9a["The Koombana", The Western Mail (Perth, WA), Saturday 04 May 1912, page 37]



At the Fremantle Police Court on the 25th inst. a Court of Marine Inquiry into the "total loss at sea of the s.s. Koombana on or about March 20, 1912, between Port Hedland and Broome," was opened. Mr. E. P. Dowley, R.M., was President of the Court, and assisting him were Captains F. L. Parkes and J. W. W. Yates, assessors. The Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Frank Parker) appeared on behalf of the Chief Harbourmaster to conduct the inquiry, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., watched the proceedings on behalf of the Adelaide Steamship Company, the owners of the vessel.

Mr. Parker, in opening, said that the usual Court of Marine Inquiry was called upon to decide on some specific charge made by the Chief Harbourmaster against the captain of a vessel or some officer. At the preliminary inquiry held on the 22nd inst. no such charges had been made, but in view of the serious loss of life involved the Court had been called upon to investigate publicly into the loss of the ship, and to decide if any blame should be attributed to the company or to any officer on shore.

S. R. P. Stevens, who was acting divisional officer of the Commonwealth Weather Bureau from March 15 to 25, examined by Mr. Parker, said if storms were approaching warnings were issued to all stations in the vicinity of the storm centre. Later on in the afternoon forecasts based upon more recent data were issued by the local bureaus. No special forecast was issued from the Melbourne office of any storm from March 16 to 21, inclusive. On March 15 there was a monsoonal depression which had worked S.S.W. to Port Darwin. By the 18th the storm had reached the neighbourhood of Derby, but in no cases were high winds recorded, and the lowest point the barometer recorded was 29.70. A report from Port Hedland on thc 20th stated that the wind force was four miles an hour, with threatening weather and smooth seas, and Cossack reported a barometer of 29.69 with wind east blowing at the rate of 19 miles an hour. On the 20th at 1 p.m. Cossack advised that a fresh gale was blowing, with high seas and weather threatening. On the 21st, next morning, the barometer recorded 29.56, wind 37 miles an hour, and there were very heavy seas. The storm, from 15th to 21st March, went in a south-west direction, and evidently struck the coast at Cossack and curved. The centre of the storm passed north of Cossack. There was nothing to indicate that a cyclone was approaching.

Cross-examined by Mr. Moss: The cyclone indicated a sudden development and unexpected energy. The forecasts were thoroughly satisfactory, and the only delay in getting them from Melbourne was the time it took to transmit the telegrams, which had precedence over all other matter. Pressed by counsel, witness admitted tbat there would be a saving of time to that extent if the reports were made by the local bureau. Continuing, witness stated that apparently the depression struck the coast somewhere near Cossack, and, being interrupted by the coastline, and the width of the depression being narrowed, it resulted in a sudden storm. It would help if the various officers on the coast exchanged information direct, provided they understood what it conveyed. Postmasters, speaking generally, were very reliable in the matter of weather reports. There had been cases of delay in issuing forecasts from Melbourne. He could not form any ideas as io the velocity of the cyclone which wrecked the Koombana; The diameter, he thought, would extend from Port Hedland on the north and Cossack on the south. About 90 miles north-east by south-west.

To Mr. Parker: It would be of assistance to masters if the postmaster at Broome advised postmasters north and south of the weather conditions.


Capt. Harry Upjohn, master of the s.s. Bullarra, examined by Mr. Parker, said the Bullarra arrived at Port Hedland on the 18th March, and the Koombaua on the 19th. Both steamers left on the 20th. About 8 a.m. Capt. Allen went on board the Bullarra, and in the course of a general conversation said, "What do you think of the weather?" He (witness) replied that it would be dirty (by which he referred to the overcast sky), but he didn't know if there would be anything in it. He expected similar weather, or even finer, on the voyage; He had no conversation with Capt. Allen as to the advisability or otherwise of leaving port. The Koombana left between 10 and ll a.m., 20 minutes before the Bullarra. He followed in the wake of the Koombana for half an hour, and had her in sight for about two hours. He noticed how well the Koombana behaved as she went out, and either he or the chief officer, who was on the bridge with him, remarked that she appeared in good trim. The propeller was not submerged, and she did not roll at all in crossing the bar. When they parted the Koombana was proceeding on her ordinary course to Broome. Between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. the wind changed from north-east to east-north-east. At 4.20 the engines were slowed, and at 5 p.m. he altered the Bullarra's course and put to sea.

At 6 a.m. the barometer had been at 29.50, and at 4 p.m. it began to fall gradually, though it did not flicker. Between 8 and 10 p.m. a heavy gale was blowing, and the sea running high. The ship began to labour heavily, and things were getting serious. He did not take any particular notice of the barometer until about 10 p.m. He had been chief officer of the Koombana for about 12 months, and during that time had experienced some very heavy weather when she was lightly laden. She was a magnificent ship, and a splendid seaboat. He had searched for the Koombana and found portion of a motor launch, etc., which he was certain belonged to her. All his own boats had been damaged. With regard to the loss of the vessel, the only explanation he could offer, judging from his experience with her, was that she was smashed up by the force of the cyclone. It was impossible for her to have "turned turtle."

To Mr. Moss: It was a miracle that the Bullarra escaped. It was the worst cyclone he had ever experienced.

At this stage Mr. Moss handed in a telegram dated from Port Hedland on the 20th March, signed by "Upjohn and Allen," and relating to the painting of the buoys there. It was on this matter witness and Captain Allen had conferred, and there was not a shadow of truth in the statement which appeared in the press that they had a conference about the weather before leaving Port Hedland. He was certain that Captain Allen had made no such remark as was attributed to him that he (Capt. Allen) "would be lucky to get to Broome."

Referring again to the search for the lost steamer, witness said that in lat. 19.11 longitude 119.25, about 27 to 37 miles from Bedout Island, one evening they saw what looked like a portion of the deck of a vessel, but it proved to be the shape of a ship outlined in an oily substance, such as would rise from a sunken vessel, floating on the sea. They had taken the specimens produced in Court at this spot. An awning spar and one of the planks exhibited in Court had also been discovered in close proximity. The other articles were picked up about 20 miles from there.

James Crossley, chief officer of the Bullarra, corroborated the evidence of Captaii Upjohn, and in reply to Captain Parkes said that when the Koombana went on her course he didn't see her propeller rising out of the water. Replying to Mr. Moss, witness stated that the light on Bedout Island was out when he went there. It was the worst storm he had experienced in 15 years at sea and he should have thought it impossible for any ship to live in such weather.

J. F. Morrison, Chief Pilot, said that in January last the boats and appliances in the lost ship were in splendid order, and sufficient to carry all the passengers and crew. He had known Captain Allen for 21 years, and thought him a good and careful navigator and a man who took no risks.


Witness, continuing, said that the Koombana had come into port from her first trip from the North-West with a list. On speaking to Captain Rees he found the cattle deck was filled with cattle, and one of the tanks was empty, the latter being due to the fact that the engineers had not the proper "hang" of the tanks. She was a well-built ship and such weather might never be experienced again in a lifetime.

Matthew John Williams. Marine Superintendent in Western Australia of the Adelaide S.S. Co., in his evidence stated that he had superintended the loading of the ship before she left Fremantle. He gave particulars of cargo shipped, and he was of the opinion that it would not shift. The vessel took sufficient water at Fremantle to last her for the round trip. The tanks were subdivided longitudinally.

Henry John Clark, assistant wharf manager, Port of Fremantle, to Mr. Parker said he was for 15 months chief officer of the Koombana, and came out on her from Glasgow. He had gone in her from Fremantle to Geraldton in the teeth of a howling gale and she behaved very well iudeed. He had also been in her on the coast of New South Wales when the wind was right on her beam and only her ballast tanks were full. They drove right through it, but it was blowing so hard that they could not go up to the wharf and had to lay in Watson's Bay with two anchors down. As to her loss, he thought she had been battered to pieces. He believed that she went through the storm but was so knocked about that she foundered. He didn't think it was possible for the vessel to be blown absolutely over.

To Mr. Moss: Mr. Ralston, inventor of the Stability and Trim Indicator in Court, was head draftsman where the Koombana was built and had one of the best reputations in the United Kingdom.

To Captain Parkes: He had been asked sometimes to empty one of the tanks in order to produce a list so that the coaling of the vessel at the wharf might be facilitated.

Mr. Craig, chief engineer of the Bullarra, cross-examined by Mr. Moss, said the propeller of the Koombana at Port Hedland was submerged six or eight inches. He had heard nothing either on the boat or on shore about it "flogging the air."

Captain Upjohn and his chief officer (Mr. Crossley) were both recalled to explain a discrepancy regarding a statement of the former relative to the barometer reading at 12 noon on March 21, which he had said was 29.50. The entry in the log was 28.83, but it was explained that the latter reading was from the chart-room glass, which was a low-set instrument, with a "fine weather" reading of 28.90, and the captain's reading was taken from the commander's glass, which was hung in his own cabin.

Captain Upjohn, in reply to a question by Mr. Dowley, said he did not know if the light on Bedout lsland had failed before the cyclone.

At this stage Captain Clarke, also recalled by Mr. Parker for the purpose of contradicting a "rumour prevalent in Fremantle," said that during his (the witness's) connection with the Koombana no ballast in the shape of iron rails had been put into her.

Mr. Moss: "Another pavement expert's opinion exploded!"


The evidence given before the Chief Harbour Master at the preliminary inquiry by Richard Ernest Arundel, surveyor to Lloyd's Register and to the Marine Underwriters, was then read. Witness had come to the conclusion that after leaving Port Hedland making for Bedout, the captain of the Koombana met the wind northerly so strong that it prevented him from getting to the north to go round about; then finding it impossible to heave-to on his port tack, which was the proper tack, he must have adopted one of two courses: either to heave to on the starboard tack or attempt to run across to the open water to the westward in the face of the disturbance. Witness was of opinion that the disturbance came over from a S.S.E. direction, and that the Koombana, before she reached Bedout, experiencing a wind direction N. and E., was obliged to heave-to on the starboard tack on the westward, and in running west would get into the centre of the cyclone. The finding of wreckage to the westward confirmed his opinion that he ran out to westward.


The Chief Harbour Master: Would you say, from what you saw of the Koombana that she was top-heavy, or over-burdened with top weight, or just an ordinary safe ship?

Witness: I have formed the opinion that she was a "tender" vessel_when light, but perfectly seaworthy. There is a popular fallacy that a ship having top-hamper is unsafe. If you have great weight in the bottom of a ship, that gives stiffness; and if you have not that great weight there is what you call tenderness.

You do not think that top hamper, properly stowed, would interfere with her stability at all?--No, the question in every case is a proper distribution of weight.


Captain James Alexander Rankin, acting Marine Superintendent of the Adelaide S.S Company, stationed at Port Adelaide, referring to the Ralston stability and trim indicator in Court, said it was used for, among other things, determining the "G.M." the generally accepted term for denoting the stability of a vessel. The instrument could only be used for the vessel it was designed for and he had, when he received it, tested the Koombana on information supplied by Captain Rees, when the vessel was in the lightest possible condition. The test gave a result of plus 1ft. 6in., which was exceptionally good. If the vessel were fully loaded with cargo and coal and all tanks were full, she could heel over to an angle of 90 per cent. and even then have a margin for recovery. Before Captain Allen's departure from Fremantle on his last trip he had sent him (witness) a report showing the distribution of a load of 712 tons, and showing also particulars of draught and trim. He asked the Court to make the test from these particular on the stability and trim indicator in Court.

The Court and counsel then watched Captain Rankin distribute the weights over the plan in the indicator. The "G.M." was plus 2ft. 7 1/2in., and the result of the second process almost exactly agreed with the late captain's figures for the draught and trim arrived at by ordinary means.

To Mr. Moss: The ship was in many respects in excess of British requirements. He placed every reliance on the Ralston indicator.

Captain Yates: In a hurricane, would not a vessel with less top hamper be more safe? Witness: That would depend on the distribution of the weight.

Mr. A. C. Butcher, resident engineer for harbour and lights, said that in conjunction with Captain Rankin he had carried out tests, and the curves of stability were particularly good. The stability curves supplied by the builders did not show such severe tests as those carried out by witness.


Thc President of the Court (Mr. E. P. Dowley. R.M.), before the Court adjourned till 11 o'clock to-day, said that as rumours had been circulated with regard to the alleged instability of the Koombana, he wished to state publicly that the Court would be pleased to listen to any evidence that anybody might wish to bring forward.

Mr. Moss said, on behalf of the Adelaide Company, that he was glad Mr. Dowley had issued that general invitation to the public. It would give those people who had been spreading the rumours a chance to show in Court what they knew about the subject.


At the Fremantle Police Court on the [?29th] inst, the Court of Marine Inquiry into the "total loss at sea of the s.s. Koombana on or about March 20, 1912, between Port Hedland and Broome," was resumed. Mr. E. P. Rowley, R.M., was President of the Court, and assisting him were Captains F. J. Parkes and J. W. W. Yates, assessors. The Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Frank Parker) appeared on behalf of the Chief Harbourmaster to conduct the inquiry, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., watched the proceedings on behalf of the Adelaide Steamship Company, the owners of the vessel.

Mr. Moss stated that Captain Upjohn, in his evidence, had said that the Koombana propeller when leaving Port Hedland ws "well" submerged, instead of "not" submerged as reported.


William Ernest Moxon, attorney and manager in Western Australia for the Adelaide S.S. Co., examined by Mr. Moss, said the Koombana came under his supervision, and no special instructions were given to the late Captain Allen to push on, as the vessel ran on a time-table. She carried a particularly small cargo up to Port Hedland and the captain had plenty of time to discharge cargo and do any other work necessary. In the North-West trade the captains were "peculiarly responsible," as the company left matters very largely in their hands. His company's rule No. 4 stated that "No order will be held to excuse the endangering of the ship." Everything humanly possible had been done by the company to find trace of the vessel and for succouring of any possible survivors. With reference to the report published in the "West Australian" from its Port Hedland correspondent on April 4, he had received a letter from the company's manager denying that the ship rolled as she crossed the bar, that the propeller was out of the water, and that Captain Allen had said he would be "lucky if he got to Broome." He (the local manager) was on board the Koombana in the last hour before she left Port Hedland, and he was not aware that Captains Upjohn and Allen had any conversation with reference to the weather. The glass was not more than 10 points below normal. A fortnight before there had been a fall of 60 points and nothing followed. They had discussed the question of the vessel leaving port on the top of the equinoctial spring tides, but the question of "willy willies" did not arise during the conversation. Captain Allen had remarked that with the stiff head wind blowing he would have no hope of reaching Broome in time to catch the following day's tide, and he would not be surprised if he were a day late, as he was not particularly keen on going into Broome at night time. The pearling luggers had come into port, but only on account of the dirty water caused by the north-easterlv blowing. The pearlers said that by doing so they had escaped the greatest disaster in their history, as they did not expect any hurricane. Captain Challenor, a pearler in the North-West, had reported that on March 19 he was six miles from Bedout in a dead calm sea and glorious sunshine. From midnight the wind increased, and at 5 a.m. there was a big sea. From 2.30 to 6 p.m. on the 2lst there was a fierce hurricane, which was worse than the "willy willies" of 1908 and 1910. From other reports received from the North-West witness continued, it appeared that the hurricane was one of the worst that had ever been experienced. Captain Dingle made a special trip in the Koombana in connection with his duties as marine superintendent, and said to witness on his return that he never wished to step on a better seaboat in his life, and he (Captain Dingle) considered on that trip she had been tested up to an extreme limit. The company had received a report from a magistrate at Broome that a statement had been made by a drover named Olive, that on the night of March 20, when he was at Boyer's Camp, 30 miles north of Condon, at about 8 or 9 p.m. he saw two rockets' go up in the direction N.W. There was a hurricane blowing at the time. A report had also been received from a cattle station near Condon that copper air chambers had been picked up on the beach at Solitary Island.

Continuing, witness said that when a ship went to the North-West, she generally took a very large supply of fresh water in her tanks, as well as salt water, as the former was very expensive at ports. The Koombana was last spoken to by wireless on the night of March 19.

To Captain Parkes: So far as he knew none of the internal fittings had been found. All the wreckage found so far had been from the upper deck, and debris of boats.

To Mr. Dowley: The ship would be reported "missing" by Lloyd's. He would not like to express any opinion as to whether there was any material difference in the construction of the Bullarra and Koombana.

Proceeding, Mr. Moxon said it was highly important that they should have a proper system of signalling on the North-West coast. Postmasters should exchange information, which should be posted up every morning and made available for shipmasters.


This company had been informed, witness stated, that the Bedout light was extinguished on March 13, and was observed to be still extinguished on the 14th and 15th. It was hard to say what bearing the absence of this light would have on the disaster. Their experience was that self-attended lights were not to be depended on.

The Chief Harbourmaster (Captain Irvine) said inquiries had been made in England and America as to the best unattended light available, and eventually a Birmingham firm supplied the Bedout light, which was arranged to burn for 12 months without attention, compressed acetylene being used.

lt started on December 10, 1909, and up to the time of the recent failure had given entire satisfaction.

It had never been left for 12 months without attention, and when visited was always found to be burning satisfactorily. The first intimation he had of its failure was on March 26, and telegrams were sent to all ports advising them that the light was out. The notices to shipmasters stated that the light was unwatched, and they were warned not to place too much reliance upon it.

Continuing, witness said that in his opinion, the vessel did not strike Bedout, as if she did wreckage would he found. It waa possible that she struck it and foundered elsewhere.


At this stage Mr. Parker asked for an adjournment. He had been approached that morning, and he understood that there was a clergyman residing at Guildford who had been at Port Hedland when the Koombana left the port, and who would be willing to offer evidence.

Mr. Moss thought there should be a limit placed on adjournments. It was probably another of "those rumours." He did not think it a fair thing to postpone the inquiry on the very slender evidence before them as to whether such a person existed, and, if he existed, whether he was prepared to say anything. While they did not wish to shut out anything that would throw any light upon the matter, he would remind them that Mr. Moxon was very anxious to see the inquiry through and return to his duties in Adelaide.

Mr. Dowley: If the inquiry is to do anything at all it cannot be done in a hurry.

After consulting with his colleagues on the Court the President adjourned the inquiry till 2.15 p.m. on Monday.



At the Fremantle Police Court on Monday afternoon the Court of Marine Inquiry into the "total loss at sea of the s.s. Koombana on or about March 20, 1912, between Port Hedland and Broome," was resumed. Mr. E. P. Dowley, R.M., was President of the Court, and assisting him were Captains F. L. Parkes and J. W. W. Yates, assessors. The Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Frank Parker) appeared on behalf of the Chief Harbourmaster to conduct the inquiry, and Mr. M. L. MOSS, K.C., watched the proceedings on behalf of the Adelaide Steamship Company, the owners of the vessel.

William Ernest Moxon, attorney and manager in Western Australia for the Adelaide S.S. Company, recalled by Mr. Moss, read extracts from interviews published in the "West Australian" with Messrs. McDonald and Fisher. Mr. McDonald was for a time the chief engineer of the Koombana, and was sent to England to superintend the erection of her engines, after which he came to Australia in her. Mr. Fisher was for a time her third officer. Both gentlemen referred to her stability in laudatory Terms. Mr. Moxon handed in to the Court a chart showing the location of the wreckage from the Koombana picked up by steamers and luggers.

William Patrick, clerk in holy orders, and a member of the Church of England, was called by Mr. Parker. Witness stated that he was at Port Hedland from March 18 to March 25. He saw the Koombana arrive in Port Hedland on March 19, which was a very clear day and exceptionally hot. He saw the vessel leave Port Hedland on the 20th, but did not take particular notice of her propeller. The sky was very cloudy, the clouds were low, and there was a fairly strong breeze blowing. It was an easterly wind blowing, just a little stronger than usual. At the post office he heard people remark that the glass was steady and not too low. He had a conversation with Captain Pearson, who was a passenger for Derby, and who did not expect anything in the shape of abnormal weather. He (witness) did not think there was the slightest truth in the statement that Captain Allen had discussed the weather. Captain Allen appeared to be a little anxious, and seemed unwell, as he was suffering from the heat.

To Mr. Moss: He regarded Mr. Gardener, manager of the A.S.S. Company at Port Hedland, as a very honourable man, whose reports could be thoroughly relied upon.

Mr. Parker asked for an adjournment to allow of evidence being received from the road boards of Port Hedland and West Kimberley and the Mayor of Broome, at the request of the Premier. After consultation with his colleagues, Mr. Dowley adjourned the Court until 2.30 p.m. on Friday.

9b[Extracts, Court of Marine Inquiry, loss of s.s. "Koombana", Harbour & Lights Department, Western Australia, 25 April - 6 May, 1912. WA Museum (on loan)]





IN THE MATTER of an Inquiry into the circumstances attending the loss at sea between Port Hedland and Broome

whilst on a voyage from Fremantle to Derby via Ports of the S.S. "KOOMBANA" on or about the 20th March 1912.

April 25th 1912.

BEFORE: E. P. Dowley Esq. R.M. (presiding)

Captain F. L. Parkes ) Assessors.

Captain J. W. W. Yates )

THE CROWN PROSECUTOR (Mr. F. PARKER) appeared to represent the Chief Harbor Master, Captain C. J. Irvine.

MR. MOSS K.C. appeared to represent the Adelaide Steamship Company.

[Upjohn testimony p1]



You are the Master of the s.s. "Bullarra,"? - Yes.

Were you the Master of her on the 18th March last? - Yes.

Did you arrive at Port Hedland on the 18th March? - Yes.

What were the tides then? - Tides were making 19 feet springs.

What day did the s.s. "Koombana" arrive at Port Hedland? -

On the 19th March.

During the time you were in Port Hedland did you have any

conversation with Captain Allen in respect of the weather? -


On what date was that? - On the morning of the 20th.

Will you tell the Court what the conversation was? - It took

place on my ship. We had a general conversation and Capt.

Allen said "What do you think about the weather?"

What was your reply? - "Its overcast and a bit dirty but there is nothing in it."

Can you fix the time that this conversation took place? - It was just before breakfast or just after.

That would be about 8 o'clock? - Yes.

What was the state of the weather at this time? - Very nice fresh breeze, overcast and cloudy.

It struck you as being a bit dirty? - Just overcast.

What did you expect from the weather? - I expected the same right through: fine if anything.

Did you have any further conversation with Capt. Allen about the weather? - None.

Was anything said in reference to leaving Port Hedland or not? - No.

MR. DOWLEY. He left before you? - Yes.


PROSECUTOR. At what time? -

[Upjohn testimony p2]

UPJOHN. About 20 minutes before I did: between 10 and 11 o'clock a.m.


PROSECUTOR. Can you tell the Court: did the weather alter between 10 and

11.20 ? - No. (ctd)

What was the reading of the barometer? - I looked at the

barometer at 6 o'clock and it stood at 29.50.

Had there been anything during the night or early morning? -

There was a squall at 4 o'clock that morning.

What was the nature of this squall? - Just a puff.

Did you look at the barometer on account of that? - No: it

was my usual practice to look at the barometer at about 6


It stood then at 29.50? - Yes.

Did you look at the barometer again before you left Port

Hedland? - I do not recollect.

When Captain Allen spoke about the weather, did he mention

anything about the barometer reading? - Yes he did mention

it but I do not remember what it was.

Was your glass a high or low one? - Low.

There was nothing whatever said about leaving or not? -

Not a word.

Where were you when the "Koombana" left Port Hedland? -- I was

on the lower bridge and the Chief Officer was with me.

What were you doing? -- We were just looking at the "Koombana"

Did you notice her trim? -- She was in excellent trim.

Did you notice the draft? -- No. I noticed how well she

behaved and the Chief Officer said the same.

Have you any reason for that remark? - No, but she looked so well.

Did you notice her propeller? - It was well submerged.

You and the Chief Officer were standing watching her? - Yes.

When she went out of the Harbor, did she roll at all? - No.

[Upjohn testimony p3]


When you went out, what length of time did you follow in the

"Koombana's" Course? - I followed out in her course, keeping

leads astern, somewhere about half an hour or three quarters.

And you last saw her? - About two hours after leaving.

Was she proceeding on her ordinary course to Broome? -

On the ordinary course to Bedout.

Was she in good trim? - Yes.

The top of her propellor, according to the plan, is about on

the 18' mark: You say she was well submerged? - Yes.

From the time you left Port Hedland until the time you lost

sight of the "Koombana", had the wind changed? - No.

Had the velocity altered? - No.

During that day, when did the direction of the wind change

first? - About 4 p.m.

Where were you bound? - South to Balla Balla.

You were going in the opposite direction to that taken by the

"Koombana"? - Yes.

What time did the wind change its direction first? - Some-

where between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock. It is very carefully noted

in the log book. The wind was E.N.E at 5 o'clock. Commenced

to flicker and went back again. (portion of log book put in).

When did the wind change? - Between 2 and 4 o'clock.

Coming back to the time you left Port Hedland? - At 6.20am

we commenced swinging, at 10.40 cast off. There was a strong

N.E. wind, cloudy.

Mr. DOWLEY. You say the wind changed from E.N.E. From what? - There was a

strong breeze which changed from N.E.


PROSECUTOR. At what time did you lose sight of the "Koombana" - about

12 o'clock? - A little before, when the sea became rough.

When did you notice the sea change to rough? When you left it

was a nice pleasant breeze and smooth? - Yes, it

freshened later.

[Upjohn testimony p4]

When the wind freshened and the sea became rough, was the

Koombana still in sight? - Yes, but I lost sight of her shortly


Did you notice what weather she was making? Did you see her? -

I saw her but could not tell how she was behaving.

The next entry is in regard to the weather? - Heavy N.E. gale,

heavy sea, 4 o'clock.

You were still on your course for Balla Balla? - Yes. At 4.2.

p.m. I slowed the engines.

At 5 o'clock you altered your course from S 50 W to N.E? - Yes.

What other note have you? - Put screens up and tarpaulins in

main weather rigging and round poop, took soundings and found

25 fathoms.

You were then steering out to open sea after doing this? -


The next entry? - At 8, heavy gale, high seas, ship laboring

heavily and heavy rain.

At that time what did you think of the weather? - That it was

bad and getting serious. This was between 8 and 10 p.m.

You continued out to sea? - Yes.

Will you tell the Court what the weather was. At midnight

you reported it being a hurricane? - Yes, the ship was rolling


Were these entries made afterwards? - The entries were made

roughly in another book and copied afterwards.

At 10.30 the wind went from E.N.E to E.? - Yes, at 11.20

mountainous seas. (log book read).

I notice that the wind after 8 o'clock got to W.S.W. The

wind increased in velocity about midday of the 21st? - Yes.

Was there any alteration in the barometer? - There was no

difference until between 3 and 4 o'clock.

What then? - It dropped a little but not suddenly.

Did you keep watch of the barometer? - Yes, later on, every


[Upjohn testimony p5]

Between 3 and 4 o'clock you did not pay particular attention

but at 10 o'clock, when you realised the weather was bad, you

kept constant watch? - Yes.

I notice you were in the centre of the cyclone between noon

and 4 p.m.? - At 12.30 it was calm.


After the blow was over and you had effected temporary repairs,

did you engage in searching for the Koombana? What area did you

search? -

(Chart put in and area shown).

[Upjohn testimony p6]

What wreckage did you pick up? - An awning spar, portion

of motor launch, a panel from the ceiling of the smoking

room or musicroom, some covers of the lifeboats tanks and

a door.

(Wreckage produced).

You examined that carefully? - Yes.

Did you form any opinion as to what had caused the wreckage? -

The force of the wind and sea.

The panel is forced right out with the screws adhering? - Yes.

Have you formed any opinion? Does the Court desire to hear

any opinion? -

MR. DOWLEY. It may be given.


PROSECUTOR. Have you any doubt as to this being the wreckage of the

"Koombana"? - There is not the slightest doubt. The piece

from the motor launch has the Company's crest on it.

You know the door? - Yes, it belonged to the cabin on port side on the promenade deck.

What door is it? - It is a stateroom door.

During this blow, did the wind shift any of your boats at all? -

Yes. The lee boats. One of the boats had a hole bumped in it.

Were any other boats effected by the wind? - They were

strained and damaged, and chafed in the chocks.

Did you lose any boats? - No.

Were all the boats damaged? - Yes. They were all lashed down.


[Upjohn testimony p7]



PROSECUTOR. You know the "Koombana" well. Where did she carry her

cargo, etc? - Yes, I know her well. She had her bunkers

full and they carry about 580 tons. According to Captain

Williams she had 80 tons of cargo in the lower hold, 150

tons in No. 2 lower, between No. 2 and tween decks - 20 tons.

A total of about 800 tons.

Have you known of a case when the "Koombana" has all her

tanks empty at one time? When she was a light ship? - No.

If she had all her tanks empty and only 800 tons on board

her, with coal and everything, what draft would she be? -

She would be 16'6 aft and about 12' forward.

MR. DOWLEY. The tanks are distributed about the ship? - Yes.


PROSECUTOR. About how many times did you go into Port Hedland on the

"Koombana"? - About 18 times.

When at spring tides, what empty tanks would you have? -

The after peak tank would be empty: it would be consumed on

the voyage up from Fremantle to fill tanks 4 and 5 - fresh


How would the other tanks be? - All full. Numbers 1, 2, 3,

4 and 5 No 6 might be pumped out.

With the tanks in this State what draft would she be then? -

About 17' with the after peak tank out.

Could you go into Port Hedland on a spring tide with that? -

Quite easily.

There would be no necessity to empty any tanks? - No.

If there were any tanks empty in Port Hedland, how long

would it take to fill these tanks? - Number 8 would be run out

in an hour and the after peak in about an hour and it would

then be pumped up.

How long would it take to fill them? - From 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

[Upjohn testimony p8]

Have you formed any theory as to what became of the "Koombana"?--

The only thing I can think of is that she was smashed

up by the cyclone.

In what way to you think?-- By the force of the wind and sea.

Could she have turned turtle?-- Impossible.


MR. MOSS. Do you consider you were lucky in having escaped? - We escaped by a miracle.

Your boat was in a battered condition? - Yes.

What occurred to your funnel? - It was carried away in the early part of the blow.

You went to Broome to effect temporary repairs and for water? - Yes.

That was before you searched for the "Koombana"? - Yes.

Have you been in cyclonic weather before? - Yes, in the China

Sea, when a ship went down alongside of us.

Was it very bad? - Not so bad as this.

This was absolutely the worst thing you have experienced? - Yes.

And it was only by a miracle you came through? - Yes.


[Upjohn testimony p9]

... I think when you

crossed the bar you felt more wind outside than inside? -

Yes. There is always a fresher breeze outside.

Was there any sea on the bar? - No.

You saw the "Koombana" go out. Did she roll much? - I saw

her go, but there was no roll.

There is another report that has been spread, about the

propeller beating the air? - I remarked to the Chief Officer

how well she looked and the propeller was well submerged.

There is no truth in the report then? - None whatever.

MR. DOWLEY. In the papers there was a remark of Captain Allen saying he

would be lucky to get to Broome by Saturday? - I did not

hear him say so.

MR. MOSS. How long would it take in the ordinary course? - About 24 or

25 hours.

MR. DOWLEY. He should have got there on Thursday? - Yes.

MR. MOSS. When you were searching for the wreckage of the "Koombana" did

you notice any oily substance floating on the surface? - Yes.

Please tell the Court? - It was in latitude 19.11 and 119.25 E.

What distance would that be off Bedout Island? - About 27 or 28

miles - I cannot say which.

Did you take any samples of this oily substance? - Yes. Two or

three dozen bottles.

What depth was there at this place? - 30 or 35 fathoms.

Did you see any trace of the vessel in that depth? There would be

nothing to indicate that the Koombana or any other vessel would be

there? - It was getting dark and it looked like the outline of a

vessel. The Chief Officer said "It must be one of her decks," I

said "No, the decks would not look like that." I could see no more.

The engines were stopped and we drifted for about 4 miles.

What was the stuff in the bottles? - Oily, greasy water.

Have you any idea as to how that came there? - It looked as if

it came from a wreck.

[Upjohn testimony p10]

There would be stuff on the ship to make this? - Yes.

Where are those bottles? - At the Company's office.

We will produce these if desired.

MR. DOWLEY. You saw this at dusk? - Yes.

MR. MOSS. When you went out from Broome to make this search, was it a

careful search in every way? - Yes.

Did you land anyone on Bedout Island? - Yes, the Chief Officer

and a party.

You searched with every care in the vicinity where you found

this wreckage? - Yes.

Was there any wreckage about then? - Yes, an awning spar and

one of the doors.

What difference in distance did you find any other pieces? -

There was a difference of as much as 20 miles.



You say that this is the "Koombana's" door. Would it have been

possible for it to have been washed off before the boat sank? -

It is quite possible.


-:- 1 -:-

HARRY UPJOHN - Recalled.

(Official Log-Book put in).


PROSECUTOR. This is your official log-book, in use on the 20th March? - Yes.

Whose entry is this: "Strong N.E.Breeze and cloudy"

Mr Crossley's? - Yes.

Is it all in the same writing? - Yes, it is not my writing.

Can you give an explanation of the barometer at noon being

28.83? - The ship is provided with two barometers - on is

more valuable than the other and is kept in the Commander's

room because it is nice room and not too warm. The Chart

room is not a fit place to house this barometer. The other

barometer is in the chart room for the use of the officers.

It is on the low side and not a good instrument. When I said

the reading of the barometer was 29.50 it was the reading

of the barometer in my room which the officers have not access

to. During the cyclone, finding such a difference

between the glasses, I told one of the officers to take my

instrument up to the chart room because this was then the

better place to house it as it might have been smashed to

pieces, my room being on the lower deck.

That reading on the 20th March was by the barometer in the

chart room? - Yes, it is on the low side and an inferior

istrument to mine.

Who can tell us about the instrument in the chart room? - The

Chief Officer.

What difference was there between the barometer in the chart

room and the one in your room? - I do not know. A

tremendous difference.


April 26th. 11 a.m.



PROSECUTOR. You are Attorney and Manager in Western Australia for

the Adelaide Steamship Co.? - Yes.



MR. MOSS. ...

-:- 2 -:-


There have been various suggestions and rumours in the papers

and the Court has invited the Public to come here and say what

it has to say. Are these rumours ill or well founded? -

I have to take particular notice of a report from Port

Hedland published in the "West Australian" on the 3rd April.

The report from Port Hedland referred to and states that Capt.

Allen seemed disinclined to go out and when he decided to do so

said "I will go out, but we shall be lucky if we get to Broome."

Have you any reliable information on that? - I called upon

the Branch Manager at Port Hedland to report and received this

letter dated April 17th. from him stating that he called on

board the "Koombana" just before she left. Fortunately I am

in a position to give the conversation that took place

between Gardiner, the Branch Manager at Port Hedland, and

Captain Allen during the last hour before she left port.

(Letter read and put in).


-:- 3 -:-


Wreckage has been found in many places. Please say where

that wreckage was discovered? - The first wreckage on record

is the air tanks from the life-boats, found on Turtle

Island. Wreckage has been picked up by the "Minderoo"

as far as 70 miles west of Bedout Island and by the "Gorgon"

nearer than that, by the "Una" and "Bullarra". Captain

Dalziel of Broome observed floating wreckage and Mr. Thomson

of Pardu reports that natives found the air tanks on the beach.

MR. DOWLEY. Can you say that all this wreckage belongs to the "Koombana"?

We know that all this wreckage here belonged to the


-:- 4 -:-

Have you anything further to state? - Yes, I have here a

report from Captain Challenor. (Report read and put in).

This is the only information as to

what occurred about Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

She would find the weather conditions getting worse as she

proceeded to Bedout Island. From all reports it was the

worst hurricane experienced on this coast.

When does he say the hurricane was blowing? - It is a bit

tangled as to dates. On the 21st. bad weather, and on the

20th scudded away from Bedout to Dixon Island.

What might effect[sic] a small lugger would not effect the

"Koombana"? - No.


MR. DOWLEY. Captain Challenor's letter says that the seas were very high? -

What should be a big sea to a small lugger would be very

little to a full powered boat. I might mention it would be

desirable if hurricane signals in hurricane areas were shown

at Ports. It is highly important that there should be a

proper system of signals exhibited...

Monday April 29th 2.15 p.m.


MR. MOSS. ...

There was a Mr. Thomas who was the Third Officer for a

long while? - Yes, I have evidence given by him.

(Evidence read and put in).

I cannot say how long Mr. Thomas was

in the ship but he left to improve his position. He was

the Third Officer for some time. I should like to mention

to the Court that I have marked upon the chart the whole of

the places where wreckage has been picked up. There are 5

steamer reports of wreckage and 6 lugger reports.

(Chart put in.)

"Appendix "H".



Port Hedland.

15th April 1912.


Manager for W.A.


Dear Sir/


I confirm my wire regarding wreckage picked up

by the "Gorgon", "Minderoo", also by the "Una".


Regarding the statement of the Captain of the "Una"

that he considered that he was over the position of the

steamer, I do not think there is much in it, unless he

knew more than he stated here. According to his

statement, after picking up some boards around them in

a dead calm, they went to dinner. After dinner they

discovered more wreckage around them and believed that

it must have come from below. In the interval, however,

the ship would probably move by current at a different

rate to flotsam. Besides, objects would come in and out

of view at different angles of light. However, they do not

appear to have stayed on this spot any length of time

to test their theory.

Yours faithfully,


Sd. F.W.Gardiner,

Acting Branch Manager.

"Appendix "I".


Port Hedland.

17th April 1912.


Manager for W.A.


Dear Sir/

I am just in receipt of yours of 4th instant per

"Paroo". I have written a quantity of matter by a

previous mail relative to the "Koombana" and the weather

at the time of her departure and I shall probably repeat

myself in replying to your letter of above date.

(1). I was not aware that Captain Allen and Captain

Upjohn had any conversation regarding the weather before

they left until I saw it reported in the press. I was

with them both on sailing morning and spent the last hour

with Captain Allen on his Bridge Deck. The glass at that

time was not more than 10 points below normal at the

particular period of the year. Only a fortnight before

the glass fell nearly 60 points and nothing eventuated.

Captain Allen discussed with me the advisability of taking

the ship over the outer bar as the stiff easterly wind

blowing at the time was causing the sea to break in the

channel and he didn't half like the idea, as he feared if the

sea was very heavy outside he might bump heavily. However,

after consideration, he decided that as he would be leaving

on the top of high water equinoctial springs he should be

safe. It blew rather hard during Tuesday night but had

eased off Wednesday morning (sailing day) and the question

of Willy Willy never arose in the conversation. As to the

remarks said to have been made by Captain Allen that he

would not arrive in Broome for several days, he said to me

that with the stiff head wind lowing he would have no

hope of making Broome in time to catch the following day's

tide. In fact, he would be surprised if he wasn't a day

late as he wasn't too keen on Broome at night in dirty

weather. I did not repeat this conversation but I heard

a publican named Bush state that he heard Captain Allen

say he reckoned he would be a couple of days reaching

Broome but there was no talk of standing out to sea and I

do not think for a moment Captain Allen thought he was

going out into a blow or that there was any immediate pros-

pect of a blow. As to a report that the vessel pitched

heavily as she went out, she only move a little to a little

rough water caused by a high spring tide converging into a

narrow entrance. The only consultation I know of between

Captain Allen and Captain Upjohn was regarding the beacons

and I sent you a joint wire which they had written out.

(2). The weather for 24 hours before leaving was not

encouraging but with only a drop of 10 points in the

glass. The wind had been blowing fairly hard during the

night but eased in the morning. The sea was not running

particularly high as far as could be seen from the land but

as we have so much shallow ground around us were not in

a position to say what it was like further out. For

twenty-four hours after conditions got slowly worse, but very


(3). A large number of luggers came into the creek on

Wednesday morning and I spoke to a number of them and they

explained that they came in on account of dirty water caused

by the strong easterly wind and there was no talk in any way of a

blow. In fact many of them have said to me since that the

pearling fleets narrowly escaped a disaster which would have

been the greatest in their history as they never thought of

a blow when they came: it was solely on account of dirty

water. They arrived in mostly before the steamer sailed.

(4) I have already written and telegraphed you with

reference to the Bedout Light. You can take it as authentic

that the light was not burning later than the 13th ult.

Being equinoctal tides the water was naturally

higher than usual. It did not damage but washed away a few

yards of sand and was in danger of undermining the light tower

which was built on the water's edge, and a few sand bags

secured it.

BEDOUT LIGHT - It is hard to say what bearing the absence

of this light would have on the disaster. If she caught the

full force of the blow out there, I don't suppose she would see

it in any case.

Yours faithfully,






IN THE MATTER of a formal inquiry held at Fremantle before E. P. DOWLEY ESQ., (Resident Magistrate), assisted by CAPTAIN F. L. PARKES and CAPTAIN J. W. W. YATES (Assessors) into the circumstances surrounding the loss at sea of the S. S. "Koombana" on or about the night of March the 20th. between Port Hedland and Broome, whilst on a voyage from Fremantle to Derby via Ports.

In conformity with the request of the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, the Court of Marine Inquiry investigated at Fremantle on the 25th, 26th and 29th days of April 1912, the circumstances surrounding the loss at sea of the S. S. "Koombana". The difficulties attendant on doing so were exceptional because, though in many Inquiries under the Navigation Act of 1904, the Act under which this Inquiry is held, evidence can be adduced from persons who were on board and who can depose to the circumstances immediately attendant to a disaster on a ship, no such evidence is obtainable in this case owing to the fact that the ill-fated vessel has totally disappeared at sea, with all on board of her. In order, therefore, to account for such total disappearance, the inquiry for the most part must be directed to considerations of the ship's stability, equipment, and seaworthiness, together with Captain Allen's efficiency and carefulness as a Shipmaster.

During the inquiry Mr. Parker, the Crown Prosecutor, appeared on behalf of the Chief Harbor Master, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., appeared on behalf of the Adelaide Steamship Company, the owners of the S. S. "Koombana".

The Court was considerably assisted also by the presence throughout the Inquiry of a large model of the "Koombana", complete in minute detail, as also by various plans, etc., readily produced.

The S. S. "Koombana" was a steel screw steamer of 3668 tons gross and 2182 tons net. Her length was 340 feet 1 inch, breadth 48 feet 2 inches and depth 20 feet 8 inches. Her indicated Horse Power was 4,000 and her normal Horse Power 433. She was built by Messrs. Alex. Stephen and Son, Ltd., Glasgow, in the year 1908 from specifications to the highest class of British requirements, which in many instances she exceeded. She also held a Marine Certificate to August, 1912, issued by the Department of Navigation of New South Wales, and was last docked in Sydney on August 15, 1911.

The Court heard evidence from:--

Mr. S.R.P. Stevens, an officer of the Commonwealth Weather Bureau, Perth.

Captain Upjohn, who is Master of the S. S. "Bullarra", and who was chief officer of the S. S. "Koombana" for 12 months.

Mr. James Crossley, Chief Officer of the S. S. "Bullarra".

Captain James F. Morrison, Inspector of Shipping at the Port of Fremantle, who had official knowledge of the S. S. "Koombana".

Captain Matthew John Williams, Marine Superintendent for the Adelaide Steamship Company in Western Australia.

Captain Henry John Clarke, asistant wharf manager for the Port of Fremantle, and formerly Chief Officer of the S. S. "Koombana" for fifteen months on the North-West coast of Western Australia, and also on her maiden voyage to Australia from Glasgow.

Mr. Alex. Craig, the Chief Engineer of the S. S. "Bullarra".

Captain J. A. Rankin, Acting Marine Superintendent for the Adelaide Steamship Company for Australasia, who produced to the Court and explained by actual test a Ralston stability and trim indicator specially made for the S. S. "Koombana" and which was not on board the vessel owing to its having only recently arrived in Australia.

Mr. A. C. Butcher, Engineer Surveyor for the Harbor and Light Department at Fremantle.

Mr. W. E. Moxon, Attorney and Manager in Western Australia for the Adelaide Steamship Company.

Captain Irvine, the Chief Harbor Master for Western Australia.

The Rev. William Patrick, who saw the S. S. "Koombana" leave Port Hedland on her last voyage, and

Captain G. Cumming, being the only person who volunteered evidence in response to an invitation from the Court publicly announced and published in the daily press.

The Court fines that the S. S. "Koombana", Official Number 122725, registered in Adelaide, Captain Thomas Allen master, and owned by the Adelaide Steamship Company, Limited, was on a voyage from Fremantle to Derby via ports. She sailed from Port Hedland on the 20th March 1912 at about 10.20 o'clock, am. drawing 19 feet aft and about 12 feet forward, in excellent trim, with her propeller well submerged, and shaped a course to round Bedout Island on her way to Broome. The voyage from Port Hedland to Broome is usually accomplished in about twenty-four hours. The S. S. "Bullarra" was at Port Hedland at the same time as the S. S. "Koombana", and left that port, bound southwards, about half an hour or so after the S. S. "Koombana" left, bound northwards. The S. S. "Bullarra" Had the S. S. "Koombana" in sight until noon. At about 6.30 p.m that day the wind increased until it blew a violent hurricane, which lasted for several hours, and the ill-fated S. S. "Koombana" has never been seen or heard of since.

During the day of the 20th. March last the wind was a fresh breeze from the North-East, and the weather was a bit overcast and dirty, but Captain Upjohn and Captain Allen in conversation decided there was nothing in it, and neither of them expected to encounter such a blow as is described in the S. S. "Bullarra's" log book as a "Howling hurricane" which apparently has totally engulfed the S. S. "Koombana", and which, according to Captain Upjohn's evidence, the S. S. "Bullarra" only survived through a miracle.

There was an unattended Lighthouse on Bedout Island, the light in which, however, was not burning on the 20th. March. The S. S. "Koombana" should, however, in the ordinary course of things, have been clear of the island before the wind became a hurricane, i.e., before it was dark that day.

The only wreckage discovered was picked up at distances varying from 20 to 70 miles from Bedout Island, and with the exception of some airtanks it was all picked up at sea, the air tanks alone having been found on the mainland.

The wreckage consisted of a part of a starboard bow-planking of a motor launch; a stateroom door and panel from the promenade deck, two planks for covering tanks of lifeboats, and some air tanks.

The Court cannot say what actually happened to the S. S. "Koombana", but it seems reasonably clear that the hurricane of the night of the 20th and 21st March was responsible for her total loss at sea.

With regard to her stability. It is known what cargo, coal, etc., she had on board when leaving Port Hedland, and where it was stowed--also the condition of her ballast tanks. She carried a load of 260 tons of cargo; properly stowed; 450 tons of coal, 87 tons of water in her tanks, and of stores she had some 60 tons. She also had on board 76 passengers and a crew of 74. Ths stability of the vessel with that load was tested with Ralston's stability Indicator, which showed she had a G. M. of 2 feet 7 inches plus.

Seven other tests were made with the indicator under varying conditions of load, and in each of them her stability was shown to be entirely satisfactory. If further confirmation of the ship's stability and seaworthiness be required it is to be found in the career of the vessel since 1908 on the Australian coast. All the witnesses who have had experience in her deposed to her excellent seagoing qualities.

With regard to the personel[sic] of the vessel, it is of the highest quality, and both Captain Allen and the Chief Officer held Extra Master's certificates. The Court is satisfied that the S. S. "Koombana", in construction, stability, and seaworthiness, was equal to any vessel of her class in the Australian coastal trade.

The Court thinks it desirable that telegrams regarding the weather should be exchanged every day between stations where observations are made along the North-West coast, and that the information so obtained should be posted for general information, and that storm signals should be shown at all ports.

Thanks are due to Mr. W. E. Moxon, the Attorney and Manager in Western Australia for the Adelaide Steamship Company, to Captain Rankin, Acting Marine Superintendent for the Company; and to Officers generally for their efforts generally in supplying to the Court information regarding the vessel, and for supplying so readily plans, model, and details of every description (including detailed reports from Mr. Gardiner, the Company's Manager at Port Hedland) and producing witnesses, no doubt at considerable inconvenience. The Government and the Company are to be commended for their prompt action in endeavouring to obtain information as to the whereabouts of the missing vessel.

In conclusion, the Court simply finds, without indulging in useless speculation, that the stability and seaworthiness of the S. S. "Koombana" were unassailable, and the competency and carefulness of master Captain Allen, beyond question, and after being lost sight of at sea on the 20th March 1912, her fate passes beyond human knowledge and remains a mystery of the sea.