Rodondo was built at Liverpool by W.H. Potter & Co. and launched in December 1878. Powered by a two-cylinder compound steam engine manufactured by J. Jacks & Co., it had one deck, an awning deck, six bulkheads and three tiers of beams. After taking on passengers at Brisbane and Melbourne the steamer had departed Adelaide on 2 October 1894 under the command of Captain Henry Edward Hill, with a crew of 36 and 164 passengers, including four women and two children. The Rodondo was owned by W. Howard, Smith & Co., and this was its first voyage to Western Australia. The ship was to call at Albany, Fremantle and Geraldton.
Besides the passengers it carried general cargo, and a winding and pumping engine weighing seven tons as deck cargo. Made by Forwood, Down, & Co., it was the property of Cue Victory Gold-Mining Company. It had been loaded at Adelaide for Geraldton, and then onward transport to their mine at Cue. It was placed on the port side 16 ft (4.88 m) from the compass on the ship’s bridge. The gold mining company’s engineer, T.F. Marchant, was a passenger on board.
The ship was fully insured with Lloyd’s of London, and the cargo that had been loaded in Sydney was insured with the Sydney office of Lloyd’s for £720. The engine destined for the gold mine at Cue was also fully insured.
After leaving Adelaide on 2 October the Rodondo rounded Cape Spencer and Captain Hill took his departure from the Neptune Islands, steering west by south, which should have cleared Pollock Reef by 36 miles. There was an easterly variation of the compass but it appeared that Captain Hill did not take this into account:
As a matter of fact his course after leaving South Neptune Island was direct for the reef. On one day he found he was 14 miles north of his course, and the next day 25 miles, and yet the only thing he did to avoid the danger of running into the islands and reefs he knew were ahead was to alter his course a half point south (West Australian, 2 November 1894: 3f-g).
There was a heavy south to south-west swell which tended to push the Rodondo northwards, and an overcast sky prevented sextant sights being taken to fix the ship’s position.
Shortly before 2.00 a.m. on Sunday 7 October in smooth water the Rodondo, with the second mate, John Francis Le Maistre on watch, struck Pollock Reef. The ship was loaded in such a way that the bow was higher than the stern and it struck the reef about amidships. The captain ordered the engines stopped, and soundings in the aft wells showed that the ship was making water fast. All hands were ordered on deck and the boats got ready. In a very short time the water in the after hold was up to the ‘tween deck. There was panic among some of the passengers and these rushed for the lifeboats. This resulted in the collapse of the davits holding the starboard forward boat, pitching the occupants into the sea where, although 14 were saved, four were drowned. This boat was recovered, and the other boats were lowered safely. The Rodondo had by this time carried on over the reef, and Captain Hill tried to make for the South East Isles intending to beach the vessel. However the steering gear failed and about 12 hours after striking, the Rodondo foundered, sinking stern first about two miles north-east of those islands. By noon all the survivors had been landed on one of the South East Isles (see note below) using seven lifeboats and two rafts. They were mostly poorly clad, many in night dress, and very cold and wet. One of the children, an infant, had been fastened to a lifebuoy and thrown to a seaman. He caught the lifebuoy but the infant fell into the sea. Although immediately rescued the child was in a ‘sickly condition’ as a result of the immersion.
A boat containing the chief officer, Charles E. Halse; third officer, Robert Coe; chief engineer, Henry Wagner; second engineer, A.A. Johnson; donkey-man R. Muir; able seamen J. MacIntyre, W.D. Leitch and F. Cooper; two stewards, H. Mount and J. Charman, and two passengers, Wallis and Edwards, then sailed towards Esperance to seek help. In the fresh north-east wind they reached the south-west corner of Middle Island by 8.30 p.m. and, in order to check their chart, lit a kerosene flare using a lamp thrown into the boat at the last minute. The wind blew out the light almost immediately but the brief flash was just sufficient to be glimpsed by Captain Fred Douglas on the schooner Grace Darling, en route from Esperance to Israelite Bay. He investigated and took the crew of the boat on board and, towing their boat, sailed for South East Island, arriving there about midnight.
The Grace Darling hove to about three miles off the island until dawn, when its dinghy and the boat from the Rodondo were used to make contact with those on shore. However the heavy seas prevented any landing, and the Grace Darling sailed for the other side of the island. Here a second attempt to land was made at 9.00 a.m., but again without success. An hour and a quarter later the first survivors were taken on board the Grace Darling, and by 12.15 p.m. all 36 crew and 160 passengers had been rescued. The schooner landed them at Point Malcolm, where they were cared for by the people at the sheep station which belonged to Messrs Ponton Bros & Sharp.
Three of the passengers, Mrs Couston and her two daughters (one of whom was the infant mentioned above), were taken by the Grace Darling to Israelite Bay where they were looked after by Mrs Ryan, the telegraph station-master’s wife.
Note: The various newspapers refer to ‘South East Island’ and the ‘South East Isles’. The South East Isles are a group of islands and reefs south-east of Esperance of which only Salisbury and Cooper islands are of any size. As there is no ‘South East Island’, it would most probably have been either Salisbury or Cooper Island (most likely the former) where Captain Hill intended beaching the Rodondo, and on which the survivors landed. The newspapers reported that the island on which the survivors landed was one of the very few on the coast on which water is to be found. However, as it was also a rocky island with no beach, the task of taking off survivors in small boats was very hazardous. The Admiralty Pilot dated 1973 states that the area has not been surveyed. It also reports that Pollock Reef is often very difficult to see ‘beyond the distance of 1 mile owing to the break on the reef being very similar in appearance to the ordinary breaking waves in the vicinity’ (Pilot, Vol. I, 1973: 48).
In Melbourne the Marine Board held a special meeting on 18 October to consider a report of the inquiry made by their inspector, Captain Drury, into the loss of the Rodondo. A finding was reached that both Captain Hill and the second mate, John Francis Le Maistre (sometimes written Lemaistre), be charged with gross misconduct in the navigation of the ship. A Court of Inquiry into the loss was therefore held at the Custom House, Melbourne, on 22 October 1894. Captain Hill was charged with gross misconduct in the navigation of his vessel by not making sufficient allowances for a current which was shown on the chart, thereby wrecking the vessel and jeopardising the lives of all on board. He was found guilty and had his master’s certificate suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay £20 costs. However the court also recommended that he be granted a first officer’s certificate for the 12 month period. The second mate, Le Maistre, had the charge of misconduct against him dismissed. It was pointed out that no apparent effort was made to beach the ship or rig a jury rudder.
Apart from some of the ship’s papers and chronometers, the rafts and lifeboats (one of which was destroyed in attempting a launching from the island on which the survivors had landed) nothing was saved from the Rodondo. The steamer Flinders departed Fremantle, calling in at Albany to take on food and clothing which had been purchased by the Albany Resident Magistrate, R.C. Loftie, for the survivors. The passengers and crew of the wrecked ship were picked up from Point Malcolm by the Flinders during the evening of 11 October, and left early the following morning for Adelaide. There are a number of newspaper reports of money and other valuables being stolen from cabins during the confusion of the wrecking.
Owner Howerd Smith and Sons
Master Captain Hill
Builder Messrs W.H. Patten & Son of Liverpool
Country Built UK
Port Built Liverpool
Port Registered Sydney
When Built 1878
Gouped Region South-Coast
Sinking Struck Reef
Deaths 4 or more
When Lost 1894/10/07
Where Lost Pollock Reef
Port From Port Adelaide
Port To Western Australian
Cargo Passengers, cargo
Engine 2-cylinder compound steam engine, 150 HP
Official Number 79508
Unique Number 412
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 5/97, 69/72
Protected Protected Federal