Bass Strait Traders #4: The embarrassing barque ISABELLA

Vessels in southern colonial waters 1830-1850

The embarrassing barque ISABELLA
TF Bride & CESayers (eds), [1898] 1983, Letters From Victorian Pioneers, Currey O'Neil, South Yarra
There is an interesting gap in Captain John Hart's letter to Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe in 1854. Firstly, Hart provides details of his time as master of the sealing schooner ELIZABETH, concluding with the information that, "In December 1835 I sailed as a passenger to London..." His account then effectively skips two years, resuming with the information that "In November 1837 I undertook to drive a herd of cattle from Portland to Adelaide". Occupying the intervening silence is Hart's embarrassment over the ISABELLA.

The ship
Ronald Parsons, 1983, Ships of Australia and New Zealand Before 1850: Details of ships Registered with Customs at Ports in Australia and New Zealand, Magill SA
"ISABELLA.  Wood, 3 masted ship [barque], Length 89 feet 7 inches, Width 23 feet 10 inches, Depth 16 feet 6 inches. Built in 1826 at South Town, Yarmouth [England], 1 deck, square stern. Wrecked March 30, 1837, near Portland (Vic.).
Owners: [ex 405/1835 London] mid 1836, John Griffiths and Michael Connolly, registered Launceston 1/1837."

Australia voyages
RT Sexton, 1990,Shipping Arrivals and Departures South Australia 1627-1850, Roebuck No. 42
IH Nicholson, 1985, Shipping Arrivals and Departures Tasmania 1834-1852, Roebuck No. 33
"Arrived Launceston 28 Nov/2 Dec [1835] ISABELLA, barque 225 tons, Master Henry Jas Ellis. From London 23/7, Downs 26/7, General; Pork, beer, wine, rum, soap, sugar, brandy, merch etc, 1 passenger: Wm S Wright.
Departed Launceston 10 Feb customs cleared, 225 tons, James, for London with 1 passenger and chartered cargo...
Arrived Launceston 4 Jan, ISABELLA, barque, 225 tons, Master John Hart, Agent Hewitt Gore & Co. From London with Merchandise: iron, lead, beer, rum, wine, brandy, gin, butter, etc. Passengers, including SA settlers to select Scott & Sir Jn Jeffcott, SA Judge.
Ship registration transferred from London to Launceston, January 1837 by M Connolly & Jn Griffiths (Parson).
Departed Launceston 30 Jan customs cleared, For Kangaroo Island/Holdfast Bay (Adelaide)/Gulf of St Vincent/Spencers Gulf, with 800 sheep/350n ewes, 45 wethers, 6 heifers, 6 heifers, 1 bull, a team of Red Devon bullocks, 3 mares & a Timor pony/7 horses, stres & shingles etc. 
Passengers: 22 original passengers, including Sir John Jeffcott, Judge of the new colony of S.Aust.
Arrived Holdfast Bay 11 Feb from London via Spithead (Departed 3 Sept 1836), Launceston (4 Jan - 1 Feb) and Rapid Bay [SA Fleurieu Peninsular] where a boat landed 11 Feb; sheep weak and were landed at first night's anchorage some 3 or 4 miles south of Holdfast Bay. 
Passengers from London included Sir J. Jeffcott & J.B. & S. Hack, Passengers from Launceston included L.W. Gilles & H. Hesketh.
Departed Holdfast Bay 22 Feb to Launceston for stock; Passengers included L. Gilles. 
Arrived Launceston 8 Mar, ISABELLA, barque, 225 tons, Master John Hart, Owner John Griffiths, From Port Adelaide/Holdfast Bay, SA, Kangaroo Island, in ballast with 2 passengers.
Departed Launceston 29 March, For Port Adelaide, St Vincents/Spencers Gulf, with Merchandise, 575 sheep, 42 cattle, 2 horses, 2,000 ft timber, 24,000 shingles etc, 10/25 passengers.
** ISABELLA wrecked on Cape Nelson/Northumberland on 30/31 March. Crew and passengers saved & reached Portland in longboat (Bateson). Insurance overdue - M. Connolly, part owner."

Sailing straight into the cliffs
The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, Tas, Saturday 8 April 1837 (
  It becomes our painful duty this week to report the unfortunate loss of the barque ISABELLA, Captain John Hart, belonging to this port, which vessel sailed from George Town for the Gulf St. Vincent, about the 25th ultimo, freighted with live and dead stock for the new South Australian Settlement. The information afforded us of the loss of the vessel by Mr. John Jones Peers [Pearce], a passenger on board, is to the following effect: --
  The ISABELLA had on board about twenty-five souls, including the passengers, of whom two were females, and two children. One of the females was on her way to join her husband at Kangaroo Island, the other the wife of Mr Peers [Pearce], and his two children. The ISABELLA, in working out of this Harbour, struck slightly upon the middle ground, but received no injury, and she proceeded on her voyage. The weather continued fine, when on the afternoon of the first instant, land was seen to the northward, which the Captain (in consequence of some injury done to his chronometers, and being obliged to work by dead reckoning), felt doubtful whether it wasw the Lady Julia Percy Island, or the land about Cape Nelson; accordingly he shaped a course that would clear the vessel from danger with a proper lookout, which, report says, was not done. Very much blame is said to be deserved by the mate, whose watch it was at night, when the vessel struck upon the bold cliff of Cape Nelson, but that person not being on the spot to explain his conduct, we refrain from further observation on it.
  At the time the ISABELLA's jib boom was shivered against the cliff of Cape Nelson, she was going about four knots in the water, with studding-sails set. The concussion brought the Captain on deck, who, on noticing the awful situation of the vessel, ordered the jolly boat to be lowered; the sea, however, washed it out of the tackles, when the long boat was cleared, and fortunately whipt over the side without accident. The crew and passengers succeeded, (many of them in almost a state of nudity), in getting her clear of the vessel, and reaching in her, with a pair of oars, on the morning of Sunday, the settlement of Messrs. Henty's, at Portland Bay, about 13 miles distant, where we understand they experienced the greatest kindness from Mr. Stephen Henty and his lady, who afforded them every accommodation, in the way of clothing and refreshments.
  The stock on board were healthy, and doing well until the accident took place, two or three sheep only having died, and one bullock being sickly.
  The preservation of the lives on board, says our informant, was miraculous, and to the presence of mind of Captain Hart, and the orderly conduct of the crew, must it be attributed. Nothing was wanting in energy on the part of the Commander during the trying scene.
  The EAGLE brought some of the crew and passengers from Portland Bay to Launceston, on Thursday last."


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