Nilsen and Willis

Vessel Name: Blue Peter

Sverre Nilsen
Herbert Percival Willis

Drowned in Koombana Bay; Bodies recovered
18 May 1944

The Harvey Murray Times, Thursday 25 May 1944

The Harvey Murray Times, Thursday 25 May 1944

The flat-bottomed dinghy belonging to Richard (Dick) Johnson (54) was involved in the tragic death of 3 persons in two separate incidents occurring in Koombana Bay, Bunbury in 1944.

The First occurred on the evening of 17 May or morning of 18 May 1944. Sverre (“Skip”) Nilsen (49) was a well-known Norwegian Fisherman of Bunbury, having lived in the area for the preceding 12 months. He had lived in Western Australia for some time, including Fremantle. In Bunbury he owned and lived aboard the fishing boat Blue Peter, anchored in Koombana Bay, not far from the Jetty baths.

Herbert Percival Willis (45) was not very well known in Bunbury. He was a labourer working on a farm in Elgin and only visited Bunbury occasionally. He had only recently been discharged from the army, having seen service in the both wars.

According to the Police Reports, the two men borrowed a flat-bottomed boat belonging to Richard (Dick) Johnson on the evening of 17 May with the intention of rowing out to the Blue Peter, where they intended to spend the night. It was a little choppy but the journey should have been manageable. Other reports claim the weather was calm.

The bodies were later found by George McCormack at 6:45am the next day, washed up in the shallow water inside the breakwater.

At the Bunbury Court House, before the Acting Coroner (Mr. L. R. Honey, J.P), an inquest was held into the circumstances surrounding their deaths. James Nicholas Bradley, Yardman at the Gordon’s Hotel had seen the men heavily drinking the day prior. William Stanley Perry last saw them alive at around 9:15pm. They were under the influence of liquor but were speaking normally. Richard (Dick) Johnson had been drinking with the two men on the evening of 17 May. He could not recall if they had asked to loan the dinghy and whether he had approved. He admitted he could not remember as he was under the influence of liquor at the time. The Acting Coroner returned the verdict that the two men came to their death from drowning in Koombana Bay on the night of 17 May or morning of 18 May. He added that there was no evidence to show how the tragedy occurred, but it was probably the result of the over-turning of a flat-bottomed boat as they were trying to reach the Blue Peter.

Months later, On the evening of Thursday 10 August, Richard (Dick) Johnson and a fellow fisherman named Hans Anderson were using the same dinghy to reach the Blue Peter anchored in Koombana Bay. At the time Johnson was living aboard the launch. Heavy rain with choppy conditions in the harbour had prevailed during the day and the dinghy capsized on its way to the launch. Anderson managed to reach the shore after the dinghy overturned and reported the incident. It appears the body was later recovered as a death certificate was issued for Johnson.

Suffice to say the dinghy was later scrapped.