Sydney: 31st May 1881 (by Electric Telegraph)
The barque Queen of Nations, bound from London for Sydney, was wrecked at a quarter-past 6 o’clock this morning, on a sandy beach five miles north of Wollongong harbour. One man drowned, but all the other hands of the ship’s company got safely to land, except the captain and chief officer.
The vessel has become embedded in the sand and was working heavily in the sea, so that it seemed likely that she might not hold out long, but the seas have since moderated. The ship’s papers were taken ashore by the stewards.
There was no steamer or other vessel at Wollongong that could render any assistance to the stranded vessel, but immediately the news was received in Sydney Captain Hixson, president of the Marine Board, telegraphed instructions to the Heads for the despatch of the pilot steamer Captain Cook, and by 11 o’clock she was steaming southward for the scene of the wreck. The steamer Commodore also was despatched by the agents of the wrecked vessel. Intelligence, since received, is to the effect that the steamer Illawarra, from Kiama, reached the stranded vessel but found no one on board.
The Queen of Nations belonged to the White Star Line and was built in 1861, being at that time rigged as a ship, but she has since been altered to a barque. In 1877 she was re-classed at Lloyd’s for eleven years. She left London on 23rd February, with a full general cargo, and was commanded by Captain S. Beche, who is well known in Sydney.
(Later) Shortly after the vessel struck, the mainmast went by the board, carrying the foretopmast with it. Five of the crew came ashore about that time but one poor fellow was drowned in attempting to land. About noon the remainder of the crew came ashore in one of the ship’s boats, leaving only the captain and mate aboard.
They were both greatly excited when the crew left and declined to accompany them though invited to do so. The mate presented a loaded revolver at some of the crew and threatened to shoot them if they left the vessel.
The second mate says that the captain behaved in an eccentric manner during the greater part of the voyage.
The ship lies about 300 yards from the shore and this evening was rolling but slightly. There is very little prospect of her breaking up. The cargo consists principally of railway iron and light goods and will probably be saved as the vessel will be nearly high and dry at low water. The local police sergeant took charge of the crew and provided quarters for them.
(Later) The captain and mate, who remained on board, have behaved in a most extraordinary manner. This afternoon a volunteer crew launched the ship’s boat for the purpose of bringing the officers ashore. On their arrival alongside, both officers disappeared below and, though repeatedly called to show themselves, they did not do so and the boat returned to shore.
After the lapse of some time the captain again called for help and a crew, including the police magistrate, pulled off to the ship at considerable risk, but the officers again disappeared and the boat, being nearly stove in, they were reluctantly compelled to return, shortly after which the signal for help was repeated.
The only conclusion to be arrived at regarding the captain and mate is that they are mad or drunk.
The crew have sworn information against the captain and chief mate on two separate charges of assault and battery but, at present, the warrants cannot be executed owing to the reasons above mentioned. The vessel appears to be perfectly sound in the hull and otherwise but little damaged.
(Sydney, 1st June) The circumstances connecting the wreck of the Barque Queen of Nations have attracted a great amount of public attention. The sea has now gone down and, the direction of the wind being favourable, there are increased hopes of saving the cargo.
There was no further loss of life and the vessel was finally abandoned by the captain and chief officer this morning. Captain Beche states that we would not land yesterday because he was unwilling to risk any claims for salvage. He thinks the vessel will hold together, though broken amidships. The captain also states that he has been injured internally by falling over the ship’s pump just as she struck.
He attributes the wreck to his having seen a light, which he mistook for that at Sydney Heads. He steered for the light under easy canvas and all at once felt the ship touch. He then tried to claw her off the land but she only drove ashore.
To learn more about this maritime disaster join us at the City of Canada Bay Museum on Saturday, 5th August at 2:00 pm when Dr. Peter Hobbins from the Australian National Maritime Museum will be our speaker.