4-masted barque, Hull: Iron and steel Mayhill was built by A. Stephen & Sons at Dundee in Scotland in 1890 for George William Wood. He sold it to W. H. Myers & Sons, Liverpool, in 1893. The framing and stringers were of iron with plating and beams of steel. There were two decks, the upper deck being sheathed with wood. The vessel was under charter to the White Star Line of Aberdeen, carrying 2?947 tons of railway line for the Mullewa to Cue railway at the time it was wrecked. This cargo was insured for £15?000. The Mayhill was valued at £24?000.
Basil Lubbock says that the Mayhill was ‘one of the fastest four-mast barques built in 1890…she hardly ever made a bad passage’ (Lubbock, 1966: 116). The Mayhill’s best passage times were:
1891–92 Downs (UK) to Melbourne (Victoria)—74 days.
1892 Newcastle (NSW) to San Francisco (USA)—57 days.
1893 Newcastle (NSW) to San Francisco (USA)—50 days.
The Mayhill sailed from Middlesborough, England, on 20 May 1895 for Geraldton. The vessel was under the command of Captain James Hume with 28 crew and one passenger. On 10 August the ship was just north of Champion Bay with a gale blowing and high seas. Captain Hume was attempting to sight two red lights in line to enter the deep water channel, which his 1881 copy of the sailing directory stated were in place. Unknown to him, these lights had been changed to white. These white lights were seen by Captain Hume, but ignored because they did not agree with his sailing directory. When he found the vessel was approaching too close to the breakers, he wore ship to go on the starboard tack but found it would not clear the rocks so he put the vessel about again. At about 6.30 a.m. the Mayhill struck the reef before it could come up into the wind. The vessel’s bow rode up onto the reef while big seas broke over the stern. A signal of distress was made when it was realised that the pumps could not handle the water entering the vessel.
Captain Hume asked for assistance from the Lindus, but the master of that vessel refused to imperil his ship. Captain Hume said later that he was of the opinion that he could have got the Mayhill off the reef with the aid of the Lindus, but as there was 1.8 m of water in the hold and the pumps were not coping with the influx, this opinion seems to have been over optimistic.
The first rescue boat, the Lillian and Maud, left Geraldton at 7.30 a.m. manned by the deputy pier master, Brede, water policeman Reichard, and a young man named Davis. This small cutter was struck by a very big sea and lost its mast within a couple of hundred metres of the wreck, and had to hurriedly rig a jury mast in order to get back to shelter. Some three hours later a bigger cutter, the Una (20 tons) went out. It could not lie alongside the barque due to the high seas, so it lay off on the end of a line. The Mayhill’s crew were transferred to the Una via the ship’s boat, and brought ashore. This operation was completed by 3.00 p.m. The Mayhill remained fast on the reef until it began to break up about fourteen months later.
A preliminary inquiry was held at the Geraldton Courthouse on 17 August 1895. Two days later Captain Hume was charged with six offences arising from this inquiry, as follows:
1. That you, being the master did before proceeding neglect to supply yourself with directions for Champion Bay.
2. Incurred unnecessary risk and hazard in the navigation of Mayhill by trying to enter at night instead of laying off until daylight, having no knowledge of the Bay.
3. Guilty of gross negligence omitting to provide yourself with the latest issue of Admiralty List of Lights for the WA coast.
4. Guilty of gross negligence for not providing yourself with Admiralty chart No. 1723 called Houtman’s Rocks 1892 as lights on this chart show as white lights.
5. Guilty of gross negligence for not providing yourself with Admiralty chart No. 1725 called Champion Bay corrected 1882 superceding charts of 1877 which showed lights as red ones, which they were when first erected.
6. Guilty of gross negligence and acted in direct opposition to the caution issued by the Admiralty and Lloyd’s.
The findings were that in relation to charges 1, 3, 4 and 5 no blame was attached to Captain Hume. The Chief Harbour-Master of Fremantle, Captain Russell, corroborated Captain Hume’s explanation of being issued with outdated and incorrect charts, directories and other material. He stated that he too had received outdated charts and instructions from the Admiralty.
Charge 2 was upheld and the Court ruled that Captain Hume committed an error of judgment. His Master Mariner’s certificate was suspended for 3 months from the date of the wrecking, but he was permitted to use his Chief Mate’s certificate. Captain Hume was absolved of charge 6.
The day following the wrecking some members of the crew managed to board the Mayhill and with great difficulty got off the ship’s papers, log and a pet pig called Parnell. A few days later the sea had abated sufficiently for the crew to again board, enabling some personal effects and other useful items to be recovered.
Salvage work commenced almost immediately. The Commercial Union Insurance Co., insurers of the cargo, employed Symon, Hubble and Captain Fothergill of Fremantle to recover the railway line, and within two months over 400 tons had been taken ashore. Over the following five months a further 2?200 tons was removed. For much of this time the salvors lived aboard the wreck, going ashore when bad weather threatened. The railway line recovered was taken to Geraldton by lighters towed by SS?Dolphin, Captain W. Millar, with Mick Madden as engineer.
In July 1896 the wreck was sold for £53 and the remaining railway iron for £26. Salvage continued under the new owners, but by early October the vessel began to break up. About 100 tons of rails could not be recovered and remains on the wreck site.
In 5 m of water on Point Moore Reefs, 400 m south-east of the entrance to the deep water channel into Geraldton Harbour.
The Wreck Inspection Report (Totty, 1983) states that the site lies on an axis of 030º bows to the north, and is largely flattened with only a few sections of the hull projecting above the sea floor.
There is no evidence of machinery, windlasses or anchors and the general indication is one of heavy salvage and an almost total lack of artefacts. The vessel’s floors are still evident throughout, and part of the cargo of railway lines is visible. The stem and stern are also distinguishable from the main wreckage and the curve of the stem and the jumble of mast sections nearby are very striking. The site is visually quite attractive and is spread over an area of 100 m by 20 m. It is accessible only on days with low to moderate swell, but when publicized could become a popular diving attraction in good weather.
EXCAVATION AND ARTEFACTS
There is an unsubstantiated report that the ship’s bell from the Mayhill is at Yalgoo.
Owner W.H. Myer of Liverpool
Master Captain Hume
Country Built Scotland
Port Built Dundee
Port Registered Liverpool
When Built 1890
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Went aground on reef
When Lost 1895/08/10
Where Lost Point Moore
Port From Middlesborough, England
Port To Geraldton
Cargo 2947 ton Railway iron
Official Number 97768
Unique Number 1489
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 2009/0165/SG _MA-216/80
Chart Number AUS 81
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1980/10