Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Stranding of the ‘Strathgryfe’ … a Trove Tuesday post.

The barque Strathgryfe
Brodie Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria

Captain Donald McIntyre stood studying the chart in front of him, following an imaginary line along which he had plotted their course.  This was his first voyage as master of the Strathgryfe, although he had previously sailed on her as first mate.  The ship had made a good run in ballast from Table Bay, enroute to Newcastle where she was to load a cargo of coal. 

The Strathgryfe was a 4-masted steel barque, of 2,200 tons, built in 1890 in Greenock, Scotland, for the Strathgryfe Shipping Company.  She carried a crew of 28, several of whom had been signed on in Cape Town.

They had passed Cape Otway at 10:30 that morning, where Captain McIntyre had taken his bearings and set a course through the notorious Bass Strait.  He’d taken into account the 7 degree variation in the ships compass, and expected to pass Wilson’s Promontory by sailing to the north of Curtis Island.  There had been a steady sou’sou’wester blowing all day, and now at midnight it was dark and blustery.  Hearing the look-out calling “land ahead”, Captain McIntyre tapped his finger on the dot on the map that was Curtis Island, before making his way on deck. 

Directing the helmsman to alter course around the island, he peered into the gloom, expecting to see the Promontory light off to his north.  With no light visible, his momentary confusion quickly changed to alarm when breakers became evident on the port side. Realising the danger, he made a quick assessment of his options, and took the decision to turn the ship into the breakers and head for the mainland beach.  With a lurch, the Strathgryfe ran aground in the sands of Waratah Bay.

With the light of day, Captain McIntyre and his crew were able to assess the situation and recognise their error.  The island in front of them had not been Curtis Island at all, but in fact Shellback Island, some 13 miles north of their expected position.  The ship had come to rest high on the beach, but at least she was upright, and there was no loss of life or serious injury.


Cape Otway
Sandy Point
stranding of Strathgryfe
Shellback Island
Cleft Island
Curtis Island
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation
Port Phillip Heads

THE STRANDED BARQUE. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957)
12 April 1902: 16. Retrieved 28 Jun 2016

Fred Pilkington woke early as usual on Tuesday 8th April. After re-kindling the stove and placing the kettle on to boil, he left his brother Dan and cousin Charlie asleep and headed over the dunes to the beach for his customary morning swim.  It was a fine morning with the crispness of autumn in the air, and calm after the previous day’s blustery south-westerly.  The tide was out and he sprinted the length of the sand to the water.

After diving into the waves three or four times, he left the water and jogged east along the beach to dry off. Suddenly, he pulled up short, and stared ahead, hand shading his eyes as he looked into the early morning sun.  Quickly, he retraced his steps, pulling on his clothes as he ran, arriving back at the house just as the kettle boiled over on the stove.  Waking the lads, he shouted, “Wake up you lazy lubbers! There’s a full rigger ashore, under the hummocks, this side of the Darby River.”
Two days later, at the opposite end of the bay, the S.S. Whyralla tied up at the long jetty in the lime-burning settlement of Waratah.  The coastal steamer was a regular visitor, bring supplies to the little township and surrounding district, and transporting the bagged lime back to Melbourne. 

Today in addition to her usual cargo, the Whyralla brought a newspaper man, “special reporter” for The Argus, sent down from Melbourne to get the story firsthand.  Jim Dewar, son of the mine manager, was on the jetty that morning, overseeing the loading of the lime.  The paperman approached him, seeking transport around the bay to the site of the wreck.  Jim made some arrangement with him and the two set off along the beach, calling at Sandy Point on the way where Fred joined them.  Jim would need Fred for the row across Shallow Inlet entrance against the in-coming tide.  Once across the inlet, the trio had a good six-mile hike along the beach to reach the stranded ship. 

While the paperman made his way out to the ship to complete his mission, Fred stretched out on the dunes and lit his pipe, surveying the scene of activity in front of him.  Presently he was joined by one of the sailors, a fair, stocky Englishman of about his own age. Introducing himself as Jack Bridges, the man pulled a letter out of his pocket and asked Fred if he would see it posted to his wife in Cape Town.  Fred tucked the letter inside his jacket, ready to post with his own mail the next day. The two men exchanged some conversation, Jack relating his story of joining the Strathgryfe in Cape Town, where he and his wife owned a small hotel.  Jack had been struggling against the ongoing temptations of alcohol. He and his wife had decided time at sea might be just what he needed to remove himself from such temptations, and Jack was feeling and looking the better for it.  Alas for poor Jack, being set loose in Melbourne later was to prove too much for him!

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), , p. 6. Retrieved June 28, 2016,

Captain McIntyre was confident that by stripping her down, his ship could be re-floated without too much difficulty using the assistance of steam tugs.   He’d telegrammed the ship’s agents in Melbourne, and the owners in Greenock, seeking the necessary authorisation and assistance to achieve this.  The task proved to be not so straightforward, and it was not until the end of June that the Strathgryfe was eventually re-floated and towed back to Melbourne by the steam tug Albatross.  

THE BARQUE STRATHGRYFE. (1902, June 30). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), , p. 6. Retrieved June 28, 2016,

In the meantime, leaving three men behind with the ship, the Captain and remainder of the crew were transported to Melbourne, where the crew were paid off, and poor Jack met his fate. 

On the 14th May, Captain McIntyre faced a Court of Marine Inquiry into the incident.  The  Marine Board found him guilty of serious misconduct and careless navigation, concluding that he had not taken into account the compass error when calculating his course.  His Masters Certificate was suspended for 2 months, and he was fined £15 for expenses of the inquiry. 

The Strathgryfe underwent a refit during the months of July and August.  When she eventually sailed on 2nd September for San Francisco via Newcastle, Captain McIntyre was once more in command.

Donald McIntyre's Masters Certificate 1892

Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.                 
Original data: Master's Certificates. Greenwich, London, UK: National Maritime Museum.

Fred Pilkington and Jim Dewar were to become my great-uncles, when Fred's brother Charlie married Jim's sister Eve in 1907.

F. W. Pilkington, “Memories of Sandy Point”. Private family collection.
Board of Trade Wreck Report for Strathgryfe 1902 ID: 18373 out of copyright.  Portcities Southampton http://www.plimsoll.org/resources/SCCLibraries/WreckReports2002/18373.asp


  1. What a great story, love your tales... always well researched. Thank you.

  2. I have included your post in Interesting Blogs at


    Thank you.