87[Crossley, James, Adelaide Steamship Company, Observations on the North West Coast of Australia (unpublished), May 1915, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University, 0186: N46/1113]

Report on Nor'-West Ports,

A letter from J. Crossley, Acting Marine Superintendent, Adelaide Steamship Company,

to secretary P.D. Haggart, 04 May 1915

Noel Butlin Archives Centre


Port Adelaide,

May 4th. 1915.

P. D. Haggart Esq,



Dear Sir,-

I beg to submit a short report of my observations on the North West Coast of Australia.

Firstly, the rain fall in the cattle and sheap districts has been good and the squatters are anticipating a good season, espacially in the Carnarvon district, where the last 3 seasons have been exceptionally bad. The rainfall has been least over the Roebourne and Onslow districts, but even there a fair season is expected. Of course this will improve the stock shipments, not so much this year as next year.

Geraldton. The bulk of cargo is landed at this port by a small steamer belonging to the Melbourne S.S. Coy, the "Kurnalpi". She has about 300 tons of cargo weekly for this port, and trades between Geraldton, Dongara, Fremantle, Bunbury and Busselton, making a weekly service. Geraldton is a well lighted and convenient port (except with a strong S.W. gale, when there is a heavy range alongside jetty for which heavy springs are supplied). The jetty has spring piles in all the berths, but on the S.W. side, which is nearly always used by vessels, the piles, owing to pressure of ships, have been driven well in towards jetty, and with a heavy range the jetty would receive the weight of ships. This is about to be rectified, and I am informed a breakwater run out along the reef, otherwise the jetty is in good condition. The stevedoring at this port is done by contract--average work per hour 10/15 tons for handy general.

The coastline from Geraldton to the entrance to Sharks Bay (Incription Pt. Light) is fairly well defined, and from the latter point to Carnarvon, low lying.

Carnarvon. This port has a good jetty with three berths, two of which are good; the third (inner) berth is the stock berth and is difficult to access owing to the almost constant strong S. and S.E. winds which prevail 9 months out of the year, this wind blowing almost directly across the jetty (stock berth lee side), but since the Harbor & Light Department have taken in hand the shipping of stock at this pert (and have regretted it ever since), the cattle race is likely to be extended, especially on a recent trip the s/s "Western Australia" left behind 150 head of cattle on account of rough weather, which we lifted. On my last trip to this berth for stock, it took two hours to heave the ship alongside after the head and stern ropes had been thrown ashore. This was owing to strong wind off jetty and ebb tide running through under jetty. Mr. Stevens, the Manager of the State S.S. Coy informs me that he is going to insist on the cattle loading facilities being improved.

A fair amount of wool is shipped from this port, but I regret to say that owing to the past bad seasons, a great many of the squatters are under obligations to Dalgety & Coy who are Agents for the Singapore Line, and give anyone they have assisted to understand that all their wool must be shipped via Singapore, but these boats have not treated shippers at this port too fairly, the two following cases being two of many:--Space was ordered for 400 bales of wool and allotted. The steamer left Fremantle and filled with wool at Geraldton. The 400 bales of wool were left on the Carnarvon wharf for about 3 weeks until next Singapore boat, as shipper dared not ship via Fremantle. During this time there were several wet days and some of the wool was wet. On my last trip down, the "Gorgon" bound south arrived at this port simultaneously with the "Allinga". There were two tons of cargo (general) booked for her, but the Master would not take it on board as he wished to get to Fremantle before dark Sunday. We took the cargo. I have heard many remarks made by prominent men in the district which bode no good for this Line when certain obligatons have been met. Cargo work averages 20/12 tons per hour. Our Agents at this port, (Whitlock & Coy) are very good Agents and study the Company's interest in all matters.

Onslow. This port is an open roadstead, cargo being discharged into lighters. We get little or no cargo from this port (except a few tons shut out by a Singapore boat) at present owing to war and bad seasons of late. The total cargo averages about 10 tons. Our Agents at this port are Clarks & Coy, who are also Agents for the Singapore Line. It is unfortunate that these people own the only lighters in the place, as I consider that they are more partial to the Singapore lines than to ours. The stock is taken overland from this district and shipped at Point Sampson or Carnarvon.

The route from Onslow to Point Sampson is through Mary Ann Passage, which is lighted by two unattended lights, which however, are not quite as powerful as they might have been, as one shuts out before the other is sighted (from ten to fifteen minutes between range of lights), but the lighthouse steamer "Penguin" is now on her way to examine them. After clearing Mary Ann Passage there are reefs of detached sandcaps and small islands on East side of track up to Dampier Group of islands, with clear water to West. The N.W. Island of this group, "Lagendra", island, is low, the highest part being 53 feet. At this point the course is altered to the S.E.ward, to pass between Delambra Island and Delambra Shoal, and on a dark night it is sometimes impossible to sight Legendra; a light was recommended for this point a couple of years ago, and there certainly ought to be one there.

Point Sampson. Is the jetty for Roeburne and Cossack, and is connected by tramway with Roebourne. The jetty accommodates one steamer, is about 350ft long, and is built high on account of heavy seas during cyclones. This jetty is, as all N.W, jetties are, protected by spring piles, but a good many of them at outer and are waving like broken reeds. (I am told this was done by the "Western Australia" some time back). It is impossible to berth at this jetty with a strong Easterly as it is open to the sea in this direction. During the 1912 cyclone, this jetty was damagad and for several months vessels could not use it. The cargo was than lightered by the "Wester" to Cossack and thence to Roebourne by steam tram, but since then the Laborites and partisans of the White Australia policy, persuaded the Minister for Works (when there on a visit), to have to have the tramway torn up. This was done and the rails thrown on one aide. It would be interesting to see what happens if another cyclone visits this district, as if one does, it is sure to damage the Jetty again, and failing the Jetty, Cossack Creek wharf is the only landing place for cargo, and thare is some distance (9 or 10 miles I believe) with bad roads between Cossack and Roeburne. The objection to the two places being connacted by rail was due to the fact that there are so many colored people in Cossack (pearlers).

Work at this Jetty is very slow owing to vary small trucks and when low water, a very high lift, average about 8 tons an hour. The cargo at present averages about 30 tons, under normal conditions, about 45 tons. Our Agents at this port, Watson & Coy, are very good and attentive to the company's interests. Southward cargo very small as most of the wool goes to Dalgety & Coy via Singapore, a great number of the squatters being under similar obligations to the Carnarvon people. We ship a good numbar of sheep from this port and some cattle and horses.

Balla Balla. The port for Whim Creek copper mines. These mines have been closed since the outbreak of the War, and ships have not been calling. (Allinga lifted 50 tons ore present trip.) It is a lighterage port, the work (lightering) being done by the Copper Coy. Ships only call if inducement offers. It was at this port where the "Crown of England" and "Concordia" and tender with passengers awaiting "Bullarra", were wrecked and many lives lost.

Port Hedland. The port for the Pilbarra Goldfields, Marble Bar, and Nullagine. There is berthing accommodation for 2 vessels. The tides in this port and approaches thereto, are very strong and it is not safe to navigate with ebb tide. The ship is afloat at all states of the tide, but there are 2 bars with from 3 to 6 feat at low water, being 1 and 3 miles respectively from the port, and it has a very narrow winding entrance which is marked by beacons and one buoy, The latter, which is placed about 60 yards inside a sandridge. Several vessels have stuck on this point since the buoy was put there to replace a beacon further out in deep water, which is supposed to have had a blow from the "Western Australia", and subsequently capsized. The Chief Harbormaster has given instructions to shift this buoy into 6 feet at L.W, to the Master of the "Penguin", now on a trip of inspection of lighthouses &c.

Cargo work at this port averages about 10/12 tons per hour. Average cargo 65/70 tons, and under normal conditions about 100 tons. The return cargo is small, generally a few tons of ore, a few bales of skins, and some wool in the wool season. Cattle and sheep are shipped from here also. Miles & Coy are Agents and are very good, and do all they can for the Company.

Broome. This port owing to its chief industry being pearl shell is now at a standstill and the people who could afford to leave have done so. A few cattle are also shipped here, mostly by Singapore boats. It is impossible to work this port at most dead neaps, as there is only 10' of water alongside for a couple of days. About two years ago it was proposed to condemn the jetty and build another in deeper water just inside Entrance Point, but I do not think this would be a good palce, as as soon as the ship left the jetty, she would have the strongest force of the tide and be almost in the narrows. Since then the jetty has been repaired. At present the cargo for this port averages about 30 tons, and under normal conditions about 70/80 tons, average work per hour 10/12 tons. At low water the water leaves the ship for a considerable distance nad the bottom is flat sand. This provides an ideal spot for cleaning a ship's bottom. We seldom get any Southern cargo from this port. It mostly goes via Singapore. Our agents, Messrs Streeter & Male, are also Agents for the Singapore Line, and I think are more partial to those lines than to ours.

Derby. At the head of King Sound, the mouth of which is barred 65 miles from Derby by numerous islands through which there are three passages, viz., Escape, Meda & Sunday. The former is the passage chiefly used by our steamers, being the shortest route. It is not safe to work these passages against a strong tide. The Jetty at Derby is about 250 feet long and is dry at low water springs or near springs. The anchorage to await tide is 16 miles from the jetty at Point Torment, from there up there are shoal patches with changing bottom. Pt. Torment is a low indistinct point, being difficult even in day time to define for purposes of bearings. Two years ago an unattended light was supplied for this point, but it only got as far as Fremantle where it has been ever since. This was owing to the State authorities declaring that it was not a Harbor light and the Federal authorities would have to pay the cost of erection, which they declined to do, saying that it was a harbor light. On obtaining this information (March 1915) I respectfully requested the Minister for Public Works W.A. that some steps might be taken in the matter, pointing out how difficult it was for a ship approaching Derby at night time to ensure his position. He referred me to the Chief Harbor Master, whom I saw and went into the matter with him, but I was subsequently told privately that the intention is to erect that light somewhere on the South Coast. A better arrangement for Point Torment would be to have a gas buoy at this anchorage, and then a vessel could pass fairly close to (or anchor) and get a good position, as if it was on Torment she would pass about 4 miles off, but a four point (or any running bearing) is not to be relied on in a tideway. Of course ships have been running there for a considerable time without a light, but at one time the method was with a rising tide to steer a course, and if the ship stuck, well, she would float again in a few minutes. Derby is, as you are aware, tha chief port in the N.W. for shipping stock and the most fertile district in the N.W. (Kimberley), the greatest disadvantage being the white ant, which is very bad around there. The average Northward cargo for this port is about 30/40 tons, average work per hour 15 tons.

Very good fresh water is supplied at this port. It is expensive, being 15/- per 1,000 gallons, but it is always the practice to take water here, as apart from being necessary in order to avoid shortage, it is excellent drinking water and when mixed with Fremantle water, kills the nasty taste of the latter. Fresh beef is also obtained at this port at about half the price charged in Fremantle.

Our Agent at Derby, Mr. McGlew is a very good one, and although he is also agent for the Singapore lines, he does all in his power to further the interests of our Company. (Also Agent for Messrs Emanuel Brothers).

Wyndham. At the head of the Cambridge Gulf is the next port of importance as far as cattle is concerned, although the facilities for cargo are very primitive. The jetty is about 150 feet long, the cargo is discharged on to small trolleys and part of the crew wheel them up the jetty and discharge them and bring the truck back and repeat the operation. Cargo very small when running these, averaging about 4 tons per hour to discharge, but now a Government Freezing Works is to be erected, and conditions are likely to be brisk for a while. (The State Steamship Coy have chartered the German s/s "Prinz Sigismund" to carry the material for construction of plant).

"Allinga". This steamer I regret to say is not making a good name for herself as far as passengers are concerned. This is due to her speed. The Nor'westers refer to her as the "Lingerer", although the people who do travel by her (and who are not pressed for time) speak well of her.

On my last trip South the Blue Funnel s/s "Gorgon" left Derby a day behind us and reduced our time to Fremantle by a day and a half. We had five passengers and she had about 20 coast passengers. The Singapore liner "Minderoo" was advertised to leave Fremantle 22nd. ulto. same day as "Allinga". The "Allinga" sailed with 12 passengers (5 of which were for Geraldton) and the "Minderoo" was put off until the the 24th. and sailed with 91, the majority being for the Coast. The State "Western Australia" arrived from North on the 23rd. with 60 passengers, amongst which were a good few Government servants and a good many being Steerage.

With regard to the discolored water for domestic purposes "Allinga" which I reported, this has been remedied by using No. 5 & 6 tanks for domestic purposes, these tanks being fairly clean and arranging by means of reducing coupling. The cattle water to go through deck service pipes, using forward tanks for this purpose.

Another disadvantage in this vessel is the dining saloon being so stuffy and hot.

Yours faithfully,

(sgd) J. Crossley

Acting Marine Superintendent.