Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Fanny Nicholson (1872/11/22)

Frenchman’s Bay, King George Sound

Fanny Nicholson was built under special survey in Hartlepool, County Durham, with one deck, a poop deck, an elliptical stern and a woman figurehead. The vessel was copper fastened, and sheathed with felt and yellow metal. Damage repairs were made to the barque in 1856 and 1861. It had initially sailed from Liverpool on the South American run, but was brought to Australia in the 1860s. By 1871 it was owned by Captain John McArthur of Hobart and William Andrews, and was being used for whaling out of Hobart. At the conclusion of its first voyage as a whaler out of Hobart the Fanny Nicholson returned with 53 tuns of sperm oil on board. On that voyage it had lost a man and a boat when a whale crushed the boat in its jaws.

The Fanny Nicholson sailed from Hobart on 20 April 1872 under the command of Captain W. Gaffin with a crew of about 25, to hunt for whales along the south coast of Australia, and by November was in the Albany area. Various contemporary newspaper reports have the amount of whale oil on board as being 52, 54, 60 or 70 tuns. The vessel and cargo were only partly insured.

On Thursday 21 November 1872 the crew of the Fanny Nicholson struck a whale out at sea and, after tying it alongside, entered Frenchman Bay. They anchored with two anchors down prior to cutting and trying the whale. The following night a heavy gale arose from the south-east and the barque parted both anchor cables and ‘ship and whale went ashore’ (Perth Gazette, 29 November 1872: 3e). All the crew got ashore safely.

On 21 December 1872 Captain McArthur, part owner of the wrecked whaler, advertised in a Hobart newspaper for a vessel he could charter to sail to Albany to bring back to Hobart whale oil and gear salvaged from the wreck of the Fanny Nicholson, along with its crew. The barque Free Trader (206 tons, Captain Robinson) was given the charter, and departed Hobart on 27 December 1872 for Albany via Adelaide. Captain Robinson wanted to call at Adelaide as he had a cargo of timber to be offloaded at that port. Captain McArthur boarded the R.M.S. Bangalore at Hobart to travel to Albany to ‘look after the interests of all concerned in the wrecked whaling barque Fanny Nicholson (Mercury, 7 January 1873: 2f). Having loaded the salvaged material and the stranded crew (as well as Captain McArthur), the Free Trader left Albany on 2 February 1873 and, after experiencing adverse winds, arrived back in Hobart on 3 March. Included in the cargo were 52 tuns of salvaged whale oil.

At an auction held at the New Wharf in Hobart on 12 March 1873 the following items from the wreck of the Fanny Nicholson were offered for sale:
Five whaleboats, oil casks, chronometer, telescope, field glass, three casks ship’s bread, five hogsheads and casks flour, four casks sugar, six casks beef, boat compasses, standing and running rigging, wire rigging, wheel, tiller, cutting-in blocks, double and single blocks, oars and steer oars, cutting-in spades, harpoons, lances, masthead gear complete, fluke chains, small chain, kedge anchor, caboose and fittings, coolers, tubs, harness cask, buckets, whale lines, line tubs, tool chest, muskets, ship’s bell, boat masts and sprits, binnacle and compass, ship’s light-house, fishing lines, spun yarn, cabin fittings, gratings, iron work and sundry gear.

The whole of the sails belonging to the ship, pea jackets, jumpers, blue serge shirts, striped shirts, woollen drawers, worsted stockings, mole trousers, blankets, comforters, men’s boots, &c.

Terms – Under £50, Cash, above that sum approved bills at three months (Mercury, 7 March 1873: 4).

(One wonders what other ‘sundry gear’ and ‘&c’ could possibly have been.)

The same newspaper praised the casks used on board the Fanny Nicholson for the storage of whale oil:
Tasmanian Casks. – We had yesterday an opportunity of inspecting the casks containing sperm oil, which have been landed on the New Wharf from the barque Free Trader, which recently returned from King George’s Sound with the oil and other material recovered from the wreck of the whaling barque Fanny Nicholson. Notwithstanding the length of time which the casks were in the wrecked barque before her loss, and the fact that they were afterwards subject to fully two months’ exposure on the sandy beach of King George’s Sound, in the heat of the summer months, they are in all respects as good and tight as when they first left the cooper’s hands. This speaks well for the workmanship of Tasmanian coopers, and affords a satisfactory proof of the durability of Tasmanian timber, its capability to withstand exposure, and its adaptability for works where durability is an essential requisite.

The wreck of the Fanny Nicholson lies in the intertidal zone on Goode Beach. The position of the wreck was plotted by Staff Commander N.E. Archdeacon, and is marked on his chart of Princess Royal Harbour dated 1877.

The wreck lies parallel to the beach, and is almost always covered in sand and rarely visible. Occasionally the sand shifts enough for the upper part of the wreck to be seen in 1-2 m of water very close to the shore. H.L. Hartman writing in 1975 stated that some 50 years previously an exceptionally low tide combined with considerable scouring away of sand had uncovered a large amount of the hull. He saw a stern post sticking up about 6 feet (1.8 m) which he described as being of steel. He later referred to this ‘steel wreck’ to distinguish it from the nearby wooden wreck of the whaler Runnymede (see entry). Over the years this reference has led to claims of there being both a steel or iron wreck and a timber one at Goode Beach. As noted above, the Fanny Nicholson was composite built, i.e. with an iron keel, stem post, stern post and frames but planked with wood. There appears to be a substantial amount of the below waterline section of the hull buried in the sand

The Western Australian Museum has a number of pieces of timber recovered from the wreck of the Fanny Nicholson during wreck inspections.


Ship Built

Owner William H. Andrews, of Sydney

Master Captain Gaffin

Country Built UK

Port Built Hartlepool

Port Registered Sydney

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Crew 26+

When Lost 1872/11/22

Where Lost Frenchman’s Bay, King George Sound

Latitude -35.0833333333

Longitude 117.9366666667

Position Information Position from Shipwrecks Chart Albany

Port From Hobart

Port To Albany

Cargo Oil

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 35.66

Beam 7.77

TONA 285.00

Draft 4.48

Museum Reference

Official Number 23706

Unique Number 239

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 2009/0117/SG _MA-67/88

Chart Number AUS 109

Protected Protected State

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 1988/01

Confidential NO