Batoe Bassi (1880/06/31)
The Batoe Bassi had been built in Norway, but by 1880 was under Dutch registration, with (probably) Dutch officers and Indonesian crew. Even though referred to as ‘Malays’ at the time, this was a generic term used to describe seamen from many areas of South East Asia.
There are a number of different tonnages given for the Batoe Bassi: Henderson (1988) states 293, the Inquirer (9 June 1880) quotes two different tonnages in the two articles in that edition – 325 and 400. All these figures may be correct, depending on which “tonnage” the writers were basing their figures. The vessel has also been referred to as a barque (Henderson, 1988) and as a brig (West Australian, 29 June 1880: 3b).
On 30 April 1880 the Batoe Bassi had sailed from Tjilitjap in Java for Melbourne. The barque was under the command of Captain B.H. Buir, with a crew of A. Brinkmann, first mate, A.J. Fischer, second mate, and 20 Malays. Also on board were three women, wives of three of the Malay crewmen. The cargo consisted of 300 tons of sugar, 3 000 coconuts, some rice and spirits.
On 14 May when about 700 nautical miles west of Carnarvon the Batoe Bassi was struck by a heavy gale. With seas breaking over the deck it was found necessary to work the pumps every two hours to keep the water from rising in the hold. Another gale struck the vessel on 22 May, and the crew had to man the pumps hourly. This gale ‘continued without abatement until noon of the 25th May, when the wind further increased, and the pumps had to be kept going constantly’ (West Australian, 29 June 1880: 2c). The crew fell ill from the constant labour at the pumps, and at 9.00 p.m. one died. The seas continued breaking over the vessel, and the monkey rail was washed away. At noon on 28 May the sailors came aft, complaining that they could not pump any more. Six of them were incapacitated by cold and rheumatism, while the leak and gale were still increasing. By this time the barque was over 190 miles south of Esperance at latitude 37.04º S and longitude 122.03º E. Captain Buir consulted with his officers and decided to bear away for the nearest land to find an anchorage and assistance. The Batoe Bassi sailed north by west towards the coast.
Captain Buir gave a detailed explanation of the disaster to a Perth newspaper, part of which is given here:
Lat.35.08 S.; Long. 121.27 E. (by dead reckoning): On the 29th, at 2 p.m. made land, and laid to, until 4 a.m., on the 30th, when we again ran for the land. More of the crew, at this time, fell sick. The weather moderated, but the sea was running high, and the ship was sinking, the crew being unable to keep the leak down. With much difficulty managed to navigate the ship between the islands, and at 5 p.m. anchored under Inshore Island, in four fathoms of water (West Australian, 29 June 1880: 2c).
The captain and mate went ashore to get assistance, but there was none available so they returned to the vessel. Another crewman died, and the rest were too sick to pump. The following day (31 May 1880) there was 1.7 m of water in the hold ‘and no assistance procurable, slipped her anchor and ran her on the beach, in hopes of saving part of the cargo, and possibly the ship’ (West Australian, 29 June 1880: 2c). The vessel grounded in 13 feet (4 m) of water. The crew were landed, and some provisions taken ashore together with two sails to make a shelter.
At 4.00 p.m. an employee of the Overland Telegraph Line arrived and informed the captain that the nearest place where assistance could be procured was Albany. He also told them that there was a telegraph station some 70 miles away at Esperance Bay. The mate was immediately sent there to telegraph to Albany for assistance.
The following three days (1, 2 & 3 June) the wind blew strongly from the south causing heavy surf. On 2 June the deck disappeared under water. According to a statement by Captain Buir published in the West Australian of 29 June, the mate returned from Esperance on 4 June with the news that the Western Australian Government was sending the Agnes (see entry) from Albany to provide assistance to the survivors. A telegraph operator with a field instrument arrived on that same day to enable Captain Buir to communicate with the government.
There is a report in another newspaper, the West Australian of 4 June, which gives a slightly different slant on the reason for sending the telegraph operator to the wreck site. When first approached with a request to go to the aid of the stricken Batoe Bassi the owner of the schooner Agnes, Fred Douglas, was willing, but only if paid £100. The mate of the Batoe Bassi, Brinkmann, was not prepared to take it upon himself to accept the conditions without reference to his captain. It was to avoid any unnecessary delay in communication between Captain Buir, the Batoe Bassi’s consignees in Melbourne, and the owner of the Agnes, that the Government had a telegraph assistant and field instrument from Esperance sent to the scene of the wreck.
It was not until 6 June that the weather moderated sufficiently for some of the crew to board the Batoe Bassi. Sails were taken from the sail locker, as well as more provisions and crew’s clothing. These and the sails from the yards were loaded into the longboat. This, however, capsized in the surf and most of its cargo was lost, the little that was saved being ‘much damaged’. Meanwhile the barque was ‘working into the sand’. The Agnes arrived on 9 June, and the men brought from Albany immediately set to work to strip the Batoe Bassi and save all they could, the spars being landed on Inshore Island. The following day the wind blew hard from the south-east, the vessel fell over on its side and began to quickly break up.
There appears to have been little salvaged from the Batoe Bassi. A newspaper quoting its correspondent in Albany reported:
The schooner Agnes, which left here on the 5th inst., with a number of men to go to Taguer harbour, to the assistance of the Dutch brig Batoe Bassi, returned on the 18th instant, with the officers and crew of that ill-fated vessel, which has become a total wreck, everything having been lost except her sails and part of her rigging (West Australian, 29 June 1880: 3b).
The above article is not quite correct as Constable Peirl, who sailed on the Agnes to the wreck site, reported that he had secured six cases of gin and one of sherry, and that the luggage belonging to the crew had also been saved (Dickson, 2012: 107).
Thomas Sherratt’s schooner Walter & Mary was also involved in the salvage of some of the ship’s gear as he had bought the wreck for £8 at an auction conducted by W.J. Gillam in Albany on 30 June 1880. The ship’s gear, including two complete sets of sails, ropes, chains and boats from the vessel fetched very little at the auction.
The wreck of the Batoe Bassi lies 300 m east of Alexander Point, and about 45 m from the shore. The area is subject to considerable movement of the sand around the wreck due to wave and current action.
Note: Two contemporary newspaper reports place the wreck at Taguer Harbour. The Inquirer and Commercial News of 18 February 1880 quotes the Government Gazette’s description of this harbour:
Taguer Harbour – The coast from Duke of Orleans Bay trends about east 17 miles to Taguer harbour, with several islands and sunken reefs between; tolerably close in shore appears to be the clearest passage, and anchorages can be obtained should the wind fail. Taguer harbour is formed by a high bluff extending in a southerly direction about one mile. The anchorage is on the east side of this bluff in 6 fathoms, white sand, with the extremes of the bluff bearing S.S.E.
A contemporary Perth newspaper reporting the loss of the Batoe Bassi at Taguer Harbour described this as ‘a small boat inlet used by Mr Campbell Taylor for shipping his wool and stores’ (Inquirer, 9 June 1880: 3b).
British Admiralty chart 1059 shows Tagon Bay 17 miles east of Duke of Orleans Bay, sheltered on its western side by a high point of land projecting southwards, and which was presumably originally named Taguer. However, the wreck of the Batoe Bassi has been found some seven miles west of this bay, so in 1880 there must have been some confusion in the description of the location of the wreck.
The wreck of the Batoe Bassi lies in shallow water on a sandy bottom. The wreck, which projects in parts above the sea bed some 1-1.5 m, is approximately 47 m long and 7.6 m wide. The keel is on an axis of 98º, starboard side towards the beach, and bow pointing slightly shorewards. There is a slight list to starboard. The lower section of the hull remains in situ with planking frames and ceiling, bronze fastened. The timber is in good condition due to the protection of the anaerobic sediment only 20 cm below the sea bottom. There is some wire standing rigging, parcelled, served and coated with tar, with wooden deadeyes still attached. Reports state that more rigging lies buried in sand on the beach.
There are two heaps of anchor chain near the bow, and a small wooden capstan. A wreck inspection in 1969 by Harry Bingham of the Western Australian Museum also found part of the deck with some ringbolts still in place. There were also the remains of part of the cargo of coconuts, still in woven baskets.
An anchor previously found 10 m seaward of the bow, and standing vertically in the sand, was missing when the site was inspected in March 1982 by staff from the Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum.
EXCAVATION AND ARTEFACTS
Two of the finders of the wreck of the Batoe Bassi recovered a variety of artefacts including two bronze spikes, two lengths of wire standing rigging, a deadeye, an iron belaying pin and some timber.
During a further wreck inspection in February 1992 by Dr Michael McCarthy of the Western Australian Museum samples of fastenings, timber and a ringbolt from the section of deck were recovered. The Esperance Museum is in possession of a white porcelain basin from the wreck of the Batoe Bassi.
Finders: Ronald Casey, Adrian Cooper, Barry Ford, Arthur Guest, Kevin Morgan, Murray Polkinghorne & Les Worth
Master Captain B. H. Buir
Country Built Norway
Port Built Drammen
Port Registered Dutch
When Built 1864
Gouped Region South-Coast
When Lost 1880/06/31
Where Lost Inshore Island
Position Information Aerial GIS
Port From Tjilitjap, Java
Port To Melbourne
Cargo Sugar and coconuts
Unique Number 29
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 2009/0073/SG _MA-403/71
Chart Number BA 1059
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1992/02