Lily of the Lake

Vessel Name: Lily of the Lake

George Long
Henry Wood
Captain O'Neil
17 divers and a cook
Drowned at Sea; No bodies found
24 December 1875

Border Watch (SA), Saturday 26 February 1876

Border Watch (SA), Saturday 26 February 1876

Lily of the Lake was a 26 ton jarrah vessel with a round stern, two masts, and schooner rigging, built by Fremantle boat builder James Storey in 1873 for a storekeeper, John Lewis.She was typical of her time, with LBD measurements were 58 x 15.9 x 7 feet (17.7 x 4.2 x 2.1 metres), built for coastal cargo, and used in the pearl shelling industry in the northwest. Her official number was 61108.She was registered in Fremantle as No. 3 of 1873. Her first master was Captain Mitchell.

In her first year, Lily of the Lake was moored near Garden Island, sheltering with other boats from a two-day gale.Some of the vessels were blown ashore and damaged, and there was a court inquiry regarding whether the vessels were properly moored. They were found to have been correctly anchored.Lily of the Lake was not damaged by the gale.

In 1874, she was feared lost on a journey to Geraldton.Police reported she was carrying a large amount of beer and spirits and “rough looking” passengers.The cause for her delay is not clear.

In 1875 Lily of the Lake was owned by Fremantle master mariners William Owston (a boat builder), Captain George Long, and mariner Henry Wood of Cossack. Her next trip was to Kupang, Indonesia (then known as Koepang, part of the Dutch East Indies) to recruit a team of pearl shell divers.There are varying reports of the number of crew aboard Lily of the Lake, however when she arrived at Roebourne she was boarded by a quarantine officer who reported 21 divers, a cook and a woman were on board.

Captain Long and Henry were on board for the start of the 1875 pearl shell season. The master for the Exmouth pearling grounds was Captain O’Neil.In December Lily of the Lake headed out from Exmouth into the southern end of the gulf, into the pearl fields. The season looked promising, and Lily of the Lake was one of 15 boats diving for pearls in the same lucrative area they had used the year before. Lily of the Lake was approximately eight kilometres from the boat nearest to her.

The squall began on 22 December, and Captain O’Neil paid out chains for a second, and then a third anchor.Lily of the Lake weathered the first part of the storm on 23 December without damage.The eye of the cyclone came, and the crew put the vessel under weigh, intending to shelter in the Bay of Rest. It is not clear why the decision was made to move, or who made it.

Lily of the Lake bore the full brunt of the second part of the cyclone without her anchors. The wind had shifted and blew from the west, and the boat was soon dismasted. Tossed in huge seas, she was swamped and capsized.She sank quickly bow first to the sea floor, in five and a half fathoms (10 metres), taking almost all of her crew with her.

Six divers swam 16 kilometres to shore. They were picked up by the Barrangarra which had been dispatched to find any pearlers left alive after their boats were wrecked. No other bodies were found.It is estimated 59 lives were lost at sea in that cyclone.