Trial (1622) - Australia’s earliest known shipwreck


The English East India Company (EEIC) ship Trial wrecked in 1622 on an uncharted reef off the western coast of New Holland. Her master, John Brooke, was following a new course to the Indies, knowledge of which had been acquired from the VOC a few years earlier. This new fast route took an easterly course from the Cape of Good Hope and then a northerly one to the Indies. Following this course (called the Brouwer Route after its founder) some VOC ships had sailed too far to the east and, as a result, in 1616, Dirk Hartog had discovered the west coast of New Holland.

On the night of 25 May 1622, with 143 on board the vessel struck the reef now named Tryal Rocks. More than a hundred men were lost, as well as most of the company’s goods when the Trial wrecked. Subsequently, there were serious allegations made against Brooke: that he was negligent, that he had stolen some of the company’s goods and that he was an incompetent navigator. Examinations of the records indicate that he falsified the location of the rocks to make it appear that he had been following orders, so absolving himself of responsibility. As a result the real Trial Rocks remained undiscovered for over three hundred years. The subsequent career of the master is of particular interest, especially as events also reflected on his honesty. On the basis of his, what are now believed to be, false statements he was acquitted by the company of any blame, and was then given command of the East Indiaman Moone, in which he returned home in 1624. In 1625, Moone was wrecked off Dover and Brooke was immediately imprisoned in Dover Castle for intentionally wrecking the ship. The court case, which dragged on for two years, was eventually dropped.

In 1969, the state’s leading dive club (The Underwater Explorer’s club) mounted an expedition to locate the wreck and on the first day of the search around the rocks, a wreck site was located and tentatively identified as that of Trial. In June 1971, the first museum expedition to the site was launched with the objective of surveying the site. The expedition was sponsored by M. G. Kailis of Gulf Fisheries and included members of the original discovery team.

The wreck site comprised two areas: the main section, on the western side of a large sand gully and a smaller site near the rocks on the eastern side of the sand gully. Heavy swell conditions prevented inspection of the latter site. The main part, an area 30m x 10m, contained five cannon, ten anchors and some granite ballast, but few artefacts other than lead shot, scraps of lead sheet and a bronze pulley wheel. The material all lay on rock and there was little concretion or buried matter. A photomosaic was made to show the general layout of the site and the distribution of cannon and anchors.

Although four expeditions have visited the site since then, no evidence has been found to conclusively identify the remains, although circumstantial evidence indicates that the wreck site is most likely that of Trial. Officially, the primary finder of the site is Eric Christiansen and Naoom Haimson, David Nelley, John MacPherson and Alan Robinson are recognised as secondary finders.



McCarthy, M. 2012, Shipwrecks of Australia’s West Coast, Western Australian Museum.

Green, J. N., 1986, The Survey and Identification of the English East India Company ship, Trial (1622),IJNA, 15(3): 195-202

Green, J.N., Australia's Oldest Wreck: The loss of the Trial, 1622, British Archaeological Reports (oxford, 1977)