North of Moore River 12 miles 6.5Km
Villalta was built of riveted steel by J. Reid & Co. of Glasgow in 1883 to Lloyd’s 100A1 under Special Survey. The vessel had two decks, one bulkhead and was cemented. It had a raised quarterdeck 10.4 m long and forecastle 7.3 m long. The owners were Nicholson & McGill of Liverpool. The Villalta left Tacoma in Puget Sound on 9 November 1896 under the command of Captain Whiting Harland with a crew of seventeen and a cargo of timber for Fremantle.
In a moderate gale the Villalta was running down the coast close hauled on the starboard tack under topsails and fore and main courses. The second officer, Francis Cox, reported to the captain that there was land abeam. This was contrary to Captain Harland’s reckoning of the previous day, and he would not believe Cox. At about 12.45 a.m. while travelling at 6 knots the barque struck Leschenault Reef. With seas breaking over the vessel it very quickly became obvious to Harland that there was no chance of saving the ship.
He ordered the lifeboat lowered but the seas overturned it and all eighteen crewmen were tossed into the water. The boat was eventually righted but in the time this took, both the captain and an apprentice, William Thomas, drowned. It appears that Thomas could not swim and had lost his lifebelt, as did many others due to faulty or perished slings. Sixteen survivors reached the shore and made their way to ‘Coobarby’ Station. From here word of the wrecking was sent to Fremantle.
The Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd immediately sent their steamer Colac to the wreck site, possibly hoping for salvage opportunities as had occurred with the Europa. Although the captain boarded the wreck it was clear that there was no hope of salvaging the Villalta and little hope of salvaging the cargo. The seas had washed the deck cargo of timber and all other moveable items off the deck. The barque lay on her beam ends with the deck facing seaward, about 4 km offshore. The force of the seas eventually battered the timber cargo below deck through the steel hull of the Villalta, so that timber protruded through the plates on both sides of the vessel. It was surging about on the reef and eventually slid off and drifted to the shore some 6.4 km north of the mouth of the Moore River. The Villalta could be now boarded ‘dry-shod’ from the beach and was described as having broken in two in the region of the forward chainplates, with the foremast and mainmasts gone but the mizzen still standing. Because of the barque’s position on the shore the remaining timber cargo in the hold now appeared to be salvageable.
A preliminary inquiry was held at Fremantle on 4 March 1897, as a result of which Captain Harland was held to be responsible for the wrecking because of his careless navigation. The mate claimed in evidence that a current had set the vessel off course towards the coast. No blame was attached to other officers. Captain Inglis of the Colac stated later that in his opinion the current set to seaward at this point, and so could not have caused the disaster as it would have caused the Villalta to be set further offshore, and not towards the coast. The Court’s decision to blame the wrecking on Captain Harland was received with some criticism, and there was a suggestion that the master had been found a convenient, and absent, scapegoat.
The underwriters abandoned the Villalta and it was sold to Connor & Doherty on 29 March 1897 for £80 with a further £210 for the timber cargo. They, however, subsequently sold the vessel and its cargo to James Lilly & Co. for £315. This firm salvaged much of the timber over the following months, using the steamer Beagle to take it to Fremantle.
The wreck lies about 60 m from the shore, approximately 3 km south of Seabird and 1 km south of Cape Leschenault.
Part of the stern of the wreck of the Villalta is visible above water, and the rest lies scattered to a depth of about 4.5 m. The axis of the wreck is bow to the north-west and stern about 40º off parallel to the shore. The wreckage covers an area approximately 55 m long by 30 m wide. It includes a windlass, hull plating, steel mast, winch, rudder shaft, bitts, fairleads, bricks, a timber yard and other scattered artefacts. The keel-keelson assembly appears to be unbroken, throwing doubt on the claim that the vessel had broken in two. The cement noted in the wreck inspection reports would come from the cementing of the inside of the lower hull when built. Part of the wreck of a blue fibreglass fishing boat is superimposed on the wreck of the Villalta.
Owner Nicholson and McGill of Liverpool
Master Captain Whiting Harland
Builder Reid and Co at Glasgow
Country Built Scotland
Port Built Glasgow
Port Registered Liverpool
When Built 1883
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Struck reef
When Lost 1897/02/26
Where Lost North of Moore River 12 miles 6.5Km
Position Information Aerial GIS
Port From Tacoma, Puget Sound, USA
Port To Fremantle
Official Number 87862
Unique Number 729
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 2009/0211/SG _MA-21/80
Chart Number AUS 334
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1996