The Master Deserves To Be Hanged Immediately

Some weeks before James Stirling and his fellow settlers aboard the Parmelia and HMS Suplhur arrived off the west coast of Australia to found the Swan River Colony, Captain Charles Fremantle was aboard the frigate HMS Challenger, anchored outside Garden Island, preparing to ‘take possession of the western coast of New Holland on behalf of the Crown’.

H.M.S. Challenger

The passage into Cockburn Sound was rocky and the chart was incorrect.  Captain Fremantle did not like the appearance of the anchorage and expressed his doubts as to the suitability of the anchorage for establishing a Colony.

Charles Howe Fremantle (1800-1869)

He had to establish a safe passage into Cockburn Sound.  On 27 April 1829 the weather was clearing and he sent:

… the Master, 2nd Master and a Mate with 3 boats and buoys to mark out the passage in and desired him to hoist a flag when ready, and I would move the Ship. At 3 o’clock observed the flag, weighed the Anchor, and stood for the boats; the master came on board when near the Channel having as I supposed all his marks distinct, and the buoys on the necessary rocks. On seeing one of the buoys, I asked him which side he intended going & he answered the Starboard; the Ship struck immediately, he having mistaken the buoy on the rock for the one in the fairway & consequently ran the ship immediately on the top of it.

She hung about five minutes & struck three or four times, once heavy; hove all aback & commenced getting the boats out, when she moved and floated…

Never since I have been at Sea have I witnessed anything to equal the carelessness and stupidity of the Master; he placed a buoy on a rock and then steered for the buoy & ran the ship immediately on it. It was a thousand chances that we escaped being knocked to pieces, which must have been the case had it not been beautiful weather. The Master deserves to be hanged immediately.

Unless I attend to everything myself ever so trifling, something invariably goes wrong; so much for the assistance a Captain derives from his Officers.  If I had had no Master the Ship would not have run on shore.  Nothing has annoyed me so much since I entered the Service.

Fortunately for Mr Bradshaw, the Master of the Challenger, Fremantle’s wrath had not the capacity to be translated into action and he survived the mishap.

Kim Epton
Series Editor


Lord Cottesloe, (Ed.). Diary & Letters of Admiral Sir C. H. Fremantle, G. C. B. Relating to the Founding of the Colony of Western Australia. 1928. (Hazell, Watson & Viney: London)


Posted by Kim Epton

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