Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Mary Ann (1876/07/13)

Bellinger Island

Mary Ann was built by John Eason at North West Bay, Tasmania, for Charles Hartam. It had one deck, a scroll head and a square stern, and was registered in Hobart (No. 39/1849). In August 1852 it was sold to John Foster, also of Hobart, and re-registered as No. 44/1852 at that port. Sold to J. Valentine in August 1860, the Mary Ann was once more registered at Hobart (No. 7/1860). In June 1866 Thomas Robertson of Williamstown, Victoria, purchased the schooner, which was then registered at Melbourne (No. 31/1866).

In March 1868 the Mary Ann was bought by Captain James McLean Dempster on behalf of a partnership consisting of Thomas Courthope Gull, Samuel Barker and Charles Edward Broadhurst. The schooner was fitted out in Melbourne for the pearling and trepanning industries in the north-west of Western Australia. The registration however remained at Melbourne with Barker shown as the owner. He had paid the purchase price for the Mary Ann while the others had contributed £200 for equipment, including diving gear. In fact there was a certain amount of resentment, as it appears that Broadhurst only paid £150, which was not his full share. The partnership was dissolved on 6 September 1870, and shortly after that Barker died; his widow Julia Barker then became the registered owner. In November 1871 she made the registration over to Thomas Gull, and he sold the Mary Ann to George Howlett on 5 March 1872. Howlett then registered the schooner at Fremantle (No. 1/1872).

Howlett used the Mary Ann in the Fremantle to Singapore trade, carrying sandalwood, mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell north, returning with sugar. During early 1872 he sent it to Rosemary Island on a whaling voyage in an attempt to pay off a debt. Howlett found himself in financial difficulties, and the Crown Solicitor seized the schooner on 4 June 1872. However, two days later Howlett managed to mortgage the Mary Ann to John Connell, Charles Watson and William Hogath, all of Melbourne, for £2,000 at 10%. Two days after that, on 8 June, the seizure was cancelled by the Crown Solicitor.

The mortgagees retained ownership of the Mary Ann until in December 1874 they sold the vessel for £405 to William Owston, master mariner, William Silas Pearse and George Pearse, all of Fremantle.

The Mary Ann was twice stranded; firstly in 1869 in Flying Foam Passage, and later in July 1871 at Champion Bay.

In July 1876 the owners had chartered the Mary Ann to William Miles to carry material for the overland telegraph line, and the schooner, under the command of John Christie, was returning from Israelite Bay having completed the task. On board were a crew of six and six passengers, one of whom was James Fleming, a senior official involved in the construction of the line.

After leaving Israelite Bay on Wednesday 12 July 1876 Captain Christie found that progress was very slow, so the following afternoon he decided to anchor the Mary Ann in the lee of the Bellinger Islands. During the evening the wind changed direction. This put the schooner on a lee shore so Captain Christie prepared to leave. However, after setting the topsails and heaving the anchor cable short the Mary Ann would not cant. The schooner began dragging its anchor, and, despite furling the sails and paying out more cable, it continued to drag. Efforts to warp the vessel away from the shore were unsuccessful and, with a fresh north-easterly wind and heavy swell, the Mary Ann dragged ashore becoming a total wreck. All the crew and passengers got ashore safely.

In getting ashore from the wreck of the Mary Ann, the crew and passengers managed too salvage most of their personal possessions. Also saved were the sails and spars, as stated by William Miles in a telegram to the owners:
Bremer Bay, 31st July, 1876. Mary Ann wrecked on the Bellinger Island on the 13th. All saved. Will reach Fremantle middle of August; sails, spars, and other things secure. W.W. Miles (quoted in South Australian Advertiser, 17 August 1876: Supplement 2a).

The cutter Tribune, which had also been at anchor near the islands, took on board the survivors and all the salvaged gear.

In April 1993 the Maritime Archaeology Department, Western Australian Museum, carried out a wreck inspection lead by Jeremy Green, with Ben Green, Peter Miles and Anthony Cusack. They found two areas of wreck material on the north-east side of the westernmost of the Bellinger Islands.

The wreck material of the Mary Ann lies in two different sites. Between 100 and 200 m offshore in three metres of water is an area containing small artefacts, mainly copper alloy and bottle fragments. On the shore are some timber remains consisting mainly of frames. On the beach on the mainland opposite the island is a large mast which may be associated with this wreck. There are two possibilities regarding the scattered material:
The Mary Ann was wrecked in the shallows, subsequently partly salvaged, and what remained was then broken up in storms from the north and north-east.
The Mary Ann was wrecked between the east and northern ends of Bellinger Island, and the wreckage was then driven in large sections into the bay, the remains so far discovered being only part of the vessel.

The Museum team took samples of timber from the wreck of the Mary Ann. On analysis these proved to be of a Eucalyptus species and a Shorea (meranti) species. Neither was definitively identified, but the Eucalyptus may indicate that, being Tasmanian built, part of the vessel was constructed of Tasmanian blue gum, a well-known ship building timber. Also retrieved were a copper alloy fitting and a fragment of sheathing also of copper alloy.

Ship Built

Owner Messrs Pearse and Owston

Master John Christie

Country Built Tasmania

Port Built North West Bay, Tasmania

Port Registered Fremantle

When Built 1849

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Sinking Went ashore

Crew 6

When Lost 1876/07/13

Where Lost Bellinger Island

Port From Israelite Bay

Port To Middle Island

Cargo Ballast

Ship Details

Length 25.60

Beam 6.40

TONA 104.31

TONB 116.00

Draft 2.74

Museum Reference

Official Number 31932

Unique Number 949

Registration Number No. 1 of 1872

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

Protected Protected Federal

Found N

Inspected N

Confidential NO