Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Benan (1888/12/13)

Point Cloates

he iron ship-rigged Benan (Official Number 70766) was built in Leith, Scotland in
1875 and was owned by Thompson & Co. of Leith (Lloyds Shipping Register 1888-
89). The vessel was en route from Cardiff, Wales to Hong Kong with a cargo of coal
on 23 December 1888, when land was sighted just north of Cape Farquhar. There
was a fresh breeze from the south and the vessel kept off the land, which was scarcely
visible at sundown. At 8pm, the vessel struck a reef off Point Cloates. The master,
Captain John Burns, immediately attempted to put the ship around, but the bow
was struck by a breaker, sending the vessel further onto the reef. Attempts to get the
port lifeboat launched were foiled due to the sea making a clear breach over that side.
Fortunately, the starboard boat was successfully launched and as the cabin was now
full of water with the deck fittings washing about, all hands quickly boarded the
boat. They pulled away from the ship, and not knowing what dangers lay between
them and the shore, kept out to sea until daylight, when the y tried to re-board the
ship. With the sea breaking right over it, however, they had to abandon the attempt.
Finding an opening in the reef, they were able to guide the boat through and safely
reached the shore. As there had not been sufficient time to properly provision the
lifeboat, they had no food at all, though they did have a supply of water. Hoping
that some provisions might be washed ashore from the wreck, the men stayed at
the spot where they had landed, and on the 25th, a tank full of flour was found on
the beach. This allowed them to make some damper using salt water and the flour.
Taking a supply of the bread, they set off down the coast towards the south, leaving a
message attached to the lifeboat to inform searchers where they had gone. They were
fortunate in encountering some local Aborigines, who directed them to Brockman’s
station at Yalobia. Arriving there on the night of 27 December, they were met by the
sheep manager, Grierson, and stayed with him until 6 January 1889, when the cutter
Gipsy arrived. The Gipsy’s crew had discovered the message left with the lifeboat and
set out to find the castaways. The twenty-eight men left Yalobia in the cutter on 6
January 1889. With so many aboard the small vessel, provisions ran out well before
the Gipsy reached Carnarvon on 16 January (West Australian 16/01/1889p3a).
At the inquiry, which was held at Carnarvon, evidence echoed that given in the
Perth inquiry the previous year. The master and mates were cleared of all blame, the
cause of the wreck being given as a strong current setting from the northwest, and
wrongly laid down in the Admiralty sailing charts. This verdict was criticised by
Captain Charles Russell, the Chief Harbourmaster who quoted from the Admiralty
sailing directions, which clearly warned of the possibility of a current setting towards
the land in the vicinity of Point Cloates. The Collector of Customs also expressed dissatisfaction with the findings. He complained of the requirement for the inquiries
to be held at Carnarvon, the nearest port, and suggested that in the cases of both
the Benan and the Perth, a Fremantle court of inquiry may have reached a different
conclusion (Cairns & Henderson 1995:127-129).
The course of the Benan and the sequence of its wrecking was charted and at the
time compared to that of S.S. Perth which had wrecked at Point Cloates just over a
year earlier

Map

Ship Built

Owner Thompson and Company of Leith

Master John Burns

Country Built Scotland

Port Built Leith

Port Registered Glasgow

When Built 1875

Ship Lost

Gouped Region Mid-West

Sinking Struck reef

Crew 28

When Lost 1888/12/13

Where Lost Point Cloates

Latitude -22.7415166667

Longitude 113.6745

Position Information +GPS 2004

Port From Cardiff

Port To Hong Kong

Cargo Coal

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 73.90

Beam 11.20

TONA 1415.00

Draft 6.80

Museum Reference

Official Number 70766

Unique Number 1169

Registration Number 9/1875

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 25/92, 209/80

Chart Number AUS 72

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 98/04 MMcC; 92/09. 2004/5 MMcC

Confidential NO