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.”


Enquiries with the ‘Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant”, a daily newspaper which still appears in Rotterdam, Holland, provided the complete article with various details about the victims from their archives. The article appeared on the front page of the N.R.C on Tuesday, 20th October 1857 and read as follows; “Through a willing hand we received a message today from the Commander of the ship Koning Willem II, Captain H. R. Giezen, whose vessel stranded in the Guichen Bay on the 25th June and was completely wrecked, as a result of this disaster it appears that the following persons found their grave in the water:

1         P.J. Witte                   2nd Mate                      of Middelburg

2         M. Jansen                   3rd Mate                      of Winschoten

3         L. Draper                    Head Carpenter          of Krimpen aan de Lek

4         J.H. Middendorf         Sailmaker                   of Oldenburg

5         J. van Baasbank         Chef                            of Rotterdam

6         J. Verbeek                  Sailors mate               of Rotterdam

7         Koster                         Sailor                          of Vlaardingen

8         E.J. Datema                Sailor                          of Groningen

9         C.G. Gustafson           Sailor                          of Stockholm

10        E. Bergland                Sailor                          of Sweden

11        H. Buijts                     Sailor                          of Vlissingen

12        D. Fermenooij            Sailor                          of Zierikzee

13        H. Rijgersma              Sailor                          of Sneek

14        C.v.d. Toorn               Boy                             of Scheveningen

15        J. Labbertti                 Boy                             of Rotterdam

Additionally the following two crew members died en-route, it does not state whether this was as a result of the stranding. A. Sonnenburg of Pruissen and A. Strijbos of Maassluis.

Regarding victim C.v.d.Toorn of Scheveningen, it is of interest to note, his drowning was reported to the Registrar of Deaths in the city of The Hague on November 10,1857. The official notice states: “According to the vessel’s muster-roll he was a boy crew member, aged eighteen, born and residing in Scheveningen. He drowned and went missing when the Dutch frigateship Koning Willem II went down at Guichen Bay (Southcoast of Australia).


Victims of the tragedy, (Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant 20-10-1857) New Rotterdam Newspaper