Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Dunster Castle (4571)

Six miles of Shoal Cape, Fanny Cove

Dunster Castle was built by The Garston Graving Dock and Ship Building Company Limited, and launched in November 1909. Initially registered in Liverpool (No. 76/1909) by C.T. Bowring and Company Limited, it was clinker built with a round stern, straight stem and three bulkheads. The steamer had one deck, a well deck, a quarterdeck 11.28 m long, and a forecastle with a length of 5.49 m. The compound steam engine was built in Glasgow by Miller and Macfield Limited, and gave the ship a speed of 9 knots.

On 13 September 1911 the Dunster Castle was sold to George Bell of Melbourne, and registered in that port (No. 10/1911). It was insured for £4 000. The ship was being used to carry railway material for the Esperance-Salmon Gums railway, and this was its fifth voyage in this role. Under the command of Captain Frederick Schroder (also spelt Shroeder in some sources) with a crew of ten men, having off-loaded its cargo the steamer left Esperance to return to Albany at 8.30 a.m. on 4 July 1916. The weather was fine and the wind from the west-north-west was moderate. The vessel was riding high since it had very little cargo on board.

About midnight on 4 July the wind increased to a gale from the north-west bringing heavy seas and causing the Dunster Castle to labour. About 5.00 a.m. the following morning the wind shifted to the south-south-west, and as the steamer was not making any progress Captain Schroder turned the vessel onto a south-east course intending to return to Esperance. At this time the ship was south of Margaret Cove and north-east of Rocky Island. The strong winds caused the ship to set to leeward towards the land, and when nearing Butty Head it was found that, with the wind having now swung round to the south-south-east, the Dunster Castle could not weather the head. The course was therefore altered to the south-west so as to get further off shore as the gale was still blowing strongly with mountainous seas and heavy rain.

At 10.00 a.m. on 6 July, when about 14 miles south of Shoal Cape, the engineer reported that the bilge pumps were choked with coal and the water had risen over the stokehole plates, consequently he could not keep a full head of steam. As the pumps could not be cleared while at sea the master decided to seek shelter in Fanny Cove. In the poor visibility caused by the rain, Captain Schroder mistook his position and anchored with both anchors, but well west of the cove. Here, with the engines going slow ahead to ease the strain on the cables, they hung on until 7.15 a.m. on 7 July when the starboard cable parted, and the Dunster Castle dragged the port anchor as it drifted broadside towards the shore. To save the ship and crew the master deliberately ran it onto the beach about six miles west of Shoal Cape, where it came to rest head towards the shore without damage.

The following day some of the crew got ashore and obtained food and tobacco from the people at Moir’s farm. The following night rockets were fired to attract the attention of the State Steamship Service vessel Eucla, which then stood by during the night. Next morning the crew were brought on board the Eucla and taken to Esperance.

The chief harbour-master at Fremantle investigated the incident and reported:I find:
(a) That the casualty was due to the exceptionally heavy weather, the vessel being in light trim, and water getting below, thereby preventing the engineer from keeping a full head of steam:
(b) that no blame is attachable to the master and officers, as every endeavour was made to bring the vessel into port when it was found that the weather was too much for her. No further action is necessary (West Australian, 11 September 1916: 5c).

Early attempts by the marine surveyor, Captain Arundel of Fremantle, to pull the Dunster Castle from the beach using the Western Australian Government owned ship Eucla were unsuccessful. During efforts by Albany diver Jack Schumann to get a line on board the wreck, the surf boat he was in capsized in the waves. The boat was pulled back to the Eucla by rope, leaving Schumann swimming for his life. He fortunately made it safely to shore. After some months of work Arundel abandoned any further attempts at salvage and the wreck was put up for auction.

On 23 November 1916 the Dunster Castle was sold by auction to E.G. Everett of Albany for £260. He contracted the Douglas family led by William Douglas of Albany to salvage the stranded ship. The Douglas family agreed to finance the salvage attempt, even though payment would only be made if they were successful. Those involved were William Douglas, his sons Clem and Ted, and Ted’s son Walter. By digging a trench round the stranded vessel, and using the steam tug Dunskey and the shallow draught steamer Silver Star, the Dunster Castle was floated. The engine was overhauled, however when it was started the stern tube seized as sand had entered it. Wind drove the ship back onto the beach.

It was to be another two years before they succeeded in again floating the Dunster Castle, but once more sand caused the newly freed shaft to seize. Water was therefore pumped into the ship in a deliberate attempt to have it sink in shallow water, in order to avoid it being washed higher on the beach. It was hoped to later pump out the ship, an easier task than pulling it off the beach. This also was not a successful manoeuvre as the ship slewed broadside on, and began to fill with sea and sand. Realising that salvage was impossible the Dunster Castle was abandoned by the Douglas family.

In mid-1919 two further attempts were made to salvage the ship:
It is stated that the Dunster Castle, still aground near Fanny’s Cove, after unsuccessful attempts to float her, is again to have the attention of a salvage gang (West Australian, 6 June 1919: 5c).

The first was made by a syndicate from Esperance using bullocks, and anchors buried in the cliff top in an attempt to drag the ship ashore. A line of wooden posts on the top of the cliff together with a large one-armed anchor, and some badly corroded pulley blocks and cables mark the place from where these attempts were made.

The second attempt was by two Norwegian brothers, Herbert and Lars Larsen, from the recently closed Norwegian Sperm Whaling Company in Frenchman Bay. With the help of the local diver, Jack Schumann, who had worked on the first salvage attempt, they built a timber bulwark 1.2 m high around the deck to keep out the waves, and then tried to pump out the ship. They succeeded in pumping out the stern area, including the engine room, but having then got the stern of the Dunster Castle afloat they could not get the sand out of the forward area, neither could they get the engine started, and the steamer went ashore once again, this time permanently.

The wreck of the Dunster Castle lies 90 m off the beach in Stoke Inlet, west of Shoal Cape.

The wreck of the Dunster Castle lies on a west-north-west by east-south-east axis almost parallel to the beach with the bow to the eastward. Surf breaks continually over the site, and a strong 5-7 knot current running to the south-east makes any work on the site both difficult and dangerous. In January 1995 the wreck was inspected by Jeremy Green of the Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum. At that time a small section of the hull about 20 m in length was showing above the sand. Iron frames were visible, as was the top of the propeller, and the boiler and engine were still in place aft of the superstructure. The stem appeared substantially intact, and the windlass and some bollards were in position. Much of the iron plating had been abraded away by the large grained, very coarse sand, in conjunction with the strong current and heavy surf.

During the wreck inspection a brass object, though to be the engine room telegraph, was recovered. A large brass porthole was also seen but was not able to be recovered as it was still bolted to the iron plating.


Ship Built

Owner George Bell of Melbourne, R.G. Lynn Ltd., Fremantle

Master F. Schröder

Builder Garston G.D. & S.B. Co. Ld Garston

Country Built UK

Port Built Garston, Merseyside, Liverpool

Port Registered Melbourne, 1913-14

When Built 1909

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Sinking Always visible, several attempts were made to get the vessel afloat*

Crew 11

When Lost 4571

Where Lost Six miles of Shoal Cape, Fanny Cove

Latitude -33.8502783333

Longitude 121.0944983333

Position Information GPS 1995

Port From Esperance

Port To Albany

Cargo Ballast

Ship Details

Engine 2-cylinder, double acting, vertical, inverted compound steam engine, 31 NHP, 240 IHP

Length 28.95

Beam 6.10

TONA 62.00

Draft 2.32

Museum Reference

Official Number 128012

Unique Number 136

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 2009/0103/SG _MA-54/95

Chart Number AUS 84, 1059

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 1995/01

Confidential NO