The following sources may provide details of crew involved in shipwrecks and of government relief provided to them. Researchers should also consult Government Gazettes for occasional 'notices to mariners' for 'missing vessels' .
Until the early twentieth century a journey to NSW involved a sea voyage. Travellers boarding a ship often faced the perils of fire, disease and shipwreck, and the Australian coast is littered with the wrecks of many ships that failed to safely reach their destination.
The main series of correspondence and the list of Special Bundles should be consulted for information relating to or concerning shipwrecks in NSW. Check indexes to the Colonial Secretary's correspondence under the name of the vessel.
|Index to the Colonial Secretary's Papers||1788-1825|
Colonial Secretary Special Bundles
Indexes and registers to letters received
This series indexes NRS 905: Main series of letters received, 1826-1982, .
Index to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, Convicts and Others
This indexes NRS 905: Main series of letters received, 1826-88.
Maritime Services Board
Papers relating to inquiries conducted by the Marine Board of New South Wales and the Court of Marine Inquiry
These files contain papers relating to marine accidents in New South Wales waters or overseas incidents involving ships registered in New South Wales. There are frequent mentions of crew. The files are arranged alphabetically by ship's name.
See also the Special Bundles (NRS Lists) which include some papers relating to wrecks and casualties. Full listings are available in the reading room (NRS 9822; 10768; 13973). These listings also contain bundles created by the Sydney Harbour Trust, the Navigation Department and the Marine Board.
The Marine Board was established on 2 April 1872 under the Navigation Act of 1871. The Marine Board held inquiries into shipping casualties in all cases where a port of the State was the first entered after the occurrence or when survivors landed in NSW.
Reports of investigations by the Board are printed in the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. A return showing the time occupied by each of the Inquiries held by the Marine Board during the five years, 1892-96, listing date, casualty (ship and reason), time occupied and remarks is also available in Votes and Proceedings [1897 vol.7 p.487 Return No.17].
Researchers should consult the catalogue for other records of the Marine Board.
Of particular note:
|NRS 9798||Reports and decisions of inquiries||1879-1895|
|NRS 9799||Report to the Legislative Assembly re inquiries held by the Board||17 Jun 1880|
|NRS 9819||Reports and decisions of inquiries||1879-1895|
|Record of investigations held by the Local Marine Board at Newcastle||1873-1899|
|NRS 9818||Local Marine Board Newcastle, copies of minutes and reports of Marine Board inquiries||1875-1899|
In 1900 the Marine Board was abolished and its judicial and administrative functions were separated. The Court of Marine Inquiry took over the judicial functions of the Board. The Court has power to make inquiries into shipwrecks and other casualties affecting ships and into charges of incompetency or misconduct on the part of the masters, mates or engineers of ships, either in the case of British ships on or near the coast of NSW, or on a ship registered in NSW. Records of the court are listed in the catalogue under Agency No 515.
The Navigation Department inherited the administrative functions of the Marine Board. Records of the Department that may be useful in researching shipwrecks include Register of investigations by the Court of Marine Inquiry, 1900-29 and Decisions of the Court of Marine Inquiry, 1900-34. Descriptions of these sources are available in the catalogue. Researchers may also wish to consult Navigation Department Special bundles, 1870-1924, full lists of which are available in the reading room.
The Maritime Services Board was established in 1936 and combined the functions of the Navigation Department and the Sydney Harbour Trust.
Researchers should consult NRS 9851, Papers relating to inquiries conducted by the Marine Board of NSW and the Court of Marine Inquiry, 1872-1989.
An index to the papers covering 1872-1962 is available in the reading room at COD 400. Maritime Services Board special bundles may also contain reference to shipwrecks. A full list of titles is available in the reading room.
A series of glass negatives from the Maritime Services Board has been digitised
The images record the construction of wharves and adjoining facilities in Sydney Harbour, as well as housing and buildings in the Harbour area, including many of the warehouses. Also included are images of the many different types of ships and vessels which operated on the harbour. Although these images do not relate specifically to shipwrecks, they may still be of interest.
Transcripts of evidence are typed verbatim accounts of cases heard, including the evidence of witnesses. NSW State Archives holds transcripts of cases heard in the Court of Marine Inquiry. They only include cases that had a court reporting officer in attendance. Transcripts may be arranged annually or by the name of the judge.
Judges notebooks are listed in the catalogue by the name of the judge.
NSW State Archives holds notebooks for Judges presiding over hearings in the Court of Marine Inquiry and the Vice Admiralty Court.
The Vice Admiralty Court had jurisdiction over commercial disputes involving ships, collisions and salvage. Surviving case papers of the Court, 1826-1911 are described in our catalogue under Agency No 1048, Vice Admiralty Courts.
NSW State Archives holds papers relating to the Dunbar and Catherine Adamson Memorial, 1857-57. These papers include a list of passengers. Copies of the papers are available in the reading room at COD 393.
The Wreck of the Dunbar
The wreck of the Dunbar, with the loss of 121 passengers and crew, is one of Australia's worst maritime disasters in peacetime.
On the night of Thursday 20 August 1857, the clipper Dunbar approached the heads of Sydney Harbour after a voyage of 81 days from England. Launched in 1853, the vessel was owned by Duncan Dunbar and was the sister ship of the Phoebe Dunbar, the Dunbar Castle and the Duncan Dunbar. It was under the command of Captain Green and was on its second voyage to Sydney. Despite the treacherous weather conditions on the night, Captain Green and his crew attempted to enter Sydney Harbour that evening, rather than wait until morning.
The Dunbar was driven into the reef at the foot of South Head and began to break up immediately. In the hours that followed, all but one of the passengers and crew perished. The sole survivor, able seaman James Johnson, clung to a ledge on the cliff face until he was rescued on the morning of 22 August, some 36 hours after the Dunbar ran aground.
When news of the wreck reached Sydney the following day, it immediately captured the attention of the public. In the days following, the media provided extensive coverage of the search for survivors and victims and the progress of the inquest was chronicled daily. Residents were drawn to the scene for the morbid task of identifying friends, relatives and business associates. Still only a relatively small town, Sydney was staggered by the enormity and proximity of the tragedy.
A mass funeral for those who died and who, in most cases, could not be identified was held on 24 September. The interments took place at St. Stephen's Cemetery, Camperdown where there is still a monument to the victims.
[4/6613]; Reel 2921
Attorney General & Justice: Registers of Coroner's inquests, 1857, Inquest Nos. 10511, 10560, 10561
The inquests do not name all those who lost their lives.
[2/642A]; COD 393
Government (Colonial) Architect: Files concerning the erection, repair, additions and alterations to public buildings, 1837-1912
This file relates to the construction of the Dunbar Memorial in 1857-1858 and includes a list of the passengers and crew who lost their lives.
Lands Department: Letters received
Some copies of letters may be found in COD 393
Lands Department: Photographic prints of headstones, monuments and plans of Camperdown Cemetery
This series includes two photographs of the Waller grave.
Other sources relating to the Dunbar
- Captain Pockley's report on the wreck of the ship Dunbar, in New South Wales Parliament, Votes and Proceedings, Vol 2, 1857, p. 427
- Doolan, Shirley (comp.). A Short History of the Dunbar and the Catherine Adamson Memorial in St. Stephen's Cemetery, Newtown N.S.W., [Published by the author], 1993
- 'Further particulars of the shipwreck at the Heads', Supplement to the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August, 1857
- Kepert, L.V. (ed.). History as it happened: The Sydney Morning Herald, 150 years of news and pictures from our oldest newspaper, Melbourne, Nelson, 1981
- Loney, Jack. Australian Shipwrecks, Vol. 2, 1851-71, AH & AW Reed P/L, Sydney, 1980
- Loney, Jack. Sea adventures and wrecks on the N.S.W. south coast. 3rd ed. Geelong, Marine History Publications, [1981?]
- Mead, Tom. The fatal lights: two strange tragedies of the sea, Dolphin Books, Sydney, 1993?
- Fryer, James. A narrative of the melancholy wreck of the Dunbar, Sydney, James Fryer, 1857. Held by the State Library of NSW and the Australian National Maritime Museum
- Society of Australian Genealogists, St. Stephen's Church of England, Camperdown NSW monumental inscriptions, The Society, 1990. [Fiche M391-392] (Nos. 0254 Waller Family, 0519 The "Dunbar" Memorial, 1911 RAN Memorial)
- Swain, Edward P. Journal of a voyage to Sydney in the ship Duncan Dunbar from London, 1864. Australian Maritime Museum MS 92793
- Watercolour image of the wreck of the Dunbar, by S. T. Gill, 1857, Mitchell Library ZPXA 1983, f34
- 'The Wreck of the Dunbar', The Empire, 10 September, 1857
- Historical Records of Australia
- Historical Records of New South Wales
- Charles Bateson's Australian Shipwrecks
- Jack Loney's various publications on Australian shipwrecks
ARCHIVES IN BRIEF
This content first appeared in Archives in Brief 56 - Shipwrecks and Archives in Brief 67 - The Wreck of the 'Dunbar'
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