The story of the SS Windsor
In 2003, while wandering around the mangroves on Pelsart Island looking for driftwood, Bill Newbold picked up a heavy piece of wood and with others brought it back to his shack at Whale Bay Island, north of Pelsart Island.
Later when burning some of the wood on the fire it was discovered the beautiful aroma coming from the fire was sandalwood and the piece of wood was taken off and extinguished immediately.
Bill, a local legend, has been fishing in the Abrolhos Islands since 1948 and knew that a sandalwood ship, S.S. Windsor had sunk on the outer reef in 1908 and this would have been part of that cargo. It had been in the ocean for over 95 years.
When Tim Coakley, the Chairman of Wescorp Sandalwood, was visiting the Abrolhos Islands in May 2006, he met Bill and his family and after many beers, wine and exchange of yarns, Bill discovered Tim’s relationship in the sandalwood industry.
Before leaving the islands Bill gave the log to Tim for display in the Wescorp boardroom where it is mounted with the full story attached. On searching the archives in the WA Battye Library in Perth the following has been disclosed to date.
The steamer S.S. Windsor left Fremantle on Saturday 1st February 1908 with 1,100 tons of sandalwood on board, thirty-seven men and was bound for Hong Kong. Photo of S.S. Windsor being loaded with sandalwood can be purchased from the WA Battye Library.
On Sunday night at 2145 hours, while the Captain was on the bridge a concussion was felt throughout the ship and all hands were ordered on deck and full speed astern. It was too dark and rough to do anything until the next morning, when it was discovered the Windsor had run up on the outer reef of the Pelsart Island, at a location known as Wreck Point. It was approximately 70 kilometres from where the Batavia had been lost in 1629.
It was two miles over reef to land on Pelsart Island and during the Monday twenty of the crew including 15 Chinese were taken to the island with the two lifeboats. The lifeboats were returned before dark to the Windsor and further rescues would be made the next morning. Those 17 remaining including the Captain stayed on board. During the night the seas became very heavy and the lifeboats were lost and destroyed.
The employees of Fallowfield & Co, which had the lease for the guano workings, discovered the twenty survivors on the island.
At about eight o’clock on Tuesday morning the chief engineer, Mr Jenkins, attempted to swim a line to shore but drowned in the heavy running seas. On arrival of the steamer Venus from Fallowfield & Co, Captain Davis made another unsuccessful attempt to save the crew.
The Venus then headed for Geraldton to get lifeboats and rocket apparatus. It arrived in Geraldton at 2330 hours and reported the shipwreck of the Windsor as being a total wreck, the deck cargo had been lost and the vessel was doomed.
At sunset Captain Walters, of the S. S. Windsor advised the remaining men to go aft, saying that he thought it was safest. Knowing the Windsor had broken her back, the crew decided that the forward part was more firmly embedded on the reef, they stayed forward overnight. The Captain and the first mate stayed in the saloon.
Upon coming to the deck the following morning, the crew found that all the after-part of the vessel up to the foremast had broken up and washed unto the reef. The Captain and first mate were not to be seen.
The Venus left for the islands Wednesday morning at 0330 hours with Pilot Gilmore, Constable Heritage, and six fishermen on board, towing the Geraldton lifeboat for rescue purposes. Mr Partridge, a part owner of Fallowfield & Co was also on board.
The steamer Penguin left Fremantle on Wednesday 5th to assist in the rescue. It was so rough, they had to go to Geraldton first arriving at 2100 hours on Thursday 6th. Shortly afterwards the Uraidla arrived in Geraldton. The cargo was insured for 25,000 pounds ( A$50,000 ) and the marine underwriters engaged the S.S. Uraidla the tugboat, for salvage operations out of Fremantle.
At 1100 hours the Venus arrived at the Windsor. Throughout that day, all from the Venus tried rescue attempts but the seas were too rough to get close. After consultation with Pilot Gilmore and Captain Davis they decided to head back to Geraldton to get the rocket apparatus. They were met on the way back by the fishing vessel Wanda that said the Penguin was on its way. The Wanda with the master stevedore, Mr E. H. Brede on board was assisting with the rescue.
By 1700 hours Thursday afternoon the Windsor was really starting to go to pieces and the remaining crew started jumping over board with planks and tried to swim to the reef where others were standing in waist deep surf to aid them. It is said the spray from the waves on the reef was rising up 100 feet into the air.
All night they remained on the reef and early on the Friday morning they were conveyed to the island.
When the Penguin arrived on Friday morning it was not known the rescue had been effected and they concluded that all had been washed away. About 150 tons of sandalwood and portions of the steamer were strewn on the reef.
The Penguin caught up with the others at Mangrove Island and the survivors were transferred to her and taken back to Geraldton.
Due to Australia’s “White Australia Policy” the 27 Chinese crew were held on the Penguin, anchored out of the Geraldton harbour, until the Sultan could pick them up on Monday 10th and take them to Singapore.
The balance of the crew returned to Fremantle, on the same day, on the Monaro, after very generous care and hospitality from Fallowfield & Co and all the people of Geraldton.
The rescuers were hailed as heroes and the people of Geraldton sought recognition for them.
Two men that worked for Fallowfield & Co on the Abrolhos Islands, drowned and were never found while they were trying to rescue crew from the Windsor. The fishing schooner Iris found the small boat they were in upside down four miles away from the wreck on the 12th. Their names were Mr S. Mann and Mr H. Beyer.
In all, five men were lost in what could have been much worse if it hadn’t been for the bravery of men from Fallowfield &Co, the Venus and the Wanda.
On 10th February, Burns, Philips & Co, the agents for the underwriters, announced that “ all sandalwood washed up is the property of the underwriters and that they will pay two pound per ton for dry sandalwood and one pound and ten shillings per ton for wet sandalwood delivered to the Geraldton jetty”.
Fallowfield & Co, being lessees of the islands warned trespassers thereon that they would be prosecuted.
Mr W. H. Evans, chairman, of the Marine Underwriters Association, said “ he was quite satisfied that the lessees cannot interfere with the salvage rights anywhere on the islands”. Negotiations had broken down with the lessees with a view of getting the sole salvage rights; their demands had been so extortionate. He said “ the price they asked for the salvaged sandalwood delivered to Geraldton was more than the price of undamaged sandalwood”.
At the International Sandalwood Buyers Symposium in Perth, from 16th – 19th May, Tim Coakley presented a paper to Forest Products Commission (FPC), seventeen overseas sandalwood buyers, and Wescorp Sandalwood on the find.
Tim said that “the value of that 1,100 ton of what would have been large de-sapped logs and butts in today’s market would have been in excess of A$10 million. In those days the trees would have been very big and old with excellent santalol aroma qualities. Smaller parts of the tree were left behind in the bush and only the best logs were sold. This 1,100 ton on the Windsor, represents over half of the current annual sandalwood harvest in Western Australia”.
Source of information is from;
- The West Australia Newspaper
- The Western Mail
- Geraldton Guardian
- Geraldton Express
- J.S. Battye Library
Gratitude and thanks to Bill Newbold for sparking the adventure and find.