The Story of the Leander

The 173 ton brigantine Leander was built in New Brunswick in 1849 of birch, pine and spruce and was fastened with iron bolts. Her owners were Smith and Company and she was registered at the Port of London.

The Leander was an important link between the Swan River Colony, the Victoria District and the markets of Singapore. This was to be to last voyage north for her, as she was returning to England and not returning to the colony.

After leaving Fremantle, the Leander, under the command of Captain Johnson, sailed slowly north until on the 13th of November 1853 when the weather conditions changed with rising northerly winds. The vessel hove to under close-reefed fore-topsail and mainsail. The captain perused his charts and finding no reefs, assumed his position was safe.

Unfortunately his charts were incomplete and shortly before ten pm the brigantine hit a reef and was carried over it, resulting in the loss of her rudder and she started leaking badly. The land could be seen just sixteen kilometres away.

Captain Johnson considered dropping anchor but on learning there was over one metre of water in the hold, decided to raise more sail and drive the boat ashore.

Two rowing boats were launched immediately with sails and spars and some of the crew went ashore to erect shelter and tents. The Leander was settling quickly so with the crew astern they waited until she struck the beach.

They then went back on board and by taking a kedge anchor and line ashore and attaching the other end to the ship, they were able to help the passage of boats to and fro. They were able to bring ashore food and goods from the ship but no water. A horse and sheep were also saved.

Two days later a passenger, Robert Evans noted in his journal, “We had nothing but salt water until today. In the evening, we were in such a state, we were forced to break open a case containing claret …….”

The crew attempted to find help, some walked south, others north, but returned at night, worn out and with no news. After several hopeless attempts, one of the indigenous Wattandee, who had been observing the strangers, led the survivors to Lockier Burges’ station at Irwin House, some thirteen days after the disaster.1

Of the twenty-two Malay crew, eleven died, the remainder were abandoned in Champion Bay with no wages or passage home. The Crown Solicitor’s opinion had ruled, “…the general rule of law is that freight is the mother of wages and that if no freight be earned, then no wages are due.”

The wreck of the Leander has never been found, but she is thought to lie south of Port Denison close to the shore, adjacent to a large sand ridge somewhere in the vicinity of White Point.2

  1. Baskerville, B., Port Denison, 1850-1915 The Rimmer Sequence for Port Development, p.12
  2. Bain, M.A., Ancient Landmarks, p.62.

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