Vessel Name: Guttersnipe

Arthur Hay
John Matthews
4 Aboriginal Crew Members (Fida, Albert, Peter and Sampi)

Drowned at Sea; Bodies never recovered
10 October 1899

The Daily News, 24 October 1899

The Daily News, 24 October 1899

Guttersnipe was a 10-ton lugger used as a pearling boat owned by Harry Hunter. As with most luggers, she was also used to carry stores and supplies to Harry’s boats, and to pick up and move crew members from one boat to another, and to island camps. Details of Guttersnipe are not recorded, and it is likely she was unregistered. Harry was registered as a boat builder of Swan Point, and it seems Guttersnipe was built by him.

In the 1880s, Harry Hunter was a renowned black birder who kept six or seven women for his personal use and fathered many children. He retained large numbers of Aboriginal slaves, carrying a revolver, a whip and a knife to enforce his will, and killed any Aboriginals who displeased him, stole stores or attempted to escape. (See The Era of Blackbirding story). After many years of this shocking method of crewing luggers, pressure from government and retaliation from Aboriginals finally saw an end to the slavery. At the time Guttersnipe sank, Harry was one of only two boat owners still using Aboriginal slaves.

Guttersnipe left Swan Point on 7 October 1899, With Master Arthur Hay at her helm. On board were John Matthews (mate) and three Aboriginal crew members. Arthur was bound for Cygnet Bay to pick up four more Aboriginal men from the Kate to complete his crew. Guttersnipe met with Kate on 8 October, and immediately departed for Long Island.

Drifting through Sunday Strait, the tide took Guttersnipe towards heavy rips. The crew attempted to row away, and when the tide proved too strong, they ran to secure the hatches. Unfortunately their dive pump blocked the hatchway, and the boat entered a deep section of the rip tide and waves broke over her decks. The boat filled up with water and foundered.

Arthur, John and two of the Aboriginal crew drowned as soon as the boat sank. The remaining four men hung onto spars and drifted out to sea with the outgoing tide. One of the men drowned. As the tide turned, three of the men floated back to Sunday Island. They were in the water for 15 hours before making the shore. The five bodies were never recovered.

The survivors contacted Harry to tell him the boat was lost. It was valued at £450. Harry reported the loss to Police Sub-Inspector Brophy at Derby. An enquiry was held in Derby on 21 November. Only the hearsay from Harry, as told to him by his surviving crew,was heard.