Victims of the Tragedy
The exact number of victims from the Koning Willem II were until recently unclear, it was believed to be either 15 or 16. Their names and nationalities were unknown.
Police Corporal Warren in his official report states that out of a crew of 24 leaving the ship in a boat, 12 sailors and 3 boys were lost, a total of 15 lives. This number is also written in the Guichen Bay Police Journal, dated June 30, 1857. As we will see Corporal Warren was once again correct.
According to the Police Journal, the first 3 bodies were found on Monday 6th July, another body was located on Monday 13th July, parts of 4 more bodies were located on Thursday 30th July, and parts of 2 further bodies were located on Saturday 8th August. A total of 10. Corporal Warren found 4 bodies and Trooper Downie the remaining 6. Both saw to it that all were buried.
The Harbour Master, Henley Dudley Melville in his notes writes “I have no record of the number but I think we saved 15 and that 10 were lost. Some of the bodies were recovered next day (I think 5) and buried in the sandhills. It was difficult to say how many bodies, for dogfish (small sharks) had made such havoc amongst them. I remember seeing a dogfish hanging to a part of a body until a Trooper, who was trying to land it, had got it nearly ashore. The Trooper, a smart young fellow (I. Ewens) had some rough and dangerous work in recovering the bodies.” I point out these notes were written by Melville some 30 years after the event occurred.
The Adelaide Times on July 7, 1857 was the first newspaper to report upon the tragedy. In its Editorial it is stated that 15 members of the crew lost their lives. In a larger article about the incident on July 8, the same Paper states that from a crew of 25, sixteen (16) drowned.
In the South Australian Parliamentary Papers, 1875, No 22 it is stated that fifteen (15) of the crew from the “Koning Willem” were drowned.
The demise of the Koning Willem II is reported in the Netherlands with the loss of sixteen (16) lives. This information can be found in a publication named; “Verhandelingen en berigten betrekkelijk het zeeleven, de zeevaartkunde en de daarmede in verband staande wetenschappen. Red. Jacob Swart: en Medewerk. van H. Huygens – Amsterdam: Hulst van Keulen. 1858” (Page 46 – printed earlier in chapter Name of Vessel).
Geoffrey Aslin in his book “South East shipwrecks from Canoes to Steamers” states, that nine sailors were rescued, some of whom were Dutch and Swedish. This could well be correct as amongst the victims there were 13 Dutchmen and 2 Swedes.
In August 2000, Mr. Hendrik Hachmer, Curator of the Veenkoloniaal Museum in Veendam, Holland located a copy of the Veendammer Courant (local newspaper), dated Saturday, 24th October 1857 in his library. Amongst the news items is a small article which refers to the stranding of the Koning Willem II, and mentions the names of 2 victims, their position on board the ship, and the cities they came from.
The article translates as follows; “Via the N.R.C (Nieuwe Rotterdamche Courant) a message was passed on from the Commander of the ship Koning Willem II, Captain H.R. Giezen, whose ship stranded at Guichone(sic) Bay on the 25th June and was completely destroyed, it appears that the following persons found their grave in the water as a result of this disaster. M. Jansen, 3rd mate of Winschoten, and E.J. Datema, sailor of Groningen.”