37a["Light for Bedout Island", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 30 January 1909, page 5]

Some months ago, the Engineer-in-Chief (Mr. James Thompson) obtained a patent occulting acetylene light from Messrs Chance Bros., Birmingham. The object of this was to place the lamp on trial, with a view to erecting a similar light on Bedout Island, which is a dangerous turning point on the track of steamers running between Port Hedland and Broome. The lamp is at present to be seen in the Harbour and Lights buoy-yard, Fremantle (near the Old Sea Jetty), and it was lighted on June 18. It has been unattended since that date, and it is estimated that it still holds sufficient gas to produce a light until the end of this month. This patent lamp is intended for islands where a regular lighthouse cannot be established, as in the case of Bedout Island, which is only 20ft. high, and is frequently swept by high seas, thus rendering it unfit for habitation. The new light burns for months, and when erected on the island, should prove a valuable guide to mariners in the Nor'-West."

37b["Nor'-West Lights", The West Australian, Wednesday 29 June 1910, page 2]



(By "Vindex.")

One of the most important functions connected with the visit of the Colonial Secretary to the Nor'-West was the opening of three of the six new lighthouses which are being established along the coast for the guidance of mariners and the protection of the travelling public. In 1906 the necessity for additional navigation lights around the extensive and dangerous coast north of Geraldton was brought under the notice of the Government by the various shipping companies trading between Fremantle, the Nor'-West ports, and Singapore. The perils which abound at all points of the coast had already been drawn attention to by a score of wrecks, attended in many instances with a large loss of human life, and the increasing trade with the Nor'-West and Singapore and the larger and more luxurious boats recently brought on to that service, made the provision of additional lights an absolute necessity. The Government realised what was wanted, and they were spurred on to immediate action, rather than deterred by the fact that the lighting of the whole of the Australian coast will shortly become a responsibility of the Federal authority. The Nor'-West coast was undoubtedly the darkest and most sinister of any portion of the Continent, and having experienced something of the difficulty of getting necessary services, such as telegraph and postal conveniences from an authority situated so far away as Melbourne, the State Government decided to build at once such lighthouses as were most urgently necessary, because when the Federal Government assumed control they would be committed to the maintenance of all lights then existing. Accordingly, in 1906, the Colonial Secretary appointed a board, comprising Captains Laurie, Arundel, and Irvine (Chief Harbourmaster), to take evidence and submit a recommendation as to the four most most important cites north of Geraldton which should be lit. In March, 1907, the board made a recommendation for the erection of lighthouses at Cape Inscription, Point Cloates, Bedout Island, and Cape Leveque. The necessary surveys were at once put in hand, and the preparation of plans was proceeded with. Subsequently owing to the loss of the s.s. Mildura at North-West Cape, the Government decided upon the erection of a light in that vicinity on Vlaming Head. Also, it was decided to improve the light on Gantheaume Point, near Broome, thus making no less than six new lights on the coast between Geraldton and Derby. What those lights will mean only those who know the coast can understand. Practically from Shark Bay northward is a continuous succession of islands, large and small, here and there are reefs seen and unseen and in apparently open sea, only narrow passages which must be threaded with a delicate hand and alert mind on the wheel. There is the famous Mary Ann Passage, which steamers negotiate only in daylight, so treacherous are the waters in the vicinity, and with ports that shut and open with the tides, the delay of a few hours in darkness often means the missing of a tide and the having to wait outside a port for a further few hours till the incoming flow is graciously pleased to allow the vessel to enter. Small wonder that freights are high and fares almost prohibitive. Belief that facilitating the navigation of the coast would give the Nor'-West the benefit of reduced charges was a big factor in inducing the Government to vote for 50,000 for the lights.

Cape Inscription.

The first of the new lights met with in proceeding northward along the coast is at the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island, a spot rich in historical associations. Nearly 300 years ago, long before Australia was even in the womb of civilisation, the Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog, in command of the Eendracht, outward bound from Holland to the Indies, entered Shark Bay, and landing on the long island which now bears his name, selected a spot on the cliffs at the northern end, and in a rock fissure erected a post to which he nailed a tin-plate bearing the date of his visit and the name of his boat. That was in 1616, when Australia was indeed a terra incognita. Eighty-one years later a compatriot, Wilhelm de Vlaming, visited the spot, and removing Dirk Hartog's plate placed a duplicate in its stead. The original now reposes in the Museum at Amsterdam. Vlaming's inscription was seen by Captain Hamelin, of the French exploring vessel Naturaliste, in 1801, but it had disappeared when Lieutenant King caused a search to be made for it in 1822. It is supposed, however, to have been removed by the French navigator, De Freycinet, in 1818, and sent to the Museum of the French Institute. It is from those plates that Cape Inscription takes its name. The two spars on which the inscriptions of Vlaming and Hamelin had been posted remained ther until comparatively recently, but when he erection of the lighthouse was commenced the Government had the posts, which were in a fair state of preservation, removed and deposited in the Western Australian Museum, where they provide a most romantic link with the very earliest exploration of the Western Australian coast. It is on this historic spot that Cape Inscription lighthouse has been erected, and not 40 yards from the tower is a chained enclosure on the very edge of the cliffs, where two white posts hold copper-plate inscriptions indicating that here stood Vlaming's post and there Hamelin's. Anchoring in Turtle Bay, where in the laying season turtles may be found in hundreds as they come ashore at night to bury their eggs in the sand, one ascends precipitous cliffs and in the course of a two mile walk comes upon the handsome lighthouse tower, from the summit of which one gazes down upon the Indian Ocean tumbling and foaming against the jagged rocks 130ft. below. To the north-east is Dorre Island, so christened by Dirk Hartog because of its barrenness. The tower is substantially built of cement concrete, and commodious premises of the same material are provided for the two keepers. On the occasion of the Mr. Connolly's visit the whole establishment was decked with bunting, and because of the historic associations of the place the minister took special delight in declaring open the light which had cost the Government 8,228. The need of a warning flash at this point, which overlooks Naturaliste Channel separating Dirk Hartog and Dorre Islands, had long been felt by navigators trading to and from Carnarvon and Denham. Prior to its erection vessels had to time their departure from Carnarvon so as to avoid passing through the channel after dusk, just in the same way as vessels going to and from Onslow have to wait for daylight before attempting to thread their way through Mary Ann Passage. Now, so far as Naturaliste Channel is concerned, that disability is removed, and with the aid of Cape Inscription's guiding ray vessels may negotiate the passage at any hour of day or night. What is badly wanted is that Mary Ann Passage may be made equally negotiable by the installation of lights on Sandy Cay and North Sandy Island.

Point Cloates.

The next of the new lights is that in course of erection on the summit of a hill near Point Cloates. The record of this headland is dark with the stain of many wrecks. On the long extent of reef which surrounds the point, embroidering the coastline with a dainty but sinister ribbon of white breakers, more vessels have been smashed to matchwood than on any other portion of the coast. Standing near the half-completed tower a week ago the Colonial Secretary was able to look down upon the perilous scene and note upon the sand just inside the reef a dark object which is all that remains of the once fine steamer Perth. Many years ago a Norwegian vessel came to grief here, and the two survivors owed their lives to the compassion of the natives, with whom they lived for some considerable time until a white man happened into that vicinity and took the two sailors back to civilisation. An Austrian steamer loaded with sugar from Java, the vessel Benan, the schooner Dawn, and innumerable luggers are amongst the many victims to the ruthless sea and rocks near Point Cloates. Most of the disasters have been attributed to a heavy inset which has carried vessels out of their course, but whatever the cause the dangers of the place will be considerably minimised by the erection of a light which will be the most powerful north of the Naturaliste, and which will telegraph a benevolent flash every five seconds for a distance of 16 miles at sea. The builders are able to quarry a very good class of sandstone in the vicinity, and this is carried by a zigzag horse tramway to the summit of Cloates Hill, where the tower is already a conspicuous landmark. The quarters for the two keepers are comfortable and extensive, as indeed they need to be for anyone who has to live at so remote and desolate a spot as Point Cloates.

Vlaming Head.

Only 60 miles further to the north is the site of the third light, the erection of which will early be commenced. Vlaming Head is a conspicuously elevated portion of the North-west Cape. Hereabouts the shore is fringed with outlying reefs which off Low Point run out from the land as far as three miles. It was at this spot that the steamer Mildura, southward bound with a full consignment of cattle, piled up on the rocks, and her hull and spars, still apparently intact although irrecoverable, are a feature of interest to travellers on the coastal steamers. North-west Cape, like Cape Inscription, is a turning point in the course of vessels, and the lamp will be a guide and a warning to steamers going to and from Onslow or coming with cattle direct from the northern ports. Another light on Legendre, one of the islands of the Dampier Archipelago, would be helpful to steamers making for Cossack before the gleam of Jarman Island is picked up.

Bedout Island.

Perhaps the most interesting light of all is that installed on Bedout Island some 60 miles north-east of Port Hedland. Steaming northward in the Koombana the Colonial Secretary was able to discern the light some 16 miles away, and he was inspired with respect for an apparatus which unattended was thus faithfully discharging its duty to the people who go down to the sea in ships. Bedout is a low-lying coralline island on the steamer course between Port Hedland and Broome, and is inhabited in large numbers by birds, penguins, rats, and turtles. The island is sandy, and is only some 20ft. above high-water mark, whilst on its western side a menacing reef runs out for about three miles. One wreck at least, and the remains of it can be seen, the island has to its debit, and the Albany on one occasion on a passage southward from Broome ran ashore, but fortunately missed the shore and was floated off at high tide. While the tide was low a huge boulder was seen within a few feet of the ship's propeller. The board of inquiry considered this the most important light required on the coast, but its isolated position, the long extent of reefs, and the high tides. rendered the establishment of an attended light a very difficult matter. It was then that the Government decided to experiment with a Norwegian patent - an acetone (dissolved acetylene) light, which unattended could be left for a period of six months and upwards. Trials at Fremantle over a term of seven months proved the light to be so satisfactory that is was decided to install on Bedout an apparatus which, self-fed, would keep alight for upwards of a year. This light is automatically occulting, the machinery being most intricate and ingenious, and has a range of visibility from the horizon of 9 miles. As the light is situated in the hurricane zone the steel tower has been specially designed to withstand heavy gales of a cyclone nature.

When the Government steamer Penguin called there a few weeks ago the light, after six months burning, was found to be in perfect order, and had enough fuel to keep it going for another six weeks. The fear that the birds would have soiled the lantern was proved to have been groundless, so the cylinders were recharged and the apparatus, unattended and unhelped, will be left ot carry on its beneficial work for twelve months before it is again visited. The cost of the erection and installation was only 4,159. Considerable importance attaches to this experiment. Not only are these lights more economical in construction and maintenance obviating, as they do, the building of living quarters and the employment of keepers, but they are specifically adapted for isolated spots on the coast to which it would be difficult and expensive to carry building materials and stores. If the Bedout Island light continues to give satisfaction, as it is confidently believed it will, then the problem of lighting other danger points upon this coast will be greatly simplified.

Gantheaume Point.

The light at Gantheaume Point, near Broome, is of a less sensational interest, but although merely replacing a former installation, is to all intents and purposes new. Some six years ago a temporary light was placed on this point to mark the port, but as this was scarcely adequate to meet the needs of the place the old light and tower have been removed and new and more elaborate ones placed in their stead. The cost of the alterations was about 1,100.

Cape Leveque.

The highly important responsibility of marking and illuminating the entrance to King Sound, with its myriad islands and boiling tide, will be the function of the light to be erected at Cape Leveque, the most northerly of all the lights. Its site is just six miles from Swan Point, on which the Karrakatta, a very fine vessel built for the Singapore-Fremantle trade, was lost about ten years ago. Whilst it is unlikely that even with the message of caution and guidance which Cape Leveque will flash to mariners, the negotiation of Sunday Straits will be attempted after dusk, still to vessels making from Broome or Singapore to Derby and arriving at the entrance to King Sound at night the light will be of assistance in picking up an anchorage at which to ride till light and tide are favourable. The erection of this new home for the watchers by the sea will be shortly put in hand, and the estimated cost of the work is 8,000. The light should be visible from the horizon at a distance of nearly 14 miles.

When all these new installations are complete the North-West coast will be still but indifferently lighted. Nevertheless the fact that there will then be between Fremantle and Derby nine efficient lighthouses, including those at Point Moore (Geraldton), Carnarvon and Jarman Island (Point Sampson) is proof that the Government have done something to minimise the ten thousand dangers of the North-West coast, and to make travel happier and cheaper for both navigators and passengers. The coastline is so immense, and the menacing points so many, that the present lights may be multiplied a hundred fold without leading mariners to treat this coast with anything but wholesome respect.

AB notes:

More of George Romans' lovely turn-of-phrase here:

"a continuous succession of islands, large and small . . . reefs seen and unseen and in apparently open sea . . . narrow passages which must be threaded with a delicate hand and alert mind . . ."

Reference is made to the ss Albany having run aground on the Bedout spit at some time in is chequered career.

The cost of the erection and installation of the Bedout lights is given as 4,159.

37c["Loss of the Koombana", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 13 April 1912, page 2]






Capt. Townley, on the Gorgon's arrival here on Good Friday, kindly placed at our disposal the portions of the log-book referring to the Koombana wreckage. The following is a copy:--

"April 2, 10.15 a.m., Lat. 19.10 S Long. 119.6 E. Ship steering S 6 W. true. Sighted white painted piece of wood. Stopped and picked up same. Description: Painted door painted white one side, polished on other. Silver fittings marked cross-flags Walker and Hall (W. & H.). Fingerplate both sides ornamented with Grecian urn, with hanging wreaths each side. Door apparently had been forced by pressure. Handle on white side, and on reverse side drawn in. Builder's joiner written with hard pencil, 'Stat---- First-class entrance 429 J.D.' The lock is marked 'N. F. Ramsay and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne. Several small leatherheads attached, about half-inch long.

"10.40 a.m., Proceeded.

"10.45 a.m., Stopped. Passed through several very small pieces, one a painting stage, and others apparently small pieces of board. Unusual number of birds about.

"P. Townley, Master.

"Henry Jones, 1st Mate.

"Harold Stead, 3rd Mate.

"0.40 p.m., Bedout Island, S. 60 E. 6.m. Passed island. NO signs of wreckage. Capt. Upjohn, s.s. Bullarra, reported that he had landed a search party on the island on 25th. Nothing was found. He reports that the unwatched light is not burning. There is no evidence to show when the light went out.

"P. Townley, Master.

"W. E. Collins, Purser."



In a brief interview, Capt. Townley expressed his and his officers' deep sorrow at the terrible disaster. There was a feeling of gloom throughout the ship in consequence of the sad news. He felt pretty confident that the Koombana met its fate on the 3 1/2 mile reef running out west from Bedout Island. If his surmise proved corrrect, he would have something to say about the cheap and nasty Norwegian unwatched light on Bedout Island, which apparently at the critical moment failed and proved a snare instead of a warning. Such lights were intended for a course where one light was not lost sight of before another was picked up and not for an isolated island fifty miles from the coast, and where its failure would not be promptly noticed.

The captain later on informed us that the captain first heard at Sourabaya that the Koombana was six days overdue, and got his instructions to make a search. This was done without success, till after leaving Broome, when the door was found. The leatherheads alluded to in the log entry are forms of sea life which attach themselves to rocks and other hard surfaces after the fashion of periwinkles.




Captain Townley later in the evening showed to us by the aid of a lantern the door picked up near Bedout Island. Anyone who has travelled frequently in the fine [unclear] steamer could not doubt that it was a Koombana state-room door, the familiar decorations and fittings putting the matter beyond dispute. When the captain took the canvas covering from the door and the bulls-eye lantern was turned on, we could not but be solemnly impressed by the sight of this silent but eloquent witness of the ocean tragedy. It clearly told its own tale. It had given before the force of an even pressure from outside, and in falling in had smashed the inside handle against a bunk or some hard object. When the pressure came, the catch began to give (the door was closed but not locked) and the lock was being forced through the woodwork when the hanging stile--the upright post to which a door is hinged--came away, and with the door fell into the cabin. On the inside, and therefore unpainted, part of the stile, was the joiner's note in pencil, the number "429" doubtless being his registered number on the job, followed by his initial. Captain Townley says it is the door of a port cabin and judges that it belonged to the cabin 1-2-3- opposite the music room. Mr. Burges and Mr. Norbert Keenan, both of whom were passengers as far as Roebourne on the Koombana's last trip, informed us that 1-2-3 was occupied by Mr. Simpson of the Public Works Department, and Capt. Pearson the Derby wharfinger. The fact that the door was unlocked may not prove that the shutting in of the passengers was not carried out, for the outer doors leading from before the music room to the outer deck may have been locked and the pressure on the cabin door came only after the sea forced its way through the outer door or through the music room windows. The polished side of the door had the marks of the sea upon it, but these may have been caused only by its immersion for some fortnight before being picked up.


From the Gorgon passengers we learnt that there is much gloom in Port Hedland and Broome over the disaster, most of the passengers being well known in both towns. In the former port, it is said that practically the whole town assembled to see the fated vessel off, little dreaming that they were the last to see the Koombana leave port, and that within a few hours she would be lying broken deep in the bed of the ocean--a gruesome coffin. It is noteworthy that the editor of the "Hedland Advocate," in writing an account of the storm at Port Hedland, speaks of the rough water in the harbour being indicative of heavier and "deadlier surges" out at sea. When that was written the Koombana was not known to be missing.



Perth, April 6.

Telegraphic messages which came to hand yesterday...




The s.s. Una found the Koombana five miles off Bedout Island, the masts being out of the water.

Roebourne, April 6.

The report that the Una found the Koombana is false. What was found was one mast...


(Private information to hand states that the Una also found oily water and bubbles, and that, after picking up a deal of wreckage there, the captain was surprised to find himself again surrounded with wreckage. There are forty fathoms of water there.)