Sea tragedies, because of their human interest, are usually widely reported. The wrecking of the Koning Willem II, as we have seen, was no exception. After the initial vivid reports in the local newspapers the incident appeared to have been all but forgotten.

The next mention of the incident is to be found in the South Australian Parliamentary Papers of 1875 No.22. Here we find a report from a Commission appointed to inquire into the subject of a railway construction in the south-east of South Australia. The remarks in the appendix are worthy of a closer study for the reason that, the cause of the incident is given but no adverse comments are mentioned regarding the condition of the vessel!

In August, 1933 the tragedy was once again in the news, when the Adelaide Chronicle, in a series of ‘real life stories of South Australia’, published a story with the heading “Forgotten Sea Tragedy of Guichen Bay”. This article was included in a chapter of the book “Ecstacy and Agony of Guichen Bay” by Wilf Sprengel, published in 1986.

The first writer to mention a great many details of the tragedy was Kathleen Bermingam in her book “Gateway to the South East”, a story of Robetown and the Guichen Bay district, published in 1961. Several years later, in 1968, she wrote a series of booklets called “Eleven Tales of Robe” in which she mentions the Koning Willem II as well.

Well known maritime author, Jack Loney, writes in several of his books about the wrecking of the Koning Willem II. “Wrecks on the South Coast of South Australia, 1975, “Australian Shipwrecks”, volume II 1851 -1871 and “Wrecks at Robe”, published in 1979, are amongst them.

“Shipwrecks in South Australia” (1836 – 1875) written by Ronald Parsons in 1981 also has a page about the tragedy.

“Old Days and Old Ways” by Alexander Hutchison Barrowman, 1971 also describes the tragedy, it includes a lengthy poem about the Koning Willem II.

Other writers mentioning the Koning Willem II in their books are:

Geoffrey Aslin, “South East Shipwrecks from Canoes to Steamers”, 1988

Peter Christopher, “Famous Shipwrecks of South Australia”, 1989

Ellen Mary Cawthorne, “The Long Journey”, 1974

Robert Ingpen, “Robe a Portrait of the past”, 1975

Two further booklets with detailed information about the Koning Willem II, were published by the State Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide, South Australia in 1990 and 1991.

The first report, “Shipwrecks sites in the South East of South Australia 1838–1915” was written by Paul Clark in 1989. The second report, “Artefacts from Shipwrecks in the South-East 1851 –1951” was written by Sarah Kenderdine in 1991.

All writings have been included for information and comparison.




June 30th, 1857 Koenig Wilhelm II

The Koenig Wilhelm II was a Dutch barque of 800 tons under the command of Captain Giezen. She was wrecked at Guichen Bay with the loss of 16 lives.

The late Miss Kathleen Birmingham in a letter to a friend, Mrs. Hayward had the following to say about the wreck.

“Owing to the rising of a sudden south west gale after she had landed 397 Chinese passengers, and while she was riding with only 60 fathom chain, the Captain ordered the sails to be put up. At the same time the chain cut her windlass and she lost her cable.

A boat was launched and the crew of 25 scrambled into it but, just as the Captain was about to take his place, the painter broke. The lifeboat was swamped. The sailors could not swim. A chain of hands was made from the shore of the long Beach and nine sailors were rescued, some of whom were Dutch and Swedish.

On July 11th, 1857 the wreck was sold by Captain Giezen for 225 English Pounds to J. Chambers of Robe.

The figurehead was for many years on my uncle’s property “Belle Vue”, where we once lived and where I was born at Robe. I remember it as a little girl, as it stood against a fence between the two homes.

Edward and Robert Leake of Lake Leake at Glencoe, obtained a swivel gun from the wreck.”

Cannon from the Koenig Willem II stands on Flagstaff Hill in Royal Circus, Robe.



Not only did Robe enjoy the profits of being Number One Staging Camp for the Chinese immigrants, when $32,000 circulated amongst local residents. Robe also experienced the shipwrecks of three China Ships in its bay. The residents took active parts in rescue and salvage operations.

The Dutch ship “Koenig Willem” met with ill luck with most of her crew perishing within sight and hearing of Robe residents, who were powerless against raging seas.

Nearly 400 Chinese had just disembarked from the “Koenig Willem”, and the ship’s crew were about to enjoy leave ashore when a violent gale blew up driving the ship towards Long Beach. Captain Giezen hoisted sail in an attempt to run ashore, but the “Koenig Willem” grounded in heavy surf, which broke over her.

The crew took to the lifeboat which was swamped under the Captain’s eyes and 14 of its 25 occupants were drowned.

Attempts to rescue the captain were on the point of being abandoned when a change of wind enabled a cask to be floated ashore with a line. Rescue parties succeeded in hauling Captain Giezen to safety. The bodies of the 14 drowned seamen were buried in the sand hills of long Beach.



About 16,000 Chinese landed in Robe up to and including 1857. In that year 22 ships arrived in 3 months, but before it was ended the trade had been stopped.

While it lasted the shipmasters were controlled by some regulations, and it was laid down that a ship carrying Chinese immigrants had to be seaworthy and had to carry a surgeon and an interpreter.



Some of the Robe residents were always delighted when there was a report of a ship in distress. This gave them an opportunity to scavenge for flotsam and perhaps pick up something of value. Timber was a scarce commodity and a sought after item.

Fifty years ago, a cow yard was still standing next to Savages Swamp, on the Robe Golf Course, which was made from the timber ribs, and several doors upstairs in the Caledonian Inn have also been salvaged from the Barque “Koenig Wilhelm II”.

The first indication the townsfolk knew that this ship was in trouble was when the crew fired one of its cannon. This stopped the night frivolity which was in progress at the Caledonian Inn and the townspeople lined the cliffs to watch as the merciless seas and wind started to force her to drag her anchor. The cannon that fired the distress signal is still on the flagstaff hill.

In the August 17th edition of the S.A. weekly paper “The Chronicle” published a full account of this wreck when skeletons were discovered in the sand hills of Long Beach, which is adjacent to Guichen Bay.


The Adelaide Chronicle August 17, 1933

“Forgotten Sea tragedy of Guichen Bay”

“How a ship was swept from Port by a memorable gale”

This is a tale of the days when the Chinese came to South Australia in hordes, on their way to the Victorian gold diggings, and tramped across the scrub in quaint processions to the border – the story of the fate of a ship which brought them to these shores.

“About 16 years ago a number of skeletons were discovered in the sand hills which skirt the Long Beach near Robe. They were grim reminders of a sea tragedy which occurred 76 years ago. In 1857, hundreds of Chinese were being landed at Guichen Bay, from which point they walked overland to the Victorian gold diggings.

On June 25th, 1857 the 800-ton Dutch barque Koenig Wilhelm arrived at Guichen Bay with Chinese emigrants who safely landed. Owing to tempestuous weather, the vessel was unable to leave port for several days.

Instead of the storm abating it increased in fury until on June 29 it developed into a screaming sou-westerly gale and the ship commenced to drag her anchors. The vessel continued to drift until, on the following day, the windlass was torn from her. The commander (Captain Giezen) ordered sails to be run up with an intention of beaching. The vessel took ground about four miles east of Robe. Terrific seas hurled themselves upon the doomed vessel, and within a few minutes she commenced to break up.

Two 12-year-old Dutch boys, who were serving their apprenticeship turned to Mr. Crossland (Customs House Officer) and, in broken English, enquired whether he could swim. On receiving a reply in the negative, they smiled and shook their heads prophetically. They pointed downwards significantly, plainly expressing by gesture a

(Chronicle cont.)

fate which both suffered a few minutes later.

Meanwhile most of the townspeople had assembled on the beach. So close inshore had the vessel drifted that they could hear the cries of the crew and see every movement. The men launched a boat into which they scrambled. Owing to the breaking point of the painter the captain was left aboard the ship.

The lifeboat was swamped by the huge breakers and its human freight were left struggling in the sea. A number of the men on the beach formed a human chain by holding hands and wading into the water. By this means, at great risk to the rescuers, eight sailors were hauled from the very jaws of death. All the men were partially insensible.

The captain could be seen aboard the ship pacing the few yards of deck, which remained above water, and his voice could be heard above the shrieking of the wind. The poor man pointed to where two stove-in boats had been cast up on the beach. But even if they had been undamaged it would have been useless to attempt to reach the wreck through the raging sea. No life-saving apparatus was available.

It appeared inevitable that the captain must perish.

Hours passed. The sun set in a sky of fiery red. Darkness set in. Still the unfortunate man remained aboard the stricken vessel. Efforts were made to float a line to the ship, but failure resulted. A small boat was carted to the site. Mr. John Ormerod guaranteed a reward of 50 pounds to the crew that succeeded in rescuing the captain. An aboriginal from Encounter Bay offered to attempt to swim to the wreck with a lifeline. While preparations were in progress, the wind suddenly veered and brought to shore a drum to which the captain had attached a line. With the aid of this he was hauled ashore.

Out of the crew of 25, 16 perished. Several large coffins were constructed from wreckage, and the bodies interred in the sand hills close by where the disaster occurred. Seventy-five years later the wind uncovered their resting place. The huge boxes in which they had been buried had long since rotted away but the skeletons were in a perfect state of preservation. The local constable (Mr. Smart) reburied these reminders of this long-forgotten tragedy”

“A.H.B.” Adelaide




Sarah Kenderdine

A catalogue of collections of

Artefacts from vessels wrecked in the

South-East of South Australia

Between 1851 and 1951

State Heritage Branch

Department of Environment and planning



REGISTRATION No:                      KW 81 001

WRECK NAME:                              KONING WILLEM II

DESCRIPTION:                               A cast iron (signal?) cannon. Painted with gunmetal

grey anticorrosive paint with cascable set in

concrete. Markings unreadable.

Length of gun: 1662 +- mm

Diameter of bore: 110 +- mm

Diameter of vent: 324 +- mm

Proportion: 2.9

Reinforce sleeve: 1

Breech hoops: 4

Tulip muzzle hoops: 3

See Figure 23

STORED                                          OUTSIDE CUSTOMS HOUSE, ROBE


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS           Figure 1

Locations of shipwrecks in the South East

Figure 23

Cannon from the Koning Willem II


FROM VESSEL                                Page 35

“…to save the lives of strangers”

(Famous Shipwrecks of South Australia)



The discovery of gold in Victoria resulted in massive numbers of people rushing to the goldfields of Bendigo and Ballarat, hopeful of making a quick fortune. Many of the miners came from overseas, including China.

The Victorian Government, in an attempt to increase revenue, or to perhaps slow down the numbers of Chinese immigrants, introduced a poll tax of ten pounds ($20) on all Chinese entering Victoria. This tax was quite a significant amount, being the equivalent of the fare from China to Australia. In these pre Commonwealth days States were each independently responsible for their own immigration policies.

In order to avoid payment to the Victorian Government, many Chinese landed in South Australia, particularly Robe, and walked overland to the Victorian goldfields, often having been deceived about the distance. Nearly 20,000 Chinese were landed at Robe between 1856 and 1858. Many of the immigrant ships were barely seaworthy, and all were overcrowded.

The KOENIG WILHELM II was one of these vessels, arriving at Robe on 15 June 1857, with 397 Chinese passengers and 26 crew. The pumps had to be worked continuously throughout its voyage, often by the passengers, in order to keep afloat. The conditions aboard the ship were appalling, with several passengers being allocated to each bunk, treated more like cattle than people.

On 30 June a gale struck. The KOENIG WILHELM II had unloaded its passengers, but was still at anchor in Guichen Bay at the time. The vessel was not seaworthy enough to put to sea, and risked being sunk while at anchor as the gale worsened, so Captain Geizen (sic) decided to beach it on Long Beach, 5 kilometres from Robe.

The Captain was still on board the beached vessel when the line holding the lifeboat with the crew snapped, stranding him. As it turned out he was lucky as the lifeboat was swamped, throwing the crew into the wild sea. Only 9 survived. The captain eventually made it to shore on a line that he was able to float ashore on a cask. The ship quickly broke up and became a total loss.

The bodies of the 16 drowned crew were buried in the nearby sand hills in coffins made from the timbers of the wreck. The bodies were reburied 76 years later after the original graves were exposed by the continual shifting of the sand by the wind.

The KOENIG WILHELM II was a Dutch Barque of about 800 tons, built in 1840 at Kinderdijk. Some records show the vessel’s name as KOENIG WILLEM II. A cannon from the wreck is mounted on display in Robe.


Alexander Hutchison Barrowman 1971

In July, 1857, the 800-ton Dutch vessel, Koning Willem de Tweede , was wrecked in Guichen Bay after landing 400 Chinese diggers bound for the Victorian goldfields. She was the third ship lost in Guichen Bay during a period of six months. Lying in ballast at anchorage she was fully exposed when a terrific nor-westerly gale developed, and, with only 60 fathoms of chain on her main anchor, was not equipped for riding out such a storm in an open roadstead. So great was the strain that eventually the chain cut clean through the ship’s windlass and left her to the mercy of wind and sea. She was driven close inshore about four miles east of Robe on the Long Beach. Immediately after she struck, her crew launched a lifeboat and 27 men scrambled aboard.

It was swept away and overturned, leaving the men struggling helplessly amid huge breakers, while the captain remained alone on the ship. At that time, there was no lifeboat available at port Robe; but even if there had been, no assistance could have been given.

Before the vessel struck, a large number of people had gathered on the beach to give any possible assistance. Included among them was a detachment of the 12th regiment under Lieutenant Saunders, police-trooper Ewens, a crew organised by harbour-master Henry Melville, and many other helpers, who ran considerable risk from drifting wreckage which frequently threatened to break the human-chain. Before Captain Giezen escaped at 10 o’clock at night, the wreck had drifted so close inshore that the helpers could clearly hear his cries for aid which they were unable to give. Inclusive of two Dutch boy apprentices, 15 lives were lost. The survivors were taken to the “Newton Arms Inn”, and a public subscription raised money to help them and pay for burial of the drowned.

About 55 years ago, Thomas Langberg was making repairs to the southern boundary fence of Section 199 where it ran down to the Long Beach, when he came upon a large number of skeletons uncovered through sand-drift. The writer, then a schoolboy, was one of the five or six people who viewed the skeletons before they were buried next day by police Constable Smart. The skeletons lay in several small, separate groups as a grim reminder of an almost forgotten sea tragedy.

“An ancient cannon on a flagstaff mound”

Mystery surrounds the origin of this old cannon with the deserted Custom’s House and Buttler’s Lake in the background. It stands within a few feet of Robe’s Flinders Memorial and where the theodolite was set up for Governor Robe’s first bearing on the town. It was on this flagstaff mound, also, that two cannon from the wrecked ship “Phaeton” stood prior to incidents mentioned elsewhere in this book.

About 25 years ago, the cannon pictured above was generously presented to Robe by Mr Charles Deland, of Adelaide, who stated that it came from the wreck of the Koning Willem, and was found jammed in rocks below the house where Mrs. Fox lived. However, the Koning Willem was wrecked off the sandy beach four miles east of this

An ancient cannon on a flagstaff mound {cont.}

point. Mrs. Annie Fox, who died in 1913, is well remembered as a neighbour, as she lived on a portion of part Section 13, where this is being written. The house which she occupied within a stone’s throw of cliff-tops, was known as “Mc-Donald’s”, after whom a nearby beach was named. It was one of Robe’s earliest buildings, and, until pulled down for road metal four or five years after Mrs. Fox’s death, still had the original paling roof, lakestone floors, etc.

A vessel named Duilius was wrecked on the rocks below the house in 1853. She was laden with wool to be carried overseas, but never left Guichen Bay. The rock on which she struck is about a hundred yards offshore, and, until the name has become practically forgotten, was known as the “Duilius Rock”.


The Koning Willem at anchor lay

Within the shelter of Guichen Bay.

Captain Giezen, with troubled eye,

Carefully scanned the sullen sky,

And said, “I fear the sea will rise,

Our ship should be safe where she lies,

But, I’d much prefer to be at sea,

Instead of sheltering in the lee

Of a headland. Should the wind come ‘round.

We could find ourselves driven aground.

On that eastern shore, where breakers line

The sandbars and shallows rough or fine.

But, why meet trouble ere it’s here?

Maybe this storm is naught to fear.

Despite the clouds and rising gale.

In any case, we cannot sail,

So, here we are. And can but stay.

God grant with dawn a better day!”

The captain’s fear were not without

Good reason; for, disquiet and doubt,

Were also shared by all his crew,

Who read the signs all sailors knew,

And, as the evening sun sank low,

The gale increased and began to blow

At cyclonic force. It swept the bay

With shrieking power at close of day,

The ship’s crew waited fearfully.

Could a vessel last in such a sea?

Could anchors hold in such a gale?

God help them should the anchors fail!

Wreck of Koning Willem de Tweede {cont.}

A mile distant, upon the shore,

Men could but watch and do no more,

Than gaze across the raging sea,

For, soon, they knew, the end must be.

So fiercely fought the straining ship,

So stout her hawse and fast the grip

Of anchors on the ocean bed,

The windlass sheered, and hope was dead.

But a useless task to raise a sail,

No ship could beat against such gale!

Men, waiting on the beach, could see

The ship, now drifting rapidly

Towards the land to meet her end,

And helpless, she must split and rend

Her hull upon the waiting shore’

And she would sail the seas no more!

Mid raging surf and racing tide,

The vessel struck, then, on her side,

She drove to near the wave-swept beach

Where men joined hands to wade and reach,

And, if they may, save from the wreck,

The sailors swept from sloping deck

Into the cruel, relentless sea,

Which, for some, was a path to Eternity.

Midst drifting wreckage near the land,

The chain of helpers, hand to hand,

Pulled drowning sailors to the shore,

Though, bodies drifted off still more,

As night set in, with squalls, pitch dark,

To add to terrors on the barque,

On which the captain had to stay

Alone with stricken ship that lay

Midst breakers of the crashing seas,

Men could hear his calls and frantic pleas.

What use to pray, or, to implore?

So near, yet far, the hidden shore!

No boat could dare such wind and wave,

And yet, chance let the captain save

Himself by drifting to the beach,

On wreckage with which he could reach

The safety of the welcome land,

Where people were, and help at hand.

The wreck of Koning Willem de Tweede {cont.}

When dawn broke on the scene next day,

Upon the beach, the dead men lay,

Were strewn wreckage lined the shore,

The wind had lessened, and, once more,

The sun broke through the scattered clouds,

The dead missed not their funeral shrouds,

When above the beach, on sheltered land,

Men dug huge graves in deep white sand,

As comrades stood for a service read

For ship-mates lost, and, they left their dead

To sleep within sound of the tumbling waves,

Far from their homeland in sailors’ graves.


P.C. Ridley

In June 1857 the 800 ton “Konig Willem de Swede” with 412 Chinese passengers on board for the Victorian goldfields was wrecked off Robe. Jacob Chambers purchased the wreck from the master, Captain Giezen, for 225 Pounds. One of the guns from the wreck is on Flagstaff Hill at Robe. Jacob dismantled much of the gear and timbers. Some of the timbers and the teak doors were used in the building of the “Caledonian” Hotel at Robe, and at “Dingly Dell” near the Hermitage. The doors are still in use.

Information: Written by Thomas Drury SMEATON in about 1865 when he was manager of the Robe branch of the Bank of South Australia.

“Kg Wm de Tweede” Ship, Dutch, Giezen Master, 800 tons, wrecked 30 June 1857. Wrecked 4m east of Jetty. 15 lives lost. Lost during a gale. The chain of one of the anchors cut through the windlass, the other parted, and the vessel came ashore. The captain and some of the crew saved by inhabitants dragging them through the surf.

Above two stories from the files of the Robe library.


A story of Robetown and the

Guichen Bay District

Kathleen Bermingham 1961

The eight hundred ton “Koning Willem II” was wrecked while under the command of Captain Grezer in June 1857, owing to the rising of a sudden south-west gale, after she had landed three hundred and ninety-seven Chinese passengers, and while she was riding with only sixty-fathom chain. The Captain, a good and gallant skipper, ordered the sails to be put up as soon as the chain cut her windlass and she lost her cable. A boat was launched and the crew of twenty-four scrambled into it, but, just as the Captain was about to take his place, the painter broke. The lifeboat was swamped: the sailors could not swim. A chain of hands was made from the shore of the Long Beach and nine sailors were rescued. The Captain was still on the ship, but, when the tide ebbed, he got ashore.

On July 7, according to information kindly supplied by Mr. Charles C. Deland, of the History Section of the Royal Geographical Society (S.A. Branch) Inc, three bodies were found and buried by subscription; another seven bodies, found later, were similarly buried. Local residents state that on Section 199, Hundred of Waterhouse, seventeen were buried side by side and their boots had been seen there when the sand had blown apart but others state that as some of these boots were elastic-sided they could not have belonged to the Chinese.

Mr. Deland (quoting from Mr. Ewen’s diary) in a letter to the District Clerk, Robe, on September 13, 1959 stated: - “July 11, 1857 – Wreck of Konig Willem de Swede (or Tweede) II sold by Capt. Giezen to Jacob Chambers (of Robe X) for 225 Pounds”. Mr. Deland in writing of this incident said that Mr. Chambers dismantled much of the gear, but that the two cannon from this vessel were left wedged between rocks. Some time after this, it was decided to salvage these cannon and bring them into Robe, where they were placed on the Flagstaff Hill in Royal Circus. Later, after a practical joke and a terrific explosion, the one remaining cannon was taken out to Mr. Lloyd’s farm.

“Where the grooves in the butt were cut in spirals to hold the bones from slipping, when being crushed on it for fertiliser. These grooves somewhat defaced the date (May 13, 1817) but it can still bee seen on the butt end.

For twenty-seven years, the cannon lay buried near the stockyard. In 1916, it was dug up and sent to Adelaide by Mr. Sneath among a lot of scrap iron.”

Mr. Deland saw this and, rescuing it from the furnace, took it to his garden where it lay a memento of the early days of the Province, until he presented it to the Robe Council, and it was again placed on the Flagstaff Hill.

The figurehead (referred to in p.p. 266-267) was taken to Bellevue Villa, and rested for many years against the division fence between that property and Dingley Dell.

Edward and Robert Leake obtained from the wreck of the “Koning Willem II” a swivel gun, which they mounted at Frontier House and from which they fired a Royal Salute of twenty-one guns on every Queen’s Birthday.

Gateway to the South East {cont.}

(From pages 266-267) And so it is, that people from far and near have gravitated to Bellevue Villa, built a century ago with slate roof and high brick chimneys; and with ship’s doors of cedar and deep cedar panelling that had crossed the seas as the well-tried and well-seasoned timbers of sailing – ships which had become as part of the wind and the sea. It was in keeping that, facing west, in the middle of the house-paddock under “Dingley Dell” hill, for several decades there rested the figurehead of Koning Willem II, the Dutch ship which had arrived from Hong Kong with 412 Chinese on June 26, 1857. A grand old man was he! In rain, hail, shine, wind or storm, he leant proudly against the post-and-rail fence looking towards the west where: -

“Grand it is on the Western Beach,

Where the wild white horses dance and leap –

And the breakers roar on the reefs that reach

From the shelving shore to the headland steep”.

What the memories of this figurehead of King Willem the Second of the Netherlands were are not ours to record but, out there in the paddock, he was the delight and the friend of the author’s and her brother’s childhood!

Peter McQueen built the Caledonian two storey Inn, near Robe Town, across from Davenport Street, which is the boundary between the Government town of Robe Town and the villages. It was built in 1859 and faces Victoria Street, the main road into Robe. It has an ideal position, built, one would say, to capture the trade of both town and villages. It has sloping roofs and seven beautifully scrolled teakwood doors, salvaged from the Dutch barque, “Konig Wilhelm”, four attic rooms and one peephole.


Kathleen Birmingham 1968

In 1857, the survivors of the 800-ton “Koenig Willem de Swede” (or Tweede) were taken to the nearby “Newton Arms”, a roadside Inn that provided warm shelter, good food, indifferent wines and spirits, and rare hospitality to a strange assortment of travellers. These comprised shipwrecked mariners, shinglers, wool-washers, Police officers and pastoral families etc.

Three vessels were driven ashore – the “Phaeton” in February, the “Sultana” in April and the “Konig Willem II” in June. They were total wrecks and, although the loss of life estimated to be not great, there could be seen until recent years the mounds of the Chinese at various places in the sandhills around Robe. On Section 199, hundred of Waterhouse, there were seventeen side by side.

The Chinese invasion made the port of Robe a busy place. In the Gold-rush the Victorian Act No. 39 of 1855 placed a poll-tax of Ten Pounds on all Chinese immigrants arriving in Victoria, and limited the number of Chinese any vessel might carry to one passenger for every ten tons ships burthen. This led to the “China Ships” as they were called having to find another way of entry into Victoria. Guichen Bay, near the Border, was the logical answer. The influx into the port of Robe started during 1856. Customs Returns give the number of Chinese who landed in 1856 as 4,300, and in 1857, as 10,325



Paul Clark 1989

Koning Willem II 1840 – 1857

Description and history of the vessel prior to its loss.

The Koning Willem II was a three-masted sip of 79 tons (with a draught of 18 feet when loaded), and had two decks and was built from oak in 1840 at Kinderdijk in the province of South Holland, kingdom of the Netherlands. The vessel was bolted (with bronze?) and underwent repairs in 1847 and was last sheathed (in 1852?). The vessel, owned by P. Varkevisser and registered at the port of Rotterdam was surveyed in May 1853 and given a classification of 1st division for a period of two years and a confidence rating of 3/4 for long voyages beyond Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope (Bureau Veritas 1853).

Historical account of the loss.

On 25 June 1857, the Koning Willem II (referred to as a barque by the cotemporary newspapers) arrived at Robe, Guichen Bay from Hong Kong with 397 Chinese immigrants. The vessel had safely discharged the passengers soon after arriving but had been delayed from departing because of bad weather. The vessels Master, L.R. Giesen had secured the vessel as best he could by taking down the upper spars, etc. to reduce windage, but the weather gradually increased and by 29 June was blowing a heavy gale from the southeast. The vessel began dragging its anchor and was a considerable distance from its anchorage when at noon the following day, 30 June, the windlass securing the vessel to its mooring line was ripped out.

Captain Giesen immediately made sail with the intention of beaching the vessel. The Koning Willem II grounded about three miles to the east of Robe Town on the Long Beach, and within minutes became a total wreck with a large sea sweeping over it (SAR 8/7/1857, 2h and SAPP 1875 No. 22). The wreck was seen from the township, and men in the employment of Ormerod’s, the Military, and the Police were immediately sent to assist in whatever way they could. However, before most of them arrived at the scene a boat was lowered from the vessel with the chief mate and the crew in it. The Captain, being the last on board was about to climb in when the painter broke and the boat drifted off leaving him stranded on the stricken vessel.

The boat had proceeded but a short distance, when from the want of oars, she broached to, filled, and her living freight were now struggling for life in the breakers, and out of the 25 who left the wreck, but nine, including the Chief Officer, were dragged on shore, and all of them in a state of partial insensibility (SAR 8/7/1857, 2h).

The Captain, who had just watched the tragic loss of his sixteen crew members, could clearly be seen pacing the few feet of deck space left at the stern. His movements and signals as well as his voice could be heard but nobody on shore (almost a hundred people had gathered) was able to help. He pointed at one stage to some boats, which were laid on the beach to the north, but all of them were unseaworthy. For many hours the Captain was left in suspense not knowing when the section of the vessel he was on would break up. As the sun began to set and the town folk began to move off home, an

Aboriginal person from Encounter Bay bravely volunteered to swim to the wreck with a rope. However, as preparations were being made, news arrived that the Captain had made it safely ashore. The wind had changed slightly and the Captain had tied a rope to a cask which had drifted ashore. Those on shore were then able to drag him safely through the surf (SAR 7/7/1857, 2h).

On the voyage out to Robe from Hong Kong, the Koning Willem II had leaked quite badly taking about twelve to fourteen inches (30~35 cm) of water per hour and the Chinese passengers had to work constantly at the pumps, night and day. The vessel’s equipment was also reported to be in such a ‘rotten inefficient state’ that if a survey was held in any Australian or other port, then the vessel would be condemned (SAR 15/71857, 3h). Questions were also asked as to why large vessels such as the Koning Willem II did not make use of the government moorings which had been laid down two years ago and had only been used once.

Possible wreck site location.

The wreck site location for the Koning Willem II, about (4.8 km) to the east of Robe Town on the Long Beach is based on a newspaper report of 1857 (SAR 8/7/1857, 2h). The site has yet to be found, investigated and identified and therefore should be treated as provisional.

Site significance.

The Koning Willem II is historically a very important vessel as it is one of three vessels (Sultana 1849-857 and Phaeton 1855-1857, being the other two) wrecked at Robe, which carried Chinese immigrants bound for the Victorian gold fields. There has been little research done on the Chinese in Australia during this period and the remains of the Koning Willem II, if found, could add valuable information to this question. This site should be legally protected, and when located, investigated for its archaeological potential.


The Koning Willem II, built at Kinderdijk, Holland in 1840 is an example of Dutch shipbuilding in the mid nineteenth century. Although there is a considerable amount of historical documentation available on Dutch shipbuilding for this period, there has not been much detailed work on the comparison between the historical and the archaeological evidence. The Koning Willem II when it is found, may add to the general body of knowledge in this regard, i.e. criterion (e) ‘the wreck is representative of a particular maritime design or development’.

Cultural material.

The Koning Willem II was carrying 397 Chinese immigrants destined for Victorian gold fields. Artefact material relating to this period would have tremendous archaeological and historical value, i.e. criterion (d) ‘the wreck is a possible source of historical or cultural significance’.

Recommendations for future research and site management.

Until the Koning Willem II is found, investigated and identified it is difficult to recommend any specific management strategies. At the present time the Koning Willem II is not protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

Legal protection.

The provision allowing ‘blanket’ or area declaration should be enacted so that the site can be protected.

Historical research.

Little is known about this vessel’s career prior to its loss. Therefore further formation such as shipping references for arrivals and departures, previous owners, captains, etc. needs to be gathered in order to adequately cover the vessel’s history.

State Heritage Branch

Department of Environment and planning

Adelaide, South Australia

Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology

Special Publication No. 5       1990


Name of Vessel:                                Koning Willem II

Rig:                                                    Ship

Number of masts:                              3

Tonnage:                                            799




Date built:                                          1840

Builders name:

Place built:                                         Kinderdijk

Country built:                                    Holland

Construction:                                     wooden hull, two decks, built of oak,

Bronze? Bolts, sheathed in 1852


Owners name:                                    P. Varkevisser

Masters name:                                   Capt. Giezen

Date registered:

Registration number:

Port registered:                                  Rotterdam

Date lost:                                            1857 June 30

Location lost:                                     Guichen Bay, 3 miles east of Robe

Cause of loss:                                     During NW gale, windlass cut in two,

lost cable and driven ashore

Port from:                                          Hong Kong

Port to:                                                           Robe

Cargo:                                                397 Chinese passengers

Salvage:                                             Sale of wreck 11 July 1857, unknown

whether still in situ

No. of crew:

No. of Passengers:                             397

Number of death:                               16

Map number:                                     6823-1



Average depth:


References:                                        SAR 8 July 857 (2h); AT 8 July 1857 (2e)

AO 11 July 1857 (7h); Bureau Veritas 1853