the white men had been murdered, and that some of the skulls had been sent to New Guinea.’1   Lewis finally accepted that they were telling the truth. He let them pass unharmed through the circle of bayonets and they scurried away to rejoin their friends. His party waded across to Kudala but its inhabitants saw him coming and raced to their canoes, paddling furiously away. Brockett and a few other sailors gave chase in a boat but were unable to overtake them. Nor did they find any skulls on the two islets.

These NASA satellite pictures are great and it’s no wonder that they are becoming so popular. This group of Islands is named the Bourke Islands after Governor Sir Richard Bourke. Lewis got lost for a time wandering around them because they all looked alike. Aureed can be seen in the lower centre. Sirreb was also part of this group and it, too, was a home to the Gam-le people of the central isles.

For the whole of the next day, the schooner wandered around a group of small islands that Lewis called the Six Sisters, but his lookouts could find none that matched the description of the one they were seeking. On the following day, however, the schooner anchored off a small, low island with coconut palms. It had to be Aureed.

Apart from three howling dogs, the beach was empty. On the northeastern extremity of the island a small village could be seen but it was forsaken and in ruins. That afternoon Lewis loaded several boats with armed sailors and they went to the deserted village, where they torched the huts. The small grass structures were standing close together upon an open, sandy point. The flames instantly consumed them and reduced them to ashes.

Aurid Island (now Aureed Island), Torres Strait.
NASA satellite photo. Aureed Island looking very bare following a long dry spell.
The tortoiseshell mask found at Aureed, adorned with human skulls. Black-and-white etching from Brockett’s book Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits . . . , p. 34.

The men then walked to the coconut trees near the centre of the island, expecting to find either the inhabitants or more huts, but there was nothing except a scattering of debris from a wrecked ship, including a few deck planks and the bar from a hen’s coop. They kept moving but found it unpleasant because the island was thick with flies.2 Eventually they came upon an avenue, lined on both sides with ochre-painted shells. At one end, there was a tree-shaded clearing, apparently used for feasts and ceremonies. At the other end, there was a low, thatched shed in a dilapidated condition. Inside they found a huge mask, crudely resembling a man’s face. It was a single turtle shell, smeared with red ochre and decorated with cowry and other smaller shells. Attached to its rim were human skulls. Other skulls were carelessly stacked in a pyramid-shaped pile. Some bore marks of violence; some were tied to the rim with European rope. A few even had strands of hair, driven into indentations by blows apparently made with an axe. Upon two or three were tufts of light-coloured hair, while on others the hair was dark.3 One skull with long strands of brown-gold hair was clearly that of Charlotte D’Oyly. The sailors were looking at the crude skull house used by the Kulka fraternity of the Cult of the Brethren.

Lewis ordered his crew to remove the roof from the shed to prevent damage to the mask, and they carried it carefully back to the boat. The sailors then began to search the island thoroughly, for the sight of the skulls had put them in a vengeful mood. They found a plantation of tobacco and destroyed it. Then they found a pile of drinking cups made from coconut shells and smashed them to pieces. The following day they set fire to the whole island and burned everything on it, including the skull house and all the plantations. In the ashes of the island, they found two more European skulls, scorched now by the fires they had lit. They took them aboard the schooner and deposited them with the others in a case. The Isabella sailed soon after, but not before Captain Lewis had renamed the island Skull Island. The name, however, didn’t catch on.

The Gam-le from Aureed – and the Massilegas at Massid – subsequently had a reputation as ruthless, treacherous head-hunters who roamed the Torres Strait killing any person unlucky enough to fall into their hands, with shipwrecked sailors particular targets. The Kulka lodge at Aureed told a different story. As cult lodges go, it was a poor specimen. Until the fresh additions from the Charles Eaton, it had housed just 28 old skulls, presumably of Torres Strait Islanders, some possibly of relatives, collected over what must have been a very long time. As head-hunters go the Gam-le obviously were not that successful. If anything, they were classic victims, too weak to repel an enemy and too dependent to offend a friend. The only European skulls at Aureed, as far as we know, were those from the Charles Eaton. It suggests that the Gam-le had killed no other white people. After the Isabella crew ravaged their island, they chose not to reoccupy it for fear of further retribution.

After leaving Aureed, Lewis anchored his schooner for the evening off Halfway Island. Finding nothing there of interest, or any people, his crew rested for two days. From the number of initials carved into trees it was clear that many European ships had anchored there. On their last night at Halfway Island, Lewis put another letter in a bottle and buried it under a prominent tree, upon which he carved the words ‘Dig Under’:

This vessel was dispatched by the Government in search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ wrecked on the Barrier Reef 2 years ago.— I have also called at nearly the whole of the Islands to the Northward after finding two of them on Murray’s Island; William Doyley [sic] & John Ireland cabin boy of the Charles Eaton the former a Son of Captain D’Oyley [sic] of the Bengal Army. Ireland relates the awful Catastrophe having seen the whole of his mates on the 2nd Raft consisting of all the crew murdered in his presence. The Captain & Passengers shared the same fate by the 1st Raft about a week before on the same island called Boydang by the savages of Aureed.4

That last conversation at Erub, or what little of it he was told, in no way changed Lewis’s conviction, that everyone else from the two rafts had been killed almost instantly at Boydang.

On 31 July, the Isabella arrived at Nalgi (Double Island then but now Twin Island). There was an outrigger canoe drawn up on the beach and six Torres Strait Islanders were moving around. They were visitors from another island, ‘trying to catch turtle’ John said. With nothing to trade, they began waving their arms and crying out ‘poud, poud’, (peace, peace). Along the beach, some of the men found teak deck planks and a mast, but since they appeared to be old and much weathered, they were cut up and used for firewood.

Shortly after this, the Tigris came to anchor nearby. She was a small brig but she still managed to dwarf the little schooner. Commander Igglesden was soon aboard the Isabella and sought permission to take William D’Oyly back to his grandfather in Calcutta. Said grandfather, Henry Williams, had actually died in January, 1834. There were, nevertheless, many more D’Oyly relatives still living in Bengal. Igglesden needed something to show for his long, costly and fruitless expedition. Returning triumphantly to Calcutta with the little boy would certainly have been better than nothing and taking the youngster straight back to his wealthy relatives in India made sense. Captain Lewis, however, refused to comply with his request.

HEIC’s brig-of-war Tigris at anchor off Double Island in the Torres Strait, August 1836. Sketch by W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ , p.35.

The Tigris surgeon, Hughes, examined the Aureed skulls, pronouncing 14 of them to be European (revised at Sydney to 17). Two of the skulls were female, while another two were a bit smaller than the rest and Ireland concluded that they belonged to Ching and Perry. There was no skull of an eight-year-old child, so George’s skull was definitely not among them. There is no evidence that the Isabella and Tigris captains had a copy of the Batavia deposition, which included Sexton’s name. That being so, there is a very good chance that neither was aware that another ship’s boy had been part of the crew. Had they known that, they would doubtless have questioned whether one of the smaller skulls was his.

Igglesden, Kempthorne and other officers had a talk with Ireland, who was, by this time, sufficiently reacquainted with the English language to be coherent. Later, Igglesden sent an account of the conversation with him to the Messrs Gledstanes.5 In the following extract Igglesden refers to the second raft: ‘on their reaching an Island (Boydang) the natives came off and killed them all with their clubs with the exception of this boy’. Igglesden, however, may have been the first person to extract from the ship’s boy the information that at least one other boy (George D’Oyly) had also survived. ‘The eldest boy lived for about 3 months,’ wrote Igglesden in a letter to his friend, Dr Wilson, of Sydney, ‘Ireland supposes they had suspicions of the older boy for some reason & therefore killed him.’6

Of all the people aboard the Charles Eaton, Sexton was the one Ireland should have remembered most vividly. They shared a Christian name and as ship’s boys together for nine months, they must have shared many chores. According to the children’s book later published under Ireland’s name, the two spent at lot of chummy time together on Pullan, fishing and climbing trees. Yet initially Ireland could not/would not recall the other boy’s name. To say of him that he had a poor memory for names is putting it mildly. Until reminded of it, he had forgotten George’s name as well.

Brockett would later say of Ireland that it was wise to humour him ‘as his temper is rather testy!’ and that ‘He is also apt to be confused when questioned by anyone.’7 He added that the lad ‘seemed to me to dislike to disclose matters’ and concluded that Ireland wanted money for his story. Brockett was writing at the time with the petulance of a thwarted author, but there does seem to be an element of concealment in the Ireland’s behaviour.

Another explanation for his failure to mention Sexton is the initial difficulty people had in trying to understand him. In their attempts to fill in the many gaps in his story, they were too hasty in drawing their own conclusions. Even so, Ireland spent many hours on the homeward journey alone with Lewis in the captain’s cabin, helping him to compile a dictionary of the Meriam language for the benefit of other mariners. Yet it would appear that not once on the homeward journey did the lad tell Lewis any stories about the time he spent on Pullan with another ship’s boy.

The man-of-war with its large compliment of uniformed officers and soldiers was impressive. There is every indication that to the best of his ability Ireland was trying to cooperate fully, giving the Tigris commander and officers a lengthy account of what happened to the crew aboard the second raft, including details of the murders and subsequent cannibalism.8 The description he gave them was more graphic and horrific than his other more tempered accounts of what happened in the wake of the killings. Again though, he made no mention of Sexton at all. It was as if the lad had never existed.

One theory of mine is that the survivor later identified as Sexton was actually the Sydney resident William Hill. No age was ever given for Hill but there was a young lad of that name attending a private school in Sydney in 1826.9 Sailors in those days were often in their late teens. There were also several families at Sydney with the surname Hill. If the other survivor at Boydang had only been with the barque for a couple of weeks, it would certainly explain why Ireland forgot his name. This ‘other boy’ had survived because he had bitten his attacker on the arm, drawing blood. According to island custom, that made him a blood relative of his attacker and his life was initially spared. To say that the other survivor was Hill is a neat piece of theorising but there is no real evidence to support it, beyond the fact that Captain Moore had included Hill in his crew list ex-Sydney but may have omitted Sexton, while the sailors at Batavia had supplied a modified version of the ex-London crew list that included Sexton but omitted Hill.

In 1839, Captain Watson of the schooner Essington called at Mer with some gifts for Duppa that a Mrs Anne Slade (see later chapters) had given to him for that purpose. Unlike Captain Lewis, Watson was able to ask Duppa and many other Murray Islanders specific questions about the fate of George D’Oyly and John Sexton. Everyone he questioned, including Duppa, admitted that the two white boys he was enquiring about were taken to Erub and murdered, probably by Aureed islanders. When Captain Watson moved on to Erub and put the same question to the people there, they confirmed what the Mer islanders had told him.10 Watson had no interpreter but some of the islanders were beginning to understand English. The responses he got vindicated Captain Lewis’s belief about the fate of the other two boys.


Notes to Chapter 19

  1. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 801.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 14 Oct. 1836.
  3. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  4. William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes, enclosure, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  5. William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes.
  6. Igglesden to Wilson, letter dated 19 Aug. 1836, published in the Sydney Herald, 26 Oct. 1836.
  7. William Bayley file, thought to be William Brockett to William Bayley, undated but probably August 1837, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  8. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton,” performed in the year 1836’, Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. 8, 1849, pp. 210–236.
  9. ‘The half-yearly examination of the Pupils of Mr. Bradley’s Seminary took place on Wednesday, the 21st instant, at his residence in O’Connell Street. Two silver medals and a silver pen had been provided by the master, as a stimulus to the juvenile competitors. The medals were awarded to Masters William Hill and Joseph Underwood.’–Sydney Monitor, 30 June 1826. Hill was a Sydney resident and more self-effacing than the other five clued-up and experienced sailors hired at Sydney.
  10. Watson, Thomas, ‘Logbook of the schooner Essington, on file at the National Library of Australia. .

….. …..

Chapter 20: King and Bourke

If you climb Mount Macedon in the Australian state of Victoria, and take in the view from its summit, you will be retracing the steps of Governor Sir Richard Bourke and Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King, who got there before you in March 1837. The two men were part of a small party that left Sydney in February on board H.M.S. Rattlesnake, commanded by Captain Hobson. Bourke and King stood together in dusty Collins Street while Bourke officially proclaimed Melbourne a town, then spent several weeks riding around Port Phillip District, living in tents and visiting western Victoria. King would also have enjoyed the voyages to and from Melbourne, aboard the notoriously uncomfortable HMS Rattlesnake. Although he was managing his family’s sheep farm near Parramatta, he was happy in the company of men who shared his navy background.

HMS ‘Rattlesnake’. Illustrated London News, 12 Feb. 1853. She was broken up at Chatham in January 1860.

Australian readers remember him as the commander of the 1818–1820 expedition that surveyed that part of the eastern coastline left unfinished by Captain Matthew Flinders, working from a small cutter called Mermaid. From 1821–22 he carried out an extensive survey in H.M.S. Bathurst, concentrating on the north and northwestern coasts of Australia. His accurate survey of the inner passage from Sydney to Torres Strait (King’s Route) was familiar to most nineteenth-century mariners.1

Governor Sir Richard Bourke preferred to live at Government House, Parramatta. Painting by George Wiliam Evans, 1805.

A neighbour of King during the 1830s was Governor Sir Richard Bourke, who preferred to work in the more comfortable and rural surrounds of the Parramatta government house, rather than his official residency near Sydney Cove. In theory, King and Bourke should have been close friends and they did get on reasonably well, since each respected the other’s integrity and intellect. Ideologically, however, a political gulf between them prevented Bourke from accepting King into his small inner circle of close friends.

Bourke proudly proclaimed himself a ‘Whig’, and saw himself as the people’s Governor. He introduced many reforms, including checks on the ease and severity of punishment handed out to assigned convicts by district magistrates. King, by contrast, was a conservative free settler, opposed to any relaxation in the level of convict discipline. He shared this and many other right-wing views with his brother-in-law, Hannibal Macarthur, at that time a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a vigorous opponent of many of Bourke’s reforms.

Bourke and King were most in harmony during the period of their involvement in this story – between mid-1836 and early 1837. Bourke was almost 60 years old and suffered from bouts of ill health and melancholy, the latter brought on by the death of his wife in 1831. King was 15 years younger than Bourke, with a small daughter and six active sons. He was also the leading authority on the seas around the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. When, in early 1836, the Home Office instructed Governor Bourke to send a rescue mission to find any Charles Eaton survivors, King had been the obvious person to turn to for advice. The mission was one of great interest to mariners and King put his mind to the task willingly, freely and, it seemed, without any strings attached. He drew up the sailing and tactical instructions supplied to Captain Lewis before his departure and for King it was hardly an onerous task.

John Ireland and William D’Oyly sailed back into Sydney Cove aboard the government schooner on Wednesday, 12 October 1836, four months after they had been collected from Mer. The first people to hear of the Isabella’s return were the men aboard the custom’s launch who went out to meet her. They picked up a few rough details of what had transpired in the Torres Strait and quickly spread the word. The Sydney Monitor was just about to put the latest edition of its afternoon paper ‘to bed’ but it squeezed in the following announcement:

We stop the press to announce that the ‘Isabella’ has arrived from Murray’s Island, and brings up two of the crew of the ‘Charles Eaton’, and a child, the son of Captain D’Oyle [sic]; the rest of the crew were murdered by the blacks. These survivors were ransomed for tomahawks/&c. The ‘Isabella’ has also brought up some skulls of the unfortunate passengers who fell victims to the ferocity of the Islanders.2

Thereafter, reporters from all four Sydney newspapers tried to out-scoop each other for the best interviews and coverage of what was clearly a sensational local story. The following report, published in the Colonist 13 October, is typical:

. . . the whole of the crew & passengers . . . succeeded in reaching a small island … that within an hour from the time of landing, the whole of them had been barbarously murdered by the natives, with the exception of the cabin boy & a male child of Captain D’Oyly’s then about two years old.

The Colonist was actually lucky to get a brief version of events. Despite the furore caused by his return, Lewis was refusing to release any details of his recent mission, presumably because he wanted to save it for a forthcoming book. When reporters sought information, he gave them nothing but an impenetrable silence. They had to rely on hearsay and gossip, picked up in the inns and taverns where the sailors hung out. As a result, many of the stories published over the following week were inaccurate in their details.

The Sydney Herald, for example, stated that the boys had been rescued from Erub while the mask, said the reporter, had been painted with red and green paint. The same news item also reported that two other boys had initially survived as well, and had been allowed to exist for some months.3 This information had presumably been procured from one of the Isabella sailors. Someone among the crew, perhaps on the homeward journey, had concluded from Ireland’s garbled account that a fourth boy had survived for a time as well. Captain Lewis was so annoyed by some aspects of the report, he lodged a complaint at the newspaper’s office. A few days later, what was supposed to pass for an apology appeared in the Sydney Herald:

We have been requested by Captain Lewis to state that it was from Murray’s Island he obtained the two lads of the Charles Eaton, and not ‘Darnley’s Island’ as we had stated in our last edition. If Captain Lewis had given us, or any of the Sydney papers a rough report of his voyage (and he has not furnished them with one word on the subject), this mistake would not have occurred. We hope the Government will furnish the public with an official Statement of the expedition as soon as possible, to allay the excitement the melancholy affair of the Charles Eaton has created.4

The newspapers, meanwhile, were being surprisingly inventive in finding their own sources for meatier stories. Some of their reports were so long, they ran to thousands of words and extended over four full columns. Their coverage was extraordinary. The Australian, for example, triumphantly announced that it had perused a letter from one of the officers aboard the Tigris.5 Later, it reproduced verbatim a log book kept by one of the sailors aboard the Isabella.6

The normally staid Sydney Herald stole the march on all of them by publishing a line drawing of the mask, the first editorial illustration to appear in an Australian newspaper. As well, the Sydney Herald managed to get hold of John Ireland for a first-person interview. The reporter was no less confused by Ireland’s muddled style of talking than everyone else had been. When Ireland referred to ‘another boy’ on the second raft, the reporter, having not heard Sexton’s name mentioned in any previous reports of survivors, assumed he was referring to George D’Oyly and wrote a story that placed George on the second raft.7

Again, it was the Sydney Herald (27 Oct.) who beat the Australian (28 Oct.) to a scoop account from Captain Igglesden, although this introduction to it is their own:

Notwithstanding the discreditable manner in which the public have been deprived of even a bare outline of the late expedition in search of the survivors of the ill-fated ship Charles Eaton, we are at length enabled to gratify our readers with the subjoined particulars, from the pen of Captain Igglesden, the Commander of the Hon. E. I. C.’s brig Tigris, and obligingly furnished us by an old friend of the Colony,—Dr. Wilson, R.N.

The Australian also made an oblique reference to the difficulty in obtaining information about the voyage. By this time, the official silence surrounding the Isabella’s return was so pointed it was becoming embarrassing. The newspapers had gone to extraordinary lengths to praise the schooner’s commander and crew for the success of their mission, but were still unable to elicit any information from Lewis.

Finally, on 26 October, a fortnight after the schooner’s return, the Colonial Secretary’s office issued a very brief, five-paragraph press release based on Lewis’s journal. Beyond that, Lewis had nothing further to say. In choosing to give the Charles Eaton rescue mission such extensive coverage, however, Sydney’s media proprietors had merely read the public mood. The story had aroused enormous interest among the colonists and John Ireland and William D’Oyly were ‘objects of great curiosity’.8

Captain Lewis had initially been in a cheerful mood on his return from the Torres Strait, speaking openly of the book he would soon publish from his journals and logbook. For a master whose duties mainly consisted of ploughing back and forth between Sydney and Moreton Bay or Norfolk Island, he had just completed the highlight of his career. At about the same time, however, Ireland gave his statement on the shipwreck. Governor Bourke had a copy of the crew list supplied in the Batavia deposition that included Sexton’s name. For the first time Ireland began to speak with some degree of clarity about George D’Oyly and the ‘other’ boy, whose name, everyone agreed, was Sexton.

We can only guess what happened as the result of Ireland’s expanded version of his story. We know that the unexpected silence on the Charles Eaton rescue mission prompted indignation from the newspapers, followed by some ultimately valuable attempts to fill the void. We also know that both Bourke and King read the Lewis logbook and documents and the Governor decided to exclude the captain from further involvement. Bourke handed the material over to King with the request to prepare it for publication. There were relatives in other countries with considerable influence and the whole matter required great delicacy.

King promised to produce a book that would ‘procure for Mr. Lewis the same approbation in the eye of the public as the voyage it records has already deservedly obtained’.9 The image of Lewis that emerges from King’s account is that of a man who was always cool under pressure and behaved with impeccable judgement. In carrying out his mission, Lewis had merely been following Governor Bourke’s instructions. If he was, at times, heavy-handed in his dealings with the Torres Strait Islanders, it was because Bourke had told him that he would ‘do well, without betraying alarm, to be yet very suspicious and watchful, whenever they appear inclined to be most friendly.’10

Captain Lewis must have been nonplussed by John’s Sydney deposition but he steadfastly maintained that both Sexton and George D’Oyly were dead. Ireland had contradicted Lewis’s own claim that everyone else from the Charles Eaton had been killed and eaten soon after landing at Boydang. He was now vulnerable to claims that he had failed to conduct a proper interview with Ireland, had not established the deaths of the other two boys beyond all doubt and had made no proper search for them.

King was astute enough to know that with Ireland’s deposition he now had a much more interesting book on his hands and one to which he would be happy to attach his name. Governor Bourke was ‘easily induced’11 to finance its publication from the public coffers and it went to press in Sydney in mid-March 1837. On 6 June 1837, Bourke sent a letter to Lord Glenelg, in which he made a valiant attempt to justify the unusual expenditure on the book. He had decided to publish it, he wrote:

. . . for the satisfaction of the friends of the deceased Persons, and also with a view to disseminate such additional knowledge of the passage of Torres Straits as was acquired during the voyage.12

To increase its value for navigators, the book included the Flinders chart of Torres Strait, overlaid with the tracks of both the Isabella and the Tigris and pinpointing Aureed and several other small but previously unknown central islands. A guide to the language of the eastern islanders, compiled by Lewis from Ireland’s first-hand knowledge, was also included for the benefit of traders or whalers calling at Mer or Erub. The print run was 1022 and the publishing cost was £49/1/2.13 It was certainly unusual for Governor Bourke to authorise the expenditure of public funds on a project that could have been handled by private enterprise.

In his later letter to William Bayley, Brockett stated that he knew that Ireland had been ‘taken in’ at Sydney.14 Did Ireland seriously expected money for telling his story to Governor Bourke? It seems unlikely. The colony of New South Wales had already spent a great deal of money on his rescue and Governor Bourke had given him an allowance to live on for five or six months. Perhaps Ireland expected money or some sort of publishing deal from Captain Lewis for his help in compiling the dictionary. Brockett, however, did not elaborate.

Governor Bourke distributed copies of the book in high places. Fifty copies were sent to the Colonial Agent General, one to Lloyd’s, with an unspecified number to be passed on to Lord Glenelg’s department and the Admiralty. The rest of them went to bookshops. The book is, as all would agree, a gem, and certainly the fullest account of the shipwreck. All later versions of the story have drawn from it. It also, incidentally, reinforced the view that the Isabella mission was an outstanding success and a credit to the colony.

The first editorial correction occurs when it describes Lewis’s interview with Ireland aboard his schooner. King understandably inserts all the details contained in Ireland’s Sydney testimony, but what the lad had actually told Lewis was vague and inconsistent.

The next correction occurs when King states that Lewis decided to visit Erub ‘in the hope that the Aroob (Erub) people might know something more of the fate of Sexton and D’Oyly than the Murray Islanders’.15 This conflicts with the letter entrusted to Duppa just before Lewis sailed for Erub, in which the captain confidently announced to the next visiting ship that he had obtained ‘the only two living’.16

Then there is King’s own statement that on his arrival in Sydney, Ireland had deposed to ‘the information he received on the deaths of Sexton and the elder D’Oyly’. This comment suggests that Ireland was already in Sydney when he offered the details supposedly obtained at Erub as irrefutable proof that the other two boys were dead. My final quote from the book is a statement of King’s own belief and reflects what he was told:

The fate of George D’Oyley [sic] and Sexton is still in some remote degree uncertain. Every pains and trouble seem to have been taken to ascertain the certainty of their fate; and Mr. Lewis has no doubt of the fact. Had either been alive, the desire of possessing the valuable iron implements which were offered in exchange for them, would have insured their being brought forward by the Indians; and their not having done so, is a more than presumptive proof of their not being in existence. The same story of their having been murdered was told throughout the islands without prevarication, together with the names of the murderers, as well as the circumstance of the hair of young D’Oyley [sic] having been preserved as an ornamental trophy.17

King’s compilation was commendable in that he hoped it would ensure that no false hopes were aroused in the Sexton and D’Oyly families. Yet despite his efforts there were many relatives in England, including George D’Oyly’s two older brothers and his uncle, William Bayley, who now began to entertain notions that one or both of the two boys might still be alive.18

Melbourne as it looked in 1837 when Governor Bourke officially declared it a town. Engraving property of author. Artist unknown.

Not long after Governor Bourke placed the book in the hands of the printers, Captain (later Admiral) Phillip King and Governor Sir Richard Bourke sailed on H.M.S. Rattlesnake for the new colony in the Port Phillip district. Bourke’s acceptance of King as part of his travelling party may be an indication of the friendship that had blossomed between two men on opposite sides of the political spectrum. King’s invaluable assistance with the Isabella mission, however, was not entirely without self-interest. There was a vacant member’s seat in the Legislative Council following the death of Mr Archibald Bell, and King confidently expected that it would be his. He was named as a member of the Council in 1829 but had been unable, at that time, to fill the seat. King nevertheless believed that he was entitled to the next vacant seat.19

Governor Bourke thought differently. King’s brother-in-law, Hannibal Macarthur, was already on the Council and Bourke objected to near relatives holding two of only seven open seats. When Bell’s seat became vacant, he recommended the appointment of Sir John Jamison, a man who supported his vision of what was best for the colony.

When, on their return to Sydney, King found out that Bourke had nominated someone else for the seat, he was outraged, claiming prior entitlement but also that the Governor had failed to acknowledge his services as promised. In a letter to Lord Glenelg, enclosed with King’s complaint to the Home Office about this perceived injustice, Bourke wrote:

I am happy at having this opportunity of acknowledging the professional services wh. Captn. King has at various times very willingly rendered to this Government, which, as he correctly states, I intimated it was my intention to bring under your Lordship’s notice. This fact might serve to convince him that, notwithstanding a wide difference in opinion upon general or Colonial Politics, Captn. King’s character does not stand low in my estimation. But this favorable opinion does not appear to me to offer any good reason for placing him in a position where I apprehend he would soon be arrayed against my administration, and according to the best of my judgment against the true interests of the Colony.20

The professional services referred to by Bourke included the assistance King had supplied in drafting instructions for the Isabella’s mission and, later, his discreet editing of the captain’s journal and the compilation of the book.

In February 1839, King became a member of the Council on the recommendation of Governor George Gipps, Sir Richard Bourke’s successor. Despite his links through his family to the anti-emancipist party, Gipps found him liberal in his politics. Within two months, however, King had resigned from the Council to take up a position as resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company, although he retained his council seat until October 1839.21 His taste for politics was not, it seems, so very great after all.

King’s interest in the Charles Eaton story was always genuine, as also was his deep concern for the lives of those mariners who used the Torres Strait. He continued to promote the inner route as a much safer alternative to the outer route and distributed written instructions to accompany his charts. He prepared a map of the eastern entrances to Torres Strait for the proprietors of Nautical Magazine, published in their journal in 1837, and in 1843 published for private distribution sailing directions for a safe route to and through Torres Strait, from Breaksea Spit to Booby Island.


Notes to Chapter 20

  1. Dorothy Walsh (ed.), The Admiral’s Wife: Mrs Phillip Parker King: A selection of letters 1817–56, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1967, p. 6.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 12 Oct. 1836.
  3. Sydney Herald, 13 Oct. 1836.
  4.  Ibid , 20 Oct. 1836.
  5.  Ibid,  14 Oct. 1836.
  6.  Ibid, 21 Oct. 1836.
  7. Ibid, 20 Oct. 1836.
  8. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 62.
  9. P. P. King, letter to editor, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, (the Government’s own newspaper) reproduced in Phillip P. King, Capt. R. N., F. R. S. (ed.) ; A Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship Charles Eaton, which was Wrecked upon the Barrier Reef, in the Month of August, 1834, in His Majesty’s Colonial Schooner Isabella, C. M. Lewis, Commander, Arranged from the Journal and Log Book of the Commander, by authority of His Excellency Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, K. C. B., Governor of New South Wales, etc, etc, etc. Sydney: E. H. Statham, 1837, p. xvi.
  10. King  p. xi.
  11. HRA, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 6 June 1837, Series I, vol. XIII, p. 775.
  12. HRA, 6 June 1837, p. 775.
  13. HRA 17 May 1837, pp. 755–56.
  14. William Bayley file, Brockett to Bayley.
  15. King, pp. 31–32.
  16. Ibid.
  17. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 806.
  18. Colonist, 1 Aug. 1838, published a copy of a letter that Mrs Anne Slade received from William Bayley, in which the latter expresses his belief that George D’Oyly and John Sexton might still be alive.
  19. Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1788–1850, Douglas Pike (gen. ed.), Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967 pp. 61–63.
  20. HRA, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 6 June 1837, Series I, vol. XIII, p. 775.
  21. Australian Dictionary of Biography, pp. 61–63. Online.

Appendix to Part 4: The Tigris chroniclers

The voyage of the British India station’s man-of-war, H. C. Tigris, from Bombay to Mer Island in the Torres Strait, in search of survivors of the Charles Eaton, is a minor historic event in its own right. Her commander, William Igglesden, and 2nd Lieut., George Borlase Kempthorne, were able chroniclers of that voyage, to the extent that it is not necessary for me to do much more than collect together some of what the two men did and said that is relevant to this story. Igglesden in particular would never have guessed that his off-guard and private comments to his friend, Dr. Wilson, would still be in public circulation centuries later. Much of what Kempthorne and Igglesden wrote, particularly their descriptions of Torres Strait Islanders, would be considered too racially biased to be taken seriously today but it does highlight the patronising attitudes of many early white visitors to the Strait, with whom the islanders had to negotiate their own terms of trade. To be fair to the two navy officers, they encountered the islanders in the wake of a gruesome event that was bound to inflate their prejudices.

It will be helpful, I think, to introduce the two authors with biographies, since even a small knowledge of their backgrounds and capabilities may be useful. Of the two, Commander William Igglesden is the less controversial, being generally regarded as a decent and respected officer in East India Company’s Navy, subsequently the Indian Navy, with a solid service record. He was born in Dover, England, in 1801 and died at Gravesend in 1866. At the time of the Tigris voyage to the Torres Strait (March–October, 1836) he was 35 years old but suffering from unspecified ill health. By August 1836, he was already thinking about retiring from the navy. The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register (January–April, 1838, p. 263) states that he was transferred to the invalid establishment in December 1837. His voyage to the Torres Strait was his last major posting. By late 1839 he had retired from the navy and was already back in England. He had married Mary Ann Sharp on 1 Oct., 1828. Mary Ann died young and on Jan 3, 1840, Igglesden married Mrs R. Lovelock, of Dover (Nautical Magazine and Navy Chronicle 1840, p. 143). He had children and presumably completed enough service in India to be eligible for a retirement from it at the age of 38, with a pension sufficient for his needs.

Igglesden was such a prolific poet that he must have spent a good part of his spare time indulging his passion. In retirement he published three large collections, intended for family and friends and obviously with small print runs. He maintained a log of the Tigris voyage to the Torres Strait that is now held by the British Maritime Museum, plus there is his journal article and also published letters. In retirement he published a collection of poems entitled Miscellaneous Poems, a Voyage through Torres Straits, some of which would have been written on his voyage back to Bombay. Unfortunately, I have never been able to track down a copy. What I do have is a complete copy of his Poetical Miscellanea, and a brief but useful review of another book of his poetry called Ocean Sprays . . . :

Probably, if Commander Igglesden were possessed of less facility of rhyme and metre, he might prove a better poet. No work of human thought more needs the labor lima than poetry. We can give to our author, with perfect sincerity, commendation for good sense, kind and Christian feeling, and varied and instructive thought on passing events; but we can scarcely vouch his possession of the rare gift of poetic genius and fire. Should this volume fall centuries hence into the hands of some curious reader in the library of the British Museum, he will be able to construct from it, if not a perfect autobiography of the author, yet a lively sketch of many of his personal experiences and the more striking events of his times.

Ocean Sprays and other Poems, dedicated to Charles Dickens, Esq. (The Christian Reformer: Unitarian reform and review, 1861, p.631.)

As a ‘centuries hence’ reader of the commander’s poems, I can agree with the reviewer’s opinion in some ways. Igglesden’s poems are links in a lengthy autobiography and he covers such topics as catching a cold and going to the dentist. His descriptions of shipboard events, however, such as losing a friend overboard or the death of a promising young officer, are evocative.

Igglesden was a follower of Unitarianism, a Christian church that also believes in the freedom of individuals to practice their chosen religions. According to Unitarians, Jesus was a great prophet but he was not a God. Nor did he claim to be. The fact that the Unitarian church rejects the Trinity sets it apart from other Christian religions. Given his acceptance of an egalitarian Christian belief system, Igglesden’s use of words like ‘savage’ to describe the Torres Strait Islanders can perhaps be a reference to the fact that he saw them as backward in their social structures and technologies. He did mock them at times and also described them in cruel and unflattering terms, but he tried to be a good – albeit paternalistic and patronising – Christian. The Mer islanders would have agreed in part with his assessment. Once they had been exposed to the goods brought in by visiting traders, they had an overwhelming desire to possess them, particularly iron goods, cutlery, cottons and weapons. They were, in some ways, in a hurry to catch up to the outside world, about which they had a great curiosity.

‘Muscat Cove’, watercolour by William Igglesden. Aucioned in a lot of six, 2006. Purchaser unknown.

Many mariners and passengers passed the time on long voyages sketching and painting and Igglesden was no exception. I doubt that many of his amateur watercolour sketches have survived but six sketches from Muscat Cove were collectively sold at auction for a reported US$28,692. Igglesden’s single claim to fame was his command of the Tigris failed rescue mission. Today, however, ‘Muscat Cove’ is Muscat city, the capital of the Arab nation of Oman, south of Dubai on the Gulf of Oman. His six sketches would have historic importance.

The Tigris’s second lieutenant, George Borlace Kempthorne, was born at Helston, Cornwall in October, 1810, raised at Bodmin, Cornwall, died in 1870 and was 25 years old when he joined the Tigris for its mission to the Torres Strait. Captain Igglesden, in a later testimonial, would say of him that he ‘was attentive and competent to the various duties which the peculiar services of the Tigris entailed upon him . . . I have no hesitation in recording the opinion that Lieut. Kempthorne was, as a seaman, navigator and disciplinarian, efficient for command in the Indian Navy.’

In the year previous to the 1836 Tigris mission, an article by Kempthorne had been published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. v., pp. 263–85, entitled ‘Notes on a survey along the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf, in 1828’. Kempthorne had joined the navy as a 16-year-old midshipman and promptly served on the survey ship for two years, keeping detailed journal or diary notes. Getting them published seven years later in a prestigious journal was an achievement that made it inevitable that he would maintain similar notes about the Tigris mission. Sure enough, they were published as an article (Transactions of the Bombay Geographic Society, vol. viii, pp. 219–35, 365–82, Jan. 1847–May 1849). Kempthorne, like Igglesden, had aspirations as a writer but he had to wait for 13 years to get his notes and observations into print.

Kempthorne stood out from the rest of the officers aboard the Tigris in that he could claim to be a credible author and was able to devote time to his journal and perhaps also assist with the log book entries. His detailed paper on his visit to the Torres Strait and to the deserted settlement at Raffles Bay is much longer than the more time-stretched commander’s abbreviated effort. He is also fond of the florid prose fashionable at that time. Fortunately Igglesden’s private letter to Dr Wilson (Sydney Herald, 27 Oct., 1836, p.2). is unguarded, longer and more informative than his article (Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. II, pp.  336–51, 1838–39). He also ‘talks shop’ with Wilson, a former ship’s surgeon who had been serving on the convict ship Governor Ready when it was shipwrecked in the Torres Strait in 1829. There is no attempt by Igglesden to impress Wilson with knowledge that they already shared.

The Tigris, unusually for a British navy vessel venturing into relatively new territories, had no scientist observers and collectors on board so Kempthorne took it upon himself to collect a few botanical specimens, while a few Mer artefacts he received as gifts or bartered for, were donated to the Truro Museum in Cornwall and later transferred to the British Museum. Only a handful of Torres Strait artefacts from the 1830s appear to have survived, with most of those collected by Captain Lewis and donated to the Australia Museum lost in the Garden Palace fire in 1882.

Kempthorne officially obtained the rank of commander in 1841, but took sick leave to England in 1842, during which time he passed a short course in steamship navigation and also married. When he attempted to return to the Navy in 1845 he discovered to his great shock and dismay that he had been dismissed from his position on numerous grounds, including the charge that over a period of 20 years of maritime service, he had spent 10 years on sick leave, with the result that his navigation skills were so lacking that some men reportedly were afraid to sail with him. Given the number of colleagues prepared to testify to his skills as a navigator and commander, the charge of incompetence seems harsh. In addition, however, he was also accused of possibly falsifying his log book when the iron steamship he was commanding collided with another vessel. He retained his title as a commander but ended his working life as an onshore navy storeman, due, I presume, to his history of ill-health. A panel of medical experts had previously recommended that he be given a land-based job. It was a significant role change for the proud senior commander who could be critical in his assessment of others, including the British Admiralty at Bombay. His claims about the Navy’s fleet in India being under-resourced were fair but they would not have been universally well received.

It has to be noted that the Tigris arrived and anchored off Mer on the morning of 28th July 1836 and left early the following morning. Most of her crew had contact with Mer islanders on board the brig. During that time, the islanders clearly made every effort to be attentive, respectful and friendly. Igglesden and Kempthorne were among those who went ashore for a lengthy time to distribute trinkets and other gifts but they gave them to whoever happened to be on the beach at the time. None of the recipients had been directly involved in rescuing and protecting the two survivors from the Charles Eaton and this did create resentment.

For two days after leaving Mer the collective attention of the ship’s company focused on navigating through a terrifying maze of reefs, rocks and low sandy isles, before meeting up with the Isabella on the 31st of July. Lewis, Igglesden and his officers interviewed the still-confusing ship’s boy, John Ireland, but his responses were garbled to the point of hysteria and less reliable than those obtained at Sydney by Captain (later Admiral) P. P. King. Nevertheless, if there was any value in the Tigris mission it was probably this interview. Ireland had witnessed an horrific sequence of events and apart from little William, had barely spoken about them to anyone for two years. Surrounded by fellow Englishmen armed only with kind eyes, sympathetic words and poised pens he was finally able to release his pent-up emotions in what must have been, for him, a cathartic moment.

After a day visit to Wednesday Island to ask questions, obtain a few unhelpful responses and hand out more trinkets in an awkward display of unwanted bonhomie, the Tigris finally left the strait and was off Cape Croker on the night of the 6th August when she was grounded on a submerged coral rock and lost her rudder. The rudderless brig was nevertheless safely navigated to Raffles Bay the following day and remained there for 10 days while a replacement rudder was built from local timber.

The commander and first lieutenant primarily had contact with two male mainland Aborigines at Raffles Bay who had been regular visitors to the former British settlement. They saw no women or children, or any family groupings. We pay attention to their stories now because they visited the Torres Strait and the northern coast of Australia at a time when their inhabitants were beginning ‘first contact’ with Europeans. Visitors prepared to chronicle and publish even a little of their still-untouched culture and languages were rare so their contributions do have some value. Within a short time, missionaries and the pearl diving industry would change the lives of Torres Strait islanders forever. Today most of the Torres Strait islands are part of Australia and governed by the state of Queensland.


.t..Bing Translator

[] ← Previous Next → [ Part Five] … …

Part Five: sad epitaphs and savage retribution

(includes Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek slaughters)

Chapter 21: Eliza Fraser and Anne Slade

The Charles Eaton shipwreck was just one of two disasters the Sydney newspapers were following at that time. They were also covering the arrival of Eliza Fraser, widow of Captain James Fraser, and the other survivors of the wreck of the Stirling Castle. The two shipwreck stories competed for public attention. The 350-ton brig Stirling Castle had left Sydney on 16 May 1836 and was wrecked on what is now called Eliza Reef, north-east of Moreton Bay, Queensland, on about 22 May. One man drowned but the captain, his wife and 10 of their crew took to the safety of the longboat, while the boatswain took charge of the pinnace and the rest of the crew.

Portrait of Eliza Fraser, artist unknown, used to illustrate the book Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle by John Curtis (1837).

For several weeks the two boats drifted together from reef to reef, until the seven men in the pinnace separated from the Frasers and their party in the leaky longboat and took off for the Moreton Bay penal settlement alone. The captain’s party beached at what is now called Fraser Island and was found by a party of Aborigines, but not before six of the longboat crew had also abandoned their ineffectual captain and his wife. All but one of the men aboard the pinnace perished, and the sole survivor was rescued and taken to Moreton Bay. Of the longboat party, Aborigines killed Captain Fraser, the chief mate and one seaman, while two men drowned trying to swim from the island to the mainland.

The Aborigines then took the rest of the party – except the second mate – across the sea to mainland camps. Three of the men subsequently escaped and walked back to Moreton Bay. A party of soldiers and convicts from the penal colony then rescued the second mate from Fraser Island, while Mrs Fraser, a seaman and a ship’s boy were snatched from Aboriginal camps on the mainland. The individual stories of the Stirling Castles eight survivors were harrowing but Sydney’s readers were particularly interested in what the captain’s widow had to say.1

One week after her arrival in Sydney, Mrs Fraser, hobbling from a spear wound in her ankle that would leave her crippled, visited the Sydney Herald and gave her version of what happened after the wreck of her late husband’s ship. Her story has since become an Australian legend, due in part to her willingness to talk openly of her suffering, although some parts of her story became more lurid with each retelling. Initially she refrained from overstating her ordeal. She also displayed seemly gratitude for her rescue by the soldiers and convicts from the Moreton Bay penal colony. Her interview was given more prominence than John Ireland’s interview, probably with the same reporter, in the following day’s edition of the Sydney Herald.2 It was to be the first of many times that the widow upstaged the cabin boy. Eliza Fraser would prove to be a very good self-publicist.

Both the Sydney Herald and the Sydney Monitor set up a subscription for Eliza Fraser and the other seven survivors from the Stirling Castle, and they raised more than £400.3 Mrs Fraser took the lot. She condemned the survivors who deserted her husband and succeeded in discrediting them as villains. Some of the mud she slung around attached itself to those of the crew who had done her no wrong.4

Charles Eaton tomb at the Devonshire Street Cemetery, photographed 1900– 1901 by Josephine Foster. Glass plate negative held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Hundreds of headstones, including this tomb, have been relocated to the Pioneer Park at the Bennelong Cemetery, Botany Bay.

On 17 November, the skulls found at Aureed were given a Christian burial at the Sydney cemetery in Devonshire street. A surgeon re-examined them and identified 17 of them as European but confirmed that George D’Oyly’s skull was missing. In late 1838 a large memorial tomb for the victims was erected under instructions from Governor Sir Richard Bourke, but George’s name was omitted from the list of those whose remains may have been interred.5 The Isabella crew, meanwhile, were busy in another direction. As the Sydney Herald observed (20 Oct. 1836):

We are not aware whether any of our speculating ship-masters have already taken a hint since the arrival of the Isabella from Torres’ Straits, of sending an armed vessel in search of tortoise-shell, etc. amongst the numerous islands in those parts; but if they have not, they may avail themselves of the idea. It is reported that several hundred weight of this valuable commodity was picked up by the people of the Isabella with merely the trouble of calling at the islands for it.

Tortoiseshell was fetching up to 28 shillings per pound in Sydney,6 almost the equivalent of four weeks’ wages for junior before-the-mast seamen, who were paid 30–32 shillings a month.7 Other items such as sea shells and island artifacts were also attracting good prices. For most of their four weeks in the Strait, the Isabella crew had actually been conducting a profitable trading mission and it soon became common knowledge. The most successful trader was Captain Lewis, who came back with chests filled with tortoiseshell and other souvenirs. He eventually donated most of the artefacts, including the huge Aureed mask, to the new one-room museum at the Council office in George Street. They later formed part of the original collection of the Australian Museum.8 All save for a few spears was subsequently lost when the museum, then set up in the Garden Palace at the Botanical Gardens, burnt down in 1882 (see Australian Museum website).

George Street Sydney looking south. Artist: Henry Curzon Allport, January 1842. State Library of NSW. Wikimedia Commons.

Everyone was making a big fuss of William D’Oyly. Governor Sir Richard Bourke was particularly kind to him and for a time everyone assumed that William would stay with him until the governor himself escorted the child back to England. Very soon, however, a Mrs Anne Slade sought permission to take charge of the orphan. Mrs Slade presented herself as an old acquaintance of the D’Oyly family and an intimate friend of William Bayley’s late wife, neé Elizabeth D’Oyly, whom she referred to familiarly as Betsy. Governor Bourke accepted Anne Slade’s claim and handed William into her care. Her connection with the D’Oyly family was so tenuous, however, she had to write a letter of introduction. She addressed her letters to Sion Hill at Kirby Wiske, being unaware that the family had left Sion Hill over 20 years previously. The new owner, Joshua Crompton, kindly and promptly forwarded her letters to William Bayley.9

Mrs Slade, née Cameron, was the daughter of Captain John Cameron, the master of the ship Jane Duchess of Gordon, when it sank in 1809 with the loss of all lives. Captain Tom D’Oyly’s 13-year-old twin brother, Edward jnr, had been among those who perished.10 It was ‘an event in which your family and myself were mutual sufferers’ Mrs Slade explained in her letter to the D’Oylys.11 Anne, then aged 11, and 18-year-old Elizabeth D’Oyly, had briefly exchanged letters until the Camerons moved to Scotland.

Governor Bourke already knew that Anne’s husband, George Milner Slade, was not quite the respectable public servant everyone supposed him to be and the NSW Government despatches relentlessly catalogue his shame.12 He was paymaster for the Army’s 6th Battalion 60th Foot Regiment in 1815, based in Jamaica, when his funds were deficient by £1,639, the equivalent of about 10–15 times his annual salary. The misappropriation had occurred at a time when Slade’s commanding officer was his brother-in-law, Colonel Wharton. Slade convinced his fellow officers that he had been following Wharton’s orders, passing the money over to his trusted relative on promise of repayment.13 Slade was court-martialled and dismissed from the Army, but avoided transportation to Australia and was soon released from prison on the understanding that he would pay off his debt to the Crown. On his return to England, he married Anne Cameron in the belief that she would inherit property on the death of a relative. With the additional expectation that he would soon find well-paid work in Australia, he charmed two of his close relatives into foolishly standing as sureties for his debt to the Crown.

The Slades arrived in Sydney aboard the Regalia in January 1820. It is perhaps a testament to George’s personality that in 1821 Governor Macquarie gave the disgraced and inexperienced ex-Army pay clerk the office of Sydney Coroner, on a salary of £90 per year, with fees and travelling expenses amounting to an additional £70. By the standards of the day, it was a modest income. Slade considered it ‘inadequate to the support of a family’14 and his wife was forced to start a girl’s school, putting in long hours and a lot of hard work for a mere pittance. As for her inheritance, it either failed to eventuate or else it proved to be less than expected.

Slade defaulted on his repayments to the Crown and his two guarantors had to honour his debt. Their outrage at being stuck with such a huge expense prompted a letter from Anne Slade to one guarantor claiming that the War Office had already proceeded against her husband, seizing property to the value of £170.15 Anne’s letter implied that her husband was unable to help his unfortunate guarantors because the sheriff had already stripped him of his assets. Thereafter the Slades were careful not to own any property that the sheriff could confiscate, choosing instead to rent a house in Sydney’s George Street, large enough to do double duty as a seminary for girls.

Slade, after a brief stint as secretary to the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC), eventually opened a store on the AAC’s land grant at Port Stephens. For a time the Slades appeared to be successful merchants but their business got its start with a £400 bank loan and borrowings from yet another gullible friend. When it failed, Slade was bankrupt and went to gaol for over a year.16 Alone and penniless, his wife was obliged to reopen her little school in Sydney. She had lost everything, including all of her household furniture, two horses and some bullocks. Although the colonists had been unaware that their former coroner had been court-martialled out of the Army for embezzlement, the failed business at Port Stephens hurt local creditors, including the Bank of Australia. Anne’s efforts to salvage her dignity and support herself, by resuming her school while her husband was in gaol, inspired at least one comment from the press:

‘’Tis education forms the common mind.’—Mrs. Slade, whose husband formerly was Coroner for Sydney and who once held the Secretaryship to the Millions of Acres Company, is on the eve of opening a seminary for young ladies. We are glad of this; as the paucity of female schools in Sydney is by no means subject of congratulation; and the acquirements of this lady cannot fail to render her a very valuable acquisition.17

The news item expressed some admiration for Anne’s personal qualities and kindly refrained from mentioning that her husband was currently in prison.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, drawing by Hardy Wilson in 1914. Building designed by Francis Greenway. National Library of Australia

By late 1830, Slade had organised his release from gaol by taking advantage of the new Insolvent Debtors’ Act, and in 1831 a sympathetic Governor Darling made him the sole clerk to the Board for the Assignment of Convict Servants, a rather junior position but one he was lucky to get. The Assignment Board’s offices took up space on the ground floor of the three-storied Convict Barracks in Hyde Park, which included quarters for the superintendent and some guards. The Slades, however, were now tenants in Reibey’s Buildings, Lower Castlereagh Street, where Anne had fitted out rooms for her seminary.18

When Anne’s brother, Lieut. Col. Charles Cameron, died in 1827, the Slades raised his infant daughter, Anne Slade Cameron. In October 1834, she died suddenly after a ‘lingering illness’, aged eight years and three months.19 Anne had no children of her own and must have been heartbroken, while the fact that the child’s death took place at her latest boarding school was an additional blow. The school failed dismally despite the posh-sounding advertisements Anne placed in the newspapers.

When the Home Office abolished the three-man convict Assignment Board in late 1836, Sir Richard Bourke was sufficiently impressed by Slade to make him the Commissioner of the Assignment Office. Slade now had sole responsibility for the allocation of all male convicts and a handsome salary of £300. When Bourke subsequently learned of Slade’s shady past as an embezzler and debt defaulter, he did not withdraw the promotion. It was trusting of Governor Bourke not to have been more careful. Slade worked alone in the Assignment Board office and had no clerks to help him. There were occasional oddities and people were suspicious about why some settlers seemed to get a bigger or quicker allocation of convict workers than others, but Slade kept a proper set of books and nothing in his written records was ever irregular.

It had taken 16 years but the Slades were now affluent colonists and Anne was reinventing herself as the wife of a respectable senior public servant, finally putting her years as a hard-working and low-paid schoolmistress behind her. It was at this time that she took control of William D’Oyly. We can picture her stepping out from her new home in Liverpool Street in summer whites, with little William in tow. There is no doubt she basked in the attention created by his notoriety. Apart from Mrs Salting, she was the only woman in Sydney able to claim prior acquaintance, however slight, with his family. As a foster mother, she served very well. She had tenderly written in a letter received by William Bayley: ‘When the poor little fellow was brought to me he put his arms around my neck and called me Mama’.20 She promised his family that ‘every affectionate care and attention that he could experience from the kindest mother he shall receive from me.’21. She also wanted William to stay with her for long enough to remember her. Having got her hands on William, Anne Slade was in no hurry to give him up. She needed time to build up his weight, she explained, and to get his language skills to the point where he could speak English tolerably well.

Anne’s reputation as a boarding-school teacher was too well established. Many colonists believed that Sir Richard Bourke had placed William D’Oyly in her care as a paying student at her boarding school, and did not realise that the Governor had actually responded to her offer of charity. The Sydney Herald incurred her indignation when it published the following titbit (27 October 1836): ‘The child D’Oyley [sic], who was taken from Murray’s Island, we understand, has been very properly sent to a boarding-school, until the Government hear from his relatives, who are said to be persons of considerable wealth.’ Anne promptly informed the Sydney Gazette that the Sydney Herald had its facts wrong:

The fact is, that Mrs. Slade, wife of G. M. Slade Esq., of the Assignment Board, wrote to His Excellency the Governor, requesting that as she was intimately acquainted with the boy’s father and all his family she was desirous of having him placed under her charge, by which His Excellency assented. Mrs. Slade has with the greatest kindness adopted the lad as her own.22

The Colonial Secretary at that time was Edward Deas Thomson, Sir Richard Bourke’s son-in-law. While Anne Slade took great delight in adopting William D’Oyly, Thomson’s wife, Anna, had similarly offered sanctuary to Eliza Fraser. Although initially announcing that she would be leaving immediately for England to be reunited with her now destitute family (she had three children), Eliza Fraser enjoyed the Thomson’s hospitality for four and a half months. If Anne Slade wanted to boost her social standing in Sydney, attaching herself to Anna Thomson for charity appeals was a good place to start. The ladies collected fine clothes for Eliza Fraser and Mrs Slade held a fund-raising party in her home.23

The occasion brought together Eliza Fraser and John Ireland for perhaps the only time. Ireland still had very little to say about his experience and was looking very thin but otherwise healthy. Mrs Fraser, however, had a nasty leg wound and could be depended upon to spin a good yarn, albeit one based more on vitriol than veracity. Anne’s invitation to Ireland was only partly an act of goodwill. She probably also wanted to question him further about George. Anne was dissatisfied with the claim that George’s death was properly established, but if she thought that she would be able to extract more information out of Ireland, she was mistaken.

There is no record of the conversations at the party but we do know from other published accounts that Eliza had no kind words to spare for the Aboriginal tribes she had encountered. Speaking of her husband’s former chief mate, Charles Smith, for example, she would later state: ‘The savages applied burning brands of fire to his legs, which burning upwards, literally roasted him alive, his whole body being burned to a crisp, and presenting an awful proof of savage barbarity!’24 While Mrs Fraser gave differing accounts of Smith’s death, the fact that many colonists did believe that indigenous Australians burnt their captives alive can be largely attributed to Eliza Fraser’s stories.

By late February 1837, William had been living with Anne and George Slade for about four months and everyone in Sydney considered him a child worthy of the utmost compassion. Everyone that is, except for the next-door neighbour, a man called William Savage. As far as Savage was concerned, the boy was, well, a bit of a brat I suppose. Savage had pigeon houses and he complained that the boy was continually throwing stones into his backyard. Anne was standing at her back window one morning when she saw Savage climb onto the roof of his home and look over the edge into her backyard. She then saw him throw a stone and rushed out to find William with a bloodied head. When Savage appeared before the police bar two days later, Anne admitted that William was in the habit of chasing after the pigeons when they flew into her yard, in the belief that if he could put salt on their tails he could catch them. As well, she conceded, ‘the child might have thrown stones at the birds.’ Savage had to pay a fine of £5 within three days, or face imprisonment for two months. He left the bar ‘amidst the indignant murmurings of a numerous auditory.’25 William’s small head wound put him in bed for a time and delayed his departure for England by about 15 months.

Anne Slade was a feisty Scot of good stock whose life had been a struggle since her father, Captain John Cameron, went down with his ship. During her years in Australia, she had lost everything twice and had supported many of her brother Charles’s children on the limited income from her boarding schools. She had become a resourceful, no-nonsense woman who made no secret of her dissatisfaction with the Isabella rescue mission. Captain Lewis, for one, seems to have detested her. When he met the Mayor of London in 1838, he gave Governor Sir Richard Bourke sole credit for taking care of William D’Oyly in Sydney and made no mention of the Slades.

On 15 June 1837, Anne Slade was facing court again, this time as the defendant:

Mr. George William Jackson v. Mrs. G. Milner Slade.–This was a case in which plaintiff sought to bind defendant to the peace. It appeared, by the evidence of Mr. Jackson, that a night or two previously the key of the hall door was missing, and thinking that defendant, who lives in the same house, had it, he sent his servant for it; when he heard Mrs. S. acknowledge that she had it, but would not give it up, and that if any one troubled her again she would stick a knife in them.26

The Bench dismissed the case when the plaintiff and his servant admitted they were not in the least bit afraid of Mrs Slade, but Jackson had nevertheless succeeded in portraying her as a co-tenant who made death threats.

What the Slades wanted was a home to match their new status, and they eventually acquired or rented property at Darling Harbour on a little peninsula with pleasant surrounds, a great view and no close neighbours, which they called D’Oylyville.27 (I know, ouch). When the news got back to Slade’s unfortunate guarantors in England, as it invariably did through a friend in Sydney, they were outraged.28

The period between October 1836 and mid-1838 when Anne Slade cared for and tutored William D’Oyly was the high point of her life. She had finally gained some respect for her generous spirit and Christian charity and she basked in the glow of her own reinvention. According to Brockett, William had been healthy and active during his time aboard the Isabella, but the author Charlotte Barton, who met him, described William as ‘remarkably tall for his age’ but very thin, with a ‘sad cough’.29 She formed the impression that without the kind intervention of the Slades, William would have died. Her comment on his height reflects the fact that William was more than a year older than everyone supposed.

Meanwhile, back in England, William’s two brothers would very soon begin to await his return. It would be two years before he met his family. John Ireland would later report to William’s relatives that Mrs Slade was keeping him in Sydney30 and he was surely right. Yet it is also clear from her letter to the D’Oyly family that Anne and her husband adored the little boy. William was an attractive lad but according to a smitten Anne he was also intelligent, clever, affectionate and endearing. It was perhaps typical of the Slades that they should covet someone else’s child.

In August 1837, the Rev. J. W. Worthington finally wrote a letter of complaint to The Times newspaper in London:

. . . as yet I have not even received from the authorities at Sydney any news of Doyley [sic] and Ireland, who might, at least, have reached this country as soon as Mrs. Fraser, who says she saw them at Sydney, and am not enabled to send my friend, Mr. Baylay [sic], even the comforting intelligence of the arrival of his nephew.

Inevitably, the complaint reached Sydney. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had departed for England on 5 December 1837. Until his replacement, Sir George Gipps, arrived, Colonel Snodgrass was now the Acting Governor. In January 1838, Snodgrass had a meeting with Captain Lewis and they came up with a plan to get William back to his family. Lewis took 18 months leave-of-absence on half pay to escort the boy to England. Before he left, Captain Lewis used his friendship with Henry Bull, the editor of the Colonist newspaper, for a bit of chest thumping and self-promotion:

It seems Her Majesty’s Government have at last come to the resolution of forming an establishment in Torres Straits for the protection of unfortunate sufferers who may be wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and its neighbouring sea. This measure has been, we hear, adopted . . . in consequence of the suggestions of Captain C. M. Lewis . . . 31

And later, after he’d already sailed:

Captain Lewis has gone to England with the prospect of being appointed to undertake a survey of the Northern Coast of New Holland; and we believe it has already been proposed that a missionary station or settlement should be established in that quarter, under the superintendence of a Commandant. From his experience and various qualifications we know no one more suitable to be entrusted with the superintendence of such a project than our esteemed friend .32

In his conversations with Henry Bull, Lewis had cut no cloth to cover his naked ambition. The worthy captain had returned from the rescue mission with grandiose delusions that were too obvious for Bull’s readers to take seriously.

Bridehead and estate, at the head of the River Bride. Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, borrowed the name. In the 19th century it was the family home of Chalotte D’Oyly’s uncle, the very wealthy banker Robert Williams, and on his death, her cousin, also Robert Williams, inherited the estate. Black-and-white photo, c. 1910, photographer unknown. Property of the author.

William D’Oyly and Captain Lewis finally embarked for England aboard H.M.S. Buffalo in May 1838. The parting was heartbreaking for Anne Slade but even tougher on young William, who cried so much at departure time that everyone present was deeply affected.33 He had loved and lost three sets of devoted parents in just three and a half years. After a rough voyage that made all aboard the Buffalo fear for their lives, Lewis handed the boy into the temporary care of Charlotte’s cousin, the wealthy banker Robert Williams of Bridehead, who was now the Member for Doncaster on the death of his father. William Bayley had already been granted legal guardianship of William. The lad was seven years old when he met his uncle for the first time (D’Oyly-Bayley, 1845)..

Notes to Chapter 21

  1. See Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, for a full account of the Stirling Castle wreck and Eliza Fraser’s experiences. See also John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . .  To which is added, the narrative of the wreck of the Charles Eaton in the same latitude, London: George Virtue, 1838.
  2. Sydney Herald, 20 Oct. 1836.
  3. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25 Jan. 1838.
  4. Alexander p. 123.
  5. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 27 Dec. 1838.
  6. Sydney Herald, 20 Dec. 1837.
  7. The Times, 2 Nov. 1837.
  8. See Chapter 3.
  9. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  10. Sydney Herald, 21 Oct. 1836.
  11. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  12. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237. This file contains enough documents, letters, etc., to make up a fairly comprehensive biography of the Slades, and most of the information that I have on them comes from this source.
  13. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237.
  14. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  15. Ibid. Letter from Anne Slade to George Moger.
  16. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  17. Australian, 9 April 1830.
  18. New South Wales Post Office Directories, 1832–1836.
  19. Sydney Herald, 13 Oct. 1834.
  20. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1 Nov. 1836.
  23. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 105.
  24. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . , London: George Virtue, 1838.
  25. Colonist, 2 March 1837.
  26. Ibid, 15 June 1837.
  27. Ibid, 16 March 1839.
  28. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches op. cit.
  29. Charlotte Barton (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, Sydney, printed at the Sydney Gazette Office, 1840, p. 81.
  30. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  31. Colonist, 5 May 1838.
  32. Ibid, 7 July 1838.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Bayley, William D’Oyly, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: 1845.



Chapter 22: The Rush to Print

When he had first arrived in Sydney, John Ireland had sought treatment at the Sydney hospital for his ulcers. Captain Lewis alone had taken pity on him, and for a time he continued to live aboard the Isabella, entrusted with keeping an eye on the chests of tortoiseshell and artifacts that Lewis still had in his cabin. Lewis had hired a new steward, a man called Lilly, but he had soon been sacked for drunkenness and Lewis had given the task of minding the chests to Ireland. It was a temporary arrangement while the schooner was at dock for refitting. The government eventually paid for a room in a boarding house where Ireland could stay. He roamed the streets attracting the curious stares of passers-by. Finally, the Sydney Herald displayed some sympathy for his plight:

The lad Ireland, the companion of D’Oyley [sic], still remains unprovided for, and expresses an ardent wish to get a passage to England, where he has an aged father and mother who must have long since given him up as a lost child. To those who have the means of benevolence, a more unworthy object might be found than this poor lad, to whom a trifling outfit and a passage home, would be no mean gift.1

Ireland would have known about the charity fund set up for Mrs Fraser, and may have been hoping for a similar initiative from the Sydney Herald on his behalf. Sydney’s citizens, however, were unimpressed by the needs of a fit young lad who, by his own admission, met with kindness from the islanders. Ireland’s failure to disclose matters immediately after his rescue may also have worked against him. A job offer did finally come Ireland’s way, but not the hoped-for charity handout. He was actually living on a government allowance when the Sydney Monitor finally published its own appeal on his behalf:

The young man Ireland, brought from Murray’s Island on the Isabella, appears to be in a destitute situation. He is no seaman, and cannot obtain profitable employment in that capacity. Some speculators are endeavouring to prevail upon him to accompany them on a voyage among the islands in the character of an interpreter. He declines the offer being afraid of the dangers from which he has providentially escaped, on the one hand and being anxious to see his parents in London on the other. He is without shoes.2

Ireland, meanwhile, was soon busy in another direction. At Captain Lewis’s request, he appeared in court on 16 November to act as a witness. Lilly, Isabella’s ex-steward, was charged with stealing tortoiseshell and seashells belonging to his captain. Ireland was able to identify some of the shells displayed in evidence as being among those he had obtained by barter for Lewis. Lilly was convicted of theft and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.3 The Sydney Monitor adopted a different slant:

Now we happen to know that the Isabella was ordered from the Dock Yard to the Commissariat, after her arrival, by our much respected Harbour-Master, Captain Nicholson, for the purpose of discharging all the trade she had procured, and the supplies that she had brought back. We should, therefore, like very much to know how it is that this tortoise shell has been left so long on board. The Government have for some time had a communication on the subject, but did not choose to take notice of it.4

In the following week’s issue it was still grumpily pursuing its complaint against Lewis without success:

We were, and still are of the opinion that the officers of His Majesty’s vessels, whether colonial or otherwise, are not entitled to trade on their own account.5

The problem for Captain Lewis, and for the rest of the schooner’s crew, is that they were paid very little for their recent, dangerous voyage. Lewis, for example, got his regular wage of £12 per month plus rations, amounting to about £54 for his arduous and difficult role as commander of the Isabella rescue mission. Sydney at that time had its fair share of public servants earning that much and more for dipping their quills in ink pots. Lewis was being paid the same rate as a junior clerk. He had a house ashore and a young wife. We can forgive him for trying to supplement his meagre income by whatever means he could. He was a master mariner but he was in a low-paid rut and he was desperate to get out of it. Nevertheless, the court case revealed the extent to which the Isabella rescue mission had doubled as a trade mission, with details emerging of the crew bartering for the precious tortoiseshell at every island they visited, and even scouring the beaches for anything they could find. Lilly’s lawyer even implied that Lewis had been acting for Henry Bull as an agent, a charge he strenuously denied, although he did admit that an offer to sell the tortoiseshell to Bull was on the table at the time of the theft.

Ireland did have some friends. William Brockett had been a visitor during his temporary time aboard the Isabella, if only for personal reasons. Brockett had decided to publish his journal of the rescue mission and he acted with commendable speed, anxious to have his booklet out while the tragedy was still fresh in the public mind. He hired a local artist and engraver, a Mr Fernyhough, to improve his rough drawings, but he also wanted succulent titbits from Ireland. ‘I know many things relative to the crew, voyage etc which have never appeared in any of the publications,’6 Ireland hinted mischievously to Brockett, but refused to enlarge on what they were.

Brockett was not the only one to use Fernyhough’s services. The engraver had only just arrived in the colony and set up a shop front, when the Sydney Herald jumped in and got him to engrave an image of the Aureed mask from a sketch by a local artist, which became the first illustration ever published in an Australian newspaper (20 Oct. 1836). Brockett went ahead and sent his manuscript to the Colonist’s printing office, paying all costs and expecting to reap a small profit from bookshop sales. He delivered free copies of his booklet to all the newspapers, hoping for favourable reviews. Most editors obliged, but Brockett had trusted too much the honesty of those involved in a very competitive press scene. The NSW Literary, Political & Commercial Advertiser republished his booklet, almost word-for-word, in its next edition, and the short-lived Sydney Times followed suit.

The Sydney Gazette commiserated with Brockett (29 Nov. 1836): ‘one of our colonial papers has in the most unhandsome manner published nearly all his little work, which put him to considerable expense and trouble to prepare for the press, and which has been the means of preventing the sale of the pamphlet’. The writer advised Brockett to sue the Commercial Advertiser in the Court of Requests, ‘which being a Court of conscience he would surely obtain a verdict.’ When N. L. Kentish, the editor and proprietor of the Sydney Times, attempted to defend his plagiarism, he got a stinging rebuke from the Colonist, in the form of an anonymous Letter to the Editor, but likely to have been from the Colonist editor, Henry Bull:

Mr. Brockett is the only son of a wealthy and most eminent and respectable lawyer in the north of England, whose historical and other talented productions have acquired him that celebrity in the literary world, to which he is so justly entitled. Young Brockett inherited in common with his countrymen, that insatiable desire for sea life, which his friends were quite unable to suppress – and in his choice of profession he will appear in no way singular amongst the youth of that part of England of which he is a native, where nine boys out of ten become Sailors in spite of all impediments. . . .

This, Sir, is the young gentleman, who Mr. N. L. Kentish (in excuse for pirating his Narrative) terms a common sailor boy . . . 7

Just two weeks after Brockett’s little book appeared in the bookshops, on 1 December 1836, the following display advertisement started appearing in the major newspapers in Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land:


In the Press, And shortly will be Published, A NARRATIVE of the Voyage of the Government Colonial Schooner Isabella, in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, wrecked in the Torres’ Straits, prepared from the Official Report of the Voyage.


For three and a half months, this boxed display advertisement appeared in every issue of the major Sydney papers and in Hobart Town and Launceston. The campaign went on, and on, and on, 35 pre-release ads for a book that had yet to be printed. The Colonist missed out on the little revenue maker. It was already running its own months-long advertising campaign for Brockett’s book. Whoever was responsible for the new round of advertisements for a similar book was crushing Brockett’s little effort. By February 1837, the disillusioned author had packed his boxes and sailed home to Newcastle.

Finally, in mid-March 1837, this new book went to press, followed by another round of advertising. The publicity blitz was for the colonial government’s own account of the shipwreck and rescue, eventually entitled Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship ‘Charles Eaton’, compiled and edited by Captain Phillip Parker King and based in part on the logbook of the Isabella’s captain, Charles Morgan Lewis. Who paid for this costly attempt to bury private enterprise? The printer got his money from the colony’s military chest and presumably Governor Bourke would have been reluctant to spend the chest’s funds on that much advance publicity. According to Governor Bourke, the book lingered in the press until he sailed off in HMS Rattlesnake on his visit to Port Phillip. And while it lingered, the newspapers kept running the advance publicity. In the end the campaign was probably paid for out of profits from the sale of the book.

The lengthy campaign implied, at least in the mind of the newspapers’ readers, that the resulting book was going to be a worthy tome, an absolute mine of useful information about the Torres Strait. When it finally appeared as a slender pamphlet it disappointed mariners, who had hoped for something better. The Colonist, despite it’s own interest in the sales of Brockett’s book, generously published a favourable review, although it did place its emphasis on editor Henry Bull’s friend, Captain Lewis. There was a ‘sting in the tail’, however. One month later the Colonist re-published a lengthy but anonymous letter to the editor of the Commercial Journal that was actually a critical review of the book. It includes the following comments:

I did hope, I say, that the appointment of Captain King to the supervision of the Journal was for the purpose of embracing the favourable opportunity which this voyage afforded of collating for the public good all the scattered data of the last twenty years−embodying such authenticated discoveries as would bring our knowledge to the present time.

The Narrative published under the sanction of the Colonial Government by Captain King is meagre and void of useful detail in the extreme, being but a trifle better than Brockett’s Narrative. This “mountain in labour,” which has disappointed public expectation, is wholly unworthy of the colonial administration, thus imitates the apathy of the Home Government in our geographical affairs, and is also unworthy of the distinguished officer to whose gestation it was confided.

The critical review is signed TRAVELLER and the anonymous author has a point. The book does regurgitate material from the published account by Matthew Flinders of his 1804 visit to the Murray Islands. It is possible that the critique was written by Captain Lewis, despite the fact that he was still employed in the colony’s navy. Certainly there would have been many in the colony who believed he was the letter’s author. Lewis was still smarting at being prevented from publishing – and profiting from – his own book from his journal. His friendship with Henry Bull may have influenced the editor’s decision to republish the stinging review.

Lewis by this time had received a letter from William Barnes, the former master of the schooner Stedcombe: had Lewis heard anything of the two missing ship’s boys, presumed to be at Timor Laut? Captain Lewis called upon him and told him: ‘it was not in his written instructions to search for them: therefore he could not take [it] upon himself to do so,’ and that was the end of that. The dismissive response he got from Lewis shocked Barnes. Governor Bourke, when he eventually got to hear about it, may well have been equally annoyed. His instructions to Lewis for the rescue mission had sanctioned in general terms the rescue of other castaways.8

John Ireland had been hoping to return to England on the same ship as William D’Oyly but when he heard that the boy’s departure would be delayed by a small head wound he took a job on board the Florentia, bound for London. The ship left Sydney in February 1837 and reached London on 17 August, after a slow trip hampered by rough seas and storms.9 Relatives and friends of Captain Moore, the D’Oylys and Tom Ching were awaiting his arrival. Brockett had beaten Ireland back to England by a few weeks and carried news to William Bayley of his pending return.

Eliza Fraser had also left for England in late February 1837, but not before she secretly married Captain Alexander Greene, master of the brig Mediterranean Packet, recently arrived from New Zealand. This clandestine event took place on 23 February, at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney. The witnesses were two people sworn to secrecy.10 The Mediterranean Packet sailed for Liverpool soon after the marriage, leaving behind a town unaware it had just handed over about £400 to a woman presumed to be destitute, but who had already become the spouse of a well-paid master mariner. Since she was happily ensconced in the captain’s cabin, Eliza Fraser enjoyed a first-class passage home. As well, she had filled her chests with fine garments donated by the charitable women of Sydney and Moreton Bay. Some would later say that the hasty marriage was very convenient for her. Others would claim that Captain Greene was exploiting her and she was already a little mad.

The newlyweds arrived at Liverpool on 16 July 1837 and wasted no time in trying to solicit more handouts, this time from Liverpool’s charity funds. The stories she was beginning to tell of her experience were so outlandish, however, they aroused immediate suspicion. And when their chief mate admitted she was the captain’s wife, her appeal for charity was instantly dismissed. Undaunted, the Greenes set out for London, arriving there on the same day as John Ireland’s ship. The Greenes were too canny to allow themselves to be upstaged by Ireland’s story. Still concealing their marriage, they immediately applied to the Colonial Office for funds for ‘a widow in needy circumstances’11 and when they had received no reply from Lord Glenelg after a mere couple of days, immediately applied for an audience with the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Thomas Kelly. Their unseemly haste, despite the many weeks they had spent seeking charity in Liverpool, suggests, despite their subsequent denials, that they were now very anxious to get in quickly with the widow’s harrowing tale.

Ireland, meanwhile, returned to his parents at Stoke Newington and was introduced to a new baby sister called Sarah, plus two sisters and a brother who had grown taller in his absence. He was told of little Eliza’s death, and that there was a brother, Edward, whom he would never know. Born while John was living on Mer, the two-year-old had died only weeks before John’s return. There was also an elderly relative or two squeezed into his family’s modest cottage.12 For someone who had been a child when he left home, it must have been an isolating experience. So much had happened in his absence. For his still grief-stricken parents, however, there was pleasure in knowing that fate had taken four children from them and graciously given one of them back.

The Irelands, father and son, their spirits high with hope and expectation, paid a visit to the office of the Messrs Gledstanes. Everyone was polite to John Ireland and listened to his story, after which the proprietors handed him a single sovereign. One of the clerks, perhaps embarrassed by his employers’ miserliness, gave the lad another half sovereign.13 Ireland was cast back into the streets of London where his story had begun. He did have, however, a few useful contacts, including James Drew and the Rev. Worthington. Drew had previously visited George Ireland and informed William Bayley (William Bayley file) that the father:

. . . had promised to bring his son to me the minute he arrives. I shall endeavour to get his examination before anyone can by any possibility tamper with him. His father says that he is a very good and well disposed boy. This man also gives Considine [sic] the carpenter of the men arrived at Batavia an excellent character.

Constantine had been part of the original crew ex-London and apparently the only one of the other four survivors known to Ireland’s family. He must have given an account of himself that satisfied George Ireland.

Father and son did visit Drew and Worthington as promised, and the two men were so angry at the way Gledstanes had treated their only surviving employee from the Charles Eaton murders, they took Ireland’s case to the Lord Mayor at Mansion House. In addition, they wanted to generate enough public outcry to encourage proper nautical surveys of the Torres Strait. Overall, their motives were honourable. Eliza Fraser, however, got there first.

The Mansion House in London. Engraving by J Woods after a picture by Hablot Browne and R Garland. Published 1837.

Mayor Kelly agreed to enquire into her circumstances and she appeared before him at Mansion House on 23 August. Also present was John Curtis, a reporter from The Times. Curtis had already written a hasty account of the Charles Eaton story, compiled from reports received from Sydney and other sources, but needed an interview with Ireland to complete it. At the same time, he was following the stories on the Stirling Castle shipwreck and was already interviewing Eliza Fraser and some of the crew. They were cooperative and provided him with plenty of original, unpublished material for his book. Mrs Fraser, as she was still calling herself, presented a deposition at Manor House that made sensational copy. It was well reported in the English press and there is no denying that the circumstances of her shipwreck and survival were harrowing. Her story, however, had elements that were similar Ireland’s own. Michael Alexander, in his book Mrs. Fraser on the Fatal Shore (1971), points out one deliberate fabrication in her Mansion House testimony. She described the fate of one of the seamen, James Major, who had been aboard the pinnace when it separated from the main party in the long boat, and whose fully-clothed body was later found in the ashes of a campfire that he may have rolled into while asleep. According to Mrs Fraser, however:

While Major was at work, the chief of the tribe approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. At this instant the poor fellow received a blow on the back of the neck from a waddie or crooked stick, which stunned him. He fell to the ground, and a couple of savages set to work, and by means of sharpened shells severed the head from the body with frightful lacerations. They then ate parts of the body, and preserved the head with certain gums of extraordinary efficacy and affixed it as a figure bust to one of their canoes.13

There are elements of this macabre fabrication that appear to have been lifted straight out of John Ireland’s account of the murders at Boydang. As well, Ireland had spoken of his fear during his time in the Torres Strait that he would be killed and his skull attached to a canoe as a figurehead. He may even have mentioned that fear to Eliza Fraser when he met her at Anne Slade’s party. After three days of lurid stories in the London press that portrayed the Australian Aborigines as fearsome head-hunters and cannibals, there was little left for Ireland to say that was fresh and new.

Mayor Kelly agreed to launch a public subscription to raise funds for the destitute widow. Later, when it became common knowledge that she was married to Captain Greene, a man more than capable of supporting her and her children, the substantial sum raised by the Lord Mayor’s subscription was given to Eliza’s three children instead.

When Ireland’s turn came to appear in the Justice Room at Mansion House and he fronted up on 30 August, the atmosphere was markedly different to that which had greeted the Greenes. His appeal application would be heard by Alderman Pirie, a shipowner and a much tougher proposition than Mayor Kelly. Pirie knew that the Greenes had duped people and he was determined not to let that happen to him. The following summary of the meeting is based on the Times account (31 Aug. 1837). Worthington’s name is incorrectly given as Wellington.

James Drew, having identified himself as midshipman Tom Ching’s brother-in-law, opened the proceedings with an attempt to give a brief outline of the fate that had befallen the cabin boy’s shipmates. Pirie interrupted him. ‘I’m aware of the circumstances of the loss of the vessel and the report that several murders had been committed,’ he said impatiently. He then asked Ireland several questions upon the subject, which he answered without hesitation. Drew then changed tactics. He said ‘his object in appearing at the Mansion-house was to press the necessity of the interference of the Colonial Government’ since people wrecked on the Torres islands were being subjected to horrible treatment. Espousing the inner passage to the Strait, he added that it ‘would be necessary to have an accurate survey taken of the coast as the coral-reefs were forming islands every day.’ Pirie was still unimpressed so Drew changed tack again and began to present the cabin boy as a worthy object for charity:

DREW:—The general practice amongst the savages to murder any white people wrecked on their islands—a practice well known by European nations—ought to have caused great efforts long before this. Bad as the case is which had been recently laid before the Lord Mayor [Stirling Castle], the atrocities committed in the case of the unfortunate crew and passengers of the Charles Eaton were still more frightful, not one more than Ireland and young D’Oyly having been saved out of about 26. The poor lad had been two years along with the child among the savages, and had arrived not many days since from Sydney, having worked his passage home, and is now without a situation and penniless.

PIRIE: A more respectable house than that of Messrs. Gladstone [sic] and Co, who are, I believe, the owners of the ship Charles Eaton, is not in London. Everybody who knows anything about shipping is aware that remuneration as to wages ended with the loss of the vessel, so that the lad has no legal claim upon the owners whatever.

WELLINGTON [WORTHINGTON]:—Although there can be no legal claim, the dreadful circumstances of the case, and the fact that Ireland is the only survivor of the crew, are sufficient of themselves to establish a sort of claim on the sympathy of the owners.

PIRIE:—You should make application to Messrs. Gladstone [sic] on the subject, and endeavour to procure employment for the young man.

Not much sympathy there. Speaking of the Mangles visit, Ireland himself made it clear that he was angry with Captain Carr. ‘It has been said that I shunned those who tried to get me away,’ he said. ‘Never was anything more false or ridiculous.’ Carr’s claim that the cabin boy loved his island life so much that he wanted to stay at Mer was no help to Ireland’s application for charity. If Ireland’s anger also reflected, bye the bye, Drew’s own anger with Carr well . . . that was just a bonus.

The statement contained additional information that Ireland had withheld at Sydney, and it later became the basis for his own children’s book, The Shipwrecked Orphans, which went to press not long after the meeting at Mansion House. The publisher, Dean and Munday, had its offices in Threadneedle Street, not far from Drew’s business in Bread Street, so presumably it was Drew who organised the contract for Ireland. Dean and Munday published general titles but specialised in children’s books. The choice of title is interesting, given that Ireland’s father was very much a visible presence at that time and there were no secrets about his family.

In the week that Alderman Pirie interviewed Ireland at Mansion House, the Wemyss book (based on William Bayley’s files but entrusted to his writer friend for publication) went on sale in London bookshops, and they advertised it extensively in the newspapers to coincide with Ireland’s deposition. It was hardcover, included quotes from numerous documents, cost one shilling, and had been published initially in The Dissenter magazine, a Stockton publication edited by Wemyss. Bayley hoped to make a tiny profit from the tragedy – probably for William – and he was one of many with a similar goal. Bayley (a solicitor) was also the only person to write to Brockett for permission to quote from his book. Unfortunately, Ireland’s deposition contradicted the Brockett and Wemyss books on a few points, making them seemingly less reliable sources.

Much of the Wemyss book, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , did simply rehash Brockett’s book, although Wemyss added excerpts of letters privately and personally addressed to Bayley. Poor young Brockett was the one who really missed out in the rush to print with so many people plagiarising his book. He gave up any dreams of being an author and studied for the bar instead, eventually becoming a lawyer in Durham. The second edition of the Wemyss book (1884) contains fresh biographical material about the authors and may be a better book because of it.

Drew must have got the necessary endorsement from Mansion House because he went ahead and set up a benevolent fund for John Ireland. In fairness to Gledstanes & Co., they may have offered to employ Ireland again, a proposition he would have rejected, as Curtis observed in him ‘a great disinclination to return to sea, if he can obtain other employment.’15 The following day (1 Sept. 1837) The Times published the following advertisement:

WRECK of the CHARLES EATON. – The appalling details of the wreck of this unfortunate ship have been fully before the public and in consequence of the utterly DESTITUTE STATE in which the only adult survivor, JOHN IRELAND, is left, it has been resolved to lay his case before the benevolent public. After being badly wounded in the hand, and very dangerously speared in the side, he was detained two years by the natives and underwent the greatest deprivations and hardships until rescued by Capt. Lewis, of the Isabella, and he finally worked his passage home from Sydney to this country penniless, and with scarcely decent covering. The assistance therefore of the benevolent is earnestly requested to get together a sufficient sum of money to relieve his immediate wants, and eventually to place him in a situation to gain an honest livelihood. Subscriptions will be thankfully received by Messrs. Drew, Heyward, and Co., Great Trinity-lane, Bread street, London.

Subscriptions already received:
Rev. Mr. Worthington, B. D. 2 2 0
Thomas Ching, Esq. 2 2 0
James Drew, Esq. 2 2 0
R. H. Pigeon, Esq. 1 1 0


Ireland’s charity appeal was off to a modest start with seven guineas in donations. More importantly, there were some impressive names on that short list. The Rev. Worthington could encourage his congregation to donate, and three big names in the pharmaceutical trade had already donated to the fund. Ching’s Brown Lozenges for Worms and Ching’s Yellow Lozenges for Worms had made the Cornwall family wealthy and famous, while Drew’s company was a wholesale druggist and supplier, representing medicines and remedies that were trusted and widely used. The biggest coup of all though, was R. H. Pigeon, a respected man about London. He, too, was a pharmacist, but he was also at various times the Treasurer at Guy’s Hospital and ditto at Christ’s Hospital. Pigeon and Drew were movers and shakers in the Pharmaceutical Society and good friends. They were men who would normally have had no trouble finding suitable work for Ireland around one of the hospitals or warehouses. The appeal got some negative publicity, however, with the publication of the following letter from W. S. Deloitte, master of the Florentia. The Times published it in their next edition:

Sir: Observing in your paper of today an appeal to the public in behalf of the only adult survivor of the crew of the unfortunate ship Charles Eaton, and as he is known by a great number of persons both in England and New South Wales to have returned by the ship Florentia, commanded by me, I think it but justice to the Governor of New South Wales, the public, and myself, to state that, instead of his working his passage home, being in this country penniless, and with scarcely a decent covering, he was amply supplied with clothes by the Government at Sydney, previous to leaving, and £10. 8s was given into my hands to be paid him on arrival in London. He also signed the ship’s articles as an ordinary seaman, at 30s per month.

The balance paid to him on the 19 August 1837 being

  9    6   6
10    8   0
19  14   6
And he has plenty of clothes.

I make this statement to you, not from a wish to prevent his receiving assistance from the compassionate; but I think that you will agree with me that truth only should be made use of for that purpose.15

Deloitte was being petty. John Ireland had worked his passage home, he was now unemployed, and (according to the Curtis reportage) he had not claimed to have ‘scarcely a decent covering’. All the same, there is something about that last sentence that would have suggested to the reading public that in Deloitte’s opinion, Ireland was being dishonest. It implied that once again some very good people had been duped. Perhaps Ireland’s tendency to withhold information had not gone down well with Deloitte.

Little wonder that Ireland was disgruntled when Curtis approached him. The Times journalist was unsuccessful in getting much for the forthcoming book that he was now anxious to rush to press. Ireland, with his own book deal in mind, was back to being uncommunicative, although he did, for the sake of accuracy, agree to check the manuscript. Curtis was lucky that there were no stringent copyright laws then, because he shamelessly plundered the Brockett and Wemyss books then tossed in some homilies from other sources and some word-for-word copies of other accounts. Curtis did a reasonable job with the section of his book devoted to the Stirling Castle. Most of his book had already been laboriously type-set before the Greenes appeared at Mansion House, and he was forced to defend their behavior in his book to avoid a costly re-typeset. The section on the Charles Eaton is a swift cut-and-paste job and it shows.

Drew’s motive in exaggerating Ireland’s circumstances was similar to that of the Greenes in that he wanted to present Ireland as a pitiable object worthy of charity. He also came close to calling Captain William Carr a liar, despite the fact that Carr had plenty of witnesses to back his version of Ireland’s confusing behaviour at the time of the Mangles visit. When we look at the various accounts of what happened with the Mangles crew at Mer, it is clear that Ireland did explain that he was being held back and it would be dangerous for him to attempt to leave. This would have been so especially if he was now betrothed to a local girl. He wanted and needed Carr to offer a generous reward for himself and William to compensate the islanders for their loss. Carr tossing his hat onto the beach with a message was a pathetic attempt to assuage any future criticism. Ireland was plunged into absolute despair when Carr made such a half-hearted attempt at rescue then sailed away early the following morning. He was not alone in holding that view. As Drew reported, there were several Mangles sailors who agreed with him.

At this point, Ireland fades out of the news. In 1845, The Shipwrecked Orphans was re-published under his name in America and reprinted in 1846, 1848 and 1850 (abridged edn). If there was an ultimate winner in the rush to print that produced five books in quick succession and numerous published first-person accounts, then it was probably the book’s American editor ‘Thomas Teller’ and his New Haven publisher, S. Babcock, who were catering for the lucrative American market.

George Tuttle was the real name of the writer who used the pseudonym ‘Thomas Teller’. He specialised in retelling traveller’s tales for a penny magazine, which also sold to the American market. He wrote numerous children’s books for his publisher, S. Babcock. Tuttle clearly never spoke to Ireland and was taken in by the book’s title, believing that Ireland was an orphan. He was also unaware that Ireland only gave oral accounts of his experiences. There has to be some doubt about whether Ireland or his family got any financial benefit from the additional editions published in his name. Tuttle does not state that he obtained permission from Ireland to republish his book. More likely, he did a deal with the London publisher for American editions.

Ireland may have returned to Australia and spent time as a fisherman at Williamstown, across the harbour from the fledgling town of Melbourne. I was unable to confirm this, but a pencil sketch by Liardet of Williamstown’s foreshore in 1841 (held by a Liardet descendant and sighted once) does show a row of makeshift huts and one of them is labelled by the artist as belonging to ‘John Ireland, fisherman’. Since it is likely that Captain Lewis called upon him during his visit to London in 1838, it does seem possible that Lewis encouraged Ireland to settle in Australia. If John Ireland did briefly become a fisherman, then he resumed a lifestyle similar to that which he had adopted in the Torres Strait.

Another account has it that he was returning to England in about 1844 and went ashore at Cape Town, where he met up with the Hull family and told them his story. He had booked into a guesthouse near the foreshore for a few days, he said, and had been surprised to find his sister and her husband there. They were new immigrants from London.17 In 1842 the seaport of Williamstown did go through a severe but temporary economic downturn. Labourers, no longer able to find any work there, left the village and for a time it was almost deserted. A descendant of the Hull family also records that according to what Ireland told them, he had acquired the nickname Tommy Roundhead. In the 19th century, Tommy Roundhead was a nickname occasionally given to individual Aborigines in frequent contact with settlers. When the ship’s boy Joseph Forbes was finally rescued from Timor Laut in 1839 he was sometimes called Timor Joe. The only survivor of a massacre on a New Guinea island (he was a Chinese emigrant) was known on the Victorian goldfields as New Guinea John. Similarly there would have been settlers in Australia who knew that Ireland had lived with natives for a time so the claim that he was given a local Aboriginal nickname is plausible. The fact that he was wiry, dark-haired and sunburned may have encouraged its use.

After 1837, there are no records in Britain that I have been able as yet to incontestably link to this John Ireland, making it plausible that he either went back to the merchant marines, albeit very reluctantly, or else he emigrated. The two oldest Ireland boys, George Jnr and John, were close in age and grew up together, a little apart from their much younger siblings. George eventually became a successful businessman, running a printery with a staff of 17. He married and in 1843 had a son and named him John.18 The door does open a crack to admit the possibility that the child’s young uncle had disappeared out of the British record books because he had permanently emigrated or he was deceased.

Initially, Eliza Fraser fared much better than Ireland. She got, in all, more than £950 in donations and a final mention in Henry Stuart Russell’s book Genesis of Queensland (1888). According to Russell, she was appearing in a London tent show, probably in the late 1830s, because the author, who was visiting the city at the time, saw a man carry a gaudily painted placard for the show, emblazoned with the following – now infamous – advertisement:


I remain doubtful about whether the woman inside the tent was really Eliza, given that Alexander Greene was an experienced master mariner and reportedly comfortably well off. The Greenes had told John Curtis that they would be moving to New Zealand and they did so, apparently losing Eliza’s money buying land for which the title had already lapsed.20 This was possibly connected to the infamous Wakefield scheme. She is believed to have died as a result of a carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858. The Melbourne Argus reported no accident of that nature, but they may have missed the story. A man called Alexander Greene did have a carriage accident in Melbourne and it may or may not be connected to Eliza:

The Argus, Friday 9 April 1869. City Court Thursday April Minor Charges,Alexander Greene charged with allowing his horse and buggy to run away, was fined 10s.

It’s possible that Eliza Greene sustained injuries but survived a carriage accident that eventually lead to her demise. Most people would agree that it is probably a good idea to keep an open mind about the exact place, date and circumstances of her death, especially since it isn’t listed in Victoria’s Pioneer Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages, or even in the all-important Index of Inquests.

Inevitably, the events surrounding the Charles Eaton faded from public memory, although Captain Lewis did manage to maintain a public profile for another decade. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had promised him a reward for the Torres Strait rescue mission. However, Bourke’s successor, Governor Sir George Gipps, rejected his application for either a land grant of 1,240 acres or a gratuity of £300.21 To add further pain to the rebuff, the Isabella was sold while Lewis was returning William D’Oyly to his relatives, and he was told by the Colonial Office in London that he no longer had a job in Australia. During his time in England Lewis did exactly what Anne Slade had done and basked in the reflected notoriety of his little charge. It really did seem as if everyone wanted a piece of the action. The Times treated Lewis like a hero when he presented William to the Lord Mayor of London, during an unnecessary public handover to William Bayley:

Young Doyley [sic], upon being brought into the presence of the Lord Mayor, appeared to be greatly frightened, and clung to Captain Lewis with filial affection, sobbing violently during the whole interview.20

And then:

The poor child during the interview could not be prevailed upon for a moment to leave Captain Lewis.21

The Times then published the contents of some of Lewis’s letters, written during his time in the Torres Strait, including the claim that the skulls at Aureed were ‘arranged near a place where they generally feasted on the dead’.22 Finally there is this:

The Lord Mayor expressed his gratification at seeing the poor child in safety, and hoped that Captain Lewis would be rewarded for his resolute and judicious conduct in making the search for the unfortunate passengers and crew, and recovering the child and
Ireland . . . 23

So once again it was all about the reward. Such praise from the Lord Mayor had to be a worthy endorsement, surely? It was heady stuff but when Lewis received the news that there was no job to go back to in Sydney, he responded quickly to his dilemma. He persuaded William D’Oyly’s relative, Robert Williams M.P., to write a testimonial for him and what he got was an offensively brief scribbled note. It weakly praised the captain’s ability in effecting William’s rescue and ‘the kindness in care of the child during his passage home.’25 Lewis, who had sacrificed nine months’ salary and placed himself in a financially perilous position when he agreed to return William to England, really did deserve something better. He seems to have failed to impress the Williams family with his behaviour.

With the more effective and useful backing of the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, Lewis also applied to Gipps for a position as Harbour Master and Master attendant, preferably at Sydney but Melbourne would do. When he arrived back in Sydney aboard the Cornwall, after an appalling journey during which 18 children died (Sydney Monitor 2 Sept. 1839) he also carried with him a recommendation from Lord Glenelg who wanted his claim for a £300 gratuity reconsidered. Gipps complied and presented the claim to the Legislative Council members but they rejected it once again.26 They gave two reasons for this. Firstly, the Council took the view that since the Charles Eaton was an English trader it was up to the English government to pay Lewis a reward if they chose to do so. Secondly, it believed that giving in to Lewis’s persistent demand for a reward for rescuing two castaways would set a dangerous precedent that other ship’s captains might follow. Gipps gave Lewis a job instead.

Lewis left for Melbourne on 25 November 1839 to take up his new posting as Port Phillip’s first harbour master, with the appointment officially approved in May 1841, at which time his salary was increased and then increased again to £300 per annum. Lewis considered it an insultingly small amount, given that Sydney’s harbour master got twice as much for an easier harbour.27 He did an admirable job for what was already proving to be a difficult anchorage for shipping. He soon discovered, for example, that the small and open whaleboats used by pilots were simply not seaworthy enough to handle the rip at Port Phillip heads and the savage squalls blowing in from Bass Strait. Most pilot boats were only about eight or nine metres long and were manned by a pilot and four rowers, assisted by a couple of sails. It took them a whole day just to row out to the heads and back to the fishing village at Williamstown. In July 1840 two pilots went out to meet an incoming ship in an ordinary ship’s boat purchased from the Duchess of Kent and were never seen again, although the wreckage of their capsized boat was later found.28

On Lewis’s recommendation, the 46-ton revenue cutter Ranger was converted into a cruising pilot station, sailing up and down outside the heads on standby to intercept any approaching vessels. With pilots actually living on board, the problem of pilots being reluctant to put to sea in bad weather was solved to some degree. The Ranger cutter, together with two more whaleboats, was fitted out and handed over to Captain Lewis on 21 April 1841.29

Lewis seems to have fancied himself as a bit of an explorer. The Australian (13 February 1841 and post) reported that he had returned from a mission to Corner Inlet to rescue survivors of the Clonmel, which had run aground there, announcing that he had discovered a vast inland lake. Local fishermen, who knew the area well, promptly informed the public that the ‘grand harbour’ at Corner Inlet that Lewis had supposedly discovered was actually well known to them as a sea channel. Since they had treated the channel as their own private secret, the newspapers took the view that the first person to announce the existence of the channel had the right to claim its discovery.

In August 1845, the now retired Captain Lewis, having just returned from a visit to England, travelled to Sydney with another petition to the Legislative Council. In it, he explained that due to ill health he was no longer able to attend to his duties as harbour master at Port Phillip. Lewis, although still a relatively young man, had suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed and suffering from brain damage. His damaged mind had become obsessed with getting a reward for the Isabella mission and for his role in returning William D’Oyly to his relatives. According to his petition, probably prepared by friends, his physical and mental conditions were the result of a coup de soleil, i.e. severe sunburn or heatstroke, brought on as a direct result of his work as Port Phillip’s harbour master, for which he claimed he was surely entitled to some government compensation. He reminded the Legislative Council of his services in the Torres Strait, and requested either a grant of land from the Crown or the sum of £300. He also pointed out that he had ‘erected a house on some government land, at a cost of upwards of £300, as it appeared without proper authority, and for which compensation to the amount of £100 only had been allowed.’

The NSW Legislative Council finally took pity on him and reluctantly granted him a gratuity of £300, but only in lieu of a pension, whereas Lewis would surely have been expecting it in addition to a pension.30 One year’s wage equivalent instead of an annuity was a terrible outcome. Lewis returned to Wales soon after to live as an invalid with his elderly parents. He died in January 1853, aged 48.31 The only lasting tribute to his pioneering role as Melbourne’s first harbour master is the channel at Corner Inlet, which bears the name ‘Lewis Channel’.

George Milner Slade, having lost his job when the Legislative Council abolished his position as Commissioner for the Assignment of Convicts in 1840, was appointed to the role of Sydney Coroner again, this time on a generous salary of £300. The Governor, Major Sir George Gipps, considered Slade ‘a very trustworthy servant,’ and said that ‘he should not like to put him out of office without finding him another’.32 The offer was subsequently withdrawn, and it may be that the year Slade spent in the debtor’s prison now made him ineligible for the position. Slade was unemployed for 17 months and struggled to survive until all of his money was gone, when the Government Gazette (August 5 1842) announced that ‘His excellency the Governor [Sir George Gipps] has been pleased to appoint Mr. George Milner Slade to be clerk to the bench of the magistrates at Brisbane, Moreton Bay.’ The Slades had established themselves as comfortably wealthy, respectable colonists in boom-town Sydney and now George had been given a low-paid clerical position in what was then a penal outpost, with a free population of not much more than 140 civilians. He had been banished and after the way he treated his guarantors, you could say that he got what he deserved.

After his arrival at Moreton Bay, Slade managed to acquire a second position as the young settlement’s first postmaster, which earned him an additional annual income of about £25–£30, on top of his other salaries of about £162. Slade ran the post office from a rented cottage and employed his brother, John, to help him. Poor Anne Slade though. She must have been devastated by the sudden loss of social status and most of her worldly goods (once again). She was in her late-forties when she died in Brisbane North on 24 September 1846,33 after a short illness. Her husband died suddenly in 1848.34 After his death, his post office accounts were found to be deficient but only by a small amount.35 .

Notes to Chapter 22

  1. Sydney Herald, 27 Oct. 1836.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 11 Nov. 1836.
  3. Australian, 22 Nov. 1836.
  4. Sydney Monitor, 16 Nov. 1836.
  5. Ibid, 23 Nov. 1836. The Sydney Monitor appears to have at least partly misjudged Lewis’s motives. Forty-five artefacts were handed over to the Australian Museum. Most of them, including the Aureed mask, were lost in a fire in 1882. Eighteen arrows collected at Mer by Lewis survived the fire and are still held by the Museum in Sydney. The tortoiseshell, particularly any that had been left intact and hadn’t been carved into artefacts, was sold.
  6. William Bayley file, letter from Newcastle, thought to be William Brockett to William Bayley, and the two men did exchange letters, undated but probably July 1837, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. Also see Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton: and, the Inhuman Massacre of the Passengers and Crew; with an account of the rescue of two boys from the hands of the savages in an island in Torres Straits, London, 1837, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884,
  7. Colonist, 1 Dec. 1836.
  8. Sydney Monitor, 30 July 1838
  9. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, c.1845, p. 64. ‘Thomas Teller’ self-nominated as ‘editor’ in the American edition.
  10. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 124.
  11. Alexander, p. 127.
  12. UK Census 1841.
  13. The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  14. Alexander, p. 130.
  15. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . ,, London: George Virtue, 1838, p. 312.
  16. The Times, 2 Sept. 1837.
  17. Email to author from David Morris. Charlotte Ireland, John’s oldest sister, appears in the 1841 census still living with her mum and dad, then disappears from all records kept in the UK, making it likely that she did indeed marry and emigrate post-1841. In 1842 she was 17 years old. Brother John also disappears from UK records and either went back to sea or emigrated. So far, Australian and South African records examined by the author have yielded no conclusive trace of either of them. The rest of his family lived out their lives in the Hackney-Stoke Newington area.
  18. Alexander, p. 156.
  19. Ibid.
  20. See: Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Qld, 24 February 1983, for details of Lewis’s attempt to get a reward from the government for leading the rescue mission. Also see HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, pp. 432–36, 775.
  21. Morning Post, 26 Dec., 1838.
  22.  Ibid
  23.  Ibid
  24.  Ibid
  25. Petition by Charles Lewis to Governor Gipps with accompanying letter. Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence: Letters. Received: Port Phillip AONSW 4/2741, letter 46/1623 (Archives Office, New South Wales).
  26. Noble, Captain J., Port Phillip Pilots and Defences, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 2nd ed., 1979, p. 11. The book contains brief account of Lewis’ career as a harbour master.
  27. Port Phillip Herald, 14 Jan. 1840.
  28. Ibid, 4 Aug. 1840.
  29. Noble, p. 11.
  30. Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Nov. 1845; Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 23 Aug. 1845 & 8 Nov. 1845; Morning Chronicle 6 Sept. 1845.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Source: IGI.
  33. HRA Series I, Vol. XXIV, correspondence between Governor Gipps and G. M. Slade, pp. 661–70.
  34. Australian, 13 Oct. 1846.
  35. Moreton Bay Courier, 22 April 1848.

Chapter 23: The D’Oylys Revisited

By the time William D’Oyly left for England his oldest brother, Tom, was already a student at the East India Company’s Addiscombe College at Croydon in London. Both the Duchess of Gloucester and Sir Charles D’Oyly had been soliciting on his behalf.1 Tom left for India in 1838, where he served as an ensign – and later a lieutenant – with the 45th Native Infantry.2 He was stationed at Shahgeampore and then at Dacca, before being transferred to Benares. In 1841 Bayley was still living in Paradise Row, Stockton-on-Tees, and the UK census shows that the only other occupants of his house were his oldest son, William D’Oyly Bayley (who was his articled clerk) and a maid. The rest of his family was scattered, with 10-year-old William and his slightly older cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, already in a London boarding school. Lieut. Tom D’Oyly wrote to that young cousin, Edward, expressing regret that he had only received one letter from little William. He had been very ill he explained to Edward. Tom also mentioned in his letter that he had been in touch with his aunt, Frances Currie, on his arrival in India and she had been able to answer his questions. Some of them may have been about the deaths of his parents, including the fact that they had gone to New Norfolk instead of returning to England. If so, then perhaps a painful or perplexing issue was finally resolved.

The Bengal Army was fighting a campaign at that time against Afghanistan, for commercial gain. In the disastrous retreat from Kabul in January 1842, the Bengal Army suffered a major defeat. It lost 100 officers, about 4500 gunners and foot soldiers and about 12,000 camp followers. Tom’s company was not involved in the Afghan campaign, but he lost many friends from his Addiscombe days. He was stationed only a short boat-ride from the Chunar Fort and could go there looking for ghosts. Perhaps he found them, or perhaps the spirits of his parents were at hand when he finally succumbed to spasmodic cholera and died on 24 April 1842 at the age of 20. He had been immensely popular with his company and his fellow officers buried him at Benares with full military honours, an unusual tribute in a country where youthful death was a commonplace. A grieving William Bayley also had a memorial inscription to Tom added to his wife’s monument at the Norton cemetery.3

The elite Bengal Horse Artillery. Edward’s riding master was his uncle, Major William Geddes. Illustrated London News, 27 January 1849.

According to William Bayley, at the time of his death Tom appeared at the Bayley house between the hours of 12 and one in the morning, at almost the exact time that he died in India. His son, William D’Oyly Bayley, was prepared to testify to this, for the visitation had occurred – and been talked about – some weeks before the news of Tom’s death reached England.

The Lucknow residency prior to India’s first War of Independence in 1857. Edward D’Oyly was rushing to its defence when he was killed. Illustrated London News, Supplement, 20 March 1858.

With the Bengal Artillery now rebuilding from scratch after the disastrous march from Kabul, Tom’s younger brother, Edward, avoided the lower-ranked infantry and graduated into the prestigious Bengal Horse Artillery, where his uncle, Major William Geddes, was the riding master. He arrived in Calcutta in 1842, a few weeks after his brother’s death, and must have felt the loss of yet another family member very keenly. He married at Ferozepore in Indiain 1846 and had a son, Edward, in 1847. During the sepoy uprising (1857–1859, better known today as the First Indian War of Independence), the Bengal Horse Artillery’s Third Brigade rushed to the defence of besieged Lucknow. On 5 July 1857, a small band of mutineers attacked the brigade at Sassiah, en route to Lucknow. Captain Edward D’Oyly died of his injuries at the age of 33. His wife was with him when he died at Lucknow but his son was not and may have predeceased him.4 Edward D’Oyly fought heroically to the end and a couple of books and newspaper accounts on the 1857 Indian uprising commented on his extraordinary heroism.5 Edward left his entire estate to a ten-year-old orphaned cousin/niece he was apparently raising as his own daughter.

The battle at Allalabad, 1857. the Royal Horse Artillery on the way to the defence of Lucknow. Illustrated London News, Supplement, 20 March 1858.

William Bayley was obsessed with the Charles Eaton story for many years. He added yet another inscription to the side of his wife’s memorial at the Norton cemetery for Tom snr, Charlotte and George, and he arranged for the publication of a book on the shipwreck with the assistance of his good friend, Thomas Wemyss. In 1840–1841 he commissioned the well-known artist, John Wilson Carmichael, to paint two oil paintings to hang in his Stockton home, one of the wreck of the barque and one of William’s rescue. The National Library of Australia in Canberra purchased the latter in 2010. Entitled: ‘The Rescue of William D’Oyly’ it represents a bit of a coup for the library. You can view it online at the library’s website. It has an interesting provenance. In 1920 it was hanging in the home of Sir Warren Hastings D’Oyly, the 9th baronet and nephew of Sir Charles D’Oyly, the 7th baronet.

Now finally we come to William. Many people loved him but his destiny was out of his control. When his guardian died, he was 16 years old and reportedly penniless. Unlike his two older brothers, William never attended the HEIC’s Addiscombe military seminary, at Croydon in London. One explanation is that he failed the entrance exam. The earlier recommendation of the recently deceased Sir Charles D’Oyly6 stood for nothing if he did not qualify. More likely, William’s delayed education meant that he was already too old for entry. The Addiscombe house rules stipulated that you had to finish the two-year course before your 18th birthday. Fortunately, there was an alternative route available and William took it. In 1848 he got a direct posting to Madras (now Chennai) as an unranked cadet, attached to the 35th Native Infantry.7 After two years of in-the-field training he was ranked an ensign. His promotional opportunities, however, were less than those of an Addiscombe ensign. His relatives were in the faraway Bengal presidency of India, and there was no one to support him during his difficult first years in India. In 1852, his cousin, William D’Oyly Bayley, placed the following notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine:

Death Notice

13 August 1852– at SAMULIOTTOK, Presidency of MADRAS, EI, of dysentery, aged 20, WILLIAM ROBERT D’OYLEY Esq. HEICS. Youngest son of the late Captain D’Oyley, and nephew of the late William Bayley, Esq., of Stockton-upon-Tees. Deceased was upwards of two years in the hands of savages of Murray’s Island, Torres-Straits, after the murder of his parents and one of his brothers on their voyage from Sydney to India in 1834.8

According to the Madras Army records, and the records of the Madras Military Fund, William D’Oyly died on 22 March, 1852. The dysentery that ultimately caused his death was often a severe and frequently fatal symptom of cholera. ….

Notes to Chapter 23

  1. T. Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, p. 32; William Bayley file op. cit. Edward D’Oyly to William Bayley, 1841; William D’Oyly-Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845, p. 148.
  2. William Bayley file op. cit. Thomas D’Oyly to his cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, 1842.
  3. Most of the personal details about the three D’Oyly boys were supplied by William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845.
  4. Bengal Service Army Lists, reference. IOR/L/MIL/10/52; HIEC Army Cadet Papers, IOR/L/MIL/9/220/141–48. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  5. Hervey Harris Greathed, Letters Written during the Siege of Delhi, London, Spottiswoode and Co., edited by his widow, 1858, pp. 97–98, 115; Peter Stanley, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825–1875, United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co., 1998, p. 100.
  6. Sir Charles D’Oyly had also initially intervened on the boys’ behalf to get all three of them into Addiscombe College.
  7. Madras Service Army Lists, IOR/L/MIL/11/59–date 1854. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  8. ‘Australasian BDM’s 1840–1864 from the Newcastle Courier’...

…. …… ;;;;

Chapter 24: The Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek slaughters: Bloody retaliation in Charles Eaton’s wake

Two days after the Isabella arrived back in Sydney, the following comment on the outcome of her mission was published in the Australian:

One cannot help, at such a recital as this, forgetting that the actors in this scene of carnage have some excuse in their ignorance, and wishing that it were possible to revenge, by the extermination of the whole race, the uncalled-for murder of our unhappy countrymen.1

Given that 24 people were murdered off the coast of Australia, expressions of outrage were only to be expected. It is questionable, however, whether the uneducated among the convicts and settlers were capable of making the distinction between mainland Aborigines and a small and distant group of Torres Strait Islanders. The massive publicity the cabin boy’s story received could only have inflamed the existing racism against the native tribes. When Eliza Fraser arrived a few days’ later, the Government newspaper, the Sydney Gazette (20 Oct. 1836) allowed one of their ‘correspondents’ to vent his spleen:

. . . to send them Missionaries; why they might as well be introduced at the levee of his Satanic majesty; a truce with such milk and water means; the only best missionaries among these gentry are the red coats, the sharp, quick, sudden remedy of a shower of Bullets, and tickling them in the ribs with triangular pointed steel, would work a radical reformation, kill and destroy should go forth as a fist not to be recalled until ample retribution is exacted from the savages. Have we not before us the fate of the crew of the Oldham at Wallis’ Island, the Charles Eaton at Murray’s Island, and now the Stirling Castle on our own shores ; with these facts staring us in the face, with the blood of these slaughtered men crying aloud for vengeance, can the public, the mercantile interest in particular sit down contented and talk of sending missionaries to the poor benighted blacks, who would mumble the finger of an European in their mouth with as much glut as a child would suck a stick of barley sugar. If these men are benighted enlighten them, by all means, with a flash of musquetry [sic] and roar of cannon.

On 23 March 1837 the ship Mangles, still under the command of Captain William Carr, departed from Portsmouth for Sydney on her eighth voyage as a convict transport. Major James Nunn and a detachment of the 80th Regiment were escorting 308 male convicts.2 The ship arrived at Port Jackson on 10 July, after an impressively fast voyage of 107 days. It was time enough for Carr and his officers to entertain Major Nunn with the Charles Eaton story, and the vital role the Mangles and her master had played in alerting the world to the existence of survivors. By the time Nunn reached Sydney, his interest in the ‘melancholy shipwreck’ must have been well and truly aroused.

Five months after his arrival at Sydney, Nunn took up a new position as Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police. John Ireland was already on his way back to England. William D’Oyly, however, was still walking the streets with Anne and George Milner Slade, a poignant reminder of the fate that had befallen his family. At the museum in George Street, the Aureed mask was on display to visitors, while the King/Lewis book had just gone on sale in the bookshops and it was the first to include the cabin boy’s graphic details of the bloody murders. The book sold so well that within a few months it had a second print run. At the old Sydney cemetery a large memorial tomb would soon be erected for the victims’ skulls.

Murderous attacks by displaced Aborigines were common in the first decades of Australia’s white settlement, as also were provocative or retaliatory attacks by isolated whites. By late 1836, however, the indigenous tribes were under unusually intense siege from disgruntled squatters and convicts moving out onto the northern plains. Some of the worst atrocities against the Aborigines were reportedly taking place on Binguy station, the run of a settler called Daniel Eaton. The local tribes were fighting back and there were the usual reports of Aboriginal marauders killing stock. Then between June and October 1837, a stockman and four shepherds were killed by Aborigines in three separate incidents on three different stations.3

While the colony waited for Governor Sir Richard Bourke’s replacement, Sir George Gipps, to arrive, Colonel Snodgrass was vigorously pursuing his duties as Acting Governor. Having been informed of the murders that had recently occurred in the north, he summoned Nunn and his instructions to the police commandant were incautiously blunt. Nunn was to proceed to the northern plains, where he was to suppress the outrageous behaviour of the native tribes.4 Nunn left Sydney on 26 December 1837 with a party of troopers, and met up with his subaltern, Lieut George Cobban, at Jerry’s Plains. Cobban and a number of troopers joined Nunn’s expedition, while at the town of Invermein the party added a sergeant, John Lee, and perhaps another six troopers. During their long sojourn through the Gwydir River region of New South Wales, Nunn and the troopers often camped for the night at stations along their route and the gossip around the campfires included stories about real and supposed atrocities committed by the local tribes. What we do not know is whether Nunn contributed to those fireside chats with lurid details of the Charles Eaton killings, gleaned from personal conversations with Captain Carr but also from the King/Lewis book. Given his long shipboard confinement with Carr, it would have been remarkable if he didn’t.

On 26 January 1838 Nunn’s party reached a lagoon on Waterloo Creek, where they stumbled across a very large number of Aborigines. One of the men in Nunn’s party was speared in the leg. According to Sergeant Lee, they pursued the Aborigines downstream, running them down with their horses and shooting them on sight.5 Nunn and Cobban later claimed that no more than a few Aborigines were killed.6 Sergeant Lee, however, reported that ‘from what I saw myself, I should say that from forty to fifty blacks were killed’.7 Lee’s estimate is the one that most people seem happy to accept, although not all Australian historians agree.8

Typical Aboriginal encampment. Black and white engraving by John Skinner Prout.

Roger Milliss has written a very full account of Nunn’s actions in his book Waterloo Creek (1992) and there are many other published accounts. Suffice for me to say that on 22 July 1839 there was a judicial enquiry into the incident, held at the courthouse in the town of Merton, but the conflicting eyewitness accounts from Lieut. Cobban and Sergeant Lee, with their widely different estimates of the number of Aborigines killed, resulted in no charges being laid. Prior to that judicial enquiry, the stockmen in the Gwyder River region would have assumed that the events at Waterloo Creek (or Slaughterhouse Creek as it was then called) had attracted no disciplinary response at the seat of government in Sydney.

Not long after Nunn’s party returned to Sydney, some of those stockmen, inspired by Nunn’s punitive expedition and believing they could kill the Aborigines with impunity because they wrongly assumed it wasn’t a criminal offence, embarked on a murderous ‘drive’ against the local tribes. It culminated in a particularly cold-blooded attack at nearby Myall Creek, and the victims were up to 28 trusting Weraerai Aborigines camped around huts at Dangar’s station. Today we remember the Myall Creek murders for two reasons: firstly, seven of the convicts who participated in it were hanged; and secondly, the details of what happened, exposed in police interviews and court proceedings, were horrifying.

At about 4.30 on the afternoon of 10 June 1838, a party of 11 gun-toting, horse-riding stockmen rode up to Dangar’s station, where a clan of about 43 unarmed Weraerai had set up camp around the huts. Ten of the stockmen were convicts, assigned to stations in the region. The ringleader, however, was a free squatter called Fleming. Previously, the Weraerai camped at nearby McIntyre’s station, staffed at that time by a lone convict hut-keeper called Andrew Eaton. Eaton was kind to them and considered them harmless, and it would appear that they had a similar friendly relationship with the two assigned convicts at the neighbouring run taken up by Richard Wiseman.9 At some time around the end of May, Eaton encouraged the Weraerai clan to move off McIntyre’s station and over to Dangar’s run, convincing them they would be safer there. The original suggestion for the move had apparently come from Kilmeister, the stockman at Dangar’s, with the clan’s arrival timed to occur when his overseer was absent at another station.

When the armed convicts reached Dangar’s station, they found about 33 Aborigines there, predominantly women and children. Earlier on the same day, 10 of the Weraerai’s youngest and fittest men had been enticed away to nearby Newton’s station to help strip bark, leaving behind their helpless families and a few old men. The convicts knew this. On the previous day they had called at Newton’s station and were told by the convict hut-keeper, Robert Sexton, that the Weraerai bark-stripping party was on its way. Hearing this, the stockmen rode off, satisfied that the fittest of the Weraerai had been separated from their families. When they arrived at Dangar’s, their firearms and threatening attitude frightened Anderson, the hut-keeper, but Kilmeister shook hands with every one of them and promptly joined their drive. His was an act of particular treachery, since he had spent the previous week or two dancing and singing with the Aborigines and playing with their children.

The convicts bound the Weraerai women and old men by their hands to a long piece of rope and dragged them to the dry and sandy bed of Myall Creek, where they dismounted from their horses and hacked or clubbed their captives. The stunned victims, including many babies and children who had been crying and clutching their mothers, fell to the ground and the convicts decapitated all of them. Three months later, 11 of the killers went on trial in Sydney, the ringleader Fleming having fled and eluded capture.

Given that the cast of main characters in the Charles Eaton story was very small, it is interesting that three surnames associated with it – Eaton (twice), Sexton, and Wiseman – should crop up again closely associated with the events at Myall Creek. Some of the 11 convicts may have noticed it as well. It is just a coincidence but they may have felt that it linked them in an indirect way to the killings in the north. I am also tempted to wonder whether the convict hut-keepers, Andrew Eaton at McIntyre’s station and Robert Sexton at Newton’s station, were as innocent of any participation in the killing plot as they later presented themselves to be.10

More significantly, the convicts at Myall Creek chose a particularly messy and bloody technique. They not only clubbed, shot or slashed their victims – in themselves common practices – but also mutilated them by hacking off their heads. Since they were not head-hunters, they had no use for the heads as collectable trophies and left many of them to lie where they fell.

The men who committed the Myall Creek atrocity were motivated by genuine fears for their own safety. The decision to decapitate their victims seems unnecessarily bloody and pointless, however, unless we interpret it as an act of revenge for similar atrocities committed against their countrymen, of which the Charles Eaton murders were the best known, although there was at least one other instance as well. On the Liverpool Plains run of Sir John Jamison, three stockmen had been beheaded and dismembered by Aborigines in 1833. We can easily believe that somewhere in the warped minds of the convict stockmen lurked the notion that they would give the Aborigines a dose of their own medicine, their education being such as to render them incapable of distinguishing between Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders.

Many of the convicts passed through the convict barracks at Hyde Park in Sydney when George Milner Slade had his office there, attached to the convict Assignment Board. Their stay in Sydney had been brief. Slade worked alone and personally handled every male convict landed at Sydney. It meant that at least six of the convict murderers could claim to have seen or heard of someone with direct involvement in the Charles Eaton story, for their assignment officer had very kindly adopted William D’Oyly, the poor little orphan boy.11

The 11 convicts who went to trial in Sydney were originally acquitted of the charge of murdering an elderly Aboriginal male at Dangar’s station. Seven of the convicts, however, were recharged with murdering an Aboriginal child instead. Four of the convicts escaped the second charge in the misplaced hope they would give evidence for the prosecution. There was a lot of support for the murderers in the colony, but in the end, the seven convicts were found guilty of murdering an unknown Aboriginal child. On 18 December 1838, they were hanged at Sydney Gaol.

You could mount the argument that at least the convicts had the excuse of ignorance. No such concession is possible for the editor of the right-wing, pro-settler newspaper the Sydney Herald. On the day that the second trial commenced, he published an editorial designed to sway the jurors’ verdict and it includes the following comment:

—we may, it is hoped, be permitted to ask (inter alia) what attempts have been made to secure and punish the murderers of part of the crew of the Charles Eaton, and of the Stirling Castle? What steps have they taken to avenge the death of the parents of young D’Oyley [sic], who has been cast upon the world ‘a houseless, homeless wanderer?’ He may, hereafter, be present when some ranter may arise in a public place, and talk of the ‘interesting’ people of New Holland! But how will his blood boil in his veins when he remembers that by these ‘interesting’people he has been made an orphan—consigned to the charity of strangers,

Cast a wanderer on the world’s wide stage—

If the erudite editor of the colony’s major newspaper was incapable of distinguishing between the ‘interesting people of New Holland’ and a far-distant group of Torres Strait islanders, what hope did his readers have? As far as this editor was concerned, the two were one and the same. He could quote from Atherton by William Pitt Scargill (1831), but neither knew nor cared that D’Oyly had already gone home to wealthy relatives in England.

On 19 December 1838, the day after the seven convicts were hanged at Sydney, the new Governor, Sir George Gipps, sent a despatch to Lord Glenelg at the Home Office, informing him of the outcome of the recent trial. Included in it was his own brief summing up of the crime as revealed to him in statements from witnesses, which he had obviously read with great care. In his view:

. . . it appeared on the trial that, for some weeks previous to the 10th June, not less than fifty Blacks of all ages and sexes had been living at these different stations (but mostly at Mr. Dangar’s) in perfect tranquillity, neither molesting the Whites nor being themselves molested by them. In consequence of some old quarrels, however, or possibly from accounts having reached the place of occurrences in other quarters, [author’s emphasis] a determination seems to have been formed by the white men to put the whole of the Blacks to death.12

Gipps does not state what ‘occurrences in other quarters’ he thought might have contributed to the stockmen’s decision to decapitate a party of peaceful and friendly Aborigines, but he would have known about the Charles Eaton and also the murders of some of the shipwrecked crew from the Stirling Castle. It is also worth keeping in mind that the events at Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek occurred while the King/Lewis account, published in 1837, had a second print run and was enjoying good sales in Sydney’s bookshops, as also were a number of other books on the same topic. Brockett’s book was still on sale, as also was the book by Wemyss and the Eliza Fraser book by Curtis. Ireland’s children’s book was on sale in a Sydney bookshop in late 1838. When you add to them the newspaper reports about marauding Aborigines out on the northern plains and a number of stockmen recently murdered in the southern districts, it is not surprising that the colony was awash with racism of the worst kind. Little wonder that the defendants in the Myall Creek trial received misplaced support from so many colonists.

When it comes to atrocities committed against one’s own countrymen, it is amazing how long memories can be. On 3 October 1936, almost exactly 100 years after the Isabella returned with Ireland and D’Oyly, and article appeared in a Sydney newspaper written by Walter E. Bethel. It gives a brief account of the tragedy then concludes with the following paragraphs:

There are many stories, equalling in intensity and pathos that of the Charles Eaton, that have Torres Strait for a background and the rest of the lengthy Australian coastline has its annals of effort and sacrifice.

It is well that these tragedies that have attended British occupation of Australia should not be forgotten, for they are irrefutable title deeds to the possession of the Land of the Southern Cross – a grim reminder, despite the not too rapid growth of population, that ‘this bit of the world belongs to us’.13

According to Bethel’s reasoning, the British had every right to claim the entire continent as their own, prior Aboriginal occupation notwithstanding, because the blood spilt by the D’Oylys, Moore, Clare and many other British mariners, had purchased for the rest of the white settlers their ‘irrefutable title deeds’. How much more likely then that there would be some among those living in Australia at the time the tragedies occurred who would use that spilt blood as an excuse for indiscriminate acts of violence against Aborigines. More recently, Ian Nicholson, commenting on the Charles Eaton and similar tragedies in his book Via Torres Strait (1996) writes:

From our early mariners’ point of view there need be no ‘sense of guilt’ for alleged atrocities against the Aboriginal race. Indeed, the number of innocent, unarmed shipwreck survivors, including women and children, brutally murdered by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders well before any attempted white settlement of North Queensland in particular, leads to an entirely different conclusion. By their initial actions the natives were mostly seen at the time as barbarous cannibals, who could not be trusted, and their actions naturally brought the risk of some retaliation upon themselves later. Continuing atrocities made this inevitable.14

Nicholson is pointing out that tragedies like that which occurred at Boydang in 1834 contributed to the belief at that time that the Aborigines’ and Torres Strait Islanders’ own acts of violence against shipwreck survivors invited retaliation. To that extent then, many colonists would have seen the particularly bloody ferocity of the Myall Creek attack on an innocent tribe as just such a response.

Writing from Sydney in July 1834, Charlotte D’Oyly commented in her letter to her two sons in England that ‘a few years back, this spot was unknown to Europeans, it was inhabited by a race of blacks, who are now on the decrease, while the former are increasing wonderfully, and filling the country.’15 She had no way of knowing when she penned those words that others would use her own violent death to justify the displacement and decimation of the indigenous race.


Notes to Chapter 24

  1. Australian, 14 October 1836.
  2. Roger Milliss, Waterloo Creek, Ringwood Victoria: McPhee Gribble, Penguin Books Aust. Ltd, 1992, p. 12.
  3. Milliss 1992, p. 159 quoting Edward Mayne, the Commissioner for Crown Lands and Protector for Aborigines at Liverpool Plains (1838–1843) who referred in his address to the Legislative Council Committee on Police and Gaols in 1839 to ‘the first murder of two shepherds at Mr Cobb’s station’ (two more shepherds where killed at Cobb’s in December 1838), which was ‘done in revenge for another outrage’ against the blacks, supposed to be similar to a slaughter of 200 Aborigines at Gravesend mountain.
  4. Milliss 1992, pp. 1, 3.
  5. Lee’s deposition, HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 251–52.
  6. HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 250–56.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The historian Keith Windschuttle, in his trilogy The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, disputes many of the popular beliefs about the numbers of Aborigines killed in frontier murders, including those at Waterloo Creek, where there is room for the argument to be put that Cobban’s estimate was the correct one. I tend to the view that if only three or four Aborigines were slain, it would not have been seen by the local stockmen as evidence that they could kill 28 innocent people a few months later without repercussions. What they believed they got was a carte blanche for wholesale slaughter.
  9. Richard Wiseman was the son of the emancipist Solomon Wiseman. He had an older brother called William who was not Captain William Wiseman.
  10. In late 1836, 22-year-old Robert Sexton was sentenced to life and transportation to Australia. He depart England aboard the ship Prince George on 20 December 1836 and arrived in Sydney on 20 August 1837. With Sexton on board the Prince George was his younger brother, Burrows Sexton, aged 19. The two brothers had been sentenced to life for stealing a lamb, while their 50-year-old father, John Sexton, who was also transported, got 14 years for receiving it. Andrew Eaton arrived on the Surry in 1836. He was eventually granted a Ticket of Leave. George Milner Slade personally handled the allocations for both men as hut keepers and since the assignment office was on the ground floor of the convict barracks, there is a possibility that one or both men caught glimpses of young William D’Oyly.
  11. Of the convicts charged over the murders, Charles Kilmeister arrived on the Lord Lyndoch in 1833; James (Jemmy) Oakes arrived on ship Larkins 1829 was re-assigned in 1837 to Namoi River; Edward Foley arrived on Roslin Castle in 1833, aged 24. Sentenced to transportation for life for assault and levelling. At 29, he was the youngest of the seven convicted murderers hanged for their crime; John Johnson, aged 24 when he arrived on the Norfolk 1829; John Russell, a groom was 25 when he arrived on the Eliza in 1827; William Hawkins was 27 when he arrived on the Albion in 1828; James Parry arrived on the Royal Admiral in 1835, worked on Daniel Eaton’s station;.John Blake was 23 when he arrived on the James Laing in 1834. In 1837 he was assigned to James Glennie on the Patrick Plains. He was a butcher by trade and was married with two children. Sentenced to transportation for life 29 July 1833 for sheep stealing. Although identified as one of the murderers, he avoided conviction; James Lamb was 23 when he arrived on the Asia in 1825. Avoided conviction; George Palliser, was 20 when convicted of stealing a coat and sentenced to seven years transportation. Arrived on the Exmouth 1831.Described as ‘a quiet well disposed man’. Granted Ticket of Leave in 1835. Avoided conviction; Charles Toulouse, no arrival date known, avoided conviction. Slade was the convict assignment officer from 1831–1840 and handled six or more of the convicts involved in the Myall Creek killings.
  12. HRA Series I, XIX, Gipps to Glenelg, pp. 700–04.
  13. Walter E[dmond]. Bethel, newspaper cutting [Sydney Sun], 3 Oct. 1936, Small Pictures Collection, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
  14. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait, Roebuck Society Publication No. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, under the subheading, Genuine Mariners Not Guilty.
  15. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to William and Edward D’Oyly, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.


Copyright for this manuscript is held by the author: Veronica Peek, of Melbourne Australia. Not to be reproduced in any form without permission.

Bing Translator

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 Bing Translator

Copyright for this manuscript is held by the author: Veronica Peek, of Melbourne Australia. Not to be reproduced in any form without permission.

Part Six: the harbour master

Section One: Sydney. What happened to Sarah?

Charles Morgan Lewis could be precious. His older brother was John and his younger sister was Sally but it was Charles who got his mother’s family name. Having a middle name suited his later, slightly vainglorious but generally productive, years.

He was born at Norwich in Norfolk in 1804–05, to Sarah Morgan and Benjamin Lewis. A few months later the family moved to Haverfordwest at Pembrokeshire in Wales, where his parents lived out the rest of their uneventful lives. John, the older sibling, was the first to escape the tedium of the family home. He worked for a time on merchant ships, before signing on as the master of a decommissioned Navy man-of-war called the Wolf, refitted out as a whaler in 1830 and dispatched by her owners to New South Wales.

HMS Wolf
HMS sloop of war Wolf, off Dover in 1828, prior to being decommissioned and sold. Sent to Australia as a whaler. Drawn and etched by E. W. Cooke.

For seven years from 1830, John Lewis sailed the southern oceans, hunting and killing whales to harvest their oil. The seas around New Zealand were his favourite fishing grounds and like most whalers, the Wolf could be out for 12 to 18 months at a time. John was 28 years old when he took command of the Wolf. He was generous in his praise of the Australian colony – though he was hardly ever there – and he soon persuaded his 26-year-old brother, Charles, to join him. His sibling could claim previous employment on secondment from the British navy to ship’s commander in the navy of the King of Siam (Thailand).

On 28 July 1832 the Sydney Gazette announced the arrival of the ship Medway, ex-London, and listed her cabin passengers. Their shipping reporter had to apologize in the next edition: ‘Among the passengers of the Medway, by some mischance, we omitted the name of Mr. Lewis, brother of Captain Lewis, of the Wolf.’ Most passengers were unfazed if they slipped into the colony unnoticed, but Lewis was keen to establish his family connection to the devoutly Christian whaling captain. Big brother John had sailed two weeks earlier for the whaling grounds and would be away for at least a year.

Lewis was a friendless new arrival in Sydney and it did not take long for Sarah O’Donnell to catch his eye. Sarah was a free settler who had previously lived in London. That much I know but all else I do not. She was loud, talkative and must have been a good drinking companion. To the lonely mariner that probably meant that she was fun to be around. He courted her, with strolls through Sydney’s public park called the Domain, exhibiting all the traits of an infatuated lover. It was five worrying months before Lewis got a job. Finally, on 23 December 1832, he was officially appointed the master of the colonial schooner, Governor Phillip, and only then because her new master fell ill. In a moment of impetuosity that would prove to be disastrous for both parties, the young couple married at the St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral on 19 February 1833. The now salaried sea captain set his wife up in a cottage in Erskine Street, with Sarah soon demonstrating that she had a taste for silks, trinkets and other niceties, including alcohol.

For the first year of their marriage, all was well. Captain Lewis’s duties as ship’s master consisted of tracking back and forth between the two penal outposts at Norfolk Island and Moreton Bay – with the occasional trip to New Zealand. Under his command he had two mates (quickly reduced from four), a carpenter and 14 seamen and the little ship transported a mix of hardened prisoners and army guards, some of the latter with their families. Lewis was hardly ever at home, or he might have noticed sooner that his wife was drifting. She was living in an area notorious for its ruffian gangs of unemployed ex-convicts, who could not give up their thieving habits. She was also surrounded by grog shops that offered the kind of company she craved. She did have two servants, one a girl called Amelia Pearce, described as aged about seven but probably older,  the other an apprentice boy, James Thomson, who was about 11. With no adult servants to help her and no will of her own to do much, the Lewis cottage was in a state of perpetual disarray. Sarah started drinking too much, and when she did she could be loud and quarrelsome.

By 1834 the rules for the two colonial vessels, the brig Governor Phillip and the schooner Isabella, had been changed so that when the vessels were docked at Sydney Cove, the captains and their crews could continue to live on board. For the two captains it meant that each had a cabin, tiny but quiet, and the additional advantage of a steward to cook and serve their rations. When things got too noisy at Erskine St, Lewis found solace in his floating quarters.

Lewis was initially forthcoming and popular with Sydney’s shipping reporters, who sought him out for news about the two remote penal colonies, plus any other tit-bits for their vital shipping columns. Having his name frequently in the papers meant that he soon became a well-known citizen about town. His first real friends, however, were probably Henry and Elizabeth Bull, and he met them in 1835 at a particularly low point in their lives. Henry Bull was already suffering from an ultimately fatal lung disease, probably consumption, and with a wife and two very young children to support, there was a pressing need to find a suitable income. The couple had arrived in Tasmania with goods to trade and auctioned them there at a significant discount, losing most of their savings. They had moved on to Sydney and holed themselves up in a cottage while they wondered what to do next. Henry’s solution was to use what was left of his money to buy a half share in a schooner called the Friendship, in partnership with Captain John Harrison. The plan was to sail the schooner to the warm climes of Tahiti, where Henry would get well and the two men would set up a plantation and grow sugar. They also intended to use the schooner for regular trade between Sydney and the islands of the South Pacific. It was a lovely dream and the Bulls dared to dream it.

Friendship stamp

On the way to Tahiti, the Friend-ship stopped off at Norfolk Island to deliver some cargo and Captain Harrison and some of his men tethered the schooner to a buoy that had been put there the previous year by the crew of HMS Alligator, with the promise that it was reliable and sound. Apparently it was not. During a gale the Friendship broke her moorings and was wrecked. All aboard the schooner were saved by many of the 300 convicts at the penal settlement and safely brought ashore. The convicts even managed to save most of the Bull family’s possessions. For two and a half desperate months the destitute passengers and crew of the wrecked Friendship had to live off the less-than-charitable goodwill of the settlement’s commandant, until Captain Lewis finally turned up in the Governor Phillip, on one of his regular runs. He promptly provided the stranded party with passage to Sydney and both Bull and Harrison, after a little gentle prodding it seems, finally repaid Lewis with testimonials of gratitude in the Sydney press.

Henceforth Captain Lewis enjoyed sympathetic treatment from both Henry Bull and the Revd John Dunmore Lang, the founder – and subsequently the part-proprietor with Bull – of The Colonist newspaperUnfortunately for Captain Lewis, however, Sarah was soon making her own news in the Sydney papers (Sydney Herald 27 April 1835:

On Thursday last, as Mrs. Lewis of Eskine-street, was in attendance at the Police Office, as complainant in a case of assault, her home was entered and robbed, though not to a serious amount, the thieves having been disturbed.

Lewis had been away on one of his regular voyages when Sarah noticed that some of her possessions were missing, including a watch and some spoons and plates. She had only been absent from her house for about 20 minutes, she said, and suspected her neighbour’s concubine, who had previously admired the watch. She reported the theft to the police but since she had no evidence or proof to back her accusations, nothing more was made of it. Subsequently, the small girl in her employ claimed to have seen the watch inside the neighbour’s house.

When Lewis finally returned home from one of his voyages he was confronted by an agitated Sarah demanding that he go with her to the police station and report the theft again, requesting that a thorough search be made of the neighbour’s house. The police obliged but they privately thought that the choice of items claimed to have been stolen was a little suspicious and suspected that they had been pawned by Sarah for alcohol. They had no reason to suspect this, other than that her reputation in Sydney as a drinker was already established.

Nothing was found in the search and it might have ended there had it not been for the fact that the neighbour, Mr. John William Thurlow, was an articled clerk to Mr. Charles Henry Chambers, an attorney of the Supreme Court. In July 1835 he sued Captain Lewis in the Supreme Court for defamation and demanded £250 (the equivalent of almost two years wages) for damage to his reputation. He also had William Charles Wentworth, one of the town’s leading lawyers, to present the prosecution’s case. Lewis was found guilty of the charge (Sydney Gazette, 16 July 1835). He had the sympathy of the judges though, and the £25 compensation payment was modest; but Lewis had been publicly humiliated in the press as a result of his wife’s accusations to the police, and that was something he would have found hard to forgive.

Thurlow’s claim was based on the fact that he was studying in preparation for admittance to the Supreme Court as an attorney. His reputation had been seriously sullied by the captain’s request that his house be searched for a stolen watch, he maintained, even though Sarah Lewis did not personally blame him for the theft, but rather the woman who was cohabiting with him as his wife. His standing among the colonists at that stage, however, was already a little tarnished. Thurlow fancied himself as a talented poet until one of his poems, published in a local Sydney newspaper, was proven to be largely plagiarized from a well-known poem by James F. Montgomery.

Fortunately the Colonist newspaper was always on Lewis’s side and in its 27 July edition it published a childish but cheeky and very brave satire in the form of lyrics of a song. Two verses only are repeated here:

(A Scene in the Supreme Court.)

I call’d her Mrs. Thurlow,
When I saw her in his house,
Although I knew they were not bound
By matrimonial vows:
And I tell it openly to show
How all the while I knew
The house I used to call my friends
Was nothing but a stew.

I call’d her Mrs. Thurlow;
For what is there in names?
(A strumpet may have five a-week:)
Her maiden name was James.
True; I might blush for shame, you say;
But what is it to me,
When bless’d with such a friend as mine,
To share his infamy?


With the Colonist’s readers chuckling over the court case at Thurlow’s expense, Lewis was able to emerge from the experience with his own reputation intact.  Even so, the court case was effectively the end of any romance in his marriage to Sarah, although they never divorced. They continued to share a house and belongings and Lewis remained responsible for providing his wife with financial support. They had moved to Gloucester Street and away from their old neighbourhood for obvious reasons and that was the easy part. Keeping his wife out of  the newspapers was more difficult. She kept popping up in the police columns, vocal and even abusive at times but always presenting herself as the sinned against and never the sinner (Sydney Gazette 31 Oct. 1835).

An individual residing in Cumberland street preferred a charge of felony against the wife of Captain Lewis, on Thursday last, at the Police Office. It appeared that Mrs Lewis went to the complainant’s house, with the members of whose family she had some high words, and carried of a parrot and cage, as the complainant had been informed by his wife and daughter. Upon this he gave Mrs. Lewis in charge for alleged felony. It appeared from the statement of the complainant, that the parrot had been given him as a present by the husband of the prisoner a short time previous ; but the cage he admitted belonged to Captain Lewis, who had merely lent it to him. Their worships strongly censured the conduct of the complainant in giving a respectable female into custody on such a frivolous and vexatious chargeone which, even if it could be entertained at all, he admitted himself to be an incompetent witness to prove, and had not brought forward those who he alleged could prove it. The complaint was dismissed ; and the accused (who wanted to be very loquacious in the Court) was recommended by the Bench to place her case in the hands of some professional man, as the best way of teaching the complainant how to demean himself in the future, when abusive words spoken might tempt him to trump up charges of felony against the speaker.
[ . . . we confess it is somewhat novel to us that a party should be handed into custody in consequence of party feeling, on a charge of ‘stealing their own property.’]

Reports were already appearing in overseas papers about the loss of the barque Charles Eaton in the Torres Strait, and the supposed captivity of some of her passengers and crew. The fact that the second mate aboard the ship, William Mayor, was Elizabeth Bull’s brother, made it inevitable that Lewis would be following the events surrounding the Charles Eaton with close interest. It soon became obvious that the colonial government would have to send a rescue mission to the Torres Strait, and Lewis indicated that he would be willing to take on the assignment. His offer was accepted.

By May 1836 the Governor Phillip was in dry dock, undergoing repairs, but the colonial schooner Isabella was always going to be the obvious choice for the mission anyway, being the smaller vessel of the two. She had already been used for one successful mission to New Zealand in 1834, to rescue survivors of the shipwreck of the Harriet who were being held by a Maori group for ransom. The Isabella’s usual captain, who had already assisted in that rescue mission with not a shred of credit or extra remuneration¸ swapped colonial vessels so that Lewis could captain the Isabella on her rescue mission to the Torres Strait.

Elizabeth Bull packed a box of goods for her brother, and gave them to Captain Lewis in the ultimately vain hope that the second mate would still be alive. Lewis came back with two survivors, the cabin boy, John Ireland, and the child William D’Oyly. Mayor’s skull came back, in a crate with 17 other skulls belonging to passengers and crew of the ill-fated barque. Lewis said little about the rescue mission to the Torres Strait on his return to Sydney, and part of that may have been a desire to spare Elizabeth’s feelings. She must have been devastated.

The events surrounding that rescue mission and its outcome have already been covered in my other posts and need not be repeated here. Sarah, meanwhile, continued to get her fair share of publicity (Sydney Gazette 12 Nov., 1836):

On Thursday a woman and child entered the house of a Mrs. Sarah Lewis in Gloucester-street while in a state of intoxication, and wished to lie down as she was afraid to meet her lord and master in that state. Mrs. Lewis recommended her to go home to bed without effect, she persisted in taking a rest where she was, and forced her way up a ladder into a bed room and laid down, and Mrs. L. covered her with a blanket ; at this time there was a quantity of wearing apparel lying about the room ; on awaking the woman got up and went away, when a gown and silk handkerchief which were there in the first instance were missed. She was given into custody.

The woman was clearly known to Sarah, as a drinking companion if not a friend, but Sarah always took her complaints directly to the police and they ended up in at least one of the local papers.

Gravestone of Henry Bull, editor of the Colonist newspaper, aged 32, and two of his children, Emily Catherine, aged two, and John Brooks, aged six months. Buried at Devonshire Steet Cemetery in 1837–1838. Photographed 1900–1901 by Josephine Foster. Glass plate negative held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Hundreds of headstones, including this one, have been relocated to the Pioneer Park at the Bennelong Cemetery, Botany Bay.

When Captain Lewis left Sydney in May 1838 with the intention of returning William D’Oyly to his relatives in England, he had already arranged to receive half his usual salary for 18 months. Of this, half had to be paid to him and half to Sarah, who would remain behind in Sydney and needed to be provided for. The total amount was about  £105, so that Sarah received  £52/10s to live on for 18 months, barely enough for a sober and frugal woman, which Sarah was not. By December 1838 Sarah would also have received the alarming news that the Isabella was being sold and her husband no longer had a job to return to. What did Sarah do? I cannot say. This is a woman’s side of the story and history does a poor job of recording women’s lives. By this time, Henry Bull had died, along with two of his three small children, and his wife was so destitute she had to rely on charity for the fares to England in 1838 for herself and her surviving child. Poor Elizabeth Bull. In the short time she resided in Australia she had borne the murder of her brother in the Charles Eaton massacre, plus the loss of her husband, two children and the family’s entire fortune.

By 1837, Sarah’s brother-in-law, Captain John Lewis, had also returned to England with his wife. One of the few people that Sarah could still turn to for assistance in 1839 was the Revd. John Dunmore Lang.

Lewis arrived back in Sydney from London on 1 September 1839 and immediately re-applied to Governor Gipps for the reward he had initially been promised for rescuing the two shipwreck survivors from the Murray IslandsHis application was rejected by the Legislative Council and he was given a job as the harbour master at Port Phillip (Melbourne) instead. On 10 October 1839, a deceased woman called Sarah Lewis was discreetly buried, with the funeral rites officiated over by the newly appointed Rev. Fullerton of St Lawrence Presbyterian Church, the Revd John Dunmore Lang’s church. The church record notes that she died at Macquarie Place. She had been married to Captain Lewis for just six and a half years and would probably have been aged in her mid or late twenties. No parents are recorded, nor any spouse, but Fullerton is known now for not bothering to keep detailed records for deaths and marriages. There is nothing suspicious about this woman’s death, no police or coronial enquiry.

So far I have traced only one Sarah Lewis living in Sydney at that time and that was the captain’s wife. That of itself means nothing and there could well have been another woman in the town who shared her name. What I can say is that Lewis delayed his departure to Port Phillip, Melbourne, for a few weeks, with enough time after Sarah’s funeral to sort out his affairs. He was already beginning to present himself as single, and he went to Port Phillip alone. Once there, he built a large house on government land and ran it as a boarding house for his boat crews. The 1841 census records that eight men, all government employees, were being housed in the boarding house with Lewis, who indicated for census purposes that he was single. The fact that he was ultimately forced to give up the boarding house at a financial loss only increased his own and others’ conviction that he was hard done by. For several years prior to his physical collapse from a severe stroke in December 1841 and his subsequent resignation as harbour master, he had petitioned for a reward for the Charles Eaton rescue mission. Not once did he mention what happened to Sarah.