Official Report of Incident

Whilst a member of the South Australian Police Force I was given permission to search for any official documents relating to the stranding of the Koning Willem II held in the Government archives. Amazingly the Guichen Bay Police Station Journal for the year 1857 is still in existence (Reference GRG 159/2) and so are the Police Commissioner’s Office Files for that year (Reference PCO File 418/1857).

The following is the official police report of the incident submitted by Corporal W. Warren to the Commissioner of Police, Major Peter Egerton Warburton, CMG, who in turn forwarded it to the Chief Secretary. It is of significant interest to note that Corporal Warren was aware of the correct name of the ship, “Koning Willem de Tweede”. The typed version is followed by a copy of the original hand written report.

                                                        Police Station Guichen Bay

July 2nd 1857

Sir,

            I beg leave to inform you, the ship “Koning Willem De Tweede” arrived last Thursday from Hong Kong with 412 Chinese; on Monday night 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, & on Tuesday between 1 & 2 p.m struck about N.E. 4 miles from the township of Robe, on the long beach; the moment she touched ground, the surf broke over her, & she commenced breaking up fast; myself, T.ps Ewens & Downie proceeded to the spot immediately, & on our arrival there saw a boat leave the wreck, she had not gained an hundreds yards before she capsized for want of management, there being only two oars in the boat & those not properly used; with the exception of the Capt. who remained on the wreck, the whole of the crew & one custom house officer, making in all 24 men were in the boat & altho every effort was made, there being a number of men on the spot to render assistance, only 9 were saved & the other 12 sailors & 3 boys were lost, and have not been seen since-as no boat could approach the wreck every other means with great risk, were tried to get the Capt. on shore by lines & great fear being entertained of his safety, as the vessel was in matchwood holding on by her rigging & spars only which in the fall entangled so much that it could not free itself, & it was not till the tide ebb’d & weather abated that Capt. Giezen was got on shore safe between 11 & 12 p.m. The ship was 800 ton in ballast to sail from hence to “Batavia”.

To                                                                                                             I beg to remain

The Commissioner                                                                                   Sir

of Police                                                                                                  Your obdt.Servt

Adelaide                                                                                                  W. Warren

                                                                                                                 Corp. of Police



Next are the typed entries relating to the “Koning Willem II” as recorded in the Guichen Bay Police Journal by Corporal Warren. Handwriting in the Journal and in the report by Corporal Warren appears to be identical. It is of interest to note the number of Chinese passengers landed, 412, as against 397 mentioned in numerous later accounts of the incident. The typed version is followed by copies of the original entries in the journal.

At the end of the written notes is a photograph of the Long Beach, mentioned at various times, with the sandhills where the alleged victims were buried. Photo taken looking towards Boatswains Point.

Guichen Bay Police Station Journal

(Entries relating to Koning Willem II)

June 1857                     

Friday, June 26th      Corpl. Warren & Tp. Downie in Barracks. Tp. Ewens attending to the landing of 412 Chinese from the ship “King William the Second” which vessel arrived last evening from “Hong Kong”.

Tues. 30th                   Between 12 & 1 saw the ship “Koning Willem De Tweede” dragging her anchor & fast approaching the shore, last night 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 dragging & between 1 & 2 p.m. struck about N.E. 4 miles from the township on the long beach, the moment she touched ground the surf broke over her, & she commenced breaking up fast, Corpl. Warren, Tp’s Ewens & Downie proceeded immediately to the wreck, & on arrival there, saw a boat leave the vessel, she had not gained an hundred yards before she capsized, for want of management, there being only two oars in the boat & they not properly used, the whole of the crew consisting of 24 were in the boat with the exception of the Capt. who remained on board the ship, & altho every effort was made (there being a good many men on the spot to render assistance) 9 of the crew were only saved, and the other 12 men & 3 boys were lost, & have not been seen since - As no boat could approach the wreck every other means with great risk were tried to get Capt. Giezen on shore by lines & great fear was entertained of his safety on the wreck as she was in matchwood holding on by the rigging & spars only, which in the fall entangled so much that it could not free itself, & it was not till the tide ebb’d & weather abated that the Capt. was got ashore. The vessel was 800 ton & in ballast, intending to sail from hence to Batavia.

Wed. 1st July              Corpl. Warren & Tp. Ewens at the wreck. Tp. Downie started to Boatswains Point, to see if any of the bodies had washed ashore, returned not seeing any.

Thur. 2nd                    Tp. Downie at the wreck.

Sat. 4th                        Tp. Ewens proceeded along the beach as far as “Boatswain point” to see if any bodies had washed up; none were seen.

Mon. 6th                   Tp. Downie proceeded along the beach to see if any bodies had washed ashore, returned having found three, Corpl. Warren informed Capt. Brewer of the same, who said an Inquest, was not necessary & gave a warrant for the bodies to be buryed.

Tues. 7th                     Tp. Downie seeing the bodies found buryed, which was done by Subscription.

Sat. 11th                      The wreck “Koning Willem De Tweede” was sold by Capt. Giezen to Jacob Chambers for 225 pounds.                                                                                                                                         

Mon. 13th                   Tp. Downie proceeded to the beach to bury the body of a seaman washed ashore from the late wreck.

Thurs. 30th                 Corp. Warren proceeded to the Long Beach to see interred parts of four bodies of seamen washed up from the late wreck. Engaged two men for the above purpose & paid 2 pounds.

Sat. 8th Aug.               Tp. Downie seeing parts of two bodies, washed ashore from the late wreck buryed

Public Records Office Reference:

GRG 5 159/2



The Long Beach Robe where the Koning Willem II stranded


The Caledonian Inn Robe, historical connection with Koning Willem II


Henry Dudley Melville

Reminiscences

Henry Dudley Melville was the Harbour-Master, Customs Officer and Receiver of Wrecks for the port of Robe at the time of the demise of the ‘Koning Willem II’. In 1887, at the age of 62 and because of ill health, he wrote his reminiscences in a report to the people of South Australia called “Compensation for a life’s service under Civil

Service Regulations of South Australia 1887”.      

His reminiscences are very vivid; they are hand written with indelible pencil, bound into several small volumes and in possession of the Mortlock Library in Adelaide.

Melville’s version of the event differs quite considerably from the Police account. It is well to remember though that he wrote his “reminiscences” some 30 years after the event occurred and exact details may have slipped his mind. The following is what he has to say about the incident.


Wreck of the ‘Koning Willem II’, June 25th, 1857.

This was a large Dutch ship. She parted from her anchor and went ashore on Long Beach during a heavy gale from the N.W. She had landed her Chinese passengers and was ready for sea when the gale set in. 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. She was not many hours on the beach before she became a complete wreck. Directly the vessel stranded the townspeople flocked to the scene to render assistance in landing the crew through the surf, the beach being very heavy. At my request Lieutenant Saunders of the 12th Regiment took a detachment of his men to the beach to secure and guard everything washed ashore. At this time there was no lifeboat at Robe, but a smart crew in the employ of Messrs. Ormerod and Co. were on the spot and carried out a warp into the surf as far as possible, hoping to catch a line from the wreck, and thus establishing connection with the shore, and by this means land the men into the surf. Before this could be done the wrecked sailors had their launch alongside and crowded into it, the captain being the last man, was ready to leave the wreck when one of his sailors cut the painter to save the launch from swamping. The boat being free, drifted from the lea of the ship, and before the men

could ship their oars and put her stern on to the seas, the boat, being broadside on, capsized, and those who could not swim were clinging to and drowning those who could. Some were carried out to sea by the drawback and lost, and but for the warp we had tailed on to, all would have been lost. I have no record of the number but I think we saved 15 and that 10 were lost. The captain who had been left in the wreck got off along the warp about 10 o’clock at night. It was a horrible sight to see the poor fellows drowning a few yards from safety. Being a strong man and a good swimmer I was able to render good service. The danger we had to contend with was being struck and disabled by the floating wreckage. We were trying to reach one poor fellow who had got hold of a spar, when the drawback carried him out of our reach amongst a lot of rigging and we saw no more of him. He was probably stunned and carried out to sea. This was my first attempt at swimming in a surf and I learnt this lesson, not to to

trust my power as a swimmer but go with the seas, and when they break get under and cling to the bottom; attempt to breast the drawback and you’re a gone man. 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 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. 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. Her chains had never been out of the locker and thus more discredit was thrown on Port Robe by its opponents.


From original notes kept in the Mortlock Library.

Reference number D6976 (L)

Title: Reminiscences 1887