44["Koombana Foundered", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 06 April 1912, page 5]


One Hundred and Forty Lives Lost

Within 100 Miles of Hedland--Vessel Sailed right into the Jaws of the Cyclone--No Other Course open

--Violence and Destructiveness of the Hurricane without a Parallel in the History of the Nor'-West

--Wreckage Recovered

Judging from all available information, historical and traditional, relating to willy-willies on this coast it would appear that the one just past (March 20-23) is without a parallel in its extradinary characteristics of violence and destruction. There is no account of any willy equalling this in its various phenomena of suddenness and severity of power.

The Commonwealth weather officers should make records of its character, course, and effects.

It was preceded by hot, stifling days. On the Monday several divers, who have been years on the coast, warned their masters that there were sudden changes of hot and cold water below, with a ground swell, which, although the surface of the sea was calm and the glass good, they declared indicated the approach of a blow. [A similar warning was given by old divers two days before the disastrous Broome blow.] Quite suddenly on Tuesday night a strong cockey blew up from the east, followed by moderate winds and a little rain. On Wednesday the wind shifted slightly to the south, increasing in its strength, and by midday it was again blowing from the East - all through blowing in gusts, accompanied by occasional showers. By the time (about 10 30 a.m.) the Koombana and Bullarra (about an hour later) had left Hedland, it began to excite alarm, luggers moved up the creeks and people bolted up their houses. Two or three layers of swiftly racing clouds could frequently be seen through the prevailing mist. It blew with terrific force whenever it shifted its course, and in Hedland we miraculously escaped its full fore[sic], but the Bullarra struck its fury about three hours out, and the Koombana may have struck it earlier.

The hurricane was moving southward, and its centre was not far out to sea, as the Bullarra experienced half an hour's dead calm (in which it was possible to keep a match alight) in the middle of the hurricane.

What must be the feelings of those on board the lightly loaded Koombana have been as the wind and water came booming against her with resistless power? Officers of the ships Moira and Bullarra say the rapidity of the storm was indescribable, the wind driving from the raging and foaming sea spray like a snow-storm, which mingled with the clouds.

As the Koombana left the port, she was so light that her propeller was partly out of the water, and in the small swell at the entrance was racing. Once outside, Capt. Allen had no other course open but that which led his ship right into the vortex of the tremendous elemental strife which prevailed at sea.

With a map or chart before the reader, and following record, taken in Hedland, the fact is easily borne in upon the mind, that the Koombana had to go into danger to avoid land and reefs:

March 20.

4 p.m., east, wind fresh

10 p.m., east and east-north-east, strong

March 21.

10 a.m., east, strong

12 noon, east-north-east, very strong

1 p.m., east-north-east, hurricane force

2 p.m. to 9 p.m., north-east, hurricane force

10 p.m., north-north-east, hurricane force

12 midnight, north, a howling hurricane.

March 22

4 a.m. till noon, north-north-west, hurricane

The wind very gradually fell from 2 p.m., and at early morning was blowing with occasional strong puffs from the west.

It is fairly certain that the Koombana was not more than 70 miles from Hedland, and in the worst part of the hurricane, on Wednesday night or Thursday, and sank.

The seas off Bedout are dreaded by seamen when an ordinary strong wind blows, and it cannot possibly be conceived what they were like during the height of this gale.

It is also certain that the light on Bedout Island was out on the Wednesday night.

The public alarm at the continued absence of news of the Koombana increased to confusion, consternation and distress.

Two luggers and a schooner went in search from Broome, each taking a different course toward Rowley Shoals and into Hedland. Harper's lugger, the first to arrive here, picked up a piece of board off Bedout, which, from appearances, did not at first give an impression that it came from the Koombana.

The Bullarra searched the steamer's course from Hedland to Broome, and the Minderoo made a systematic search of the coast from Onslow to Depuch, each without result.

On last Tuesday evening came undoubted evidence that

The Koombana Had Foundered

with about 140 souls on board.

The Gorgon arrived at Hedland on Tuesday evening, having searched as far out as Rowley's Shoals. The ship's log contained the following (the words in brackets being our own):

"On April 2, at 10.15 a.m., lat. 19.10s, long. 119.6e. (40 fathoms), picked up a panelled door, painted on one side, been polished on the other; silver fittings, marked " W & H " [Walker & Hall;] finger plate both sides ornamented with Grecian urn, with hanging wreath each side; door apparently had been forced by pressure; handle on white side was gone, and on the reverse side drawn in; builders' joiner had written [this on parts hidden from paint and drawn off the door post by the door hinges],'Stat - [here was a joiner's cut in the pencilled lettering, leaving only traces of the letters, which appeared to be 'e Room|-1st class entrance, 429, J.D.'; the lock is marked 'N. F. Ramsay & Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne'; several small leatherheads attached about 1/2 inch long."

The log adds that half-an-hour later the ship passed through several small pieces of wreckage, one a painting stage, and others apparently small pieces of board, but, strange to relate, the ship was not stopped to pick them up.

The Minderoo (Capt. Mills) arrived in Hedland on Wednesday morning, having been four days out from Depuch, making a very systematic search, and passengers declare that the Captain rarely left the bridge, a fact which was borne out by his jaded appearance on arriving at Hedland.

On March 31, he set a course n 56 deg. w from Depuch for 65 miles, then w 32 miles, n 63 miles, n 78 deg. e 31 miles, s 59 miles, s 78 deg e 33 miles, n 67 miles, e 30 miles, s 1/2 e 75 miles. Here at 9.30 a.m., april 2, in lat. 19.36 s, long. 117.51 e, sighted wreckage on the port bow. Stopped and picked up a leather cushion for settee. Cruised around for half-an-hour but sighted no more wreckage. Then sailed e 18 miles, n 24 miles, at 4.30 p.m., lat 19.32 s, long. 118.9e, picked up bottom boards of a boat, numbered 429, and a small teakwood panel. Sailed e 14 miles and then s to Hedland. The search from Depuch to the turning of this port gave vision to some 12,000 square miles of sea surface.

A master mariner has worked out these directions and distances:

The door, 25 miles north of Bedout and 75 miles north-north-east of this port.

Cushion, 70 miles west of Bedout and 60 miles north-west of this port.

Boards (Minderoo), 54 miles west 1/2 north of Bedout and 55 miles north-west by north 1/2 north of this port.

Both the Gorgon and the Minderoo passed through thousands of bottle straw envelopes, and, as the Koombana had shipped 27 tons of empty bottles (mostly enveloped) from this port, it is evident that these came from the doomed ship's hold.

Capt. Dalziel (schooner Muriel), who took the outer course in a search from Broome to Rowley's Shoals and into Hedland, arrived here on Thursday night, and saw no wreckage. The schooner met the Bullarra, on its second search; and she had found, 100 miles east-north-east of Bedout: the bow of a boat with the A.S.S Coy's. badge on it, the bottom boards of a boat, life-boat tanks, life belts, and a panel from either the saloon or smoke-room ceiling.

The following theories as to the Koombana'a fate have been hazarded:

1. Mountainous seas flooded the ship by means of her cattle decks and she sank.

2. Bedout light being extinguished, Capt. Allen misjudged his position in the dark, the ship struck and turned over, or her bottom being torn she subsequently sank in deep water.

3. Machinery became disabled, and the vessel, left to the fearful wind and seas, foundered.

4. That when the vessel attempted to alter her northward course, to face the hurricane, she heeled over, the wind drove the water from her bottom, and the next big sea turned her completely over.

Nos. 2 and 4 are held by seamen most competent to judge. The opinion generally held by Nor'-West residents was that the Koombana would meet her fate in the first willy willy she struck, and we have a sad fulfilment of that prophecy.

Seamen are of the opinion that from Bedout Island the area of sea in which the Koombana is situated can be seen with the naked eye.

A fortnight has elapsed since the blow, but the sea for 100 miles from the shore "is like pea soup."