The SS Glenelg was a cargo/passenger steamer built 1875 by Aitkin & mansel. 210 gross tons, 136 ft. in length, beam 21 ft.; twin compound engines, making 8.5 knots. She foundered suddenly 25 February, 1900, shortly after departing Lakes Entrance. 31 souls perished, 3 surviving on a lifeboat. Court of Inquiry summary - inconclusive. General feeling that loose plate at stern was the cause.
Mr. John Ebsworth, who was lost with the Waratah, was directly involved with the Inquiry into the mysterious sinking of the SS Glenelg:
Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 13, 1900
THE WRECK OF THE
The Court of Marine Inquiry sat again yesterday,
and took further evidence concerning the
foundering of the Glenelg. Mr. Ebsworth, solicitor,
attended, and informed the Court that he
had been instructed by the widow of
the late chief engineer to represent
her. He asked the Court to adjourn to the 10th
instant, when he believed he would be in a position
to lay some strong facts before the Court.
Mr. Ebsworth's request was complied with.
The Advertiser (ADelaide) Thursday 3 April, 1900.
WRECK OF THE
BODIES TERRIBLY DISFIGURED.
TWO MORE WASHED ASHORE.
TALES OF SURVIVORS DISCREDITED.
Melbourne, April 2.
Fragments of information concerning
the wreck of the Glenelg still come to
hand. Bairnsdale reports that the body
of the woman found on the beach
yesterday, supposed to be Mrs. Griffiths, is now
identified as that of Mrs. Moran, of St.
Kilda. Identification was made by means
of the clothing. It was impossible to do
so in any other way, as the body and face
were so terribly disfigured. Portions of the
limbs left by the sharks on the body of
the fireman show that the man was of
slight build, such as Hatfield was, and
the body of the young man almost
completely eaten by sharks is believed to be
that of young Richardson, a member of
the crew. It is extremely difficult to even
attempt to recognise any of the other
bodies. They are so terribly mutilated
that identification is utterly impossible.
There are no ornaments or clothing that
help in the work of recognition.
Word reached Bairnsdale to-night that
the southerly gale had driven two more
bodies on to the beach. One is that of
a female, wearing three rings. - Inscribed
on one are the initials "J.F.C.," or "G"
and this is believed to be the body of Mrs.
Griffiths. The other was the body of a
man, but no suggestion is made as to who
he is. The whole of the ninety-mile
Beach, 30 miles west of Cunninghame, is
littered with wreckage. Seats, chairs,
tables, cabin fittings, hatchings, and spars
have been given up by the sea. It is believed
now that a number of passengers
must have been standing by the captain
and officers when the steamer took,
the awful plunge sternways into the
sea. They must have been drawn
down by the sinking ship. Indeed, it is
now asserted that the bodies recovered
show that several of the people must have
really gone down whilst prisoners in their
cabins. Thus the already awful tale be
comes more awful. That they went down
with the vessel is now believed to be a
fact, despite the statements of the survivors.
They said all the people entered the
other boat, but the fact that seven bodies
have been picked up where the wreckage
is the thickest seems to point to the fact
that they were actually confined in the
ship till she broke up.
The survivors' statements are being
contradicted in a variety of ways. First, it
was alleged that the lifeboat was turned
over, but when she was recovered on the
beach the rowlocks were in her,
and the water bottles and all
the other fittings were intact. The
cleaver was there, too, with which
Lamb cut the boat loose. "This
would hardly have been there had she been
toppled over by an angry wave. Then
again it was said the passengers and crew
were seen in the other boat for some time.
That is discounted by the discovery that
the plug was never put in. With that out
it was impossible for her to live three
minutes in such a sea, and with such a
load. There is ground for the conviction
down in the Bairnadale district that some
startling facts will be revealed at the
The inquest will probably be opened to
morrow. So far no relatives or friends of
those lost by the wreck have been down
for identification purposes. The Sale police
are now scouring the coast from the west
ward to Bartons, and the search is being
actively maintained by the lost named
people, and their visitors. Objects supposed
to be bodies were seen in the surf
this evening, but cannot be recovered till
Bairnsdale Advertiser, THursday 5 April. 1900.
NARRATIVE OF THE WRECK.
Alexander Lamb, a seaman, deposed
that he was on the s.s. Glenelg as a
seaman on the 24th inst. The vessel
left Bairnsdale at 12 o'clock noon, and
arrived at Cuninghame at about 4.30.
After taking in cargo there she sailed
at 7 p.m. for Melbourne. Captain
English was on board as commander,
and Mr Burke as mate. He believed
from what he had been told that there
were about 20 passengers on board.
The evening was bright when they
passed out through the Entrance.
The port watch, to which he belonged,
was on duty. At 8 o'clock his watch
went below, and came on deck again
at midnight. He was at the wheel
from 12 o'clock to 2 a.m., when he was
relieved. He then went down on deck
and kept the remainder of the watch
till a quarter to 4. Then he said to
Bundy "It's time I was calling the
watch.", he had scarcely had time to
call the watch, when Mr Burke, the
chief mate, called out to "Lay
aft and bale water out of the cabin."
They rushed aft and passed water out
of the cabin in buckets. He stood
there about 10 minutes baling, during
which time the water increased about
Sudden, unexpected and unable to keep up with ingress of water.
He then rushed on to the
bridge and spoke to the captain, telling
him the water was increasing so fast
that buckets were of no avail. He
left the bridge then and scrambled onto the top of the house aft. First they
tried to put out the life boat - Bundy,
the cook, a couple of firemen and himself.
They couldn't lift the boat out of the chocks. A similar problem was reported with regard to Waratah - note difficulties in an emergency situation.
Then they went to the starboard boat -
the jolly boat and lowered her from the deck.
Bundy and the chief mate were present on the
top of the house when this was done.
Captain English sang out to pull the
boat alongside the bridge, and called
for Mr Burke, the chief mate, to see
that all the passengers were brought
out on to the bridge. Mr Burke was
not many minutes down the cabin
when he came running up on top of the
house, saying, "Lamb, cut the after
falls, and I'll cut the for'ard." After
doing that he went to cut the lashings
off the rafts, but he had to leave off
doing this before he finished cutting
them all. The vessel at this time was
shipping heavy water over the stern,
and was sinking.
Note rapidity with which the crisis unfolded preventing crew from completing emergency procedures.
He had then to lay
hold of the life boat. He had been
waiting for the water to come over the
stern of the vessel to shift the lifeboat.
He was busy clearing the davits and
unhooking the boat as the vessel was
going down. With the chief mate and
the captain assisting, they got the life
boat clear of the vessel's side. The
last words Captain English said to him
were, "Lamb, keep her clear of the
wreck." "With that Burke, the mate
who had been in the boat with witness,
Bundy and Thorne - jumped back on
to the vessel. The boat drifted ahead
of the vessel about 15 yards, and he
saw at the same time the starboard or
jolly boat pass from under the counter.
Subinspector Graham: What time
was that ?
Witness : About half-past 4.
Do you mean the boat or the
steamer then disappeared ?
Examination continued: They then
bore down to the other boat and got
so close that they were near enough to
throw a rope to each other. The
other boat did try to throw them a
rope. The boatswain was in charge of
the other boat, and tried a second
time to throw a rope but failed. He
then said to those in the boat with
him, "Keep your eyes on the boat,"
and followed her in the breeze for
about a quarter of an hour, when she
disappeared. His boat was then
about 100 yards astern of the other
one at this time. They had to keep
baling their own boat constantly.
There were about 30 fathoms of
ratline line in the boat and three sea
anchors. He bent one of the sea
anchors on to the ratline line and
threw it out for the purpose of hauling
the boat to windward. The wind at
the time, he thought, was S.W. He
did this to pick up anybody that
might be floating in the water. Two
of the anchors were carried away. On
putting out the third one they doubled
the line and held on to midnight on
Sunday, as far as he could judge. It
was about the middle of the day
before the wind appeared to cease. On
daylight breaking they knew their
position by the sun. When the
weather moderated he tore up the stern
sheets and the bottom boards, used
their coats, and feathered the oars in
the rowlocks, to draw the wind. On
Tuesday at midday they sighted land.
Thorne then began to show signs of
wandering in his mind, and threatened
to jump overboard if he were not put
ashore. "Do you really mean to go
ashore?" he asked Thorne, who re-
plied "Yes." He then backed the
boat into the beach and said to him
"Now's your time." Thorne jumped
into the water and got ashore, and
was seen afterwards on the face of the
hummocks. He saw the lights at the
Entrance, and the wind being favorable
from the N.E., he thought they would
roach there in two hours. But when
they got up there the wind from the
east drove them back.
Mr Kirkpatrick: An easterly wind
would drive you the opposite way.
Witness : I don't know the position
Mr Kirkpatrick: Well, the coast
runs east and west.
Examination continued. He beached
the boat about five miles from where
they put Thorne ashore-about five
miles from the Snowy River. They
had been off Marlo, but they did not
know how to get in. When he
beached the boat he jumped ashore
with the painter in his hand. He
told Bundy to remove the oars, life
belts, etc., out of the boat. They went
off to pick up Thorne's tracks, which
they found and followed to the telegraph
poles. They got to the head of
the lake and met a man on horseback,
whom they hailed with a tomahawk he
(witness) had in his hand. The horse-
man came towards them, and witness
said to him, "We belong to the
steamer Glenelg. Which is the best
way for us to act ?" "We are just out
looking for you," the horseman replied.
They were then taken to a house,
where they were given some food and
afterwards driven to Cuninghame.
Subinspector Graham : Is that all
you said on meeting the man on horse-
back? Did you not say, " We've been
shipwrecked," or "'We are from the
Glenelg, which has been wrecked ?"
Witness: No. He didn't require
to be told any more. He said he was
out looking for us.
Examination continued : From 2
o'clock on Sunday morning the wind
had been increasing and seas breaking
on board. It was blowing pretty stiff
at 8 o'clock at night, and at 12 o'clock
the sea was very rough and the vessel
wet with seas coming on board. The
chief mate was in charge of the watch
on duty. The passengers had been
enjoying themselves in the saloon up
to 9 o'clock, when they got "monkey
on it," he supposed, and turned in.
He saw several of them walking about
wearing life belts when the vessel was
in distress. He noticed some of them
walk on to the bridge. These had life
belts on them. He saw the water
under the cabin tables when the baling
out was going on. The vessel kept her
course; it was never altered.
Lifebelts saved none. Interesting that the vessel kept her course despite showing obvious signs of sinking rapidly - could this have applied to Waratah after striking St Johns Reef?
He could not say how many people were
in the jolly boat. It was too dark to
notice that, and the boat was deep
in the water. The steamer went
down stern first, her stem rising
out of the water before she dis-
appeared. About half of her was
under water when the life boat was
floated off the chocks. 'The jolly boat
was on the starboard side when the
steamer went down. 'The boatswain,
who was in tho jolly boat, called out,
"Lamb, keep as close as you can."
He couldn't understand why the mate,
after being in the life boat, jumped
back into the sinking steamer. He
heard none of the passengers say any-
thing. They all did as they were told
and walked on to the bridge, "as if
they had a right to do so."
Cross-examined by Mr Kirkpatrick:
He had been to sea for upwards of 30
years. He remembered the boats
being launched in the river the week
The Coroner said he would remind
Mr Kirkpatrick that this was not to be
a fishing inquiry.
Mr Kirkpatrick said for his part all
he wanted to know was how these
people came by their deaths.
Cross-examination continued: He
assisted in launching the boats in the
river. They were thoroughly good
boats in every way. He saw the plugs
made and attached to the jolly boat
with lines long enough to reach the
holes. Each boat had half-a-dozen
extra plugs. There was nothing
dangerous in going to sea the night the
Glenelg sailed. The steamer was not
turned back to witness's knowledge.
The sea was dead behind her when she
Mr Kirkpatrick: If the gale was
blowing south-west and the seas were
coming in over her stern, she would be
running towards the land, wouldn't
Witness: She had been running
back for about half-an-hour.
How do you know ? - I saw Captain
English put the helm down.
And that would bring her towards
the land ?
Are you perfectly satisfied that the
vessel was seaworthy ?
And satisfied with the boats and
life-saving apparatus ?
Yes. They were all good.
Continuing, the witness said everyone
he saw on board had a life belt on.
His own was in splendid order. From
the time of the launching of the jolly
boat till she sank would be about half
an-hour. If the plugs were out of
her, he thought, with the pressure
caused by the people in her she would
fill and sink under half-an-hour. The
rafts were in good order. He worked
to get them loose as long as he could,
but he had to leave them.
The Foreman : Was Captain English
on the bridge ?
Was the boat not attached to the
ship with a painter ?
It had no painter. The painter was cut away
with the falls. We thought it was
part of the falls.
Mr Kirkpatrick : Were the engines
working smoothly ? You should be
able to know that ?
Yes, they were working smoothly
until I left the vessel.
The Foreman : Can you say when
the engines stopped ?
Couldn't say when they stopped. Suggesting that the engines were not stopped at the onset of the crisis - against what one would expect.
Dr James Duncan deposed that he
made an examination of eight dead
bodies in a building in Wood street
that day. The faces were all very
much swollen and livid; their abdomens
extended with gases, the effects
of decomposition. They had the
appearance of having been dead eight
or ten days. He made a post-mortem
examination of the body of Richard
Palmer and found that his lungs were
very much engorged with water, and
there was also a considerable quantity
of water in the stomach, which were
the common symptoms of death by
drowning. Most of the bodies were
all more or less mutilated by sharks,
after, he thought, death had taken
Henry Johnston, principal of the
steam cooperage, South Melbourne,
deposed that on viewing some dead
bodies in Wood street that evening he
identified one as that of Mrs Griffiths,
of M'Ilwraith street, Carlton. The
underclothing corresponded with which
he had been instructed she wore, as
also her shoes. A bad scald from the
elbow to the top of the shoulder was
another mark of identification, as also
were her teeth. The jewellery corresponded
with that which she was
wearing. A piece of her hair, loose,
Chas. Wm. Norris, a pastry cook at
Collingwood, deposed that he identified
one of the dead bodies he had
viewed that afternoon as that of Mrs
Moran. It was by her face and
clothes he identified her. He was her
Wm. Jas. Sykes, an engraver at
Prahran, deposed that be identified
one of the bodies shown him that
afternoon as that of his sister, Mrs
Hiatt. The jacket on the body, a
small handkerchief, and the initials on
the keeper ring he recognised as hers.
At this stage the inquest was adjourned
until 3 pm. next day.
The Argus (Melbourne) Saturday 16 June, 1900
THE GLENELG DISASTER.
The investigation into the circumstances
attendmg the loss of the steamer Glenelg
on March 24, while on a voyage from
Lakes Entrance to Melbourne, was con-
tinued yesterday at the Custom-house by
the Court of Marine Inquiry. The Court
consisted of Mr. Panton, P.M. (president)
and Captain Goodrham and Mr. Dunbar,
skilled members. Mr. Ferguson appeared
for the Marine Board, Mr. W.H. Croker
for the owners (Messrs. Ellerker), Mr.
Ebsworth for the relatives of the late
chief engineer (Mr. Fyffe), and Mr. Farlow
for relatives of other deceased members of
Mr Farlow - What is your theory? (Mr. Croker)
I think it likely that the blade of the propeller
picked up some half sunken log or snag
and carried it inwards, tearing the whole
quarter out of her stern. I have frequently
seen snags floating about the mouth of the
Snowy River and the Lakes Entrance, and
I remember the Bogong having been injured
in this manner three years ago.
Surely the engines would not have been running smoothly at this point, not to mention the commotion caused by the 'tearing out of the quarter stern' ?
To Mr. Croker - Such an accident might
happen to a new and perfectly seaworthy
Willis Cunningham, examined by Mr.
Ebsworth said he was assistant engineer
of the Glenelg in 1891, and remembered her
grazing the bottom in that year. In witness's opinion,
such a graze would not have damaged a vessel in
good condition, but a hole was made, which witness
had to plug with cotton waste. After a sixteenth of
an inch of corrosion was knocked off, the
plate at the spot where the hole was made
was less than a quarter of an inch thick. Reminiscent of Waratah taking the ground at Port Adelaide and possibly a knock off Kangaroo Island. Repairs in the case of the Glenelg were not adequate.
Witness left the ship because he did not
consider her seaworthy.
To Mr. Croker, witness said that nine
days elapsed before the vessel was docked
and she showed no evidence of additional
damage during that period. It was a
month afterwards that witness left the
ship. Illustrates that latent hull plate damage could take time before manifesting in a disaster.....
The Court adjourned.
Reporter (Box Hill) Friday 20 August, 1909 A Waratah Passenger. Mr. John Ebsworth, the well-knownsolicitor of Box Hill, is, as everyone knows, a passenger on board the "Waratah," whose present position is so uncertain. It may not be generally known that Mr. Ebsworth is himself an experienced sailor. A few years ago he published a little book dealing with the law of master and seaman and claims for salvage. Inquiry extract: It should be noted that whilst Mr. Sawyer was so alarmed by what he saw of the ship's behaviour that he left her, Mr. Ebsworth, who had the same opportunities of observation, and who had discussed the matter with Mr. Sawyer, went on in the vessel, and had made arrangements with Mr. Saunders (see his evidence set out ante) to return in her to Australia. Extract period newspaper: 'Mr. John Ebsworth was a prominent solicitor practising in Melbourne and was the holder of a master mariner's certificate.'
'Prior to engaging in the practice of law he occupied the positions of second and chief officer of steamers trading between London and Australia for seven or eight years, and on account of his seafaring experience his services were greatly sought for in the Marine Court of Victoria.'
'Mr. Ebsworth was a prominent Mason and was the son of Mr. John Ebsworth, solicitor of London.'
Mr Ebsworth was primarily on a business trip to England, but intended to visit his mother while there.
This was going to be his trip back to England.
Mr Ebsworth, passionate about maritime law, had published a handbook, 'Law Relating to Master and Seaman and Claims for Salvage'. John Ebsworth engaged in discussions with Claude Sawyer and Mr. Richards about the performance of the Waratah. They all agreed that Waratah's tendency to plough through oncoming swells rather than riding them, was unusual. But in general Mr. Ebsworth proved his confidence in the vessel by staying on board Waratah and intending to return by her. Ghastly parallel can be drawn between the Glenelg and Waratah - no passengers saved. Little was Mr. Ebsworth to know what lay in store for him...