Ben Ledi (1879/12/16)
Abrolhos Islands, Pelsaert Islands
Ben Ledi was built by Barclay, Curle and Company at Glasgow, under Special Survey and of heavier plating than Lloyd’s rules then required. It was fitted with two decks and one bulkhead and was insured for £13 000. The owners were Watson Brothers of Glasgow. The draught of the vessel on this voyage was 13 ft 6?in aft and 13 ft 4 in forward.
The Ben Ledi, under the command of John Boyd with a crew of 22, was en route from Sydney to Calcutta in ballast when it struck on the east side of Pelsaert Island at 11 p.m. on the night of 16 December 1879. Captain Boyd had taken a noon sight that day which he calculated to place the ship at latitude 30º 8' south and longitude 114º 15' east. From this position he estimated that the south end of Pelsaert Island bore NW magnetic, and about 70 miles away. The Ben Ledi was steered on a course N by EE magnetic for four hours from the noon position, covering 24 miles. A further 16 miles on a more northerly course was covered up to 7 p.m. At that time Captain Boyd had estimated his position as being about 42 n miles from the coast and 19 n miles south-west of Pelsaert Island. He changed course to NW by W, which he judged would take him well clear of the Houtman Abrolhos. The wind was from the south-west and the sea smooth. Because of the smooth sea Captain Boyd had made no allowance for leeway. He had no deviation card aboard and stated that, to the best of his knowledge, the compass aboard the Ben Ledi had not been swung in the 4 years he had been master.
After striking the reef the vessel was found to be making no water but, having hit at a speed of 9?knots, it was well and truly fast on the rock shelf, the bow being in only 6 ft (1.83 m) of water despite drawing 13 ft 6 in (4 m). This gives an indication of the force with which it struck. At daylight the crew went ashore, taking with them some sails to make tents, and some provisions. On the morning of 19 November, having failed to get his vessel off the reef, Captain Boyd, with five men, left for Geraldton in one of the ship’s boats to seek assistance.
A court of inquiry held at Geraldton on 8 January 1880 before Maitland Brown, Acting Principal Officer of Customs for Champion Bay, Lockier Burges, J.P. and John Craig, Master of the Rob Roy, acting as nautical assessor, exonerated Captain Boyd from blame over the loss of the Ben Ledi as it considered that adverse and unknown currents had taken the ship to the east of its estimated position. Captain Boyd stated his explanation for the wrecking as being either a strong current, or excessive mirage affecting his sextant sights of the sun. During the inquiry comment was made of the Marten having been wrecked at the identical place the previous year.
The Ben Ledi was sold by public auction held at the warehouse of Gale and Monger in Geraldton on 9 January 1880 for £80 to a consortium, which included Charles Crowther. As the vessel was in ballast, salvage must have been mainly of ship’s fittings. The cutter Moonlight needed several trips to convey this material to Geraldton.
The price paid at auction compared with the insurance value gives an indication that there seemed to be little hope of getting the vessel off, and of how difficult it was going to be to salvage any worthwhile material.
The Ben Ledi lies just offshore on the east side of Pelsaert Island about 7 km north of Wreck Point. This is also the site of the wreck of the schooner Marten in 1878.
The wreck of the Ben Ledi consists of the main site about 150 m off shore on a shelving reef in 2–6 m of water, with much material washed shoreward. This latter is in breaking water in depths of from 0.5–1.5 m. Some frames and plating at the main site show above water. The bulk of the wreckage covers an area about 33?m long, and there is still further material about 20 m to the north of the main site. The spread of heavy pieces of iron hull over a fairly large area gives an indication of the strength of the seas that can impact on this section of the reef. The bows have disintegrated, but sections of plating and frames, anchors, chain, windlass, deck and mast fittings and ballast stone are visible. The stern section with the rudder lies at the greatest depth. The inshore area contains a section of the ship’s floor, some deck beams and a section of bulwark.
There is also a land site where the survivors camped while awaiting rescue. Previously this had been the site of the camp of the survivors from the wreck of the Marten, so it is difficult to differentiate material from the two crews. Guano workers on the island, fishermen and souvenir hunters have removed or disturbed much evidence of the campsites.
EXCAVATION AND ARTEFACTS
A section of the poop of the wreck of the Ben Ledi with mizzen mast dead-eyes still attached, was cut free by archaeologists from the Maritime Museum and taken to Fremantle for conservation and possible later display. Also collected were a bumkin, deadlight, brass fitting and some ballast stones from the wreck, together with old bottles and pieces of Muntz metal from Pelsaert Island.
The bell from the Ben Ledi is now at the Naval Base Hotel.
Master Captain John Boyd
Builder Barclay, Curle and Co of Glasgow
Country Built Scotland
Port Built Glasgow
When Built 1868
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Always visible
When Lost 1879/12/16
Where Lost Abrolhos Islands, Pelsaert Islands
Position Information Aerial GIS
Port From Sydney
Port To Calcutta
Official Number 60339
Unique Number 1283
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 16/80
Chart Number AUS332
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1992/05 JNG