Abrolhos, West of Pelsaert Island
William Gray and Company built the Windsor at West Hartlepool, Durham, UK. The vessel had one deck and a 10-inch bar keel, with water ballast tanks 268 ft long holding 653 tons in a cellular bottom. The triple expansion engine was fed by two boilers working at a pressure of 160 lb/in2. In 1908 it was owned by Watts, Watts and Company, trading as the Britain Steamship Company. This company also owned 25 other steamers. At the time of wrecking there were two separate cargoes of sandalwood on board, Duncan Paterson and Company having 1?500 tons, while J. Stewart and Company were shipping 1?100 tons. Duncan Paterson and Company had a representative on board, Eric Warren, who was proceeding to Hong Kong on their behalf and was placed on the ship’s articles as a purser. Because of the twisted sandalwood timber taking up so much hold space, a lot of the 2 600 tons had to be carried as deck cargo. This reached a height of 3.4 m above the deck, but was well lashed down. The vessel and its cargo were insured for £25 000.
The Windsor under the command of Captain James Walters with a crew of 37, had departed Fremantle for Hong Kong. The ship ran into heavy weather on leaving Fremantle but Captain Walters made what he considered sufficient allowance in the course steered to counter the expected drift caused by winds and current. He hoped to pass some 15 miles to the west of the Houtman Abrolhos, but at 9.50 p.m. on 2 February 1908, with Walters on the bridge, the Windsor struck on Half Moon Reef. The mainmast fell, the steamer’s bottom was torn out and its back broken.
The lifeboat and small jolly boat were swung out but it was decided that in the dark and with heavy seas running it would be dangerous to use them before daylight. About 11.00 a.m. on 3 February the boats were lowered. The third mate, John Gallop, the purser, the third engineer, Charles Robbins and an apprentice, Thomas Morley, manned the jolly boat and 12 of the mainly Chinese crew took to the lifeboat. After successfully reaching the comparative safety of the reef the lifeboat was hauled back to the wreck by rope. The jolly boat was used to take a few of the survivors to Pelsaert Island while others walked along the reef to the island. Four more crew, including the second mate, Charles Matthews, then also got to the reef in the lifeboat.
As soon as they became aware of the situation, Fallowfield and Company’s guano workers on Pelsaert Island came to render what assistance they could to the survivors. Darkness and a rising tide prevented any further attempts at rescuing those who remained on board the Windsor.
The following morning the lifeboat was found smashed, leaving those on the Windsor still stranded. The chief engineer, W. Jenkins, was drowned while attempting to swim a line to the reef. The small steamer Venus arrived on the scene and immediately took Warren and Robbins from Pelsaert Island to Geraldton to organize a rescue. Warren sent the following telegram to Duncan Paterson in Fremantle:
Vessel’s bottom torn out; back broken; mainmast gone. Engines swinging contrary ship. Very small chance salvage cargo. No chance ship. Chief engineer drowned. Found lifeboat smashed reefs, daylight yesterday. Might mean further loss of lives, probably Chinese. Cannot communicate with ship, although have been on the reef several times. Hurry rocket apparatus along. Captain, mate, three apprentices, 12 Chinese should still be aboard (WA, 6 February 1908: 7h)
The Venus returned to the site of the wreck with the Geraldton pilot, Gilmore, and Constable J. Heritage aboard, and with two boats in tow, one being the Geraldton lifeboat with some of its crew of local fishermen, H. Anderson, G. Neilson, F. Hansen, J. Jensen, R. Cain and Parker. It was hoped to float the boats down to the Windsor and haul them back with survivors aboard, but rough seas made this attempt futile. Increasingly high seas decided some of those sheltering in the bow to try to swim to the reef, rather than risk the results of the Windsor breaking up under them. At that stage the spray from breaking waves was being thrown over 30 m above the wreck. Fifteen men were successful, the last to leave being Albert Nicholson, one of the apprentices aged 15 years. Only the master and chief officer, David William Jones, remained aboard when the stern of the steamer where they were sheltering broke off and was smashed, drowning both men.
On receipt of the telegram Paterson contacted the chief harbour-master at Fremantle, Captain Irvine, and he immediately dispatched the government steamer Penguin under the command of Captain Airey to render assistance. The Penguin arrived in Geraldton on the night of 6 February, having made slow progress in the strong winds. Captain Airey had planned to go straight to the wreck but having averaged only 8 knots on the voyage north he decided that he could do no good at the islands in the dark. He decided to wait at Geraldton overnight and leave for the Abrolhos early the following morning. On board the Penguin was Officer Pym of the Rottnest Island Signal Station, who was in charge of the rocket life-saving apparatus. There was no rocket apparatus at Geraldton, a matter of great indignation at the time. Men on the Venus had tried to improvise by tying fishing lines to distress rockets in an attempt to get a line aboard the Windsor, and on a couple of occasions the survivors on the wreck had caught the lines but the fishing line had not been strong enough to haul a rope across.
The Underwriters’ Association chartered the tug Uraidla (Captain Williams) to take the chairman of the association, G. Evans, and their surveyor, Captain Charles Cutler, to the wreck site.
S. Mann and Beyer, two men from the guano diggings, were also drowned when the boat they were rowing from the settlement on Pelsaert Island to the reef to assist survivors was blown away in the southerly gale. Despite the Venus making a search of the islands neither they nor the boat were subsequently found.
A preliminary court of inquiry held in Fremantle by the chief harbour-master, Captain Irvine, found that the helmsman had probably applied too much weather helm in an endeavour to counter the strong south-westerly seas that were tending to slew the bow of the Windsor to windward. This over compensation by the helmsman, combined with the inshore current, took the vessel to the eastward of the set course. The newspaper account states:
The fact of the vessel being so much out of her course is accounted for by those who know the locality by the fact that when a westerly wind is blowing, as it was on Sunday, a three-knot current sets in towards the islands (WA, 6 February 1908: 7h).
Much of the cargo of sandalwood was salvaged by Richmond ‘Dick’ Burton of Geraldton. There is no indication of salvage by other parties, and the position of the wreck would have made salvage an extremely hazardous undertaking. A newspaper stated that the underwriters would pay a bonus of £1.10.0 per ton wet and £2 per ton dry for all the sandalwood delivered to either Geraldton or Fremantle (WA, 8 February 1908:11g).
The wreck of the Windsor is on the southern end of Half Moon Reef, about 7 km west of Wreck Point, Pelsaert Island, in the Houtman Abrolhos. The site is subject to heavy seas and is normally only accessible on the very few days with little or no swell.
The most visible evidence of the wreck site is the Windsor’s iron boiler, which reaches a height of 4 m above the reef and projects well above water level. There is wreckage spread out over a large area both on the reef and in the lagoon beyond, with the stern of the vessel lying towards the east and the bow towards the west. The material remaining includes the rudder, propeller, engine and a great deal of the ship’s structure. The force of the seas in this area is indicated by a 5–10 tonne section of the stern that has broken away and been carried some 400 m over the reef and into the lagoon.
Owner Watts, Watts & Co., London
Master J.H. Walters (MA file says Watkins)
Builder W. Gray & Co.
Country Built UK
Port Built Hartlepool
Port Registered London
When Built 1890/03
Gouped Region Mid-West
When Lost 1501
Where Lost Abrolhos, West of Pelsaert Island
Position Information SkyView2007
Port From Fremantle
Port To Hong Kong
Engine 1 x tr. Exp., Screw Steamer, Blair engines
Official Number 98060
Unique Number 533
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 2009/0214/SG _MA-15/80
Chart Number AUS 332
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1992/05