Davis, James S.

[Passenger list, "KOOMBANA" 37, compiled 02 April 1912, Adelaide Steamship Company. Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University, 0186/N46/634]

Hedland-Broome Davis J. S. Representative of Siebe, Gorman, Marine Engineers

[Passenger list, "KOOMBANA" 37, compiled 12 April 1912, Adelaide Steamship Company. provided to the author by the late Malcolm Barker]

List of passengers known to have been bound for Broome.


From Port Hedland


Davis J.S. Broome representative of Siebe, Gorman & Company,

Submarine Engineers.


["The Passengers", The West Australian, Wednesday 03 April 1912, page 7]




Mr. J. S. Davis. *


* May not be on board.

["The Koombana", The West Australian, Saturday 30 March 1912, page 11]



Particulars of the complete passenger list are being gradually collected and corrections made in the original list printed in the Press.


Mr. J. S. Davis, representing Messrs. Siebe, Gorman and Co., at Broome, left Fremantle with his family and eight white divers, who arrived from home recently in the W.A.S.N. liner Paroo on her last trip northward. Requiring to transact some business at Port Hedland, he caught the Paroo on her return journey, and after spending, a couple of hours at Hedland, is supposed to have caught the Koombana en route for Broome. Last night, however, the Adelaide Company received from their Port Hedland office a list of the passengers booked there to join the Koombana, which list does not include Mr. Davis's name. The names despatched by the Hedland office are as follow:--

For Broome: Joseph Johnson, Capt. Stuart, H. Brider, Hassan, a Japanese, aboriginal and Malay prisoners.

For Derby: J. McGowan.

Messrs. E. H. Fothergill and Co., agents for Messrs. Siebe, Gorman and Co., in Western Australia, have wired to Broome and Port Hedland for definite information re garding Mr. Davis's movements.


["Broome in Mourning", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 06 April 1912, page 8]

Broome, April 4.

Broome has been in mourning over the dreadful news received of wreckage being found from the Koombana. A number clung till the last to hope, but this news has dispelled all hope.

There are some exceptionally sad cases of persons with those near and dear to them on board.


Mrs Davis lost her husband. She arrived here 9 months ago with her husband, and had the misfortune to lose her only child on the road out. Mr. Davis was manager here for Siebe Gorman, a position he filled with credit.


"The SS Koombana was due to dock at the Broome jetty with the evening tide the next day. On board were 156 passengers and crew, including many of Broome's leading citizens. James Davis from Siebe, Gorman, the man who had met the English divers in Fremantle, was aboard. So was Abraham Davis, no relation of James...

["Story of the Koombana", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 31 March 1912, page 12]



Now that it appears more than probable that the Koombana no longer exists, the personality of the passengers who most likely have shared her untimely fate will be of interest. Amongst them are several well-known people, and it is quite possible that some of them may have left the ship at an intermediate port.


Mr. J. S. Davis is the very able young manager for Siebe, Gorman and Co., in Broome. Mr. Davis was in Perth recently to meet the white divers on arrival from England. He has a wife in Broome anxiously awaiting his return.


[Research file "s.s. Koombana", 1973-. Department of Maritime Archeology, Western Australian Museum, 189/73/4]

[who said/wrote this?]

Davis was the brother of Sir Robert H Davis of the Siebe Gorman diving apparatus company (London)

....Also on board was a famous diver of the time William Webber

["Koombana's Passenger List", Broome Chronicle (WA), Saturday 30 March 1912]


For Broome.


Mr. A. Davies (M. Rubin)

Mr. J. Davis (Siebe Gorman)


["Some Of The Passengers", Broome Chronicle (WA), Saturday 06 April, 1912]


Mr. Davis, representing Siebe, Gorman & Co., submarine engineers, Broome, returning from a trip to Fremantle.


["White Divers For The Pearling Industry", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 04 February 1912, page 9]


An Interesting Experiment

An important step in the direction of settling the vexed question of white divers versus Asiatics was taken on Feb. 1 with the arrival of 12 experienced divers from England with their necessary tenders.

It will be remembered that the Pearlers' Association of Broome, in order to thoroughly test the question whether white divers are capable of performing the arduous work of finding pearl shell in deep water, arranged to set apart a certain number of luggers, to be manned by white divers and tenders, these men to be employed for a sufficient time to decide the point beyond the shadow of a doubt.

In order that none but the best and most experienced men should be obtained, the matter was placed in the hands of Messrs. Siebe, Gorman and Co.. the celebrated manufacturers of diving gear, in conjunction with a committee of Broome pearlers now resident in London, and the 24 men now arrived are those chosen by the selectors.

The whole of these interesting immigrants are ex-naval divers, that is, men who have not only a practical experience of the work under all conditions, but who also have a thorough knowledge of its scientific aspect. They are, in addition, imbued with all the traditions of a service which imposes so high a standard of duty that the idea of shirking or evading either danger or responsibility is an impossibility. Under such conditions as these, the experienced body of men may be relied upon to give the Pearlers' Association loyal and active support in their attempt to solve the problem that lies before them, and it only remains for the association, on the other hand, to see that the test is carried out under absolutely fair working condltiaas, and that no unconscious bias in favor of the Asiatic diver is allowed to interfere.

On arrival here the new pearl divers were met by Mr. J. S. Davis, Broome representative of Siebe. Gorman and Co., on behalf of the Pearlers' Association, and by whom all arrangements have been made for their comfort while at Fremantle, and for the prosecution of their further journey to Broome. They will leave for their destination on February 9 by the Koombana, and the fateful 12 months' experiment will be initiated immediately en their arrival.

["Local and General", Geraldton Guardian (WA), Thursday 8 February 1912, page 2]


The Pearling Industry.--Owing to the Federal Government's embargo against the working of pearling boats by colored labor after the end of this year, the Pearlers' Association at Broome is taking time by the forelock, and intends giving white labor a practical test. With this end in view, eleven white divers and tenders have been imported from England, and they will leave Fremantle for Broome by the s.s. Koombana. These men, it is stated, in addition to receiving 156 per annum, are to receive 10 per cent of the value of all pearls obtained by them. They will also be paid a bonus on all pearl shell recovered exceeding 3 tons, which is about the average yield of a boat. The experiment, fraught as it is with the continuance or abandonment of an industry which has made Broome and has also benefited this State generally, will be watched with considerable interest. Amongst pearlers generally pessimism is shown concerning the innovation, and if the worst fears should be realised, the prosperity of Broome will be a thing of the past.


["White Divers - A Sturdy Body of Men", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 11 February 1912, page 13]

White Divers - A Sturdy Body of Men

A fine body of men are the British divers who have come out under contract to take on the work of pearl-diving in the Nor'-West. Clean-skinned, clear-eyed, burly Britishers, they are good types of the splendid service in which they have been trained. They are quietly confident of their ability to prove that the trained while man is a better diver than the Malay br the Jap.

"Look here," said a bull-necked Devonshire man, "there isn't one of us that hasn't served for 15 years in the British navy." He-seemed to think that settled the question.

"But," said a doubter, "do you know the conditions you'll be asked to work under? The luggers are just long enough for a fisherman's walk,

three steps and overboard! You'll have to spend weeks on end in these little vessels, and live on preserved food. You'll have to put in a working, day, under water, and walk miles on the sea floor following the drift of the lugger. You'll have to find shell and plenty of it if the movement is to pay, and all the time you'll be in a tropical climate."

"That's all right," replied the Devon man. "We know all that. We've served as divers in every part of the known world, from the Arctic to the line. We've worked on the west coast of Africa, in the East Indies, China and Japan, and there is nothing in all this to frighten any of us."

"Yes," chipped in a quiet-spoken young pocket Hercules from Plymouth, "every one of us is able and willing to work in 30 fathoms, and British fathoms at that - six feet between the marks - and come out of it alive and hearty. Why, these Japs only count four feet to the fathom, and they are singing out about 25 of these [?razeed] marks, and they know so little about the game that they die of it. Only let them give us a straight go and we'll do the work, and make a profit at it at that," i

"You will have to work with colored crews--for a time, anyhow."

"We have had to do with the colored races all over the world. Treat them kindly, but don't allow any familiarities, and there need be no trouble with the average Asiatic. They are ail right if they are handled properly."

"But what about the Japs that you are going to supplant?"

"We expect that these men will try to make themselves nasty, but we've made up our minds to take no notice of them. We are not going to lose our tempers over the likes of them. We'll teach them that we've forgotten more about diving than they ever learnt."

"Suppose you know all about divers' paralysis?

"Oh, that's nothing. Any man can die of it if he likes to be fool-hardy, but the trained man never runs the risk. The thing's preventable, and need never be incurred if the necessary simple precautions are taken."

"Good luck to you, anyhow. Every White Anstralian will wish you that."

[inset photograph & caption]_:-:-?-:-.


The figure on the right is Mr. J. S. Davis, of Siebe, Gorman and Co., who has the men in charge.