African Reef south of Geraldton, 12 mile South of Moore Point
Stanford was a two-decked steel motor vessel, built at Helsingor in Denmark by Helsingors Jenskibs-og Maskinbyggeri, Actieselskabat in 1928. It was fitted with a 12-cylinder diesel engine made by Burmeister and Wains-og Skibabyggerri, Actieselkabat of Copenhagen, Denmark, and rated at 543 NHP. Owned by J.B. Stang of Oslo, Norway, the ship had been built especially for trade with Western Australia. There was refrigerated space for fruit as well as general cargo holds. The Stanford’s service speed was 11 knots and it had a cargo capacity of 8?375 tons.
The Stanford departed Rotterdam on 5 May 1936, and was due to load wheat and timber at Bunbury for the return voyage to Europe after discharging its cargo in Western Australia. Under time charter to Westralian Farmers Ltd, it had discharged 6?000 tons of cement and 600 tons of coke at Fremantle before heading to Geraldton where it was to discharge the remaining cargo. This consisted of 1?300 tons of coke for the Wiluna goldmine and 600 tons of cement for Geraldton. The master was Carl Beck (spelt Bech in some news items) and there was a crew of 31, including one Australian, and two passengers, Mr Douglas James Jeans and Mrs Evelyn Dorothy Jeans from England. Mrs Jeans was 6 months pregnant at the time. The Stanford was valued at £80?000 and the cargo at £20?000 at the time it was wrecked.
The Stanford went aground on African Reef about 9.40 p.m. on 24 June 1936 in poor visibility due to heavy rain, haze and intermittent squalls. The master had got a good position sight at noon, and during the rest of the day had been ‘lifting’ the ship to keep it away from the shore. The Point Moore lighthouse was not seen until after the ship struck the reef in heavy seas. After the vessel struck, attempts were made to get it off using the helm and putting the engines astern, then ahead, but without success. The Stanford had hit between numbers 1 and 2 hatches and began taking water. With the steering gear smashed, the rudder broken and the seas getting rougher, a radio message for help was sent out but the request for a boat from Geraldton to take off the passengers was not complied with. Fortunately, the State Ship Koolinda under Captain George Buckeridge had also picked up this message.
The Koolinda made best speed to come to the aid of the Stanford and was standing by at daybreak on 25 June, but due to the reefs in the area and the rough weather it had to stand off some miles out to sea. The starboard lifeboat from the Stanford was launched and took the two passengers and fifteen of the crew to the Koolinda, a four mile row, where the people in it were hoisted aboard. Captain Beck had meanwhile advised the Koolinda that he could not launch another lifeboat due to the heavy seas and the list of his vessel. A lifeboat from the Koolinda under the command of Chief Officer Humble was therefore lowered and sent in to rescue the remaining crew aboard the Stanford, together with the ship’s cat and her three kittens. The rescue was completed by 11.30 a.m., despite the heavy weather that made it difficult for the crew to sail and row the lifeboat to the Koolinda, by then some five miles from the wreck.
The residents of Geraldton had realised that the Koolinda would not be able to get close to the Stanford because of the reefs and rough seas and so made preparations on shore opposite the wreck in case Captain Beck should choose to make for the beach in the lifeboats, rather than attempting to reach the Koolinda. Kerosene-soaked beacons of driftwood were readied to guide any boat in. Ropes were laid out to enable men to wade into the surf and drag occupants of the boats ashore. In the event these preparations were not required, as Captain Beck considered that an attempt to take a lifeboat ashore through the reefs and surf would have resulted in loss of life.
Four days after the wrecking Captain Beck and representatives of the charterers, customs and insurers were taken by fishing boat to inspect the wreck. The inspection was brief due to bad weather, but some personal effects of the officers were recovered together with the ship’s chronometer. Various people recovered a considerable quantity of ship’s fittings, navigation instruments, radio and stores on subsequent visits to the vessel as the weather improved. These were stored in the King’s Warehouse under control of HM Customs. There were also a number of items that washed ashore, some of which also came under Customs’ control. Because of looting of the vessel, Customs hired a watchman, N.G. Armstrong, to patrol the beach to discourage this practice. Armstrong, was paid 2s 6d per hour with an extra 5s per day for the hire of a horse. His duties were subsequently taken over by two Customs officers from Fremantle, E. Walker and T. Ingram. The Sub-Collector of Customs placed an advertisement in the local Geraldton newspaper on 21 October 1936:
All persons are hereby WARNED that any flotsam or jetsam found from the m.v. ‘Stanford’ wreck is to be forthwith reported to the Customs. Under the Customs and Navigation Acts heavy penalties are provided against the unlawful removal of such flotsam or jetsam, or portions of the wreck.
By the end of the year there was a considerable quantity of goods held in bond. Customs valued all these items, and the following are some of their valuations for duty:
One Chronometer £5
One Azimuth mirror £1
One Pelorus £2
One ship’s boat 20ft £8
3 ship’s compasses £6
Navigation charts £1 10s 0d
Other goods salvaged included galvanized buckets, radio parts, blankets, coils of rope, cabin lamps, engine parts, 5 quarts of gin, 4 quarts of whisky and one each of Aquavit and Punsch and 14 small bottles of tomato sauce and ‘1 old tarpaulin’. The total value for duty of these goods was £57 0s 6d and the duty payable was £35. The ship’s radio and spare parts were valued separately at £15. The radio was old and of a type no longer permitted to be installed on ships, so the value was calculated only on its use for serviceable parts. Some of the passengers’ luggage and personal effects of the crew were also recovered and sent to Fremantle.
Adolfo Calligaro of Bootenal purchased the wreck, including the items held in bond, for £450 on 27 October 1936. He was also required to pay £9 18s 1d for rent and other charges at the Customs warehouse. Crooks & Brooker Ltd immediately offered him £35 for all the salvaged items except the ship’s navigation instruments and wireless gear. An offer of £5?000 for the wreck by a Japanese salvage company was withdrawn the day before signing, when a storm destroyed the Stanford and washed the wreckage off the reef.
The wreck of the Stanford is on the central of the three reefs comprising the African Reef complex. It lies scattered in 5 m of water, mainly on the seaward side of the reef
The reef is subject to dangerous swells which break and so diving conditions are safest in calm seas.
Divers are advised that the wreck of the Stanford was used for bombing practice during World War II, and therefore the site may contain unexploded ordnance. If it looks like a bomb it may well be a bomb!
EXCAVATION AND ARTEFACTS
There has been no systematic excavation of the site, but amateur divers have removed numerous artefacts over the years. A bronze propeller was raised in the late 1960s and another, which is now on display in the grounds of the Western Australian Museum Geraldton, was recovered in 1998. Both ship’s bells and a water pump from the Stanford have been donated to the Western Australian Museum. Doors were used at the now abandoned Bootenall Convent, and in the Bootenall Brickworks engineroom. Some of the timber off the Stanford was also used for the construction of a bridge at the brick kilns. The ship’s navigation lights hang outside the Mission to Seamen, and the convent in Geraldton has a four-drawer bureau that is thought to be from the wreck.
Ceck Lats and Longs. Crew and passengers saved by MV Koolinda, probably first time radio was used to report loss.
Owner J.B. Stang
Master Carl Bech
Builder Helsingors Jenskibs-og Maskinbyggeri, Actieselskabat
Country Built Denmark
Port Built Helsingor
Port Registered Oslo
When Built 1928
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Struck reef
When Lost 1936/06/24
Where Lost African Reef south of Geraldton, 12 mile South of Moore Point
Port From Fremantle
Port To Geraldton
Cargo Cement and coke
Engine Twin screw motor (diesel)
Official Number 85477
Unique Number 599
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 25/86, 117/80
Chart Number 1056, 333
Protected Protected Federal