Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Runnymede (1881/12/19)

Albany, Frenchman's Bay

Position supplied by Eric Harley, letter on file
Runnymede was built by John Watson at Battery Point in Hobart for Askin Morrison, who named it after his estate on Tasmania’s east coast. Registered at Hobart (No. 25/1849) it had two decks, a square stern and a scroll stem. John Watson favoured building vessels from Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, claiming: ‘I have found blue gum, which grows in great quantities in the forests, equal to English oak in durability, and superior to it on account of the long lengths obtainable’ (quoted in O’May, n.d.: 60). The Runnymede was built from this timber (ibid.: 52), although Huon pine was, and is still, considered Tasmania’s premier ship building timber, and may well have also been used in its construction.

At some time prior to 1874 the Runnymede was purchased by Alex McGregor and James Bayley, the latter commanding the vessel on its whaling voyages for many years. The vessel was still registered at Hobart (No. 7/1874). On 27 October 1881 the Runnymede under the command of Captain J. Travis with a crew of 27 put in to Albany, as the second mate had been badly injured when a whale stove in a boat. This was certainly not the first visit of the Runnymede to Albany, as it is recorded as arriving at the port on 9 May 1876 under the command of Captain Thomas Davis, with 66 tuns of oil on board.

On Wednesday 14 December 1881 the Runnymede anchored in six fathoms (11 m) at Frenchman Bay in order to take on water. The log for the next four days reads:
Sat, Dec 17th; At daylight a strong breeze from eastwards and the ship rideing [sic] at anchor with 30 fathoms chain. At 10pm let go second anchor and payed out to 45 fathoms.
Sun, Dec 18th; At daylight a fresh gale from eastwards, the ship rideing with two anchors down. 60 fathoms on port one and 40 on the other, regular watches kept. At noon the gale stronger. At 8pm set the sea watches. The Mate headed the first watch. At 15 minutes past midnight parted the port chain got the large anchor and bent it on to the port chain, let it go and paid out 20 fathoms chain on it and other anchor held on without dragging.
Mon, Dec 19th; At daylight rideing with both anchors out. The gale continuede [sic] the same. At 6.30am parted the starboard chain and ship went on shore and the crew were employed saving what they could. At 5pm all hands got ashore safely.
Tues, Dec 20th; At daylight the weather fine and the crew employed gitting [sic] the stores from the wreck. The water about 5 feet in the hold. At sundown the crew came ashore for the night (Dickson, 2007: 587).

It was recorded in several newspapers that the Runnymede was a complete wreck. ‘The crew, stores and oil, were all saved. It is curious that some years ago, another whaler grounded in Frenchman’s Bay under very similar circumstances’ (West Australian, 3 January 1882: 2g). This was the Fanny Nicholson (see entry), and the Runnymede came to rest ‘alongside the few timbers which yet remain to mark the spot where the former disaster occurred’ (Mercury, 27 January 1882: 2a).

Commencing the day following the wrecking the Runnymede was stripped of everything of any value, and the stores, casks of oil, whaling gear, boat davits, spars, etc., stacked on the beach. After this the men stripped the barque of its rigging, then over the three days 2-4 January the crew set up sheer legs and removed all three masts. These spars were also landed on the beach.

On 7 January 1882 the convict-built whaling barque Emily Downing (Captain McGregor) departed Hobart for Frenchman Bay to recover the material salvaged from the stranded Runnymede. After weathering a succession of gales the Emily Downing arrived at Albany on 1 February. The crew found:
The Runnymede was lying well up on the sandy beach – it being possible to walk round her at low water – and had her starboard side bilged, the port one being alright (Mercury, 21 March 1882: 2).

Some difficulty was experienced in loading the material on board the Emily Downing because of strong easterly winds and heavy surf. The barque finally sailed for Hobart on 25 February, carrying the first and second mates and seven of the crewmen from the Runnymede, arriving at that port on 19 March. Included in the salvaged goods were 16 tuns of oil, 5 boats, spars and other gear. Captain Travis remained at Albany until the sale of the wreck of the Runnymede on 2 March.

In early 1882 William Jenkins Gillam of Albany purchased the wreck of the Runnymede, intending if possible to use it as a coal hulk. He used a new pump specially constructed for the job, the design being based on pumps used at the gold diggings in California. Having previously patched the damaged hull, on Friday 28 April he and his workmen took the pump by steam launch to the wreck site and set it up. They pumped for 3½ hours, lowering the water inside the Runnymede by 25 inches (0.635 m). The following morning they found that the water had risen 10 inches (25 cm) overnight, indicating a small leak. This was found, patched and the stranded barque pumped empty. At that stage of the salvage there were still many tons of ballast to be removed before the hull could be floated into deep water.

The stranded Runnymede was subsequently refloated;
The stranded Hobart whaler Runnymede has recently been floated in Frenchman’s Bay, Albany. It is intended to use her as a coal hulk (Inquirer, 24 May 1882: 5c).

There is some doubt as to what happened to the Runnymede after this. Boocock, et al, 1990, refer to it, after use as a coal hulk, as being returned to Frenchman Bay and burned. This reference, however, occurs in a newspaper only 19 days after the report of the vessel first being refloated. This indicates that despite his intention, Gillam may not have been able to use the Runnymede as a hulk. It is possible that after salvage he realised that the damage was more severe than initially thought, and burned the wreck for the metal fastenings.

The wreck of the Runnymede lies in the intertidal zone on Goode Beach, close to but southward of the wreck of the Fanny Nicholson (see entry).

The wreck lies parallel to the beach, and is almost always covered in sand and rarely visible. Occasionally the sand shifts enough for the upper part of the wreck to be seen in 1-2 m of water very close to the shore. Howard L. Hartman writing in 1975 stated that some 50 years previously an exceptionally low tide combined with considerable scouring away of sand had uncovered a large amount of the hull. A substantial amount of the below waterline section of the hull is believed to remain in good condition.

In 1989 and 1993 timber samples from the frames and planking were analysed by the Western Australian Museum and shown to be Eucalyptus species. This would be in accord with the Runnymede being Tasmanian built, and most likely of Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, a well-known ship building timber. At that time a ballast stone, bottle neck inscribed ‘HVH’ and a fastening were also collected.

Hartman, who was born in 1902 and lived in Albany, says that he recovered some yellow metal and copper fastenings from the wreck of the Runnymede. They were for his father, a bronze caster at a local engineering works. However they proved to be useless as the sea had corroded them.


Ship Built

Owner Bayley and McGregor, of Hobart

Master Captain J.B. Travis

Builder John Watson

Country Built TAS

Port Built Hobart

Port Registered Hobart

When Built 1849

Ship Lost

Gouped Region South-Coast

Sinking Driven ashore after parting cable in heavy gale

When Lost 1881/12/19

Where Lost Albany, Frenchman's Bay

Latitude -35.084517

Longitude 117.937902

Position Information GPS

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 31.60

Beam 7.10

TONA 284.00

Draft 4.70

Museum Reference

Official Number 32032

Unique Number 443

Sunk Code Abandoned

File Number 2009/0194/SG _MA-446/71

Protected Protected State

Found Y

Inspected Y

Confidential NO