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7 July 2015

A swift and fearful destruction

The loss of the Schooner Jones Brothers.

"It seemed to me,  looking back on that awful experience,  as though some providential hand had been stretched out to save us".

Capture 1 Bert Lovett Collection
The Jones Brother schooner being towed out of port.
31%2F104%2F16300143  Newcastle Region Library.

The Jones Brothers three mast topsail schooner was built by George Dent Snr. at Huskisson in 1892.
She was originally built as a steamer,  but converted into a sailing vessel after being launched.
She was - 114ft 2in long,  24ft 6in wide,  and 7ft 4in deep – 133 tons

She was a well known schooner and made many voyages while engaged in carrying coal from Newcastle to Sydney for it's owners,  Jones Brothers of Sydney. 

1899 – Like so many other vessels working the open oceans she had some rough experiences, In June 1899 while coming from Newcastle to Sydney she uncounted a fierce squall,  Captain Teghlan and the crew had to work for their lives to avoid being carried to the bottom, she was forced to return to Newcastle losing her foremast,  and main topmast and parts of her rigging. 

Like most coasting schooners working between ports at this time,  she used her sails when the winds were favourable,  but sometimes as in this case for the Jones Brother schooner,  she would be towed from port to port by steamers,  this was still the most economical  way of moving large quantities of coal and other cargo along the coast.
The Helen Nicholl was also owned by Jones Brothers, and was employed to tow the schooner Jones Brothers.


Old Newspaper image : Jones Brothers being towed out of Port Jackson on one of her many voyages to Newcastle.


She was in command of captain Peter Olson, one of the oldest skippers on the coast,  who had been trading between Newcastle and Sydney for 35 years.

Mixed reports.

Some accounts of the day report relatively calm seas with a strong westerly to south westerly wing blowing off the land.
While others report a fierce gale was already blowing with a heavy sea rolling,  throwing up large clouds of spray on the break-wall.

Whatever the case the fateful decision was made to leave Newcastle Harbour for her trip to Sydney.

August 30th 1905

5 p.m. - The Jones Brothers passed out of port under sail and off Nobbys Head was joined by the steamer Helen Nichol,  in command of captain Henry Pender.  A hawser was attached to the schooner and Helen Nichol headed under full steam for Sydney.

6 p.m. - At first they made good progress,  but the wind increased to a full blown gale and turned to the south,  bring with it mountainous seas.   The Jones Brothers schooner pitched and plunged the seas swept both vessels.

The hawser snapped and the schooner,  at the mercy of the wind and seas was driven northward.  The Helen Nichol undertook a risky manoeuvrer by coming about in the conditions,  by expert seamanship captain Pender got his steamer around,  his ship was badly battered, deck fittings being swept overboard.

It was a long chase catching up with the schooner,  which was being driven before the gale at an alarming speed.

Nearing Nobby's Head the Helen Nichol was close up and after great difficulty a line was got aboard and with full steam an effort was made to enter port.

12.30 a.m. - The lookout man at the signal station saw the lights of a steamer with a vessel in tow making for the entrance,  The steamer was rolling heavily and huge seas were sweeping right over her, The night was intensely dark,  and the outline of the schooner,  which was hardly discernable, at any time was soon entirely lost to view.  But the Helen Nichole was observed to be steaming in a northerly direction,  which led to the impression that the other craft was making for Port Stephens.

Now almost abreast of Nobby's,  and in grave danger of being wrecked as well, the line was cast off,  and the Jones Brothers drifted towards the dreaded oyster bank.

" It was a case of every man for himself." said Olsen,  " and had we kept hold of the schooner both vessels would have been wrecked."

2 a.m. - Captain Pender found that his steamer was in a very dangerous position,  being within a few yards of the  Adolphe that had gone on to the oyster bank and become a total wreck in October 1904..

File:StateLibQld 1 133946 Adolphe (ship).jpgThe Adolphe wrecked on the Stockton Breakwater at Newcastle
Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
John Turner Collection


The steamer was at once headed for the open sea,  and although the engines were going at full steam little headway could be made against the great rollers,  with the captain expecting every huge wave to smash the vessel onto the banks,  the Helen Nichol battled with the storm for more than two hours before making her way to the open sea and safety.

3 a.m - The steamers light were observed again for about an hour by the signal hill,  before appearing to head away towards Sydney.

Captain Pender, hove his steamer to, waiting for daylight and a sight of the schooner.  but nothing was seen, at this time Captain Pender made the decision to head to Sydney, without making any signal to the station.

The first intimation the port officials received that anything unusual had happened was when the lookout man at Nobbys perceived a quantity of wreckage drifting into the harbour shortly after daybreak. Spars and beams and a quantity of decking,  shortly after masts of a vessel were found.

image 11 a.m - The identity of the vessel wasn't ascertained until coamings of the main hatch and fittings were discovered off Stockton Beach and towed into harbour with the official number 10,118 attached.  The figures corresponded with the designation of the Jones Brothers.


News spread and anxious relatives were waiting for news from the Helen Nichol, when she arrived in Sydney,  authorities and relatives were hoping she had saved the crew of the Jones Brothers.    When the Helen Nicholl arrived anxious enquiries met with the reply.

 "No, we have not saved anyone" .

Inspection the  Helen Nicholl showed signs of a great struggle against the elements, deck fitting were ripped off,  ladders were missing,  stanchions broken and doors bent,  twisted and wrenched, railings on both sides torn off,  with some still hanging over her sides,  her decks were a mass of debris.


Monday morning, 4th 
Any faint hope that the missing 7 men from the Jones Brothers had some how survived were soon dashed.
A body from the wreck of the Jones Brothers was washed up on Stockton Beach, about three miles from the scene of the disaster.
Shortly after two more bodies were found washed onto a beach, 30 miles away near Anna Bay.
The other 4 bodies were never found.


Enquiry Findings:
The enquiry found no fault on the part of the master or officers of the Helen Nicholl.   But he added,  it would have been better had he communicated with the men at Signal Hill before proceeding on his way to Sydney.

Further enquiries - At the time of the disaster,  the Signal station men said they hadn’t  observed any signals or flares to warn them of what was happening,  but a flare or light was seen by local resident, “Mrs Foster”  for a brief moment as the tragedy unfolded.  The enquiry accepted that the men of the signal station hadn't seen any kind of signal, but the enquiry was also of the opinion -  “because  these men had grave doubts and misgivings about the position of the vessels it would have been infinitely better had they taken the course put upon them by the port authority,  of firing the gun,  had this been done and the lifeboat launched it was probable,  seeing that a distress signal had been made from the schooner,  that some lives would have been saved”".

Crews on ships plying the Australian coast came from many nations,
Below is a list of the men lost from the Jones Brothers schooner.
Peter Olsen Master 60 years, Sweden.
Thomas Jenkins,  mate 45, England.
John Sheilds, AB., 38, Russia.
William Malley, AB., 31 Halifax.
W.A. Mason A.B., 37, Sweden.
Charles Peterson. A.B Sweden
Charles Johnson, cook. unknown.

The infamous Oyster Bank near the entrance to Newcastle Harbour claimed many ships, and the remains of those wrecked vessels above and below the water, made entering the harbour in rough weather, an even more perilous journey.


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