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Melancholy Shipwreck of the 
'TWO SISTERS' 
of Sydney

New Zealand Bound

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The New Zealand Colonist�and Port Nicholson�Advertiser�
page 4 (summarized)
Friday February 3 1843

The loss of this vessel on her passage to Maulmain
On Sunday, the 19th June, the Two Sisters of Liverpool, 401 tons, left Port Jackson, bound for Maulmain. On 2nd July we came in sight of the Grand Barrier Reefs; and after running northerly till noon, found our latitude to be 12 deg. 8 min. S., on which we stood in for the reefs, entered by the Nimrod's passage, and anchored about 4h. 30 min. p.m. on the N.W side of Sir C. Hardy's Islands. Sighted two vessels, the Malcolm of Whitehaven and the French ship Nouvelle Ermance of Nantz. They anchored the night to leeward of Cockburn's Island and shoal. 

On the morning of the 4th, I boarded the Malcolm, when Captain Turner wished me to ask Captain McNair if he would anchor at Booby Island, he and the Captain of the Frenchman having already agreed to leave notice of their passage through the straits, there being a waterproof box for the purpose of containing such communication.

The Malcolm weighed first, the Nouvelle Ermance soon after, and the unfortunate Two Sisters following. My wife lay ill in bed, having been delivered of a fine boy about a quarter to eleven on the morning of the 2nd, as we were about entering the Barrier Reefs.

Peter Stewart, the chief officer, whose watch was on deck, went into the store room with the carpenter, as some loaf of sugar was required. He had not left the deck more than five minutes when about 20 minutes to 9 am the Two Sisters struck so violently on a sunken rock, as to knock me down. She had been going about nine knots an hour through the water. The vessel was going down. My wife clung to her babe, which I took from her, and ran with it on deck, where I left it in the steward's arms, as I believed it was the only means of hurrying my wife on deck and thereby (perhaps) saving her life. The servant woman, with my eldest little boy, (twenty months old) followed close at my heels. I hurried down to my cabin the second time, and assisted my wife on deck, without shoes and stockings, she having had only time to put on an old muslin gown which remained unfastened. The boat was launched over the larboard gunwale by main hard work; but, I believe, never would have been got out if Captain Henchman of the 57th Bengal N.I. had not almost alone cleared the boats of the lumber over and in her. When launched, she was speedily filled with men, when I begged of one man in her to take the babe out of my arms, (which I had snatched off the deck, the poor steward, in his anxiety for self-preservation, having laid it there close against the round-house,) when the fellow muttered an imprecation on the child as the boat was moved from the ship's side either designedly or by accident. Jackson, the second mate, then said, "Captain Fox, if you want to save yourself, jump into the stern boat." I hurried my poor wife along, who was more dead than alive, helped her into the boat (over the taffrail), then the children and servant. I ran back to the cuddy door, thinking I my get clothes for my wife; but the water had anticipated me. The vessel was going down fast; her bows was clean under water. I bolted for the stern boat again, into which I jumped, Captain McNair following me close. Captain Henchman saved nothing, like myself, but what he usually wore. I learnt that in the skiff they found her so leaky, that he and Mr Thompson were obliged to bale her with their hats and boots. 
The stern boat was still fast, when I handed Jackson a knife, who cut away the larboard davit fall, and we shoved off, fearful of being drawn down in the awful vortex which the foundering vessel would occasion.

She sunk immediately after, turning over on her larboard bilge, leaving part of her tops and one of each lower yard arm above water. All who were now in the two small boats took to the water; (but one man who mounted the rigging) holding on by the spars and planks, and were carried by the current towards a small rocky islet distant about one mile and a half, on which greater part landed before assistance could be rendered. In the boats we were (which was the smallest) there were ten souls and great caution was necessary to prevent her from swamping, as there was rather a heavy sea running at the time. The French ship being about four miles ahead of us; when they observed we had struck, fired a gun, hoisted her colours half-masted, and hove to. Thrice the French vessel missed stays in endeavouring to tack, and got her cutter out and sent to our assistance; but having a dead head sea and wind blowing fresh they were not less than two hours in pulling to the small rocky islet on which the greater part of the remnant of the ship's company had fortunately been enabled to land.. 

The Malcolm, at the time of the accident could not have been less than nine miles from us, yet she worked off well against the strong current, and she succeeded in picking us up about an hour and a half after we had taken to the boats. The skiff in which were Captain Henchman, Mr Thompson, and three steerage passengers, with part of the crew, was picked up by the French ship. The two former were afterwards transhipped on board the Malcolm at their own request, as the Nouvelle Ermance was bound to the Mauritius after trading amongst the islands in the vicinity of Timor. It is my opinion that the rock on which the unfortunate vessel struck went clean through her hull; The man in the look-out on board the Malcolm saw the rock at intervals between the wash of the sea; so likewise did they on board the Nouvelle Ermance, for she passed close to the leeward of it;

From the time she struck till we entered the boats could not have been more than three and a half minutes, and with her went down everything I possessed in the world; for in addition to all my nautical, surveying, and mathematical instruments, books, apparel, &c. the only cargo the vessel had on board was a few tons of sandalwood belonging to me. As nearly as I could give the situation of the sunken rock from our place in the boat on leaving the vessel, its position would be about 10.33 30' south lat., and 142. 19 45' east long., and directly in the track of vessels laid down on the chart by Captain King.
The following individuals were brought on by the Malcolm
Captain A. Henchman, 57th B.N.I.
Mr Edmund Thompson
Captain and Mrs Fox, two children and servant woman
Captain McNairn, late of Two Sisters
Joseph Jackson, second mate
cook, two seamen and one boy
the remainder proceed on in the Nouvelle Ermance 


New Zealand Colonist
Tuesday 14 March 1843

At one of the groups known by the name of Solomon's Islands, in the South Pacific, the whaling ship, Offey, of London, commanded by Capt. Lazenby, and belonging to Messrs. Curling & Young, of London, had seventeen of her crew assassinated (including the mate and surgeon) in the month of May last, owing to the mate indiscreetly shooting the chief upon supposition that he had harboured two sailors who absented themselves from the ship. We publish this for the information of whaling captains in particular, as, no doubt, the natives will revenge the loss of their chief upon any Englishmen who may land there. The Offley took on board the carpenter, one seaman, and two boys, at Rotti, belonging to the Two Sisters, which was wrecked in Torres Straits.


Two Sisters, barque 
Construction: Wood carvel 
Gross Tonnage: 401 Net Tonnage: 339 
Length (mtrs): 22.9 Beam (mtrs): 7.6 
Draft (mtrs): 4.9 Cargo: Unknown 
Port Built: In 1837 in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada
Builder: Ale 
Port Registered: Liverpool 
Registration Number: 151/1841 

When Lost: 1842/07/01 Where Lost: Scott Rk, Wednesday Is. (Torres Strait) 
Sinking: Crew rescued by 'Malcolm' and 'Nouvelle Ermance; SMH reports Wednesday Island in Torres Strait  bearing NNW 4 miles and Horned Hill bearing SSE from wreck; 
From Port: Sydney To Port: Moulmein 
Owner: Barton & C


The Strait was a vital gateway to the Pacific.
Torres Strait, the narrow channel which separates Australia and Papua from Cape York on the northern coast of Australia, measures about 80 miles. Navigation is unsafe owing to shoals, islands within its waters. There are about 70 islands. It was discovered in 1606 by a Spanish navigator, Luis Vaez de Torres, from Peru. 

Booby Island lies in Torres Strait 30 miles from the Australian mainland. In the first half of the nineteenth century was known to seafaring men as a refuge or place of call where a letter box and visitor's book were kept. Ship's provisions were also kept there in case of emergency. It was named twice, and coincidently with the same name by Captain Cook and Captain Bligh. Booby Island was a port of call by Captain William Bligh in April 1789, on his epic 6000 kilometre voyage to Timor in a seven metre open boat after the infamous mutiny on his ship the "Bounty."  Bligh, writing in the late eighteenth century after the famous mutiny, described his voyage through the Torres Strait in 1879, he said '.... A small island was seen bearing W., at which we arrived before dark, and found that it was only a rock, where boobies resort, for which reason I called it Booby Island' and added further 'I find that Booby Island was seen by Captain Cook and by a remarkable coincidence of ideas received from him the same name.' A booby is a sea bird of the genus Sula.

Captain Bligh, after becoming Governor of New South Wales in 1806, officially suggested the establishment of a refuge, a food supply in a cave on the rock to aid shipwreck victims. The same cave became Australia's second post-office. Captain Hobson of the "Rattlesnake" which was engaged in botanic observations, proposed that a form of post office operate on the island and placed a logbook with writing materials there for that purpose. Passing ships made entries in the log and passed on information about the ships that had passed. Mail was also dropped off to await a vessel passing in the opposite direction for eventual delivery. Both the post office and provisions were well patronised and saved the life of many a sailor in distress. MacGillivray, naturalist on the "Rattlesnake" wrote:- "that this supply will be renewed from time to time is most likely, as the Legislative Council of New South Wales, last year voted the sum of fifty pounds for provisions to be left at Booby Island for the use of shipwrecked people. Both the original logbook placed there in 1835 by Captain Hobson, and the replacement log in 1857 had disappeared by the 1880s. A sad loss indeed when one considers the great wealth of irreplaceable historical information gone forever. The practice of provisioning Booby Island continued until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Passing ships landed stores e.g. food, rum and other useful items in a cave on the island for shipwrecked and distressed wayfarers and the boat, returning, brought back from the improvised post-office letters most of them left by whalemen, with the request that the first homeward-bound ship would carry them along and see to their mailing, which had been the custom for many years. Some of the letters would be directed to New Bedford, and some to Fairhaven, Massachusetts.  Incoming ships would pick up mail from the wooden box and leave letters and packages for England and Europe. The Intercolonial Conference of 1873 had recommended the construction of a lighthouse at Booby Island but it was not finally erected until 1890.