35a["Wreck of the Koombana", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 19 May 1912, page 9]


A Decidedly Unsatisfactory Inquiry

Port Hedland Journalist's Important Statement--

A Last Interview with Captain Allen--

The Koombana Had an Ugly List to Port--

And Her Propeller--Was at Times Out of the Water--

When She Left Port Hedland

It cannot be said that the inquiry into the loss of the steamer Koombana was satisfactory to the public. It was certainly satisfactory to the Adelaide Steamship Company, which, by the finding, escapes any compensatory liability to the widows and orphans and other dependents of the 150 victims who went down in the vessel; but that isn't what we mean.

In the first place, the evidence was all one-sided. No attempt whatever was made to produce independent expert evidence as to the stability of the steamer, and by that we mean, her ability to live in a cyclone, and not her constructional strength. Mr. McDonald, who supervised her building at Glasgow, was asked with regard to her stability, and he replied--"She was a magnificent vessel, strongly built." But that was not the import of the question, which should have been as to her resistance to a great storm. A steamer may be a "magnificent vessel" in ordinary ocean conditions, but what we want to know is, was she fit to face extraordinary conditions?

In the case of the Koombana, the answer is that she went down the first time she met extraordinary conditions, and took her living freight with her. There was no evidence to show that she had ever been in a cyclone before, but there is the appalling fact that she did not survive the first big storm she encountered, duced at the inquiry. One ex-seafaring man, on looking at the model, said she was a conventional design of modern marine architecture, but admitted that if she got into holds with a cyclone she might be heeled over by the gale, and if a sea came along before she could right herself she might turn turtle and go to the bottom. On points like this the inquiry was silent. Certain witnesses said she could not capsize, but they were not subjected to expert cross-examination. It should be noted, however, that many of the witnesses are in the employ

of the Adelaide and other coastal steamship companies. What we should have liked to hear was the evidence of a dozen or more observant persons who had travelled in the Koombana and who knew more about her than theoretical salts.

There are many other points which should have been elucidated, such as the statement that the propeller was only submerged six or eight inches, which would be really no submergement to a tossing or heavy sea, because for a great portion of the time the propeller would necessarily be yards out of the water. We have indicated a few of the defects in this unsatisfactory inquiry, and in our opinion the Federal Government should hold an inquiry on its own account.

BROOME, Saturday.

Mr. Barker, editor and proprietor of the "Port Hedland Advocate," who yesterday read the finding of the Koombana Inquiry Board for the first

time, says that the statement that the steamer when she left Port Hedland was drawing 19ft. aft is not in accordance with what the Harbormaster told him and said he was prepared to adhere to when the vessel was reported missing. The Harbormaster's assertion was that she was drawing 11ft. forward and 16ft. aft. As to the statement that there was no particular evidence of bad weather, Mr. Barker says that for some hours before the Koombana sailed from Port Hedland the people were battening down, preparing for the gale. Further, that 40 pearling luggers had run into the creek from outside for shelter; and that many divers had reported an almost infallible sign of a blow--that is, a heavy ground swell in various parts of the ocean bed where they had been working. Also other evidence and an erratic barometer made it patent that a big disturbance was on hand.

Furthermore, Captain Allen, when questioned by Mr. Barker as to whether he was going to put out, said he did not know. "I don't like the glass," was Captain Allen's remark, "and another 24 hours here will not matter."

His decision to put out was only announced subsequent to a conversation which took place on the Koombana between Captain Allen and Captain

Upjohn of the Bullarra. Upon deciding to go out Captain Allen asked the Harbormaster to have certain luggers that were obstructing the channel out of Port Hedland Harbor removed, and when one still remained said he would not go out unless it was removed. He was palpably uneasy and disinclined to go.

"My passengers think they will get to Broome to-morrow (Thursday)," he remarked, "but they will be lucky if they get there by Saturday. I am going to put right out to sea, and as I might bump the bar going out I will leave my ballast tanks until I get outside and fill them out there."

As the Koombana went out a choppy sea was rolling through the harbor entrance, Mr. Barker watched the vessel from his house on the foreshore, and she had an ugly list to port. She was rolling heavily, her propeller at times being out of the water.

Within the last ten days ten air-tight tanks from the lifeboat have been reported as found on the beach 14 miles south of Hedland.

The Penguin visited Bedout Island last Tuesday, but no wreckage was discovered.

[Why wasn't Mr. Barker called as a witness at the inquiry?--S.T."]

35b["The Koombana Inquiry", The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 25 May 1912, page 10]



The unwarranted attack on the editor of this paper, by Mr M. L. Moss (solicitor for the Adelaide S.S. Coy. at the inquiry into the loss of the Koombana), calls for a parting shot. We would be the last in the world to wish to say anything which would leave the slightest smudge on the reputations of the capable officers who went down in the ill-fated Koombana, but no mercenary motive would induce us to deviate from the course of justice in the public interests, and we have heaps of company [in the Nor'-West, at anyrate] when we assert that the finding of the Marine Board of Inquiry suggests capable handling of the whitewash brush and a prodigal use of lime. No sane man in Hedland can be found who can find any excuse for the completeness of the job in the application of the preparation of lime. Leave aside the improbability of the British Board of Trade countenancing the constitution of a board of inquiry as this one was constituted. The court was faced with a surfeit of evidence with a [perhaps unconscious] bias in favor of the ship and the Coy., and evidence diametrically opposed to fact by several witnesses. The whole of the statements that there were no indications of bad weather at Hedland find flat denial on every hand locally. Several can be found to prove the ship drew no more than 16ft 6in aft and 11ft for'ard as she lay at anchor at the Hedland jetty. Before the vessel left port, Hedlandites were preparing their houses for defence against attacks of a threatening blow. Scores of people discussed the weather outlook with Capt. Allen, who gave everyone, including the writer, the impression that he did not want to leave port. "Twenty-four hours here," he declared to the writer, "will not hurt; I might bump the outer bar going out on a sea like this." Capt. Allen's attitude change immediately Capt. Upjohn had a conversation with him, after which he said, "I am going out; the Broome passengers, who think they will get to Broome to-morrow, will be lucky if they get there on Saturday--I'm going straight out to sea, and will fill my tanks when I get outside." The ship's propellor was showing when anchored at the jetty, and raced out of the water as she sailed over the rolling seas at the harbor's entrance; the boat also rolled heavily when the wind struck her on the starboard side--so much so that those who were watching her exclaimed "She'll be over directly". We can hardly make out the use of such an inquiry, seeing that the only impartial evidence procurable as to the ship's draught and indications of the weather was rigidly excluded--no reasonable opportunity of tendering such being provided.

One word more. The Bullarra was not in the worst of the gale. She had a bad time, undoubtedly, to which the gale contributed considerably, but, if the evidence of passengers can be believed [and it is at least free from the possibility of bias], she caught but the fringe of the gale. she left Hedland in such a hurry that the cattle races were not taken out of the holds, and, according to passengers, when she got outside it was impossible to work the gear for lifting them out, and she rode through the storm with her hatches off. The passengers were on deck during each day, declare, very little water came aboard, and that they slept well each night. How does that fit in with the statement of Capt. Upjohn that "the seas were coming over the bridge"?