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19 February 2015

Handa Isle 1918

The Mystery of the missing Handa Isle

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Wreckage washes up on Chinamen’s Beach Jervis bay.

Several Months after the barquentine Handa Isle went missing on a voyage from Sydney to Melbourne, wreckage was found washed ashore on Chinamen’s beach inside Jervis Bay.
News of the wreckage quickly spread via the press of the day.

 The Mercury (Hobart) Monday 11 November 1918

The greater portion is painted white and the remainder red.   The wreckage appears to have been in the water for several months.
Shipwrights, fishermen and others who have seen the wreckage express the opinion that it is from the missing vessel.

More Wreckage Found.
A deck house found floating at sea by a Sydney Tug has been identified as that of the missing schooner,  and it is thought to have been torn off by the explosion of the petrol cargo.

The Sydney Morning Herald  Friday 14 February 1919

Identification of wreckage.
Mr. Sangster, inspector and surveyor to the Navigation Department.


“I beg to report having on February 12 examined the mast which was reported lying on Chinamen's Beach, Jervis Bay.
     I found the dimensions in accordance with constable Hinds report, vis., length 19ft,  (11 feet below deck, 8ft above),  Diameter 18in, girth 54in, spider band with six belaying pin studs.
     “I have no doubts whatever that this spar was the main mast of the Handa Isle.  It fits with the vessel's depth of hold, vis., 12 feet,  and I have a recollection of seeing the same spider band when I was last on board the vessel”.
     “I found that the mast has been burned through from the deck to 8 feet up, with no sign of fire below deck.
     “From the information I received,  I visited a boat-shed at Huskisson, Jervis Bay, and examined a board 18 feet long, 14 inches wide and 1 inch thick, of Queensland maple.  It is scorched all along one edge,  and was picked up by a fisherman at Jervis Bay”.
     “As the Handa Isle had a shipment of Queensland maple boards of the above description,  there is little doubt that they are a portion of her deck cargo.
     Although the mast extended from the vessel's keel through a full cargo of Benzene, no sign of fire is to be seen on the mast below the deck”.


Belaying pin studs.


image Spider Band - a metal band with many eyes, usually welded, fitted around the masts and spars of square-riggers and other ships, used with iron belaying pins.

The mystery deepens.

Examination of the mast only deepened the sadness for the families, it didn’t provide the answers for family and friends of the missing seamen, the burnt and charred remains only added to the mystery of the Handa Isle.

Unanswered questions: The remaining question was - If the petrol had exploded below decks, wouldn’t the mast have been burnt below the deck line?.

At this time I haven’t found any more information about this tragedy, if you have further information, please contacts us at the Museum. yourcontributions@gmail.com

German mine.
One theory put forward was the ship was sunk because it hit a German Mine.

Mines were a constant threat during World War one, placed along the east coast by German Submarines, they were responsible for sinking many ships.
At first the Federal Government denied the existance of the mines, after the steamers Pt. Kembla and Cumberland were lost, the government tried to cover the loss by offering a reward of 5 thousand pounds for evidence that would lead to conviction of the persons responsible for the explosions which caused the foundering of the vessels. This offer was quickly withdrawn, and there was no objection to the publications reporting that the explosions were due to enemy submarine miners.

Mines were a threat for many years after the war, with one floating mine reported near Montague Island in 1920 Trove.

I guess we will never know what happened to the Handa Isle, or the missing crew, who went to sea and never returned like so many other seafaring men.


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Handa Isle -  275 tons. Built at Auckland. 1881. Had Benzene cargo and wood.
Commanded by Captain W.B.Taylor, of Hobart, and a crew of eleven.


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