Times Gone By: The Wreck of Beaver (Part 1)

BEAVER was built by Edward and William Chowne on the Clarence River for Captain Wiseman and launched in early March 1849.

After the final fit-out the vessel measured 75 feet long, 19 feet wide and 9 feet deep and was rigged as a two-topsail schooner. Described as being ‘a fine model and a fast sailing vessel’, Beaver was expressly built for regular trade between Brisbane and Sydney, with Captain Hunter the ship’s master.

On 18 September 1851, Captain Alexander Cobham, who was now the ship’s master, left Sydney for the journey northward to Brisbane.

Four days later, in the afternoon, the Beaver found itself in the company of another schooner, the Roderic Dhu, both vessels ‘standing in for the land’ in the Solitary Islands to avoid strong southerly currents and in hope of obtaining wind off the land during the night.

With a fresh wind blowing from the northeast and east, both ships changed tack, however the wind suddenly ceased, becalming the vessels.

Being two miles south of Rhoderic Dhu, the swell and current sent Beaver toward one of the islands, compelling the crew to anchor the ship to prevent it from going ashore.

Four hours later a heavy swell set in from the east and finding the use of a second anchor useless, attempted to ‘slip’, sailing with a light wind which had just risen.

However, the heavy roll of the sea parted the anchor chain and the ship struck a sunken rock, continued over it and drifted ashore.

Then the foremast went over the side with all sails still set and the ship heeled over and filled with water.

An attempt was made to launch the longboat, but the heavy swell caused it to break adrift and stove in with a crew member inside, though fortunately he was washed ashore.

There were two dogs on board Beaver, so a line was fastened to each of them before they were dropped overboard and naturally, they swam to shore.


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