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Poor Souls, They Perished: The Cataraqui, Australia's Worst Shipwreck

Lemon, Andrew & Morgan, Marjorie
Hargreen Publishing, North Melbourne
1986
ISBN: 0949905283
Pages:
Format: Hardcover in Dustjacket
Quantity in stock: 1

Condition: VG+ (Very Good Plus) in slightly edgeworn dustjacket.

Price: $20.00 (inc GST)

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First Edition. pp. xii, 188 illusts #1217 The barque Cataraqui sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne on 20 April 1845 with 367 assisted emigrants under the care of surgeons Charles and Edward Carpenter, and forty-one crewmen under the command of Captain Christopher Finlay. The passage was generally uneventful apart from the loss of one of the crew overboard, and by the time the ship approached the Australian coastline, five babies had been born and six others had died. Consequently there were 409 persons on board when at 3 am on 4 August, on getting underway again after having hove-to in a strong gale, the master calculated he was about sixty or seventy miles north-west of King Island. Just ninety minutes later the Cataraqui crashed without warning on jagged rocks about a hundred yards offshore, some four kilometres north of the point that now bears the ship’s name.
Immediately after striking there was four feet of water in the hold, and despite the ladders leading below decks being knocked away, the crew managed to get most of the emigrants on deck. It proved of little use as huge seas swept the decks and washed scores overboard, to be battered to death on the rocks by the surf. At about 5 am the Cataraqui rolled onto its beam ends, and more were thrown into the water. The masts were cut away to ease the hull, but being full of water the wreck did not respond. Daylight found some 200 survivors still clinging to the wreck. At about 10 am the last remaining boat was launched, but immediately capsized, drowning its occupants. Sometime afterwards the hull parted amidships and the stern began to collapse, throwing scores into the water. Around 5 pm the hull parted again, near the foremast, and the stern completely disintegrated, leaving perhaps seventy survivors crowded onto the forecastle.
Lines were strung along what remained of the wreck to give them something to cling to, and an attempt was made to drift a barrel attached to a line ashore, but it stopped twenty yards out, caught up in the kelp. By daybreak on the 5th just thirty people were left on board and it was decided that the only chance of survival was to try to swim ashore on floating wreckage. Chief Officer Thomas Guthrie crawled along the sprit-sail yard and was washed out to the bow-sprit, from where he reached shore clinging to two planks. Here he found an emigrant, Samuel Brown, who had come ashore clinging to a piece of wreckage, and a seaman who had reached safety earlier in the morning. The forecastle broke up soon afterwards, throwing the handful of remaining survivors into the water, and of them six crewmen managed to reach land. 
The nine castaways were lucky to be found on the following day by the ‘Straits Policeman,’ David Howie, who had been attracted to the scene by the large amount of wreckage drifting about. He had been trapped on the island since his own boat had been wrecked there some time earlier, and the party were forced to remain there for five weeks before being rescued by the cutter Midge on 7 September and taken to Melbourne. In the meantime they buried 342 bodies that had been washed ashore in four mass graves, one holding over 200.
News of the wreck caused a sensation in Melbourne, where the emigrants were headed. Several public events were organised to raise funds to assist the survivors and reward their rescuers, and an iron memorial was fabricated and erected at the scene of the wreck in 1846. It eventually rusted away, but was replaced by a stone cairn in 1956. The wreck itself was sold to builder Alexander Sutherland for £86 and a considerable amount of salvage was recovered, although not enough to prevent his insolvency in June 1846. 
Cataraqui was a ship of 802 tons, 138’ x 30’ x 22’, built at Quebec, Canada, in 1840 by William Lampson, and was registered at Liverpool in the name of William Smith & Sons. The wreck, of which no timber now remains, has been extensively dived over the years, and recovered artefacts can be seen at the Currie museum on King Island.

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