Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Fairy Queen (1875/10/08)

Exmouth N W Cape

ex Rhio.
The 115-ton wooden-hulled two-masted Dutch vessel Rhio was built in Singapore at an unknown date and after being sold to Swan River Colony identities Messrs W.E Marmion, (Aubrey) Brown and Gill in the July of 1875 sailed from there on 3 August 1875 for the north-west pearl fishery. There were 37 divers and crew onboard and one stowaway. One diver was named ‘Sahber’ and another was called ‘Allie’. He was from Muscat and had been engaged by Marmion at Singapore. The pastoralist and pearler William Marmion was the managing owner and the master was Andrew Edgar. Few details of Fairy Queen survive, and though it appears also described as a ‘schooner’ by Edgar describes it as being ‘brigantine-rigged’ .

While in the ‘China Sea’ they were beset by a heavy squall and sustained damage to the fore topmast and this was repaired. In transiting the Sunda Strait under reduced sail in early September another storm hit and the tiller and rudder head were damaged and a jury rig was fabricated in order to keep the schooner on course. In the traverse south across the Indian Ocean in the SE Trade winds they again suffered damage to the rigging and in gales nearer the coast in c. 25-26° S they were beset with strong south westerly winds forcing them to head west during the night and lie ‘snug’ till dawn. Though they had travelled as far south as Cape Cuvier, by 7 October the conditions forced Edgar to abandon his attempt to make Shark Bay and to seek shelter in Exmouth Gulf.

After running northwards all night they sighted Point Cloates bearing ESE ‘about 18 miles’ and continued north. At 6PM Edgar went up on the foreyard to keep watch and by 6.45 visibility was so bad he could ‘scarcely see the land’ forcing him to take a star sight to ascertain his position.

I came down from the foreyard and took a meridian altitude of the star Aquila- I found it gave me 21 °49” the latitude of the Cape being 21°47”.

At around 9PM on 7 October the reef at North West Cape was seen abeam and they rounded the Cape and with the land still barely visible Edgar looked for shelter in its lee. Finding the seas too rough to anchor they proceeded into the Gulf under reduced sail in order to ride out the night. At midnight deducing he was somewhere nearby Y Island Edgar headed back west on a port tack again under reduced sail. Confident they were still well out in the gulf he went below at 3AM on to rest. Before doing so he issued orders for soundings to be taken continuously and for him to be called back on deck before the hour was up so they could ‘wear ship’ with the land still ‘a good way off’. As instructed he was recalled to the deck by the mate at 3.45 AM and after taking the helm and with the schooner still coming into the wind Edgar felt that there was a malfunction with the jury tiller. He describes that he had felt it ‘knock about my legs and realising something had gone wrong with the wheel, ‘put my hand on the Barrel’ and on feeling around in the dark he realised the wheel ropes had slipped off rendering the Brigantine again rudderless. Edgar then describes the events that followed.

Before I could get things right the mate sung out Breakers ahead. I sung out let go the anchor and before it would hold she struck heavy on the starboard bilge . . . at around 4AM the vessel washed up on to the beach the sea breaking over her’.

Edgar was not sure whether they were on a sandbank or on the shore and to make matters worse, deck planks began to open up as the dawn broke. Realising that they were shorebound on an ebbing tide, the crew set about lightening the ship by taking everything they could ashore. The divers also ‘carried the starboard anchor out underwater’ and hove on the cable in order to keep the wreck from driving further up the beach. The port anchor which had been earlier let go was retrieved and connected with a ‘new 5-inch hawser’ was carried out over the stern into deeper water by boat in readiness for an attempt to refloat the ship at high tide.
It was all to no avail as the rising tide revealed that the hull planks had also opened up, that some of the copper sheathing had fallen off and that the ship had began to sink in the sand with its port gunwhale underwater. Over the next two days they ‘stripped the ship and got everything above high water mark’. There they found that their fresh water casks had been contaminated by the sea and they had only one cask left from which to drink. With this and the fact that the vessel was clearly breaking up in mind, all thought of a successful refloating evaporated. Soon after midday on 12 October they abandoned the Brigantine and the equipment in the beach and set off in the 5 boats for Tien Tsin ( also referred to as Port Walcott and Cossack). They all succeeded in reaching the Mary Anne Patch two days later, but not without considerable difficulty and one capsize. Edgar and some of the crew were then taken by the cutter Swan to Cossack arriving on 18 October where Edgar provided the details recorded above in a letter to the sub collector of Customs that he penned the following day. Fairy Queen and the equipment ashore was sold at an auction held at Cossack on 21 October for what was then described as a ‘trifle’, the successful bidders apparently acting on behalf of the owners.

On 8 November a formal court of Inquiry was held before Resident Magistrate R.J. Sholl, (who was also the sub-collector of customs), a JP assisting and a ‘Nautical Assessor’, A.E. Merrale, the commander of the pearling schooner Flower of Yarrow which was then in port. On hearing the evidence, which provides further detail to Edgar’s letter above, the court deliberated and produced the following verdict

We find that the weather at the time was squally with strong puffs of wind and that the night was very dark. We also find that previously the steering gear had been carried away and temporarily repaired, and that it was carried away again when the “Fairy Queen” was close to the reef, rendering her unmanageable at the time. We find that the position of the Fairy Queen at the time was wholly due to an insufficient knowledge of the tides and currents on the part of Capt. Edgar, but in the ‘absence of reliable directions and charts we cannot recommend the suspension of either Captain Edgar or the Mate.

The Cutter Albert is known to have been despatched to recover the goods on the beach, and that the salvage of whatever remained at the site thereafter would have been extensive over the years, especially given the number of pearlers that frequented Exmouth Gulf through to the mid 1880s. Other than a note about Albert, little else appears about the wreck other than in a reference to Capt Tuckey recovering the two survivors from the wreck of the Stefano at a place close to the then still visible wreck of the Fairy Queen.
Further though it lay ashore and in the lee of the Cape, the easterlies there can be very strong, often whipping up quite high seas. These and the effect of cyclones, such as that which beset the Stefano and others since, when combined with salvage of the timbers for firewood and repairs to passing ships, the effect of teredo worms would have quickly reduced the wreck to the waterline and then down to the sand level and it was soon lost to living memory. It also appears that the area is prone to cyclic covering and uncovering with sand.

Note site is in State Waters by baseline


Ship Built

Owner Messrs Marmion, Brown and Gill

Master Captain Andrew Edgar

Country Built Singapore

Port Built Singapore

Port Registered Singapore

Ship Lost

Gouped Region North-West

Sinking Struck land

Crew 38

When Lost 1875/10/08

Where Lost Exmouth N W Cape

Latitude -21.81715

Longitude 114.1891166667

Position Information GPS

Port From Singapore

Port To N.W. of WA

Cargo Shell (Pearling)

Ship Details

Engine N

TONA 115.00

Museum Reference

Official Number 71529

Unique Number 224

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 2009/0115/SG _MA-354/77

Chart Number AUS 744

Protected Protected State

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 1992/09

Confidential NO