28a["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

28b["S.S. Moira In The Gale", Broome Chronicle (WA), Saturday 30 March 1912]


Captain Ward, of the cattle steamer Moira, reports that he encountered cyclonic weather at 8 a.m., on the 20th, in latitude 19.20 south, lon. 117.0 east, a hundred miles north-west of Hedland. The Moira was run before the storm in a westerly direction for about 150 miles. The storm roughly lasted 24 hours, when the wind gradually shifted from E.N.E. round to S.W., the ship then proceeding on her voyage, passing 60 miles N.W. of Rowley Shoals. We met the Charon near Lynher Reef, at 7 a.m. on the 22nd, bound for Java. I consider the storm was more severe near land than with us. We did not see the Koombana.

AB notes:

Moira's observations emerge as important. She was the only vessel to observe the storm from the offshore side.

28c["No Tidings", The West Australian, Monday 01 April 1912, page 7]





In order that the public may be fully acquainted with the latest details of the search for the missing liner Koombana, a representative of this journal interviewed Mr. W. E. Moxon, the manager of the Adelaide S.S. Company in Western Australia, last night. With reports from the North-West and charts of the possible catastrophe area in front of him, Mr. Moxon made the following statement:--

"Captain Mills has reported that the s.s. Minderoo from Thursday to Saturday last, shaped a course taking her on the western and eastern side of Barrow Island, and the Montebello Group, and then went round Ritchie Reef searching thoroughly there. Shell and Stewart Islands were visited before he proceeded to Cossack via the Dampier Archipelago, taking in Mermaid, Rosemary, Eaglehawk, Legendre, and Delambre Islands en route, without finding any trace of the Koombana after a most exhaustive and thorough search.

The Bullarra, from Sampson to Hedland, commencing on Tuesday last, searched the Turtle Islands, thence to Bedout Island, where she landed a search party. Here I might mention that they found the new automatic light had been extinguished. This is a matter to which the authorities will give careful consideration. The Amphinome Shoals were visited, and a course shaped along the Eighty-Mile Beach, taking in LaGrange Bay and Roebuck Bay. This also produced no trace of the missing liner.

Close and wide the luggers have been searching from Roebuck Bay round the Amphinone Shoals to Port Hedland, and we understand that Captain Parkes' luggers have been searching from Monte Bellos to Cossack. In addition, luggers have searched Depuch Island, in the neighbourhood of Cossack and Hedland without avail. There is no report at present from the lugger that visited Rowley Shoals, but this, in view of the Gorgon's report, is negligible.

The Gorgon arrived at Broome this morning, her instructions having been to search the Rowley Shoals with Impereiuse, Clark, and Mermaid reefs. She signalled this morning that her search had been thorough, but no trace of the Koombana had been seen. It will, therefore, be seen that the whole of the coast from Barrow and Monte Bello Islands has been searched to Broome, and across from Broome to Rowley Shoals inclusive.

The Moira should have passed down by this time on her trip to Fremantle, taking in the Lacepede Islands, Rowley Shoals, and west of Ritchie Reef, but no report will be received from her, it may be assumed, unless she has something of an urgent nature to communicate before her arrival at Fremantle. It will be remembered that the Moira encountered the cyclone a hundred miles to the north-west of Port Hedland, bound to Wyndham. Detailed in formation of the winds encounteread by her will be of interest, and will only be received on arrival of the vessel at Fermantle. A condensed report, of course, was wired by Captain Ward from Wyndham for the guidance of searchers. The coast search, it will be seen, has been absolutely fruitless, except in so far as the reports that no trace of the vessel can be found.

"Now we come to the question of the ocean search. The Minderoo, we understand, has instructions from Captain Irvine, the chief harmourmaster, to proceed to the north of Ritchie Reef to work up to Rowley Shoals, and so into Port Hedland. The Una, with a month or more supplies of coal, is due at Cossack on April 2, where she will receive her instructions from Capt. Irvine. It is understood that the is to thoroughly search the waters to the west of Monte Bello and Rowley Shoals and between them. The Premier has specially arranged with.the Adelaile S. S. Co., at the urgent request of the public, for the Bullarra to make a six days' search. following up the cyclone track from the neighbourhood of Port Hedland, where the Koombana was last seen. As Captain Upjohn himself knows the direction and strength of the storm, he should, be able to carry out this work very thoroughly and efficiently. I might add that the management of the Adelaide Co., when I referred the matter to them on Saturday evening, instantly agreed to contribute substantially to the expenses which the Government will incur in connection with the Bullarra's search.

The Minderoo, on the way out from Cossack, is to traverse the open waters eastward from Ritchie Reef from the Rowley Shoals, thence to Port Hedland.

I understand that the Endeavour, the Federal trawler, has left Adelaide to conduct a search.

As evidence of some of the distances which a search in these waters entails, including the open seas, a line drawn from Ritchie Reef to Impereiuse Reef, in Rowley Shoals, is approximately 250 miles. From Ritchie Reef to Cossack, Depuch Island and Poit Hedland is about 200 miles, and from Hedland to Impereiuse Reef 150 miles. From Ritchie Reef to Lacepede Is lands is 440 miles, and from Port Hedland to Broome round the Amphinome group is about 280 miles. Thus a section only of this search area is (Ritchie Repf to Rowley Shoals and Port Hedland) like a triangle, 250 miles by 200 miles by 150, miles, with the open sea to the west, where also the missing boat might be found. The search so far has been very thorough, and everybody concerned has shown the utmost willingness to assist the authorities in prosecuting the search for the steamer and the unfortunate 140 people on board. All the public can do now is to wait the result of the ocean search and any further lugger reports.

"The Adelaide Company continue to hope that the Koombana may have survived the awful storm of March 21, and may be in a disabled condition somewhere at sea, although immediately authentic news of the direction of the cyclonic winds at Port Hedland was received it became abundantly clear that the Koombana, being in the left-hand semi-circle of the storm, must have been placed in circumstances of utmost danger and difficulty. It will be remembered that in the case of the Bullarra and the Moira the hurricane wind which they experienced veered from E.N.E. southwards to W. Port Hedland reports, on the other hand, show that the wind started E., backed to E.N.E., returned to E., again backed to E.N.E. with hurricane force, veering to N.N.E. and N. and N.N.W., blowing a full hurricane the whole time. This was, of course, in an entirely contrary direction to that experienced by the other two vessels, and indicating, so nautical experts affirm, that the Koombana was on the left-hand semi-circle, of the cyclone. Thus it looks as though she had Bedout Islands and the Amphinome Shoals under her lee with the hurricane ahead of her and backing to N., involving her in a most serious position. On the other hand, the centre of the hurricane was apparently right in the track of the vessel to the open sea to the westwards. It certainly is the opinion of nautical men that the s.s. Koombana, to avoid certain destruction near the Amphinome Shoals, had only one alternative before her, and has been face to face with the dreaded centre of the cyclone, with what result the ocean search can only reveal."


On Saturday evening Mr. Gardiner, M.L.A. for Roebourne, telegraphed the following message to the Premier:-

"Arrived Cossack in Minderoo today. Captain Mills made thorough search through Mary Ann Passage, along the east side of Barrow Shoal, round Barrow Island, and round Montebello Island and Ritchie Reef. Then steered east 25 miles, then south again to Sholl Islands. Searched the islands and then along the coast to Cossack, through the whole of the Dampier Archipelago. No trace of the Koombana. Going to Balla Balla tonight, then out searching."

It seems, therefore, that both the Bullarra and the Minderoo will be in the search and will be starting from opposite ends of the area which has to be covered. The telegram, continuing, stated that the search by the Minderoo had been most complete and that Captain Mills felt sure that the Koombana had not gone in that particular direction.

28d[Wreck of the "Koombana" - photocopy of material relating to, Harbour and Lights Department, Western Australia, 1912, State Records Office of Western Australia. WAS1618 Consignment 5055 Item 001, Telegram, Wood, R.M., Broome to Premier Scaddan for Capt. Mills, s.s. Minderoo, Tuesday 26 March 1912]

Broome to Perth

for premier following Information important for Capt Mills Carnarvon Moira wires Sydney pigott as follows Midnight 19th Moira 75 miles NE by E ritchie bay weather squally threatening mercurial bar 29 80 aneroid 2960 wind ENE force five barometers stationary until 7a 20th wind gradually shifted to ESE increasing to force 8 noon 20th Moira position 19 15 S one seventeen ten east wind ESE force eleven mercurial bar 29 72 aneroid twenty nine fifty ship running before storm very high sea thick with rain & driving sleet 3pm wind SE by E bar 29 72 2950 force wind 11 stop 4p wind SE half E bar 29 72 2940 force wind 11 5pm Wind SE force 10 bar 29 75 aneroid 29 35 8pm wind SSE force 11 bar 29 75 force 8 bar 2982 aneroid 2940 12p conditions similar ship heading NE rolling heavily sea confused and high position 17 30 S 116 E dead reckoning 2am 21st wind S force 6 bar 29 80 29 50 squally moderating high confused sea ship on proper course N 56 E 8am similar weather condition bar 2978 29 50 noon wind WSW force 6 bar 2984 2964 from then on weather resumed normal conditions bars readings are correct although they do not agree as storm does not appear to have visited yours suggest search rowley shoals to the coastline from bedout island to Monte bello islands koombana left hedlend 10 30 am on 20th