Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

African (Sunset Beach wreck) (1863/01/04)

Geraldton, Champion Bay, Sunset Beach

African was built under Special Survey at Sunderland in 1853. A timber ship, it was copper fastened and sheathed with yellow metal over felt. The owner was Captain J. Gibson. The Lloyd’s Registers of 1857 and 1861 show the Builder’s Old Measurement tonnage of this ship as being 780 and the tonnage under the new Act, which came into force on 1 January 1836, as being 888. As the African was built after this date, only the new tonnage is given above.
The African sailed from Champion Bay for Fremantle on 1 January 1863. The cargo consisted of 522 tons of copper and lead ore from the Wheal Fortune Mine, near Northampton, and 200 or 300 bales of wool. African began taking on water soon after rounding Point Moore and heading south. A heavy gale from the south-west meant that the crew had to constantly pump the ship to clear the bilges. On 4 January the master and owner, Captain J. Gibson, put about to run back to Champion Bay. At 10.00 p.m. the ship struck a reef about 12 miles south of Point Moore. The African was badly damaged but managed to limp back to Champion Bay, where it ran aground some 140 m from the jetty in 4.6 m of water on the morning of 5 January.
The African had 1.8 m of water in the hold and the Resident Magistrate, Thomas Brown, provided a party of prisoners to take over manning the pumps from the exhausted crew. The cargo was unloaded with only 20–30 bales of wool being damaged, because the lighter wool had been loaded on top of the heavier ore. The leak however persisted. A survey was carried out on the hull with the result that Captain Gibson decided that the vessel was not in a fit state to proceed; it could not be repaired at Champion Bay and he had insufficient funds to take the ship elsewhere for repairs. It was therefore abandoned as a constructive total loss. Mr and Mrs Alf Pead lived on board as caretakers until on 23 March the African dragged anchors in a blow. It fetched up some 5 km north, near the mouth of the Chapman River, lying between two reefs. At this stage two of its masts were still standing. (Henderson, G. and K., 1988: 54) The African was subsequently dismantled and some of the timber used to build three smaller vessels.
An inquiry into the accident concluded that the damage caused was as a result of striking the reef and not from incorrect loading or existing defects in the hull.
The removal of all the cargo was followed, after the declaration of the African as a total constructive loss, by the sale by auction of the rigging, brass scuttles, capstan and other items. All these items were offered separately, as Captain Gibson considered they would fetch more if sold as individual lots. Luke Leake, merchant, purchased the hull and rigging at auction for £1?000. He intended to have it repaired in an Asian port, however no cash was paid and he later successfully repudiated the bargain in court. The cargo was sold for £350. On 26 May 1863 Lionel Samson, a Perth merchant, wrote to the Geraldton merchants, Daniel Henry Scott and William Gale, suggesting a partnership to purchase the wreck. Scott and Gale declined. A second auction on 22 June resulted in Samson buying the wreck for £70.
Samson employed Daniel Chapman to break up the wreck. Chapman had come to Western Australia as a free man on the Scindian (546 tons), the first ship to bring adult convicts to the colony in 1850. In early July 1863 a letter from the Resident Magistrate, Fremantle, to the Colonial Secretary requested:
A free emigrant named Chapman having contracted to break up the wreck of the African now lying off shore at Champion Bay is desirous of employing 5 ticket holders in conjunction with 5 free men to assist in the work.
I have the honour to request to be informed if these 5 men will be permitted to work as aforesaid—the African—although stranded—being as I understand it some distance from the shore.
An immediate reply will oblige as Chapman is in the process of starting…[word indecipherable].
A reply from Governor John Stephen Hampton on 4 July 1863 stated:
I do not see any objection to TL men in the proportion to free men herein mentioned being employed for this purpose. This is a purely convict question and the RM should have written to the Comptroller General on the subject.
A local shipwright named William Garrard bought some of the timber and built three vessels—the schooners Mary Ann (O/No. 36551), launched October 1864, 42 ft (12.8?m) length, 33.28 registered tons; the Lass of Geraldton (O/No. 52231), launched 1865, 60.33?ft (18.4 m) length, 37.1 registered tons; and the sailing lighter Albatross, launched 1867, 18 tons burden. Both the Lass of Geraldton and the Albatross were subsequently wrecked, George Shenton being drowned during the loss of the former, and William Garrard in the latter.
Not all of the timber from the wreck was used to build the three vessels. Some of the remaining timbers still lie some 30–50 m off Sunset Beach, north of Geraldton, near the mouth of the Chapman River. Occasionally bronze fastenings, metal knees and other metal objects may also be seen in the vicinity where the African was broken up.
There has been considerable change over the last twenty years in the coastal geomorphology of this area due to human activity. This is a result of the northward expansion of the city of Geraldton and port developments in Champion Bay.
The area over which the remains are scattered consists of a sandy bottom semi-protected by a small offshore reef. Movement of the sandy bottom results in the occasional exposure of the pieces. At other times build up of sand over the site covers the remains until the next scouring process occurs. Most of the timbers and metal objects lie at a depth of about 4 m when sand has been scoured away.
Locals assert that about 1964 a section of deck, approximately 12 m by 3.5 m, was recovered at Sunset Beach near the Chapman River mouth. This had on it a 1.4 m high gunwale on one edge and had obviously come from quite a large vessel. The piece of wreckage was dismantled to obtain the bronze fastenings for sale as scrap metal. In November 1979 the Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia obtained some representative examples of bolts, Muntz metal sheathing, bones, coal and a bottle during an exploratory dive on the site. Other objects including pieces of wood have been raised at various times to aid in identifying the wreckage.

Struck the reef that now bears the name of the African. Note however that the Chapman River could not have been named after Daniel Chapman who dismantled the wreck, as the first use of the name occurred during Grey’s trek south in 1839. As mentioned above, Daniel Chapman did not arrive in the colony until 1850.
Luke Leake, who made an offer to buy the damaged ship after Captain Gibson had put it up for auction in Champion Bay, was a prominent Perth merchant. He was later to successfully withdraw from any agreement to purchase.
Lionel Samson, who subsequently purchased the vessel for £70 at a second auction held on 22 June 1864, was another prominent Perth businessman. He was able to obtain the vessel for such a cheap price because the African had dragged anchor and drifted from the harbour to the Sunset Beach area about 5 km north of the town. Samson later on-sold some of the timbers to William Garrard, boat builder of Geraldton.
William Garrard, a ship’s carpenter, had arrived in Western Australia as a convict on the Norwood in 1862 and received his ticket of leave within a month. He brought out his wife and children, received a conditional pardon and moved to Geraldton. Shortly after that the African was purchased by Samson and broken up. Garrard purchased some of the timber and built three vessels. He employed up to nine ticket-of-leave men during the construction of the Mary Ann, Lass of Geraldton and the Albatross.
In June 1868 the two schooners Twinkling Star and Sea Bird were driven ashore by a gale at Port Irwin. The Albatross was sent from Geraldton by the Resident Magistrate with salvage equipment and personnel to attempt to refloat the vessels. This proved successful, but on the return journey to Geraldton strong headwinds were encountered. The Albatross turned around in the vicinity of Point Moore to seek shelter back at Port Irwin. Near the mouth of the Irwin River the lighter was rolled over by a large wave, her deck swept clean and eight people drowned, including Garrard. See earlier section on Albatross.
George Shenton had business interests in both Perth and Geraldton and was the owner of the Mary Ann, and part owner of the Lass of Geraldton with Charles Crowther. Shenton was part owner of the White Peaks copper mine, had a financial interest in the Geraldine mine and assisted many settlers with advice and low interest loans as they struggled to set themselves up as farmers on the Greenough Flats. Another of his business ventures was the purchase of land that later became vital for access to the proposed jetty at Port Irwin. When the Lass of Geraldton capsized in a storm 20 km south of the mouth of the Murray River on 25 March 1867, six people drowned including George Shenton. His obituary in the Perth Gazette of 29 March 1867 reads:
What he gained, and he gained much, he diffused largely and judiciously; the corn-fields and mines of the Victoria District are not fruitful and rich because he ploughed and worked them; but he helped others to do so.
It seems probable that ‘Alf’ Pead mentioned above is the Alexander Pead who lost his life five years later when the Albatross was wrecked at the mouth of the Irwin River. There is a strong connection between the African and the Albatross, the latter being built from the dismantled African.
The building of three smaller vessels from the remains of the African may be considered an example of 19th century recycling. This was in fact common practice. Time and effort could be saved over that needed to cut and season timber. Metal fittings, spars and sails were also recovered for re-use on other vessels.

Ship Built

Owner Gibson

Master Captain Gibson

Country Built UK

Port Built Sunderland

Port Registered London

When Built 1853

Ship Lost

Gouped Region Mid-West

Sinking Stranded and wrecked between two reefs, near Chapman River mouth

When Lost 1863/01/04

Where Lost Geraldton, Champion Bay, Sunset Beach

Latitude -28.725579

Longitude 114.619229

Position Information Aerial GIS

Port From Geraldton Champion Bay

Port To Fremantle

Cargo Wool, ore

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 48.00

Beam 10.00

TONA 780.00

TONB 888.00

Draft 6.50

Museum Reference

Official Number 23091

Unique Number 1141

Sunk Code Broke mooring

File Number 2009/0061/SG _MA-20/79

Chart Number 332, AUS 81, 1052

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 1979/10

Confidential NO