Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Larkins (1876/09/08)

Princess Royal Harbour, Albany

Larkins formerly Louisa (1808-1876)

Port of Building: Calcutta
Year built: 1808
Rig Type: Ship (hulk)
Hull: Wood
Length: 129.0 ft (39.32 m)
Breadth: 35.0 ft (10.67 m)
Depth: 23.0 ft (7.01 m)
Tonnage: 701
Date lost: September 1876
Location: Princess Royal Harbour
Chart Number: WA 1083, AUS 109, AUS 118 & BA 2619
GPS position: Lat. S
Long. E
Protection: The site when found will be protected under the general provisions of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
Significance criteria: 1, 4, 6, 7 & 8

The Larkins was built of teak by Hudson, Bacon and Co. in Calcutta and launched as the Louisa. Copper fastened and sheathed, it was ship-rigged with two decks, a poop, a square stern and quarter galleries. The height between decks was 6.5 feet (1.98 m), which was unusually generous for those times. Armed with 12 guns, it carried a crew of 50 men. It was built on speculation and then sailed to England.

In 1809 the Louisa was bought by John Pascall Larkins. He renamed it Larkins after a nephew, Captain Thomas Larkins, who was in command of the Honourable East India Company’s ship Warren Hastings when it fought a gallant but hopeless action against the 50-gun French frigate La Piemontaise in February 1805. It would probably have been in 1809 that a male warrior figurehead was carved and fitted. Larkins chartered the Larkins to the Honourable East India Company, and it made its first voyage to the east (Bengal and Penang) departing on 9 June 1810. It subsequently made many voyages under charter to that company. In 1822 the ship was sold to a relative, W. Larkins, who also chartered it to the Honourable East India Company.

The Larkins made three voyages to Australia in 1817, 1829 and 1831 as a convict transport. The latter two were under new ownership as the Larkins had been sold to Joseph Somes of London in 1827. In 1837 it was again sold, this time to Ingram and Co., also of London. In 1842 that firm sold the ship to Haviside and Co., who, in January 1853, sold it to the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company. They bought the ship for use as a coal hulk to be based at their coaling depot at Albany.

On 24 March 1853 the Larkins, under the command of Captain Hederstedt, first mate H.M. Thomas, and a crew of 41, sailed from Blackwall on the River Thames for Albany with a cargo of 1 000 tons of coal and stores plus 15 cabin and five steerage passengers, arriving on 11 July. On arrival the ship was moored in Princess Royal Harbour and stripped to a hulk, which also involved the removal of the upper masts. The first of the many coal hulks in Albany, it was moored using chain fore and aft some 400 m out from the company’s depot on the shore below Lawley Park. In early 1855 when P&O ceased its steamer service from Singapore to Sydney, the Larkins was left idling at anchor.

With the end of the Crimean War tenders for the mail service to Australia were sought. The P&O tender was beaten by that from the European and Columbian Steam Navigation Company, which then changed its name to European and Australian Royal Mail Co. Ltd. The Larkins, along with P&O’s stock of coal was sold to that company in 1857. The following year the European and Australian Royal Mail Co. Ltd collapsed, the Admiralty once more called for tenders for the mail service, and P&O were the successful bidders. Larkins then reverted back to their ownership. Over the next 18 years the hulk gradually deteriorated. On a number of occasions the harbour-master, Captain George T. Butcher, reported unfavourably on the decayed state of the ship’s old timbers. After a survey by captains Butcher, J.G. Lapham (American whaling barque Canton), Smith (brig Obelia) and P&O’s shipwright J.W. Howe, the Larkins was cut down to only one deck, and some other repairs were also carried out.

The Larkins was sold for demolition on 8 September 1876, and supposedly broken up on the shore near the P&O coaling depot. At that time the harbour master at Albany was anxious that nothing remained of the old East Indiaman, and instructed:
…every portion of her must be removed above high water mark at as early date as possible (quoted in Wolfe, 1998).

However, a Public Works Department plan dated 1897 shows the abandoned P&O coaling jetty with a wreck, burnt to the waterline, marked in a position immediately west of the jetty. This may possibly be the remains of the Larkins.

The sale of the Larkins for demolition is said to have made a profit of £1 014 for P&O. It is not known who purchased the hulk, but when it was broken up some of the teak timber was used by a resident of Albany as house flooring. When the house was later demolished some of this teak was sold to the well-known yachtsman Rolly Tasker, and used in the construction of one of his yachts.

The figurehead from the Larkins, the oldest in Australia, is on display at the Albany Residency Museum.

There is no visible evidence of the Larkins. The area where it was supposedly broken up has been substantially altered by modern harbour development.

In 1998 Adam Wolfe carried out very detailed research resulting in the location of the timber remains of a vessel now covered by reclaimed land within the Albany Port Authority grounds. This position coincides with the wreck marked on the 1897 PWD plan. Test holes produced timber samples which were analysed by Dr Ian Godfrey of the Department of Materials Conservation, Western Australian Museum. The various samples were of a number of different timbers including beech, white oak, jarrah and a hard pine of the pitch pine family. Pitch pine is indigenous to a number of countries, including India. The Larkins underwent many repairs over its very long life, none known to have been carried out in India. The replacement timbers would therefore have been European, North American, and Western Australian timbers.

It is quite possible that, despite Captain Butcher’s instructions, much of the lower part of the hull of the Larkins was not broken up, but remained to be later covered in harbour expansions.

The site of the wreck that may be the remains of the Larkins lies under many feet of land fill, bows towards the sea. There is currently no indication of how much of the vessel is buried.

The timber samples taken by Adam Wolfe are currently the only clue as to the identity of this wreck.

The Larkins is a tangible link with the Honourable East India Company, one of the most powerful companies in the world during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Larkins was used to announce to the town the arrival of an incoming ship. The keeper of the lighthouse on Breaksea Island was the first to see arriving ships, and used a flagstaff with crossbar to signal the arrival. This signal would be repeated on the Larkins, which would also fire a 6-pounder cannon or, if it was at night, fire a blue flare and a rocket to alert the town. If the vessel was a P&O steamer, two bullocks were killed to provide fresh meat. Any meat left over after the visiting ship had filled its requirement was offered for sale to the Albany population.

A number of incidents involving vessels carrying passengers or crew with infectious diseases produced a call for quarantine facilities at the port. For example in February 1853 the Sir William Molesworth ran aground near the entrance to Princess Royal Harbour (see entry). En route Glasgow to Melbourne, 14 of the 220 passengers had died of scarlet fever while another six had died of other diseases. No contact was allowed with Albany apart from a little food supplied to the ship, which was quickly sent on its way. The visit of the R.M.S. Salsette in 1860 resulted in three of the Albany population coming down with scarlet fever. As there was no place to quarantine anyone the suggestion was made that the Larkins should in future be used as a lazarette to quarantine passengers with contagious diseases. It was so used in March 1865 when a girl passenger aboard the R.M.S. Bombay spent 21 days on the hulk recovering from scarlet fever. The lack of a suitable place for isolating infected people finally resulted in the building of a quarantine station at Geake Point, commencing in late 1874.

The vessel is also the oldest ship ever to wear the flag of the P&O Company.

The first mate on the Larkins when it arrived at Albany in 1853 was Hugh Mercer Thomas, who became superintendent of the P&O Company’s operations at Albany until 1864. He then accepted the position of Clerk of Courts, a position he held until his retirement in 1898.

The Larkins is of archaeological importance, being an example of a wooden East Indiaman built very early in the 19th century. This was later than the Battle of Trafalgar but before Waterloo. The remains may therefore provide information on ship construction practices of this period.

The remains of the Larkins may provide potential for public education through on-site signage. Its history covers a wide area of interest – The Honourable East India Company, the transport of convicts to Australia and the use of coal hulks.

RARE (7)
The Larkins is a rare example of an East Indiaman, built in India and sailed to many ports around the world. ‘For more than two centuries these stately, magnificent ships were generally acknowledged to be the lords of the ocean’ (Kemp, 1976: 281). The wreck is also rare as an example of a vessel which made voyages to Australia carrying convicts during the first half of the 19th century.

The Larkins is representative of the many wooden coal hulks used for decades at Albany, and which have now all been sunk or burnt.

Albany Advertiser, 10 December 1898: 3b & 28 April 1906: 4c.

Albany Mail, 14 August 1883: 3b.

Bateson, C., 1974, The Convict Ships 1787-1868. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney.

Garden, D.S., 1977, Albany: A Panorama of the Sound from 1827. Thomas Nelson (Australia) Limited, Melbourne.

Kemp, P.K. (ed.), 1976, The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Oxford University Press, London.

Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping 1815. Lloyd’s, London.

Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping 1833. Lloyd’s, London.

Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping 1850. Lloyd’s, London.

Marshall, G., 2001, Maritime Albany Remembered. Tangee Pty Ltd, Kalamunda.

Robson, S. & O’Donoghue, K., 1988, P & O: A Fleet History. World Ship Society, Cumbria, UK.

The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 29 July 1853: 2c, 26 August 1853: 3a & 13 February 1857: 2d.

West, D.A.P., n.d., The First Hundred Years: Albany Western Australia. Albany Historical Society, Inc., Albany.

Western Australian Museum, Department of Maritime Archaeology, File No. 59/98 – Larkins.

Wolfe, A., 1994, The Albany Maritime Heritage Survey 1627-1994. Unpublished report, Albany Town Library.

Wolfe, A., 1998, In Search of the Larkins. Unpublished report to the Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum.

Figurehead of Viking purchased by Mr Campbell Taylor and erected at gateway to Candyup Homestead. Later offered to WA Museum Board by Mr H.C. Poole, together with figurehead of the Lady Lyttleton.
Site location provided by Adam Wolfe

Larkins (1808-1876) ex Louisa
The Larkins was constructed in Calcutta, India in 1808 of teak and saul (an Indian hardwood), fitted with 12 guns and originally named Louisa. In 1809 the Louisa sailed to London and was bought by East India Company ship owner John Larkins, and renamed Larkins. Between 1817 and 1852 the Larkins undertook a number of voyages between England and India, Australia and China. For some of these voyages the Larkins was fitted out as a convict transport, transporting 250 male convicts from England to New South Wales in 1817, 200 convicts from Cork, Ireland to New South Wales in 1829, and 281 convicts from England to Tasmania in 1832. In London in 1853 the P&O Company bought the Larkins for use as a floating coal depot in Albany, becoming Albany’s first coal hulk. The ship was loaded with 1000 tons of coal, stores and 1000 pounds of confectionery, along with 20 passengers for the voyage from the River Thames to Albany. After 30 years in this role in 1875 the Larkins was declared unfit for service. The hulk was dragged ashore and broken up. The Larkins’ figurehead had been previously removed after a collision with RMS Bombay. In 1882, two years after the P&O Company’ Albany coal station closed, the figurehead was erected outside a boarding house in Albany. The figurehead survived various moves and being thrown down a well by Albany larrikins, before being donated to the WA Museum. Remains of the hull of the Larkins and the old P&O coal jetty are believed to lie under reclaimed land within the Albany Port Authority wharves area.
If found, the remains of the Larkins would be archaeologically and historically significant for their contribution to the study of Indian shipbuilding, and its long historical association with Albany coaling trade and the P&O Company.


Ship Built

Owner P& O, 1853

Country Built India

Port Built Calcutta

When Built 1808

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Sinking Broken up

When Lost 1876/09/08

Where Lost Princess Royal Harbour, Albany

Latitude -35.034013

Longitude 117.894658

Position Information Historical map GIS

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 39.30

Beam 10.70

TONA 700.00

Museum Reference

Unique Number 1333

Sunk Code Abandoned

File Number 2009/0150/SG _MA-59/98

Protected Protected State

Found Y

Inspected N

Confidential NO