The following extract from a period newspaper (1907) illustrates the fallibility of lighthouse keepers and those designated to be on watch. Cape Hermes lighthouse simply provided a powerful beam to warn sailors of the promontory and reef. I doubt whether the keepers were diligently scanning the ocean after dark, 27 July, 1909, and this extract reinforces my opinion. Note how observers misinterpreted a distress light and flares, not to mention white lights of the doomed Norma. And all of this took place off Port Adelaide where officials were duty-bound to see to the well being of vessels at sea and entering port. If port officials couldn't identify flares for what they were, how can we assume that the crew of the Harlow knew any better.....
The Advertiser, Adelaide, Tuesday 30 April, 1907.
INQUEST ON THE
FRICTION WITH THE
The adjourned inquest on the body of
Ferdinand Thomson, the carpenter of the
four-masted barque Norma, was continued
on Monday morning by the City Coronet
(Dr. Ramsay Smith). Mr. K. A. Webb,
with Mr. S. H. Skipper, appeared on behalf
of Captain Thomas, of the Ardencraig, while
Mr. E. G. Cleland represented the Norma.
Frederick John Hurley, A.B., on the vessel
Ardencraig, stated that he was on board
the Ardencraig as the "look-out" on the
morning of April 21. The vessel was preparing
to anchor. The first light he saw
was on the port bow. It was a white light.
He saw only 'one light'. It was so misty,
and rainy, and dark that he could not judge
how far away it was, but it appeared to be
a good distance. He reported it out, but
did not know who be told about it. When
he said he reported it, he meant that he
sang out about it, and someone answered
him. He was at the starboard side of the
forecastle head at the time. There was
another look-out man named Cairns on the
other side. A squall came on almost immediately
after, and the light disappeared
from view. He was looking tor that light,
and it appeared on the starboard bow.
There was only the same light. Almost
immediately he saw the loom of a ship, and
he and the mate yelled out simultaneously.
By Mr. Skipper he meant the mate of
the ship when he used the term mate.
Continuing, the witness said he did not
know if the mate was there previously, but
he heard his voice. The witness called out,
"A ship right ahead." He did not hear
what the mate called out. He only saw
the one light at the time. The ship Ardencraig
hoisted head sail and tried to pay off,
but finally they collided with that ship.
They hit the Norma right abeam, amid-
ships. After they hit her the men of the
Ardencraig ran forward and helped some
of the crew of the sinking vessel onto their
own ship. The Ardencraig backed away
after the collision.
He could not say how far they were away from her; it was so
dark, he saw the anchor light of the Norma
after she was struck, and he also saw the
stern light at the same time. It seemed a
long time from the time he saw the light
first until they struck the Norma, but he
thought it was about 10 minutes. He could
not say how long it was from the time he
saw the light the second time until the collision
occurred. He could not say whether
the Ardencraig altered her course between
the time be last called out and the time the
ships collided. He saw no difference in the
position of the light during that time.
When he saw the light for the first time he
thought it might have been a gas buoy, it being
a low light and he not having been in the port before.
Immediately before he saw the loom of the
ship the crew were just taking the foretopsail off.
There was some talk on the forecastle head about
a pilot boat, and he said to his mate, referring to the
light - "It is either our pilot boat coming out to us, or
a gas buoy". He could not say if there was
any time to alter the ship's course between
the time he called out and the time the
ships collided, but as they were very
near the Norma he did not think
there was much time to do so.
When he first saw the light on the port bow
it was about a point from right ahead.
It was a very dull light. When he saw the
light again on the starboard bow it was
about a point and a half off that course.
As they came up it seemed to go away farther.
If they had kept on the previous course when he
first saw the light the Ardencraig would
have cleared the light. He was sure of
that. It was hard to say whether
they could have cleared her if they had
kept that course when they saw the light
the second time. He thought it was about
seconds before they hoisted the broad sails.
He was not sure who gave the order for
the sails to be set. He heard the order
but there was a lot of confusion and he
was excited. He thought the proper thing
to do to pay-off would be to hoist the
head sails and as she was on the port tack
put the helm hard up. He did not see
the two lights until after the collision. He
heard no order to drop the anchor before
the collision, but they had their anchors
all ready to drop, but as a matter of fact
no anchor was dropped before the vessel
struck the Norma. During the whole of
that time it was blowing hard, raining, and
The Coroner - Do you use binoculars on
the look-out?-Use what.sir?
Glasses - use glasses? - No, sir. A man
is supposed to have good sight at sea.
The witness said he heard no cry or
warning from the wrecked vessel. He and
his mates were all shouting hard when
about 100 yards away from her. But it
seemed as if there was no one aboard. At
the time they were to windward of the light
he had seen. He was still on the articles
of the Ardencraig. They struck the
Norma's port side. He did not hear that
any of the Norma's crew were missing until
after the Ardencraig had anchored.
Archibald Cairns, A.B. on the Ardencraig
deposed that on the morning of April
21 he was on the look-out on that vessel.
He saw one light only on the Norma
before the collision, but as we were
going down he saw two lights.
He was positive he only saw one light previous
to the disaster.
Mr. Webb - it was a dark and squally
night After he saw the light the first
time a heavy rain squall came on, which
dimmed the light from their view for the
time being. When he saw the light on
the starboard bow the second time the
ship loomed in sight. They heard no
warning at all from the Norma. He had
no idea what time elapsed between seeing
the ship and striking her, but they had
no time to get out of the way. If the
light had kept on the port bow they would
have cleared the ship. Just as the ships
struck he saw the second light.
The Coroner said that the next witness
he would like to call was the man who was
at the helm of the Aidencraig, but he had
Captain Thomas said he thought that the
police knew where he was. The man had
not been discharged, but he had heard that
a man of his description had cleared out in
a vessel to Newcastle.
The captain then said, "See what you can make
of that light," pointing over the port bow, but there
was a squall on at the time, with light rain, and he
saw a faint light about a point to a port
and a-half on the port bow. He said. "I'll
run forward and have a better look
at it." The captain followed him almost
immediately, in that time the rain was
thicker and it had grown darker. After
he had been there for about two minutes he
could see a ship lying right across the bow
of the Ardencraig and mentioned it to the
captain, who was just turning to go down
the ladder. The captain told him to stand
by to let go the anchor. The wítness said
"Mr God! she's a ship at anchor." He
could only see her stern light burning dimly.
It was on their starboard bow. The captain then
ran aft, shouting to the man at
the wheel to put the helm hard up, and
told the witness to set the head sail.
He never saw two lights before the collision.
The Norma's stern light was on their starboard
bow at one time.
...but the boatswain told him subsequently
that there had been blue light - burnt. There
was no second officer. The second officer
had fallen overboard at sea near the Cape
of Good Hope and was drowned, so that
practically he had to do the work of both
first and second mate
By Mr. Skipper - The Ardencraig showed
sign of having struck the Norma on the
port bow. All the marks of that collision showed there.
By Mr. Gelanel - To injure the stern it
was not necessary to strike a vessel stern
on. The Ardencraig struck her at angle.
By the Coroner - He was sure the wind
was not anything to the south or west
until after they got into the boat. It might
have been farther to the north or north-
west when they were coming up.
By the Coroner - If the helm had been
put hard down instead of hard up the
Ardencraig would have struck the Norma
exactly at right angles.
By Mr. Skipper - When he first saw the
ship ahead he said. "Shall I let go the
anchor?" and the skipper replied. "Good
God. no! We're too close now. The
masts will come down and kill us all if
we get alongside them or one will rake the
other and kill everybody."
The Lookout Ashore.
Henry William Franson deposed that he
was headkeeper of the Port Adelaide light-
house. His duty was in connection with
vessels coming up and signalling for a pilot
at night-time, and acquainting the pilot of
the signals by telephone. He rang up the
pilot on duty in the box which was situated
on shore near the signal station. He
had no instructions regarding looking
out for signals of distress. He could not
say whether his duties were laid down by
Act of Parliament or by Marine Board
regulations. He performed them by instructions
from his superior officer. He had never had
them in writing and it was simply an understanding.
There was a circular he had received, stating
that the lighthouse keeper had to call up the pilot
when signals were shown for that official.
He was on duty on the night of April 20
last. He went on duty at sunset and had
to remain on duty till sunrise. There was
nobody on duty or relieving him during
The Coroner mentioned at this stage that
three men of the crew of the Ardencraig
had obtained permits from the shipping
master to sign on another vessel. He asked
Mr. Skipper if it was necessary to call the
shipping master to tender evidence as to
the men's departure. Mr. Skipper thought
such a course would be best.
The Witness (continuing) said that about
daybreak he saw a flare-up light. He took
it as a signal for a pilot, as the vessel was
at anchor at the time, he rang up the
pilot by telephone and acquainted him of
the fact. That was about 6 a.m. There
was no conversation. The pilot said "All
right" when he told him a ship had arrived.'
He saw no further signals after
that. He would judge that the ship was
about four miles from the jetty, and it was
a mile and three-quarters from the jetty to
By a Juror - If there had been any more
lights burnt during the night he should
probably have seen them.
By the Coroner - He was not on
duty at the lighthouse on the.
night in question. They had two
months in the lighthouse and one ashore
and while ashore they kept the look-out at
night on the jetty. He did his best
always to discover an arriving ship. They
were not expected to keep a look-out for
signals in the lighthouse.
By a Juror - From the end of the jetty he
could plainly see the Norma's lights. He
could see what he took to be the Norma's
lights up to daybreak. There were two
lights, the regulation number. If
a vessel came up during the night, and
showed signs of distress it was the pilot's
duty to see into the matter. If he saw a
signal of distress he would report it to the
pilot, and there it would end, as far as he
By Mr. Skipper - He did not notice any
other signals on the Ardencraig, such as
flags, for instance. He knew the Ardencraig
had passed Cape Borda at 9 a.m. on
Saturday, and when he went on duty he
knew that she was expected, and looked out
to see her lights coming up the gulf. When
he saw the Ardencraig next morning he
knew she was not the Norma, because the
Norma was a four-masted ship, and the
Ardencraig only had three masts. He did not
consider it peculiar for the vessel to send
up a flare so near daybreak. He simply
announced the arrival of the vessel to.the
pilot. It was about eight months since
the lighthouse keepers were put on look-out
duty on the jetty. He received a circular at
that time. The only shelter was the lighthouse-box,
but he could not see the anchorage from the box.
He thought the Norma had sailed the next morning
when he did not sight her. The wind was about west
south-west, and it was impossible for her
to have got out of sight.
By Mr. Cleland - When he went on duty
at sunset he saw the Norma there, and
afterwards saw her lights. He did not see more
than a couple all through the night.
He had no idea that the Norma had been
sunk by the Ardencraig, and that the lights
of the latter vessel were not those of the
By The Court - The jetty was several feet
high. It would be easier to keep a look-
out from the lighthouse than from the
Robert Alfred Smith, shipping master at
Port Adelaide, stated that the police
showed him a photograph of a man this
morning, and said it was that of a man
named Lambert. He could not recognise
any man correspondmg to the photograph.
Frequently sailors who wished to join
a ship and had no discharge to show,
applied for a permit, for which they paid.
Since April 21 he had received three
applications, and the police had suspicions
that one of those was from Lambert.
Apart from the police enquiry, the Marine
Board sent down a message not to ship any
of the men of the Ardencraig and so he
was particularly careful. Mr. Darby made
enquiries, but did not think the man who
called himself Sinclair was really Lambert.
By Mr. Skipper - Captain Thomas had
not been seen by him about the matter.
No steps had been taken to secure the help
of the captain and first mate in identifying
the man before he shipped for Newcastle.
The Pilot's Version.
Peter Dickson, pilot in the service of
the Marine Board, deposed that he was on
duty on the morning of April 21 last at
the signal station. He received notifications
from the lighthouse-keeper at night-time,
but the pilots kept their own lookout
during the day. There was no call all the
time he was on duty. The night watchman,
Franson, called him. All Franson said was that
the ship had arrived, and the witness went
up on the hill to see it there were any
signals. He then called the assistant health
officer. At that time he did not know
what ship it was, but suspected it was the
Ardencraig. Dr. Benson did not arrive till
about 7.30 a.m, and they then went out
together to the vessel.
By a Juror - It was not the duty of the
pilot to keep a look-out; the watchman was
appointed to do that. The watchman did
not report any lights or flare-ups that night.
It had always been the custom for the
night watchman to keep the lookout.
There was once a watchman kept on the
jetty permanently, but about seven months
ago the system was changed and the light-
house-keepers were appointed to keep watch.
By Mr. Skipper - He read the flags erroneously
on the Ardencraig. He thought the
flags read J.K.U.. whereas the flags J.A.U.
were hoisted, which meant. "Have been in
collision" J.K.U. read. "Will be renewed,"
and he thought they would send a further
message. The flags A. and K. were very
much alike. The flags P.T. (pilot) were also
shown on the vessel.
Captain T. Richardson pilot-in-charge,
said that in his opinion the law did not
make it anybody's business to keep a look-
out. He thought the only order was one
issued by the Marine Board.
The inquest was adjourned until 4 p.m.
Upon resuming, Robert Angus, night
watchman of the dredger Parmelia, stated
that he was aboard the dredger on the morning
of April 21. He saw two blue lights, and flare ups,
and flashlights burning early that morning.
The blue lights seemed to be out farther than
the lighthouse, and the flare ups seemed to he
nearer him than the lighthouse. It was some time
between 1.20 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. The watch continued
for over half an hour. When his attention was first drawn
to the blue light he remarked to a greaser on board.
"That's a blue light for a Pilot." They conversed
for some time, and be then saw a flare up.
He said, ''There is more to that than a pilot.
It's a distress sign."(hard to believe it took this long and surely blue = distress)
"There's been a collision or something and
they are wanting assistance."
By a juror - He would judge the distance
to be from i\ to ii miles away. It was
wonder to him that the reflection of the
lights did not go through windows in
houses and wake people up. (Captain Bruce was astounded that the brightly burning lights of Waratah were not noticed by the keepers at Cape Hermes)
By Mr. Leland - He did not notice the
lights prior to 1.30 a.m., and after 2.30 am
and took no more notice of them, as he went
for a cup of cocoa. He fixed the time because
he came up from the engine-room at 1 a.m.
and saw the clock as he came up.
By the Coroner - A ship coming up the
gulf burning blue lights would be seen
plainly anywhere within five miles.
By Mr. Skipper - The flare lights were
much nearer to him than the blue lights.
John Thordsen Garcia, boatswain, of the
Ardencraig deposed that he was holding
the second officer's watch on board the
Ardencraig on the evening of April 20 coming
up the gulf. He went on duty at 8 p.m.
The captain was burning a couple of bright
lights for a pilot about 10.45 p.m. The lights
burned for 15 or 16 seconds at a time
and at 11 o'clock he saw another blue light
burnt. After that he saw a white Iight
shown several times. By showing light
he meant the light was shown behind the
bulwarks, raised and lowered so that it
flashed out, disappeared, and then flashed
out again. That was the signal for the
pilot. The Ardencraig did not alter her
course that evening, but kept on as she was
going, so far as he knew.
The Coroner announced that with regard
to the circular issued to the lighthousekeepers
there was no copy to be procured at the
Marine Board offices.
Captain Thomas' Story.
Captain Thomas, master of the Ardencraig,
was then called. The Coroner said
that he need not answer any questions
which would be likely to incriminate himself.
The witness deposed that on April 20 he was
approaching the anchorage, at between
10.30 p.m. and 11 p.m. he burnt
blue lights for a pilot. He also took a
lamp and dipped it, up and down as a sort
of flashlight. He called all hands on deck
as they neared the anchorage, and at
? o'clock the crew began to shorten sail.
The sails were all made fast with the exception
of the main-uppertops and the foretop
mast-stays. All the work was accordingly
pushed before eight bells rang. The moon
went down just about midnight. The
weather then was fine and clear. The yards
were all braced up and the steering course
had been set at 7.30 p.m. until the time of
the collision. A few minutes after 1 a.m the
main-uppertopsail was lowered and the
foretopmast-staysail hauled down.
They had 11 fathoms of water beneath
the lead. The boatswain took in the sail
while the mate cockbilled the anchors. The
wind drew a little light and set west to north
westerly, so he set the maintopmast-sail
again and kept it up about five minutes
when a strong puff of wind came on again
from the north-west. Just about the
time he spied a light on the port bow,
and watched it for a little while. He fancied
at first it was the steam launch with the pilot aboard.
It appeared to him to be a red light at one (now it is a red light)
time, with a flashlight beside it. He went
down after that and threw the lead over
and found there was 10 fathoms of water.
He went back and again watched the light
which was keeping in about the same position
at the port bow. He then dipped his light in answer,
thinking she was showing a flashlight. At the time
a heavy squall came up and obscured the light,
and all the harbor lights as well. He came to the
conclusion that he had better anchor, so he
called the mate aft and asked him if he was
certain the anchors were clear. He
answered. "Yes. and the carpenter is waiting
by the windlass." As he was going forward
the witness said to him. "What do
you make of that light on the port bow?
The mate replied, "I'll go forward, sir, and
get a better look at it." Witness followed
him a little later, and gave him orders to
stand by to let go the anchor. It was raining
all the time, and the squall was on to
of them. The witness turned to leave the
forecastle head, when all at once the mate
yelled out, "Good God! She' s a ship at
anchor." Immediately the witness sang
out, "Hard up," to the man at the wheel
and told the mate to set the head sails.
The mate said, "Shall I let go the anchor?'
and witness replied, "No!" and ran aft.
When he got on the poop the helmsman was
on the point of putting his wheel down. In
fact, he had it turned that way. The witness
jumped to the wheel and helped him
to put the helm up. He then went forward
as quickly as he could, and by the time he
reached the ladder, leading to the forecastle
head the fore-topgallantmast broke. He
yelled out. "Stand from under," to the men
and everybody went under cover except the
two lookout men and the chief mate. By
this time they had collided with the other
ship, but the impact was not felt whatever
by the Ardencraig. Ropes were at once
thrown over to the other ship, and a few
men came up them, who were talking
Norwegian together. He heard those on the
other ship putting a Boat out aft, and the
first word he heard spoken on the Norma
was the captain asking if all the men were
there. Then the witness set the spanker
so as to keep the ship in the gap in order
to rescue the men. The mate counted the
crew of the Norma as they came up. Then
Captain McLaughlin found that the carpenter
was missing. He sent his boat back to
the ship immediately while the witness
lowered the spanker and squared the main
yard. Then the Ardencraig backed off
finally they dropped anchor a few hundred
feet from the Norma. After dropping the
anchor he heard the cry of a human being
and the Ardencraig's lifeboat was lowered
at once, and the chief officer and four men
went to the rescue. Before this he had
begun to put blue lights up and flashes.
They kept the lights going until daylight.
How long the deceased shouted he could
not say, as he could also hear the boat's
crew shouting for a long time. Finally the
boat landed at the dredger. He was very
much afraid for some time that the boat
and crew had been lost, as he could get no
trace of them. Mr. Butler, the second
mate of the Norma, put most of the flashes
up. He burnt about 20 gallons of oil and
half a bale of oakum. At daylight they ran
up the flags, "I have been in collision.'' and
also signalled for the pilot, "K.T."
By the Coroner - He carne here with
every confidence, for the last time he arrived
here he got the pilot punctually. When
he found his signals were not answered he
deemed it advisible lo drop anchor, and intended
to do so when the accident occurred.
The black squall which descended on them
spoilt the whole thing. He was certain he
would have been perfectly safe if it had not
been for that. The signal for a pilot boat
should be a white light, with a green and
red light aft if under steam. When he
first saw the white light he could also distinctly
see the red light, and that made him(dejavu)
think it was the pilot boat. If it had been
the light of the pilot boat he would have
expected a red light as well on his port
bow. He could not say now that they
were the two lights of a ship at anchor(!!).
He was positive the Ardencraig did not alter
her course at all during the time the light
WAS seen on the port bow, and when it was
seen on the starboard bow. It was quite
possible that the light of the Norma seen
on our port bow might have been the head
light, and the one on the starboard bow the
stern light of the Norma. He believed he
said something about the man putting the
helm hard down to Captain McLaughlin on
the forecastle head. When the witness read
the log out to the man at the wheel he denied it,
and said he would not sign it on account of that.
The report in the newspaper stating that he
said the man put the helm hard down was incorrect.
That was why he said he would not attend the inquest
Later that morning, the steamer Jessie Darling misread the signals from the Ardencraig and steamed to its assistance. The shallow wreck of the Norma ripped a gaping hole in its hull and it too sank within eight minutes, settling on top of the Norma. The crew was saved and the vessel was subsequently repaired and re-floated within the next twelve months. Acknowledging the dangers posed by the wreck, authorities dynamited the site.
Norma was a four-masted barque of 2122 tons, built by Barclay, Curle & Company, Glasgow in 1893 which traded between Australia and the United Kingdom. The figurehead represents a druid priestess from Welsh mythology. On 21 April 1907, loaded with 31,045 bags of wheat, Norma anchored off Semaphore waiting for favourable winds. That morning, the barque Ardencraig, misjudging distances through the pelting rain, struck the Normamidships and sank it within fifteen minutes. All Norma’s crew escaped, except the ship’s carpenter who was missed in the chaos.