In the Register of July 15, and the Adelaide Observer of July 18, 1857 one can read an article written by their correspondent in Robetown.

This unknown correspondent writes in one paragraph about “the defective nature of the ship”, however he does not elaborate what these defects were.

In another paragraph he goes on to say “I have learnt, upon unquestionable authority, that the vessel, on her voyage from Hongkong to Guichen Bay, made from 12 to 14 inches of water per hour, that the Chinese were daily and nightly employed at the pumps, that her gear of every description was in a rotten inefficient state, and that had a survey of nautical men been held upon her in any Australian or other Port she would have been unhesitatingly condemned. I have this opinion from a nautical man well qualified to judge.”

Another mention of the vessel’s condition is made in the Adelaide Observer on September 19, 1857. The correspondent on this occasion writes “considering that the Wilhelm could scarcely be kept afloat during the voyage, it would have been a wonder if she had not gone down in the bay.”

I cannot agree with these allegations. Here we have a ship, not yet 18 years old, sailing around the world with a human cargo of 412 passengers and a crew of 26, in an unseaworthy condition? I doubt this very much.

Various authors in their writings about this unfortunate vessel alluded to the above newspaper reports. I contend our correspondent’s allegations were made without foundation. Who was this alleged nautical authority? We shall never know, however the Koning Willem II was indeed surveyed and I submit, the following “real evidence” will make above allegations very questionable if not totally unreliable.


Bureau Veritas was born, a hundred and seventy four (1828) years ago, out of a few individuals “to seek out the truth and tell it, fearlessly and impartially”. The main concern was to provide the shipping world of that day with all the information needed to gauge the degree of trustworthiness of ships and their outfitting, and insure the safety of persons and property.

To this day Bureau Veritas remains committed to this quest for the truth, a commitment that colours every aspect of its work: classification, drafting of rules, inspection, appraisal and assessment.

As an independent company, currently authorised by a hundred and twenty countries to make inspections on their behalf, Bureau Veritas has, in a century and a half, become a benchmark for safety and quality worldwide.

Shipping records of Bureau Veritas, covering the years 1840 to 1857, can be located in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, on microfiche, the “Prins Hendrik”

Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, Holland, and the Australian Maritime Museum Sydney, Australia in book form.

The owners of the “Koning Willem II”, P.Varkevisser of Scheveningen, Holland submitted their vessel for inspection to Bureau Veritas on no less than 8 occasions between 1841 and 1857. Her last two inspections occurred during January 1855 in Amsterdam and July 1856 in Rotterdam.

In January 1855 the “Koning Willem II” was surveyed and given a classification of 1st Division for a period of 1 year and a confidence rating of 5/6 for long voyages beyond Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.

In July 1856, the vessel was again surveyed and given a classification of 2nd Division for a period of 5 years and a confidence rating of 5/6 for long voyages beyond Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, after she underwent major repairs that year.

These surveys are proof that the “Koning Willem II” was a seaworthy vessel and in excellent condition at the time of her demise in 1857. Bureau Veritas register of 1857 and explanations are next.



A stroke ( - ) under a token instead of the mark of confidence denotes uncertainty. The words: visite refusee (survey refused) denotes that our surveyors have not been admitted to survey the vessel. Visite incomplete (incomplete survey) denotes that our surveyors have not been admitted to survey the timbers.

1st Column.

Registration number.

2nd Column.

The name of a vessel composed with several words will be found in the register by looking to the first word; viz: Two-Brothers, see at the letter T

3rd, 4th & 5th Column.


3rd Column

The figures placed in the 3rd column indicate the division assigned to the vessel by her construction, - these figures point out at the same time the term of duration assigned to the mark of confidence expressed in the following column.

If there be one figure only:

The first division is represented by 7 (7 years) – the second division by 5 (5 years) and the third division by 3 (3 years). These figures show also the term of duration assigned to the mark of confidence.

If there are two figures:

The first figure shows the division assigned to the vessel by her original construction; the second expresses the term of duration assigned to the mark of confidence.


7 signifies 1st                     division, classed for 7 years.

5 signifies 2nd                    division, classed for 5 years.

3 signifies 3rd                    division, classed for 3 years.

                            7-6 signifies 1st                 division, classed for 6 years.

7-3 signifies 1st                division, classed for 3 years.

5-3 signifies 2nd               division, classed for 3 years.

3-2 signifies 3rd               division, classed for 2 years.

4th column.

The figures and letters placed to the left side in this column, indicate the character which ought to be given to the vessel according to the survey. 3 T (3/3) is the token of the first class. M (1/2) is the token of the confidence given to a vessel of middling quality. R (nought) denotes that the vessel has no character.

The various intermediate degrees of confidence are represented by correspondent fractions, viz                                                     

3 T     denotes           3/3

5 S      denotes           5/6                                                                                     3 Q     denotes           3/4

2 T     denotes           2/3

M denotes           1/2                                                            T   denotes           1/3

   Q     denotes           1/4

   S     denotes           1/6

                                                                          R     denotes           0

Vessels not opened in conformity with the rules, have the character expunged and replaced by ( - ).

The following letters, placed to the right side, indicate the voyages for which the vessel is proper.

I   (Interieur) Interior denote that the vessel deserves the Character stated, only for the             navigation of rivers.

P   (Petit cabotage) Coasting, the voyages between ports not far from each other, viz: from Bordeaux to Rouen, from Marseille to Gibraltar, from London to Christiania.

G   (Grand cabotage) Foreign voyages to the Frozen Ocean, Baltic, Coast of Spain and Portugal, Azores, Canaries, Mediterranean, Gulf of Venice, Archipelago, and Black sea.

A   (Atlantiquet) Atlantic, or the voyages to the East Coast of America and west Coast of Africa.

L   (Long Cours) Long voyages, or the voyages beyond Cape Horn and Cape Good Hope.

B   (Bois) Wood denotes that the vessel deserves the character stated, only for the conveyance of wood, or cargoes not subject to sea-damages.

5th Column.

Three classes, indicated by the figures, 1, 2 and 3, have been adopted for the condition of the Hull of the vessels and for her Materials.

The first figure relates to the Hull, and the other to the Materials. (Equipment).

6th Column.

3m. Denotes Ship.

7th Column.

Tonnage and decks.

2P under the tonnage denotes two decks.

8th Column.

Flags. P.B. denotes Dutch.

9th Column.

The year in which the vessel is built.

40 denotes 1840

0.56 denotes opened in 1856

10th Column.

Port where vessel is built.

11th Column.

Timber of which vessels are built.

C. Denotes Oak.

Construction, sheathing, repairs, etc.

ch. Denotes bolted.

cv. denotes copper.

d. Denotes sheathed or doubled.

m. Denotes, metal, yellow copper.

56. Denotes 1856

grp.56 denotes large repairs in 1856

12th Column.

Draught of water in feet when loaded.

13th Column.

Port to which the vessel belongs.

14th Column.

Ship owners.

15th Column.

Port and dates of survey.

Rd. denotes Rotterdam.

7. Denotes July.


Corporal Warren in his official report to the Commissioner of police made no adverse comments regarding the condition of “Koning Willem II”.

In his report he describes the cause of the incident as “a very severe gale arose from the S.W which continued with such violence, that the vessel parted from her cable during the night, on which another anchor was let go, this she commenced to drag. The moment she touched ground, the surf broke over her, and she commenced breaking up fast.”

One entry in the Guichen Bay Police Station Journal is also of special significance. “Monday July 6th. Tr. Downie proceeded along the beach to see if any bodies had washed ashore, returned having found three, Corp. Warren informed Capt. Brewer of the same, who said an Inquest, was not necessary & gave a warrant for the bodies to be buryed.” Obviously Capt. Brewer was of the opinion; the deaths were due to natural causes, and not as a result of the condition of the vessel.


The Robe harbour master and receiver of wrecks, Henry Dudley Melville, also made no adverse comments regarding the condition of the “Koning Willem II” in his notebook.

Commenting on the incident he writes, “she parted from her anchor and went ashore on Long Beach during a heavy gale from the N.W. (note Melville’s wind direction differs with Warren’s and newspaper articles, all of whom quote S.W) She had only 60 fathoms of chain on her best anchor, and being in ballast only was very light, so that she offered great resistance to the gale. Her chain cut clean through the windlass and passed out of the hawse-pipe before it could be secured. If this vessel had 120 fathoms of chain to her anchor as she should have had, she would have ridden out the gale.

The holding ground in the bay could not be better. The ship like many others that came into Port had never been at anchor in an open roadstead, and was not properly found for such work.”