25["The Late Boat Accident in the Gulf", The South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA), Wednesday 19 September 1866, page 3]


On Monday morning, the 17th inst., the Marine Board commenced an investigation into the causes of the late fatal accident in Gulf, by which the mailhoat was cut asunder and Pilot McPherson and

james Abernethy were drowned.

There were present the President (who conducted the enquiry). Messrs. J. W. Smith, M.P., G. W. Hawkes, and C. H. T. Connor.

The letter of Mr. Amory. on which the enquiry had been instituted, was read, but it was in substance the same as the evidence.

Edward Amory, coxswain of the wrecked mail boat Mercury, was first examined. He stated that he was in charge of the boat, on the 6th September, at the time of the accident. Saw the Coorong approaching from the bar. There were in the boat, besides himself. Pilot McPherson, Mr. Harvey, William and James Abernethy, Abraham Manson, aud Henry King. The wind was south west, blowing strong. There was a heavy sea on. The boat went under small sail, single-reefed. Lowered the lug when the steamer was near the outer bar, and hove-to. Was about two miles from the steamer, a little to the northward of the jetty. The boat was drifting to the north-eastward, and was on the port tack. Intended to board the steamer the port side. The steamer was heading W.N.W. Remained hove-to till the Coorong came close. Pilot McPherson was at the helm of the boat. He was supposed to be in command of the boat. Witness was not in charge at the time. Hoisted the lug when the steamer was about 100 yards distant. The boat was lying athwart the steamer's course. Saw that the only chance of saving themselves was to get seaward of the steamer, across her bows. When the lug was hoisted the boat got no way on her. The tack of he lug was not down. About eight or 10 seconds elapsed from then to the time of the collision. Did not notice any one on board the steamer. Made no siguals. Did not notice whether the steamer was letting off steam. She was going about seven or eight knots. Was sitting to leeward, aud could not see anyone on the bridge. When the steamer ran into the boat, about four feet from where he was sitting, about 16 feet from the stern. The boat was 40 feet long. The steamer went right through the boat. Even the oars were cut in two. Went under the steamer's bottom, the result of the accident was that McPherson and James Abernethy were drowned. The steamer stopped after the accident. Believed the screw was not stopped at the time, as a piece of the stern was cut clean out as if the screw had struck the boat. After the collision the steamer went about 200 or 300 yards ahead, and then turned round. A boat had picked the men up before the steamer reached them. Saw McPherson on a piece of the wreck from 20 to 30 yards inshore of him. Did not see the other man that was drowned. He had been sitting forward. None were injured by the steamer striking them. The bodies had not been recovered. Harvey and Henry Ring got hold of a rope from the steamer. All were picked up by boats from the Coorong.

By Mr. Connor--It was the usual way to stop for the steamer, and wait for her to steer towards the boat.

By Mr. Allen, pilot--Thought a good sheer on the starboard helm would have brought the boat on the starboard side. Thought the speed of the Coorong in calm weather was ibout 10 or 11 knots. When the lug of the boat was set they were directly ahead of the steamer's bows.

Abraham Manson and William Abernethy then gave evidence, which for the most part substantiated that of ths previous witness. David Short, chief engineer of the Coorong, said he was on board on the 6th of September last. Recollected the vessel going over the outer bar. Was on deck at the time. Did not see the boat. Went below about 10 minutes before the accident happened. Was going at the speed of eight or nine knots. No orders were given to him to ease the speed of the vessel. A sudden order came down to stop her, which was immediately done. Could not say whether the order was given before or after the accident. Felt no shock. No orders were given to him to stand by the engines. The engines of the Coorong could be stopped in a second. The wind was blowing hard. In about a minute after stopping the engines the steamer's way would be considerably stayed. Immediately after the order to "stop her" was given another order was given to "turn astern." He did so, and after a few revolutions of the screw something got to the fan, and brought the engines to a stop. Not two minutes elapsed between the order to stop the engines being given and when they were stopped by something touching the fan. The vessel was going about five or six knots at the time she turned astern. Did not know who gave the order to stop. It was usual to ease the engines before stoppiug; but this was not done on that occasion. It generally took about an hour from the steamer's leaving the wharf to reach the place where the accident happened. It was about 4 o'clock by Melbourne time when the steamer left the wharf, and about a quarter past 5 when the accident occurred.

John Hunter, one of the crew of the Coorong, stated that be was standing by the engine-room of the steamer on the 6th inst. Did not see the boat. Saw Pilot Allen standing on the bridge. Recollected when the steamer was approaching the boat. Got the first order to stop the steamer from the second mate. The pilot gave the order to turn astern. The steamer was stopped directly and then went astern. Did not see the engines brought up standing. It would be about two minutes from the order being given to stop that the collision took place. The order to reverse the engines was given directly after the order to stop. That was after the collision.

By Mr. Allen--Saw the boat a good way ahead of the steamer. She had her mainsail aud foresail let. She was on the port bow, and about two or three miles distant. Did not see the boat when she was close to the steamer. Did not know at he time why the order to stop was given.

Fletcher Ashton, chief officer of the Coorong, said he was in command on the 6th instant. Saw the boat when the steamer left the bar. It was about two miles distant. When he saw her she was on the port bow, hove-to under the mizensail. When within about 100 yards of her the steamer's lead was S. and by W., and the boat bore S S.E., with her head to the W., on the port bow. When within 50 yards the boat hoisted the lug and tried to cross the steamer's' bows. The collision then took place. Heard pilot Allen call out "Stop her," and called out the same himself, which was immediately done. The engines were reversed by order of the pilot. No orders were given to stop the engines after they were reversed. When he saw the men on the wreck he ordered the boats to be lowered, and went in one himself. All the survivors were picked up by the ship's boats. Saw nothing of the other two men who were drowned. After the engines were brought up something got round the fan. It was the topsail brace.

By Mr. Allen--If the lug had not been set the boat could have got clear of the steamer. Saw nothing unusual in Mr. Allen's (the pilot's) manner. He was acting properly. Saw no necessity for any interference after leaving the wharf.

John Hunter, recalled, said he did not hear any order to stop the engines after they were brought up.

Mr. Ashton continued--Did not apprehend any danger to the boat from the steamer. The pilot had a little too much way on, more than he (witness) would have had. Did not think the steamer was going eight knots at the time of the accident. About 10 1/4 knots was the average speed of the Coorong in smooth water.

By the President--Knew the size of the mail-boat. Thought the steamer was going about seven or eight knots on that day. The boat was lying about two points on the port bow. The direction of her head was nearly at right angles to the steamer's course. Did not think it was safe to pick up any boat, when the steamer was going so fast, with the boat's head to the sea. Did not think the people in the boat could have held on. Was on deck at the time. Did not know it was his place to direct the pilot, as he was in full charge of the vessel. The pilot saw every thing in reference to the boat. Saw the lug hoisted, and the boat had good way on her. The sail was rapped full. Asked A.T. Amory, when he was picked up, what made him set the lug, and he replied he did not know. Attributed the accident to the setting of the lugsail by the boat. If the lugsail had acted on the boat and the steamer had not had so much speed on, no loss of life might have taken place. The steamer was within 50 yards of the boat when the lug was hoisted, and going at the rate of seven or eight knots. It would take 10 or 15 seconds to close. Saw the sail set. The boat was going as fast as the steamer, and was about two points on the port bow.

The investigation was then adjourned till the following day. Pilot Allen's certificate being suspended in the meantime.


Present -The President, Mr. J. M. Linklater, and Mr. C. H. T. Connor.

Mr. Allen enquired whether Mr. Fenn could be allowed to attend on his behalf. The Board decided on the contrary.

The following witnesses were then examined:--

Samuel Harvey, Customs officer, said he was in the boat when the accident took place. The boat was about two miles to the northward of the jetty, and lay-to for the steamer with the mizen set. Remained till the steamer got pretty close. As she neared she appeared to be coming down as though it was intended to pick them up on the weather side. The wind was about S.W.; the boat's head to the southward. When we set the lug the port bow of the vessel was exposed to them. Did not see any people on deck. McPherson, who was steering, said, "You had better hoist the lug and cross her." The lug was hoisted nearly to the masthead, and the steamer then appeared to sheer off to the westward. The boat gathered a little way, which brought her under the steamer's bows, and before the helm could be put down the steamer was over them.

By Mr. Allen--Told you next morning I believed it was Mr. McPherson's intention to cross the steamer's bow, and sail up on the starboard side. Had the lug not been set believed the steamer would have gone clear of the boat. The lug gave them them a little way. When the lug was set I said it was too late to clear her, and Mr. McPherson said so to. When the order was given to set the lug, I thought she would have cleared the steamer, as she appeared to be coming on them.

By the President--The accident, he thought, was attributable, in the first place, to error in hoisting the lug; and, in the second tilace, to the steamer having too much way.

By Mr. Allen--Did not think there was any anxiety to get alongside so as to go off to the vessel, which had a jack flying for a pilot. Mr. McPherson went off with the intention of going to the vessel if a pilot was required, but it was hove-to for the pilot-cutter some time before the steamer came up.

By E. Amory--Considered the boat gathered a little way when the lug was set. The mizen was full before. She might have gone her own length. Was sitting right aft. McPherson was steering. Supposed the steamer was about 150 to 200 yards from the boat when the lug was hoisted. Could see the steamer all the time. I think the steamer might have gone clear of them if the lug had not been set, but it would have been a very close shave. The tack of the lug was not hauled down, the halyards were not made fast, and the sheet was not home.

By Mr. Connor--The boat was steered by a rudder.

By Mr. Hawkes--The steamer appeared to be coming about five or six knots. It was unusually fast.

By Mr. Allen--Did not know whether he could hold on to a rope in the water whilst the ship was going five or six knots. He held on to a rope till he was picked up by the boat By Mr. Hawkes. The steward of the vessel rendered valuable assistance. Believed it was he that hauled witness into the boat.

By Mr. Linklater--The boat had no way on her previous to the lug being hoisted. Not many minutes elapsed from the time the order was given till the lug was hoisted.

By E. Amory--Supposed the steamer was 200 yards from where the bot picked him (Amory) up. John Thompson, able seaman oil board the Coorong, said he was on board on the 6th September last.

By Mr. Allen--Recollected you asking me to have a line ready for the boat. The boat was on the port bow about two points, sufficient for the steamer to clear her. Thought the steamer was going too fast to pick up the boat. She was going faster than usual when picking up the boat. When he saw the boat first she had the mizenlug set, aud afterwards set the forelug. It was blowing strong. Believed it would affect the speed of the steamer. After the lug was set you asked which side the boat was going, and sung out "Hard-a-port your helm." Had the lug not been set, the steamer would have gone clear of the boat. Did not hear the order given to stop the engine. Had the boat remained steady, with mizen set, should not have apprehended any danger. Attributed the accident to the lug being set, and the steamer not being stopped in time. After the collision there were two men hanging on to ropes at the port bow. I have held on by a rope for a short time when the steamer was going at full speed. Saw the life-buoy dropped over Mr. Harvey's head. He did not get into it. Believed he was too much exhausted.

By E. Amory--Could not say how far Mr. Harvey was towed. Could not say what speed the steamer was going, but it was full speed very shortly before the accident. The order was given to "ease her" and "stop her" at the same time, He was watching the boat, but when the order was given to "stop her" the steamer's bow hid the forelug.

By Mr. Allen--Considered the orders to "ease" and "stop" were given in consequence of the boat being under the bow.

By the President--The boat was 200 or 300 yards from the steamer on her port bow when the lug was hoisted. Immediately the pilot was told the lug was hoisted he gave the order to port the helm.

By Mr. Allen--Was watching the steamer with a line ready for the boat. Did not see the steamer making direct for the boat. Should say the two masts could not be seen in a line when the lug was set. It was possible for a person to be mistaken in the speed of a vessel when blowing strong. You appeared anxious to pick up the boat. You showed no carelessness.

Henry Jenkins, carpenter on board the Coorong, was examined at length, but his evidence was only a corroboration of that of the previous witness.

James Shanks, seaman of Coorong, was at the wheel on tbe day in question when the accident occurred. Did not see the boat at all. Heard the pilot give him orders to port helm about three minutes before the boat was struck. The helm was put hard-a-port and kept so.

The letter of Pilot Allen to the Board was then read, and Mr. Allen stated from the time the boat was seen she was on the port bow until the lug was set, when seeing that she was running across the bow he ordered the helm to be put hard-a-port. Respecting the evidence, the only thing he objected to was that of Mr. Abernethy. He thought that everything he said was put into his mouth by the President. He also remarked that he considered it wrong on the part of Amory to give up charge of the boat to McPherson, as it was difficult to manage in the hand of one unaccustomed to it. Had the lug not been set the only result of the vessel having too much speed would have been to have run past her.

Messrs. Connor and Hawkes said they thought the evidence of Abernethy was very straightforward, and that the remarks of Mr. Allen were unjustified.

The room was then cleared for a short time, after which the following was announced as the finding of the Board:--

"1. That the destruction of the mail and Customs boat, and the drowning of the late Pilot John Henry McPherson, and boatman William Abernethy on the 6th inst, was caused by the default of Pilot Thomas Allen, then in charge of the steamship Coorong, of the Port of Adelaide, when off the Semaphore Jetty on the above date, the said Pilot Thomas Allen having exhibited gross recklessness in not easing and stopping the engines of the Coorong before nearing the mailboat.

"That the crew of the mailboat erred in hoisting the lug.

"2. That Mr. Fletcher Ashton, chief officer of the Coorong, acting as master on the 6th September last, would have been justified in taking charge out of the pilot's hands in order to have averted the collision.

"It is unfortunate Mr. Ashton did not take tbe responsibility on himself, considering the great speed at which the steamer was going.

"3. That the pilot licence held by Mr. Thomas Allen is hereby cancelled, and that he be deemed ineligible to be again employed as pilot, or in any situation in the Marine Department of this province."