["Disaster At The North West", The West Australian, Tuesday 8 February 1881, page 3]



By the Pet which arrived at Fremantle yesterday, from the Nor'-West, intelligence was received of a serious disaster which befel the pearling fleet, at a place called the Mary Ann Patch, about 30 miles west of the Fortescue River, resulting in the loss of twelve vessels, the drowning of three European sailors, and of several native pearlers. We are indebted to Mr. Robert Sholl for the following particulars, furnished to him by Mr. John Brockman, whose vessel was among the wrecked:--

On Thursday, Jan. 6th, the glass began to fall, but not enough to indicate any very great change, though the weather looked very threatening. I was lying at anchor in company with the schooner Ethel, in Coolgurra Creek, about eight miles to the westward of the Mangrove Islands, in what I considered to be perfectly safe anchorage in any weather.

On the morning of the 7th, the weather looked very stormy, and the glass began to fall steadily, and the wind to increase. By 8 a.m. it was blowing a hard gale, and the atmosphere was thick and heavy. Shortly after nine, as the gale increased, a sea began to rise, and the Ethel commenced dragging. I was then riding by one anchor with about twenty fathoms of chain, and when the Ethel dragged I let go the lasp anchor and paid out on both chains until I had 50 fathoms on the working, and 30 on the lasp, chains. Shortly after this the Ethel dragged by us and disappeared in the gloom. The gale had now increased to a hurricane, and we could only get about by crawling on our hands and knees. The glass was now below 27 deg. and still going down, and though not yet noon it was so dark that it was difficult to distinguish objects at more than a few yards distance. We now began to drag, and entered the Mangroves about 200 yards up the creek. Here we lost our rudder. The mangroves were now all round us, and waving ten or twelve feet above our heads, and the vessel was grinding and crushing them on all sides. All at once I heard the vessel give a great roll, and the water came up along the deck to the combing of the main hatch. She, however, righted again, and I then noticed that the Mangroves had entirely disappeared.

This was about 1 p.m., and the glass was down to about 26.50. A few minutes after this she gave another roll, and capsized. This must have been in the height of the gale. After clinging to the wreck until about 5 in the afternoon, it suddenly fell a dead calm, and the darkness cleared away enough to enable us to make out the land. After some difficulty we succeeded in righting and partially bailing out the only dinghy that had fortunately been lashed to the mast by a strong new painter, and got those of the hands into it who were unable to swim. We all managed to get ashore, with the exception of one poor fellow (a native) who we found next day entangled in the chain.

On the bank where we landed, we found Mr. Hall and Mr. John O'Grady, and a few natives. O'Grady's son, a lad of 16, had not turned up, and they feared he was drowned. It appears that the Ethel stove and sank soon after entering the Mangroves, and they had been clinging to the mangroves for hours, and were all together when the mangroves disappeared, when they all struck out in the direction (as they hoped) of the shore. But it was so dark that they could not see each other.

The gale now re-commenced with (if possible) greater violence than ever, from the westward, and we had to make a rush for the hills distant nearly half a mile. Here, huddled together, we passed a terrible night. In the morning, which broke fine, we all started for the scene of the disaster. We managed to get a fire and roasted some birds that had perished in the storm. The body of poor young O'Grady was found on the marsh. He was much bruised, and appeared to have had a hard struggle for life.

In thinking over the whole matter, and judging from the appearance of everything this morning, I am quite convinced that we must have had a large tidal wave which carried us over the Mangroves, and then overturned us, as it was done so suddenly--one minute they were waving many feet above the deck, and the next had entirely disappeared. From the masthead of the Ethel, to-day I can see large gaps through the range of hills along the coast, and the country appears inundated for miles inland. I have no means of ascertaining the fate of the other vessels which were lying near the Mangrove Islands, as the dinghy we got ashore last night was blown away by the wind in the night, and where we landed is now an island.

Mr. Sholl has also furnished us with the following list of casualties: Nautilus, dismasted; Adela, lying bottom up, ashore; Sarah, high and dry, away up in the creek, beyond the Mangroves; Fortescue, a total wreck; Banangara, a complete wreck; Alpha, do.; Morning Star, foundered, and her owner (McDow) drowned; Florence, capsized, and one of her crew - a man known as 'Dutch Peter' - drowned ; the Ethel swamped, a total wreck ; Emma, dismasted ; Kate, capsized, on her beam ends; Yule, swamped, a total wreck; Emma, dismasted. All the vessels lost the whole of their stores, shells, and pearls. Mr. Sholl says the Nautilus was caught right in the middle of the storm, which started from the N.E., and worked round to W.N.W. The glass when last seen on board the Nautilus was at 27.80, the fair weather range being 30.40. Where the Adela went ashore, saveral tiers of sandhills along the coast were completely washed away, and all along in the direction of the Ashburton a complete transformation has taken place in the appearance of the country, which was inundated for many miles inland. An immense quantity of turtles, several sharks, and shoals of dead fish, were washed ashore, and the effects of the storm generally were described as altogether unprecedented.