Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Star (1880/10/20)

Murray Reef

The 70-ton, two-masted, fore-and-aft
schooner Star was built in 1876 by veteran
Fremantle boat builder Thomas Mews
for local merchants J. and W. Bateman.
Batemans initially were unsure as to where
they would employ the Star and decided
to send her to Batavia with a cargo of
jarrah. However, it seems that the vessel
was utilized as a whaling vessel instead, as
by late 1877 it was whaling initially at the
Rosemary Islands (which had been fished
previously by overseas whalers before the
settlement of Western Australia). The Star’s initial whaling venture was a success
with a return to Fremantle of 147 casks of oil. During mid 1880, the Star was fitted
out for a short whaling expedition south of Fremantle to Geographe Bay. On 28
February the Star left port under the command of Captain John Sheppard with a
crew comprised of Malays. The vessel was equipped with two whale boat crews and
a spare whaling hand (although these had nothing to do with the sailing of the
vessel). After an unsuccessful whaling trip to Geographe Bay, Captain Sheppard
sailed north of north-east for the Rottnest Island light, heeding the warning of
Bateman not to steer a too easterly course. At 1 a.m. the Captain altered the
vessel’s course two points to the east assuming this would head the vessel toward
the north end of Garden Island. Unfortunately at 3 a.m. breakers were sighted off
the starboard bow. The Captain removed the Malay in charge of the wheel, but
only succeeded in jamming the wheel down in the confusion. The schooner at
once swung toward the reef striking it violently. The wreck lies about 3 km south of
the Sisters Rocks on the Murray Reef. It was reported to have sunk with its whaling
gear aboard.
The site lies in c. 2.7 m of water on the Murray Reef. An excavation of the site
was carried out by the Museum in 1983, with assistance from local divers keen to be
involved in such a project. Since this was the first locally-built ship to be investigated
by the Museum, the main interest was the hull—found to be in good condition and
made of local wood. After analysis, these were determined to be jarrah, a sapwood,
red mahogany and red gum (the latter two possibly of New South Wales origin).
No whaling equipment was found, but large pulleys indicated a need to lift heavy,
bulky cargoes. Among the artefacts recovered were a brass ship’s log, a penny dated
1876 and various types of ceramic wares. The Star is significant because: it was the
first locally-built vessel; it was associated with local merchants and ship owners,
Batemans; and, it had a direct role in the whaling industry of Western Australia.
During the latest site inspection, in 2004, it was noted that very little of the vessel
remains at the site, the remains having been broken up or degraded by the high
energy environment.

Ship Built

Owner Bateman

Master Captain John Sheppard

Builder Thomas Mews

Country Built WA

Port Built Fremantle

Port Registered Fremantle

When Built 1876

Ship Lost

Gouped Region Metro

When Lost 1880/10/20

Where Lost Murray Reef

Latitude -32.3765

Longitude 115.6838333333

Position Information GPS

Port From Fishing ground

Port To Fremantle

Cargo Whaling gear

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 24.10

Beam 5.30

TONA 70.00

Draft 2.30

Museum Reference

Official Number 72482

Unique Number 517

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 2009/0200/SG _MA-19/73

Chart Number PWD 4408

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 1991/12

Confidential NO