An amazing tale of shipwrecks in 1829

Recently I came across a story about a series of shipwrecks way back in 1829.  It reported about plight of the crews of the ships “Mermaid”, “Swiftsure”, “Governor Ready”, “Comet” and “Jupiter”.  At first I found it hard to believe that each ship could be wrecked, crew saved and then wrecked again, and again and again.   So I decided to do some research on Trove, and found that this remarkable story is true.


It was reported in the Sydney Gazette on 26th November 1829, that it all started when the “Mermaid” was wrecked on Flora Reef east of the Frankland Islands, [ roughly east of present day Gordonvale ].  All on board, including the Captain Nolbrow, were saved by a nearby rock, three days later they were rescued by the ship “Swiftsure”.

Just three days later this ship was wrecked off Cape Sidmouth, Cape York.


A day or  two later, the “Governor Ready”, passing within sight, took the shipwrecked people onboard, and was in three days itself wrecked, between Murray Island and Halfway Island in the Torres Strait, but all the people saved. The ship “Comet” soon after , took the whole of the collected crews of the lost ships on board, and was herself wrecked also in a day or two, also in the Torres Strait, and again all the people saved. At last the ship “Jupiter” came in sight and taking all on board steered for Port Raffles, at the entrance of which harbour she got on shore and received so much damage that she may be said to be half wrecked. There however, Captain Nolbrow found the Government brig “Amnity” in which he embarked, and strange to say this vessel also was, as we have stated in the former part of this article, nearly wrecked in Gage’s Roads, on its way back to Sydney.

No mention is made on the fate of all the crews, but I bet not many of them continued their nautical careers.

NOTE:  Port Raffles was the second attempt to form a settlement in Northern Australia.  It was situated on the north side of Cobourg Peninsula.  The settlement was known as Fort Wellington.   It was abandoned in 1829.

Gage’s road, was the area where Freemantle is today.

Recorded here by Phillip Parker King, in Endeavour River in 1819
HMS Mermaid, Recorded here by Phillip Parker King, in Endeavour River in 1819

4 Responses

  1. Mike Patterson

    Before the Reef was charted wrecks were quite common. The area near Raine Island and particularly to the south had quite a lot of wrecks. HMS Pandora with the HMS Bounty mutineers confined to a wooden box on its deck was wrecked there. The convicts that built the Beacon on Raine Island gathered timber and canvas from nearby wrecks for the beacon – they got a remission on their sentences for building it.
    The sailing ships had no ability to reverse – only to come about if sea room permitted and regularly the ships missed the stays and come into collision with the coral. They also didn’t have the benefit of Polaroid glasses and relied upon a lookout up high on the forward mast and the soundings using the cast of the leadline – which had to be hauled back up before the next cast and the base checked if it was armed with tallow to give an indication of the bottoms composition.
    In the South East trade winds the ships were running and it took concentration by the helmsman and watch officer to prevent the vessel from broaching to in the troughs of the waves – which could case the vessel to be put on its beams end and sunk. It was easy to cause stays and sheets and canvas to be carried away and whilst repairs were effected the ship was at the “mercy of the wind and waves” and if you managed to get on a lee shore it was near all over as you had a struggle beating, or tacking, out.
    From my many years involved in RAN Hydrographic Surveying on HMAS Paluma and HMAS Flinders we come upon old wreckage and I feel that many wrecks were not defined as to wreck position due to sinking and crew drowning or dying of other causes. The old anchor at HMAS Cairns was recovered by HMAS Flinders after it was sighted by a RAAF Caribou aircraft near Cape Sidmouth. I found old spars near by and these were taken to HMAS Cairns but when I inquired about them some years later no one knew about them.

  2. Hi,
    This story, although fascinating to read, is not realistic. The GOVERNOR READY was wrecked many miles away in Cumberland Passage 30 miles west of Murray island & the COMET was wrecked on Boot Reef some forty miles to the east of Murray Island. Both vessels sailed outside the Great Barrier Reef until they reached latitude 10* S to turn west towards Torres Strait, a very long way from Cape Sidmouth.
    Also, in his journal “A voyage around the world” surgeon Wilson wrote a detailed account of the wreck of the GOVERNOR READY in which there is no mention whatsoever of picking up survivors from other shipwrecks.

  3. The title of surgeon Wilson’s journal is “A Narrative of a Voyage around the World”

  4. bevjshay

    Thanks you for that information Hubert. I was just reporting what I found in the old newspapers. Guess they were just as inaccurate as modern day papers.

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