9["The Cyclone", The West Australian, Tuesday 26 March 1912, page 5]






News of the Nor'-West cyclone continues to trickle in all too slowly, and with no reassuring reports concerning the fine coastal trader Koombana, which is supposed to have left Port Hedland at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday last for Broome, and has not since been heard of, the feeling of suspense in the city and Fremantle yesterday became deeply accentuated. The steamer is now five days out on a voyage which should under ordinary circumstances have occupied 24 hours, and her whereabouts were the main topic of conversation. The ferocity of the hurricane and its toll of human life were almost forgotten in anxiety for the welfare of the passengers and crew of the steamer. It was persistently hoped that news would come to hand during the day announcing her safety, but the hours slipped away without any intimation whatever concerning her fate.


Owing to the complete isolation of Port Hedland, which constitutes perhaps the storm centre of the blow, not a word has been received from there in the last five days. No news is generally good news, but in the case of the Koombana, Port Hedland probably holds the knowledge whether she sought haven in some near-by haven or steamed out to battle the gale. Lack of knowledge has led to all sorts of speculations, the most predominant being that possibly owing to light loading her machinery has broken down. The Koombana is the finest boat that has traded on the Nor'-West line. She has the reputation of being able to ride the roughest seas, and on the score of seamanship the presence of Captain Allen on the bridge is held to be her safest guarantee.


Meanwhile the information in connection with the disasters along the coast, where from La Grange Bay to Roebourne the cyclone played havoc with life and property, adds more pathos to the story already told.

The latest particulars from Depuch Island, a point at which the blow found many men at sea, are to the effect that 16 white men alone have been buried there. The captain of the Crown of England buried six of his own crew on the island, in addtion to Messrs. T. J. Hill, Maginnis and Thompson, a surveyor whose body was found in the rigging of the lighter Clyo. The first two named were among a party of 14 witnesses in the Seleno murder trial, who were transshipping to catch the steamer for Roebourne in the lighter Clyo when the cyclone overtook them. Amongst the witnesses who are still missing are William Kelleher, M. J. Sheehan, Rupert Love, and Nagel.

It is stated that matters in connection with the court witnesses have been most unfortunate. On March 16 the corporal in charge at Roebourne wired to the Crown Solicitor, Perth, to have the witnesses sent by the Paroo, and also wired to the Perth police to see that the telegram was promptly delivered. The corporal in charge here took it on himself to wire the Whim Creek police to bring all available witnesses by the Paroo, which was done. The balance were drowned. The three luggers lost are the Clara, Karrakatta, and Karrara.

Two Japanese swam ashore from the lugger Clara and reported that the boat, four of the crew, and the white mate were lost, also another lugger with all hands gone. All the Cossack luggers are believed to be safe.

The wharfinger travelled along the tram line to Cossack on Sunday with a trolly and horse. Light freight may be got through that way in a few days provided men are put on to repair the track which, across the marsh, is in the air in many places. Prompt action by the Works Department is necessary to avoid delay and enable goods to come to Roebourne.





Throughout the day the agents of the Koombana were besieged with inquiries, but unfortunately the brief information which did come to hand was not of a character calculated to allay the fears and anxiety of those who have relatives and friends on the overdue steamer. This anxiety is now shared by the owners of the Koombana, but the local representatives of the Adelaide S.S. Company, Limited, are of the opinion that she has met with nothing more than a mishap to her machinery, which accounts for her not being reported. Yesterday, Mr W. E. Moxon, manager in Western Australia for the Adelaide S.S. Company, Limited, made the following statement:--

"The Koombana is now five days out from Port Hedland on her way to Broome, a passage that she normally makes in 24 hours. It would be idle to say that we are not anxious--extremely anxious. Still, knowing that she is such an admirable sea boat, and that the master is such a careful mariner, we have every confidence that she will turn up safely."

Nor is this optimism confined solely to the agents. Many well-known seafaring men at the Port, who have had considerable experience of the Nor'-West coast, are firmly convinced that the Koombana will be reported within a day or two. It is very probable, they state, that she has received such a terrible buffeting that she is lying off the coast awaiting a complete abatement of the storm before approaching the land. Others are of the opinion that she has met with a mishap to either her propeller or to the machinery. The Koombana is never very heavily laden on the trip north, and after leaving Port Hedland she would have only the Broome and Derby cargo in her holds. She would thus be in very light trim, and the theory has been advanced that during the storm an accident occurred to the shaft or propeller as the result of the vessel pitching in the tremendous seas.


When the German mail steamer Gneisenau arrived from Colombo yesterday, it was hoped that she would be able to furnish some word of the Koombana. All the light that the master of the mail steamer could throw on the matter, however, was that on Wednesday last, during the voyage across the Indian Ocean, the wireless operator got into touch with the Koombana. The latter, which was then at Port Hedland, was about 800 miles distant.

It was on the same day that the Koombana sailed from [sic] Broome, and since then no further word had been received by the Gneisenau. Throughout yesterday the Gneisenau's operator sat at his instrument, throwing out at frequent intervals urgent signals to the Koombana. There was no response, however, and when the result became known, the anxiety became even more acute. It was, however, pointed out that the Koombana's wireless installation may have been wrecked during the storm, which would account for no response being received. Again, it might be that her apparatus was not sufficiently powerful to send a reply to the Gneisenau, more particularly during the day time, which is not nearly so conducive to long-distance signalling as the night time. Should the Koombana's installation remain intact, it was hoped that she would be able to get into touch with the P. and O. liner Mongolia, which is due from Colombo this morning. The latter would pass within easy range of the Koombana's instrument, and it is to be hoped that on arrival she will bring more hopeful tidings than the Gneisenau.



When spoken to yesterday by a representative of the "West Australian," Mr. W. E. Moxon, manager for the Adelaide S.S. Co., said that the Government had decided to despatch two luggers to search for the Koombana, on the assumption that she had met with a mishap. One would search the Rowley Shoals, while the other would proceed along the Ninety Mile Beach from Broome to Port Hedland. The Company had also arranged for the steamer Moira, which, according to information received that day had arrived safely at Broome, in keep a good look-out on her return trip to Fremantle. A cable had also been despatched to Batavia instructing the master of the Blue Funnel liner Gorgon to watch for any signs of the missing vessel. The Gorgon was due at Broome on Friday or Saturday. The Bullarra was still at Point Sampson. She was short of water, and it would he necessary for her to proceed to Port Hedland to land her stock, as it was impossible to obtain water at either of those two places. This, Mr. Moxon pointed out, was one of the disadvantages which they had to contend with on the Nor'-West trade. Afterwards the Bullarra would proceed to Broome, and the matter of making a search for the Koombana would be left in the hands of her master. There are thus five vessels at the least on the look-out for the missing steamer, and, providing nothing more serious has occurred, some tidihgs of her should soon be received. Yesterday a wire was received by the Chief Harbour Master to the effect that the Koombana had not arrived at Derby, which disposes of the statement that she was lying at that port. Last night Mr. W. E. Moxon received a cable message from Broome to the effect that three luggers and a motor boat were leaving Broome almost immediately to search the Ninety Mile Beach. No doubt the luggers referred to include the two arranged for by the Government. Every steamer now moving along the Nor'-West coast has been or is being communicated with advising them to keep a look-out for the Koombana. The Bullarra is expected to leave Point Sampson for Port Hedland this afternoon, where she will discharge her stock, afterwards making for Broome.




During Sunday night the Premier (Mr. J. Scaddan) got into touch with Broome and Derby by cable via Port Darwin and Banjowangie, and received information that up to midnight there was no sign of the Koombana at Derby, at which port it had been reported she had arrived. The Premier then cabled to the Mayor, and also to the resident magistrate at Broome, and authorised the latter to do whatever he deemed best in connection with making inquiries with regard to the missing vessel, and promising that everything would be done at the Perth end. The resident magistrate was also requested to keep the Government advised.

At 7.30 yesterday morning the superintendent of the Eastern Extension Company informed the Premier that Derby reported that there was no sign of the Koombana.

Later in the day a further cable was received by the Premier from the resident magistrate at Broome setting out that in order to relieve the anxiety which was being felt in so many quarters, it was advisable to send out a steamer in search of the Koombana. The cablegram supplied the information that the s.s. Moira was at Wyndham, and that the s.s. Minderoo was also on the North-West coast. Mr. Scaddan had in the meantime arranged for a search to be made up toward the Rowley Shoals, and for a lugger to be sent out along the 90-mile beach to Port Hedland.

Throughout the day the Premier continued to make use of cable and telegraph, and on being notified that when the Koombana left Fremantle she had 15 passengers for Broome and 31 for Derby, he cabled to the resident magistrate at Broome as follows:-"Please cable captain of Moira, stating that the Government would like to know the date the Koombana left Hedland and the dates of the storm. Further, will he kindly keep a good lookout for Koombana on his way down coast, and advise Premier's office, Perth, from any port, or other possible means."

Late last night the Premier received the following telegram (via South Australia) from the Resident Magistrate at Broome:--I consider that the steamer Minderoo should be instructed to proceed direct to search Montebello Island and Rowley shoals. Have received the following message from the master of the s.s. Moira at Wyndham, which should be communicated to masters of searching vessels:

"We encountered cyclonic weather at 8 a.m. on the 20th inst. in lat. 19.20 south, long, 117 east, 100 miles north-west Hedland. The Moira was run before the storm in a westerly direction, about 150 miles. The storm, roughly lasted 24 hours, the wind gradually shifting from east-north-east to south-westerly. Ship proceeded on journey, passing 60 miles north-west of Rowley shoals. The steamer Charon was near [? Lgulier] reef at 7 a.m. on the 22nd inst., bound Java. Consider the cyclone more severe nearer land than with us. Did not sight the Koombana. (Signed) Ward, master, Moira."

A second cable message has reached the Premier from Broome to the effect that the Resident Magistrate and residents of the town consider it imperative that both the steamers Moira and Minderoo should be immediately despatched direct to the scene of the hurricane; that the authorities should not wait for the ordinary ship; and, further, that the agents of the steamer Gorgon should instruct the captain of that vessel at Sourabaya to immediately search thoroughly the Rowley shoals before proceeding to Broome. Mr. Scaddan has also been officially informed that the Koombana left Port Hedland at 10.30 a.m. on the 20th inst. Since the receipt of the above messages the Premier has been in communication with the agents and representatives of the vessels mentioned, with a view of deciding what course shall be adopted in connection with the search for the missing steamer. The steamer Minderoo has, it appears, left Geraldton for Carnarvon, and Captain Mills, the master, who is said to know the coast as well as any officer in the mercantile marine, will be instructed to await instructions at Carnarvon. This morning the agents of the Minderoo and of the other vessels mentioned in the messages from Broome and Wyndham will confer with the Premier at his office, when the nature of the instructions to be conveyed to Captain Mills will be agreed upon.




Yesterday at Fremantle one master mariner gave it as his opinion that there was plenty of time to hear from the vessel yet. "Captain Allen," he said, "would very probably clear right out to sea at the very first sign that anything out of the way was coming along, so as to get out of the worst of it. Apart from that, I should not be surprised to hear that when the bad weather was signalled the Koombana was taken back to port, and rode out the storm at Port Hedland. There is one point, however," he added, "and that is in connection with shipping at Balla Balla during the cyclone season. If I had my way I should not allow a sailing vessel to go there during that period, for they have no chance once the weather comes up. There are no places there where such vessels can be properly moored to ride out a blow. I am told that when the barque Glenbank was wrecked up there last year in trying to make out to sea she was not caught in a proper cyclone; she was merely in a hard easterly gale, which is a different thing. Under existing conditions it is simply courting disaster for a sailing ship to go up there in the cyclone season. Of course, practically the only people who could prevent sailors going there at the period I speak of would be the insurance people. I pity any poor fellows who come to grief on Depuch Island. The coast is a terrible one, and at only one spot along the whole of the water frontage is there a sandy beach, and that is only a small concern. For the rest, the foreshore is strewn with rough stones, and when the tide is out one has to step from one stone to another when walking along. A party trying to make land in bad weather at any spot around Depuch Island except at the beachy part I speak of would be beaten to death in a few seconds." Captain C. H. Watson, a master mariner who knows the Nor-West coast well, having been engaged for years past in piloting luggers from Fremantle to Broome, takes an optimistic view regarding the fate of the Koombana. "I have travelled on several occasions as a passenger from Broome to Fremantle on the Koombana, and I have no hesitation in saying that properly handled the Koombana would live in any hurricane. She is a magnificent sea boat. On one trip we fell in with some very heavy weather, and the vessel behaved splendidly. She showed any amount of stability, and her rolling angle was very small." This was Captain Watson's testimony to the sea-going qualities of the Koombana when interrogated yesterday. Asked for an opinion as to the probable whereabouts of the overdue steamer, he said:--"Captain Allen, the master of the Koombana, is one of the most careful navigators on the Australian coast. His ability, too, is unquestioned. I believe that when he first saw signs of the approaching storm he would immediately make well out to sea. The Koombana is a lovely boat, and would never turn over. The only fear I have is that her engines may have broken down. This would account for her delay in reaching Broome, and in the event of no word of her being received by to-morrow morning I would advise that a vessel be sent out to search for her."


The missing Koombana is without exception the finest and most up-to-date steamer that has ever plied between the Nor'-West ports of this State. Indeed she can claim to be one of the most popular and best equipped passenger steamers on the Australian coast. Built by Messrs. A. Stephen and Sons at Glasgow, she has only been running for about two years, during which time she has been extensively engaged dn the Nor'-West service. She is 4,399 tons register, her length being 340ft. The indicated horse-power of the vessel is set down at 4,000, and she is capable of steaming about 15 knots. For many years the Nor-West mail service was carried on by the Bullarra. On the arrival of the Koombaina from England, however, the Bullarra was withdrawn, and only a few weeks ago was again placed on the run in conjunction with the Koombana. Since her inception on the trade the Koombana has not been favoured by fortune. On several occasions she has met with mishaps, none of them, however, of a very serious nature.


AB notes:

The telegram to Gorgon was probably despatched on Monday, March 25th. See above: 'Thorough Search to be Made'.

No time to wait for the ordinary ship, says Broome in its 2nd telegram. 'the ordinary ship' = Government steamer Penguin