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Capt Fothergills Heroic Rescue

From Western Mail Saturday 17 September 1890

  • Shipwreck At Rottnest.
  • The Denton Holme Ashore.
  • The Vessel Abandoned.
  • All Hands Saved.


The utmost excitement was manifested in Fremantle, on Thursday morning, when the news was circulated that a large vessel had gone ashore at Rottnest. Despite the in» clemency of the weather many persons frequented the vicinity of the jetty in order to ascertain news of the disaster. The first information of the casualty was brought ashore early in the morning by Pilot Gilmore, who rowed a small dingy five miles in order, to bring the tidings, and to secure the necessary help from the mainland. He was compelled to adopt this course owing to the calm at the time the vessel went ashore, and as the pilot boat could not be sailed with sufficient speed, when it had got some distance, he embarked in a small boat, and in the teeth of threatening weather brought the news to the harbour authorities.


The Denton Holme, formerly known as the Star of Denmark, and built about 27 years ago, is a barque of 998 tons, owned by Messrs. Hine Bros., and was bound from Glasgow laden with 1,275 tons of pipes for the Perth Water-works, and from 250 to 300 tons of general cargo. She sailed on June 23rd, so that she has been about 90 days on the voyage. At 11.55 on Wednesday evening the barque was sighted by those on duty at the Lighthouse on Rottnest, and in accordance with the usual custom the pilot boat, in charge of Pilot Butcher, was manned, and put off to the vessel. The weather at this time was moderate, although there was every indication of a storm, the sea being comparatively calm. The crew of the pilot-boat watched the progress of the big vessel, and wondered that she did not stop. It seemed that she hugged the shore too closely and the result was soon discerned, for the barque suddenly struck between the Transits and the Kingston Spit, on the out- side, and nearly on the same spot where the s.s. Macedon and the schooner Janet were wrecked some years ago.


Of course alacrity was the order of the night on board the barque, and the necessary signals of distress were shewn. These were immediately observed by those at the Lighthouse and the crew of the fast approaching pilot boat, and the necessary return signals were made. The pilot boat got alongside, and Pilot Butcher soon boarded, while in the meantime, Pilot Gilmore had made all necessary arrangements for assistance. The weather was calm, but the atmospherical indications were anything but favourable, and it was deemed advisable to at once despatch news to the mainland. As already related Pilot Gilmore arrived at Fremantle safe and sound, and it was not long before the Chief Harbour Master, Captain Russell, was aroused and informed of what had taken place. With all possible speed Captain Russell and the harbour crew assembled at the jetty, and the s.s. Rescue, belonging to Captain Fothergill, having got steam up, a start was made for the scene of the wreck. In addition to the harbour crew, the members of the pilot crew were taken on board, they having by this time succeeded in gaining the port.  


Information was left by Capt. Russell that the s.s. Cleopatra was to be despatched before noon to act as a tender, but while she was getting up steam one of the boiler-tubes burst, and she was rendered hors de combat.


The news of the wreck reached the port shortly after daylight, and about 8 o'clock the Rescue was ready. This was quick work, when it is considered that the crew had to be sought and steam got up, and other arrangements made.


On the arrival of the tug at the scene of the shipwreck it was found that Pilot Butcher had rendered assistance of the utmost value, in fact he almost lost his life in his efforts. Just at daybreak the glass began to fall rapidly, and a north-west gale swept over the coast, accompanied with drenching showers of rain. Pilot Butcher at once saw the advisability of making things secure, so he began to remove the ship's papers, the captain's chronometer, money, and other valuables. The sea was now rising rapidly, and while jumping from the ship to his boat he miscalculated the distance, and fell headlong into the ocean, a huge wave sweeping over him as he fell. Fortunately he was almost at once hauled on board again.


Despite this accident, Pilot Butcher continued at his post until after noon, manfully doing his duty, and materially assisting the captain in endeavouring to float the vessel, owing to the increasing wind and rising sea, this was found to be a difficult task, and on the arrival of the tug it was deemed advisable to leave the vessel. About noon the arrangements for leaving the vessel were made, and the seventeen sailors and their effects were conveyed in the boats to the tug which had got under the shelter of the island. The ship was lying with her head south, and she went further on the reef, and at the time of the abandoment water was coming in at her fore compartment. A heavy sea was running breaking over the ship's stern, and it was dangerous for anyone to remain on board, as there was a possibility of her breaking up at any moment. The last to leave the vessel were the Captain and Pilot Butcher.

Mr. H. King's Statement.

Mr. Harry King, representative of the agents, who went off with the Rescue, stated that on arrival at the vessel it was found that she was in a precarious position. A boat in charge of Pilot Butcher came off, and gave the information that the captain and the crew were ready to leave, and that the ship's papers and other valuables had been removed to the island. Four boats' crews were then, picked up, one boat being cut adrift. The ship was making a little water, but owing to the heavy sea no one from the tug went on board.


The Captain's Report.

Captain Rich, the commander, who was here six years ago in charge of the Abbey Holme; was interviewed by our representative last Thursday night, and furnished the following report:-Left Glasgow on June 23rd, and experienced strong southerly winds in St. George's Channel and then had fair winds and fine weather until teaching Cape de Verd, Islands. After that had variable winds to 12 1/2deg., then S.W. and S.S.W., strong occasionally, with heavy seas as far as 15 W. longitude.


Continued to have similar weather with occasional squalls and met the south-east trades 5 1/2. deg. N. Crossed the equator 35 days out and had fresh south-east trades to 25 deg. S. Then N.E. and northerly winds to the vicinity of Tristan d'Acunha, and had strong westerly winds to the Cape, after which fair winds prevailed. When in longtitude 65 E. had a heavy gale from the north which shifted suddenly to the S.S.W. With the tremendous sea caused by the gale from the north- ward and also the one from the south the two seas met, causing the vessel to roll and labour very heavily. When the vessel was heavily lurching the pipes could be heard shifting in the lower hold. This caused great anxiety on board, as the safety of the vessel was endangered. The next day it was found that several pipes had shifted in the lower hold, but it was impossible to get at them on account of them being stored between the deck beams. Thu occurred several times, owing to the heavy rolling of the ship, and we were compelled to keep her before the seas, so that it would ease her rolling. At one time I thought we should have to bear for the Mauritius, but after a consultation with the chief officer, it was determined to continue the voyage.


Nothing of any moment occurred until we sighted Rottnest Light on Wednesday evening at 9 o'clock. We passed the light about ll o'clock, and kept on a course along the island and at midnight showed two blue lights for the pilot. These were not answered and at 20 past 12 we fired two more lights, the vessel being kept in towards the land in order to pick up the pilot. A light was shown on the Island, and at that time I considered my vessel was close enough to the land and was in the act of wearing her round on the other tack to lay to for the pilot when I observed breakers on the starboard' beam. I got the yards trimmed as quickly as possible, but immediately afterwards the vessel took the ground and remained fast. The pilot boat and Pilot Butcher got alongside about 2 o'clock we trimmed the yards and made every effort to get the ship under weigh, but without success. Pilot Butcher considered it was advisable to get a boat away to the shore so that assistance could be obtained from Fremantle, and this was accordingly done. On the return of the pilot we fired several sky rockets and burned blue lights to attract attention and obtain assistance, and at day-light the signals of distress, N.C., were hoisted. In the meantime we kept sounding the pumps and they were kept at work until the ship was left. There seemed no chance of the vessel floating, she was thumping and labouring heavily, and we thought it was best to get the boats out, and this was done. The pilot considered it best to clew the sails up to keep the vessel from forging ahead, which would have placed her in a more dangerous position. Between 10-30 and ll o'clock the tug boat Rescue  arrived from Fremantle, having on board the Chief Harbour Master, Capt. Russell, Capt. Fothergill, Mr. Harry King, representing the agents (Messrs. Dalgety & Co.) Pilot Gilmore and the harbour crew. The sea was mountainous, driving heavily over the ship, and there was no chance of the tug getting alongside. Pilot Butcher took five of the ship's crew in a boat and proceeded to the tug. They encountered some very heavy seas, and several times were in great danger of being capsized, but by skilful navigation they reached the tug in safety. A consultation was held with Capt. Russell, and the boat returned again to the ship, meeting with more difficulties on the way.


It was reported to me that the Harbour Master intended to run the tug under the lee of the shoal of the reef, and that as soon as we saw him there the boats were to leave the vessel and the tug would pick them up. We were advised to leave the ship as our position was indeed precarious, and every moment it was expected that the heavy seas would break her up. About noon, orders were given to my chief officer to man the boats, and the men and himself soon got them ready to cast adrift. The men were got away first, and then Pilot Butcher, myself, and four men left in the last boat and proceeded to the tug, in which we were conveyed to Fremantle, the four boats being taken in tow by the steamer. One boat had to be cut adrift from the bows of the vessel to keep the others from fouling. I must give great praise to Pilot Butcher for the pluck and energy he displayed throughout a most trying period, while the members of my crew are also deserving of every praise for the cool manner in which they stuck to me under the serious difficulties in which we were placed. We arrived at Fremantle about 4 30, and I saw to the housing of the crew and officers, together with their effects. When we left the vessel was in a most dangerous position, and the storm was increasing in violence. The vessel was straining greatly, the masts at times almost coming entirely over, while the water was coming into the fore cabin.


From the West Australian Monday 10 February 1896