Bass Strait Traders #5: The Wreck of the 'CHILDREN'



1. Official Summary (Incomplete and Inaccurate)
Register of Wrecks: Serious Casualties to Shipping within the Ports and upon the Coasts of Victoria and King's Island from 1835 to 1858, Department of Ports and Harbours, Victoria, 21st February, 1859
Date. Dec...
Name of Vessel / Where Belonging. Children, Launceston.
Rig. Barque.
Tons. 280.
Men. ...
From Bound To. Launceston to Adelaide.
Cargo. ...
Wind Direction / Force. W. 10.
Weather. Clear.
Master or Mates passed Examination. ...
Vessel's Age and how classed at Lloyds. ...
Vessel / Estimated Loss on / Insured for and where. ...
Hour and Time of Tide. 11 pm.
Number of Lives Lost. 14.
Site of Casualty. Bold Projection.
Remarks. Ran ashore through an error in reckoning and a bad look out. Became a total wreck.
Authority. ...

2. Arrivals and Departures in Colonial Waters
Shipping Arrivals and Departures Tasmania 1834 - 1842 and Gazetteer 1803-1842, 1984, Ian Hawkins Nicholson, Roebuck No 33, Canberra [abbreviations extended]
Arrived Hobart January 25, CHILDREN, brig, 254 tons, 2 guns, Captain William Durocher, from Sydney (25/12/1834) via Twofold Bay (16/1/1835), with Livestock: cattle and sheep, and 6 passengers including Mr Imlay and Mr MacArthur.
Departed Hobart January 5, for Sydney, with goods and ballast.
Arrived Launceston September 28, CHILDREN, ship/barque, 255 tons, Captain Smith, from London with general merchandise and 13 passengers.
Vessel bought by Messrs. Henty and Co for 3,000 pounds and registered at Launceston by James Henty in October. [Launceston registration 6/1837. Former details of vessel: built 1824, Liverpool, England, refitted 1837, registered London 123/1837].
Departed Launceston October 20, Captain H. Browne, for Portland Bay, in ballast, with 3 passengers.
Arrived Launceston November 29, CHILDREN, barque/bark, 256 tons, Captain Browne, from Portland Bay with Oil for London.
Departed Launceston January 11, Captain Browne, for London with Colonial Produce.
Arrived Geelong November 21 and Launceston November 23, CHILDREN, barque, 255 tons, 14 man, Captain H. Browne, Oner James Henty and Co, from London, with sundry merchandise, wine, rum, brandy, raisins, beer, iron, epsom salts, tobacco, bricks, cotton, turps, ploughs, and 7 passengers.
Departed  Launceston January 11, for Port Adelaide S.A. with part of original cargo from London, 5,000 bricks, 6 horses, 1400/1500 sheep, bullocks, sundries etc, and 15/24 passengers. Barque met heavy NW gale off Lady Julia Percy Island on January 13. Master stood off and on land for 2 days in thickening weather. On night of 15 January CHILDREN struck rocks at foot of high cliffs, 70' east of Portland Bay and soon broke up. Captain Browne and 15 lost. Chief Officer T. Gay and 21 got ashore. The site of the wreck subsequently named Childers Cove [not a corruption of vessel name as subsequently mooted].
Arrived Launceston February 19, SOCRATES, Bark, 149 tons, Captain M. McTaggart, from S.A., Portland Bay and Port Fairy, with Sundries, Oil and Wool. At Portland 31 January and departed 9 February to Port Fairy for survivors of CHILDREN, en route to Launceston.

3. Getting the story straight
Working papers, (appendix to letter 9 October 1986), Shirley Strachan, Maritime Archaeologist, Western District Wrecks Project, Victoria Archaeological Survey, Melbourne.
Wrecked: 14 Jan (4); 15 Jan (5) (6)
Tonnage: 225 (1); 280 (3); 256 (8); 254 (9); 225.67/94 (5)
Built: 1825 (9) (2); 1824 (5) (8)
          Liverpool (2) (5) (9)
          Barque (1) (2) (3); Ship (5) (8)
          3 masts (4) (5)
          2 decks (5); Square stern (5)
          Part pich pine (9)
          Felt sheathed (9)
          Coppered 1837 (9)
Owner: James Henty (1) (6)
Master: Captaine Browne (1) (4)
Crew: 14 (1)
Passengers: 24 (1)
Cargo: 1500 sheep and a number of cattle and horses (1)
              5000 house bricks from London (7)
Deaths: 19, including Captain Browne (4)
               16, including Captain Browne (6) (10)
Comments: Weather west force 10, clear (3)
                     Vessel parted at the mizzen mast (6)
(1) Bateson C., Australian Shipwrecks, vol. 1, p136
(2) Loney J., Wrecks Along the Great Ocean Road, p26
(3) Ports and Harbours Register of Wrecks 1835-38
(4) Australasian Shipping Record, vol. 8, no. 3, 1977, p191
(5) Ships of Australia and New Zealand, p. 38
(6) Sydney Gazette, 7 March 1839
(7) Cornwall Chronicle, 24 November and 29 December 1838
(8) Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Victorian Ports, M. Syme, p231
(9) Lloyd's Register of Shipping 1837-1839
(10) Ships Registered in Australia and New Zealand, R. Parsons, p38. "

4. Additional Details on Vessel and Voyage
Victorian Heritage Database, (viewed June 2014), supplemented by The Wild Coast Wrecks: Historic Shipwreck Trail, Heritage Victoria, 1996 
"VHR S116        wrecked 14 January 1838 [wrong!]
Description: Wood. Barque. Part pitch pine, felt sheathed, coppered 1837 [Lloyd's Register also notes burthen of 254 tons], 2 decks, square stern. 3 masted sail [Captain Paasch's Illustrated Marine Encyclopedia 1890 defines 'Barque - Bark: A three masted vessel. The two foremost masts are square rigged as in a ship (rigged with yards and square sails), the after or mizzen mast has no yards, being fitted topmast only (making it shorter than the other masts) and carries a gaff sail and a gaff top sail (raised from a swinging boom).'] Length 93.2 feet X Beam 25.0 feet X Depth 16.6 feet.

History: Built 1825 at Liverpool. Registration Number 6 of 1837, Launceston, Australia [Owner, James Henty & Co, Launceston; Previous Registration 123 of 1837, London; Previous Owner, Gordon & Co, London].
Voyage: From Launceston to Adelaide. Cargo 1500 sheep and a number of cattle and horses. Owner James Henty & Co. Master Captain H. Browne. Weather conditions, Hurricane force winds. Cause of Loss, Driven ashore in a gale. Passengers 24, Crew 14. (16 perished) [Charles Bateson's entry for the CHILDREN in Australian Shipwrecks, Volume 1 cites Cornwall Chronicle 7 October 1837, Launceston Advertiser 22 November and 13 December 1838 and 21 February 1839, The Tasmanian 22 February 1839 as contemporary sources]."

5. Some observations - No-one at fault
1. The vessel was seaworthy. The CHILDREN, while preposterously small by modern standards, was a proven ocean-going ship by the standards of its day, having successfully completed two round trips from London to London via Launceston (in 1835 under Captain Smith and in 1838 under Captain Browne), and had undergone an extensive refit to her hull in 1837 (pitched, felted and coppered according to Lloyd's London Register).
2. The captain was competent. He was familiar with the CHILDREN having been her Master on the trip to London in 1838 (a slow but safe sailing record of 120 to 125 days on each leg), and he was familiar with the coastal waters between Launceston and Adelaide (having loaded the CHILDREN at Portland in October/November 1837, and previously been Master of the 51 ton schooner ELIZABETH [Owner John Griffiths] on trips, from Launceston to Port Fairy in May, to Sydney in July, and from Launceston to Port Adelaide in August/September 1837).
3. The weather was unseasonal. The passengers and crew of the CHILDREN were very unlucky to strike four days straight of contrary gale-force winds in the middle of January, normally the middle of summer in southern Australia. with calm seas and modest breezes. The rainy conditions with poor visibility prevented Captain Browne from making landmark sightings in daylight or accurate chronometer readings at night. Consequently he was well out in his estimates of the CHILDREN's position when he went off watch on that fatal evening.


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