FOUR HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN LIVES LOST!
The Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 17th September 1845
The Cataraqui, Captain C. W. Finlay, sailed from Liverpool on the 20th April, with 369 emigrants, and a crew, including two doctors, Mr. C. Carpenter and Edward Carpenter (two brothers), of 46 souls. The emigrants were principally from Bedfordshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire. About 120 passengers were married with families, and in all seventy-three children. On the night of Sunday the 3rd of August, at seven in the evening, the ship was hove to, and continued laying to until three o’clock on the morning of the 4th. At half past four, it being quite dark and raining hard, blowing a fearful gale, and the sea running mountains high, the ship struck on a reef situate on the west coast of King’s Island, at the entrance of Bass’ Straits. No opportunity had offered for taking an observation to enable the captain to ascertain the ship’s course, for four days prior to the ship striking; and from the dead reckoning kept, it was presumed that the vessel was in 141o 22 east longitude, and 89 17 south, which would make her between 60 or 70 miles from King’s Island. Immediately the ship struck she was sounded, and four feet water was in the hold. The scene of confusion and misery that ensued at this awful period, it is impossible to describe. All the passengers attempted to rush on deck, and many succeeded in doing so, until the ladders were knocked away by the workings of the vessel; when the shrieks from men, women, and children from below were terrific, calling on the watch on deck to assist them. The crew to a man were on deck the moment the ship struck and were instantly employed in handing up the passengers. Up to the time the vessel began breaking up it is supposed that between three and four hundred were got on deck by the extraordinary exertions of the crew. At this time the sea was breaking over the ship on the larboard side, sweeping the decks, every sea taking away more or less of the passengers. About 5 a.m. the ship careened right over on her larboard side, washing away boats, bulwarks, spars, a part of the cuddy, and literally swept the decks. At this critical period the captain gave orders to cut away the masts, hoping the vessel might right to enable the crew to get on deck the passengers left below. The masts were forthwith cut away, and everything done that could, under the circumstances to get the vessel upright, but it was all to no purpose. At this time the passengers below were all drowned, the ship being full of water, and the captain called out to those on deck to cling to that part of the wreck which was then above water, till daylight, hoping that the spars would be of some service in making a breakwater under her lee, and thus enable the survivors to get on shore in the morning. As the day broke, we found the stern of the vessel washed in. and numerous dead bodies floating around the ship-some hanging upon the rocks. Several of the passengers and crew (about two hundred altogether) were still holding on to the vessel-the sea breaking over and every wave washing some of them away. Thus, those who were able, continued to cling to the wreck until about four in the afternoon, when she parted amidships, at the fore part of the main rigging, when immediately some seventy or a hundred were launched into the tumultuous and remorseless waves! The survivors on the deck still, however, continued to exert themselves to recover back all they could; but many of them were dead, although but momentarily immersed. Ridge lines also were stretched along the side of the wreck, to enable them to hold on. The remains of the upper deck now began to break up and wash away. The survivors now began to collect bits of rope, so as to construct a buoy, with the view of floating it on shore, and thus enabling one of the crew to land. This measure would have enabled them to save the lives of at least a hundred; but notwithstanding every effort, the buoy could not be got nearer than twenty yards from the shore, owing to its getting entangled with the sea-weed on the rocks, and there was no one on shore to catch it, and secure it on the sand. The fury of the waves continuing unabated, about five o’clock, the wreck parted by the fore rigging, and so many souls were submerged in the wide waters, that only seventy survivors were left crowded on the forecastle! The buoy rope was then hauled on board to rig lifelines and lash the survivors, who were then clinging to the wreck. Thus, the sea breaking over them, the winds raging, and the rain continuing heavy all night, the poor survivors continued clinging to the vessel’s bow. Numbers died and fell over-board or sank and were drowned at the places where they were lashed. As day broke the following morning, it discovered only about thirty left alive, the survivors almost dead through exhaustion and hanging where they were lashed. The previous evening the quarter boat (the only remaining one) was attempted to be launched, into which the boatswain and doctor (Charles Carpenter) with four of the crew got, but she immediately capsized, and all were drowned. As the morning rose the sea was making a clean breach into the forecastle, the deck of which was rapidly breaking up. About this time whilst numbers were helplessly clinging to the bows and continually dropping off without the possibility of succour, the captain attempted to reach the shore but was unable, and with the assistance of some of those who were able regained the wreck. The lashings of the survivors were now undone in order to give them the last chance of life. Mr. Thomas Guthrie, the chief mate, now on the sprit sail yard, was washed out to the bowsprit; saw the captain and second mate and steward clinging at the bows, with about eighteen or twenty only left alive amid a host of dead bodies on the fragment of the wreck. Mr. Guthrie was driven to a de-tackled part of the wreck, but soon found it was impossible to live with such a sea breaking over, seized a piece of plank under his arm and leaping into the water was carried over the reef, and thus got on shore. He found a passenger who had got ashore during the night, and one of the crew (Robinson) who had got ashore in the morning. John Roberts, a seaman, plunged in when he saw the mate ashore, and partly swimming and partly driven reached the land. Five other seamen followed and got ashore dreadfully exhausted. Almost immediately afterward the vessel totally disappeared. Thus, out of four hundred and twenty-three souls on board, only nine were saved. The names of the saved are Mr. Thomas Guthrie, chief mate; Solomon Brown, emigrant; John Roberts, able seaman; William Jones, ditto; Francis Millan, ditto; John Simpson, ditto; John Robertson, ditto; Peter Johnson, ditto; William Blackstock, apprentice. They had neither food nor drink from the time of the ship striking to the Tuesday afternoon, when they found one small tin of preserved fowl, after eating which, they went and laid down in the bush having got a wet blanket out of the water for their only covering and being almost quite destitute of clothes. The beach was strewed with pieces of the wreck and portions of dead corpses in horrible profusion. After a vain search for water, and being unable to find any more survivors, they slept that night in the bush. The following morning, they found a cask of water ashore, but were unable to get means to make a fire. However, about 9 or 10 o’clock in the forenoon, they observed a smoke, which presuming they were on the mainland (according to the captain’s calculation) imagined it was a fire of the natives. However, they shortly saw a white man approaching them, who turned out to be Mr. David Howie, residing upon the island. It seems Mr. Howie and Oakley, with one black, perceived there was a wreck on the coast through seeing portions of wreck, and most humanely arranged to instantly reconnoitre the whole island, and fortunate, indeed, was it for the poor exhausted and benumbed survivors, to whom he instantly afforded fire and food and con- structed a shed against the weather. As Mr. Howie’s boat was wrecked, there was no possibility of leaving the island. The party therefore constructed a hut, and remained five weeks, during which time they were most hospitably provided for by Mr. Howie and his party, according to their means. The supplies having to be carried 40 miles over a most difficult road. Last Sunday (September 7th) they saw the Midge beating for the island; they immediately signalised her by a fire, and from her received every assistance. The Midge took them off the island with much difficulty by means of Mr. Howie’s whale boat, on Tuesday last, and they arrived in Hobson’s Bay at half past ten this day.
The following is the cargo; 500 tons coal (for Lima); 15 tons slates; 22 hogsheads rum (the Captain’s own); 18 quarter casks wine; 2 casks nails; 500 three-inch deals.
As reported by The Port Phillip Herald, September 13, 1845