out every oar on board. The carpenter and crew soon had stages
firmly secured on each side, with stunsail booms rigged along for gun-
wales. There were about 30 oars belonging to the ship's boats. These
made fifteen a side and they were quickly at work.
All the passengers who could pull went down to help the crew, and
thej; pulled away right cheerfully. The ship's fiddler was stationed
at one gangway, and one of the second class passengers, who had a
fiddle, on the other; and there they fiddled away to the toiUng oarsmen.
CAPTAIN CLAYTON 197
The oars were relieved at frequent intervals, for there were plenty
of hands; and grog was served out regularly. So with the help of
music and judicious splicing of the mainbrace, Captain Clayton kept
his people at the oars for two days.
The jollyboat was towed astern in case any of the oarsmen fell
"By the evening of the second day," says Captain
Clayton, "we had pulled into a light breeze. I set all
possible sail and pulled the rowing stages up, and away
we went, as the wind gradually increased in strength.
Anyway that rowing notion of mine kept the ship's
company amused even if we did not move the old Kent
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
very far. "
Captain Clayton uses Oil in a Cape Horn
A few years later the commander of the Kent
again showed his enterprise and resource by using oil
to save his ship when she was hard pressed by a furious
Cape Horn gale.
The Kent sailed from Melbourne in July, 1862, with
250 passengers and a full cargo, including about
£400,000 in gold ingots.
Just before she sailed a steamer arrived from Adelaide
with a large consignment of wheat and copper ore,
which the agents insisted in transhipping into the Kent
in spite of Captain Clayton's remonstrances.
It was soon found that Captain Clayton was right, for
the additional cargo began to strain the ship's topsides
before the Horn was reached, and the pumps had to be
manned to keep the ship clear of water.
At last, when the Kent was within 200 miles of the
Horn, the glass fell to 28.10 and it was evident that dirt
of the usual Cape Horn kind was ahead.
In a very short while the wind was blowing with
urricane force, whilst a huge sea of Cape Horn greybeards
198 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
threatened to wash the overladen ship from stem to
stern. Captain Clayton sent down his upper yards and
made every preparation he could, well knowing that
the extra cargo would severely handicap the brave little
frigate in her fight for life.
Then shortly before dark a regular Cape Horn snorter
came whistling down upon the ship; and a greybeard
came rolling up as high as the topsail yard. This sea
struck the ship fair amidships on the port side and hove
her down on her beam ends. The poop skylights were
smashed in, and the poultry coops were washed down
into the cuddy. The first-class cabins were flooded,
whilst drowning hens and wildly cackling ducks and
geese swam about the flooded saloon. The first-class
passengers, who were in their bunks and many of them
seasick, found themselves in danger of drowning as
the cataract of water poured into their berths ; and they
were compelled to rouse out and make a fight for life.
At last, with the help of the stewards and the stronger
aiding the weaker, they managed to shift themselves by
means of the after companion to the vacant second
class cabins on the lower deck.
Meanwhile it was going hardly with the ship. Things
began to go and the great rollers of Cape Stiff began to
loot the ship. The cow, house and all, went clean over
the lee rail; the galley was washed out and reduced to
a wreck; many of the men were seriously injured; and
sails began to blow adrift from their gaskets and go to
shreds, whilst the close-reefed main topsail blew clean
out of the bolt-rope.
It was a terrible night and Captain Clayton, who at
the commencement of the blow had lashed himself to
the mizen fife-rail, had the greatest difficulty in keeping
his ship from being overwhelmed.
CAPTAIN CLAYTON 199
Shortly before daybreak there was a lull in the fury
of the storm, and by noon it was found possible to open
the fore and main hatches so as to jettison the additional
cargo. Helped by the passengers the crew tossed bag
after bag of wheat overboard, the copper ore followed,
until that extra consignment, worth about £4000, had
all gone to feed the fishes.
This eased the ship, but still it was not enough, for
she was straining badly, and passengers and crew had
to keep the pumps going without ceasing.
There happened to be some casks of sperm oil in the
cargo. A piece of pump hose was led to these and the
oil pumped up into canvas bags, in which holes had been
pricked. These bags were hung out to windward, and
one was kept dribbling from the quarter galleries,
whilst to lessen the danger of being pooped, a sail of
storm canvas was stretched over the stern.
The result of using the oil was instantly perceptible.
The Cape Horn greybeards ceased to break within the
jange of the oil. Yet as the ship, which was, of course,
hove to, slid down into the trough between each of these
hills of water, the sperm oil like congealed fat was
blown over her, torn from the crests of the seas by the
hurricane, until everything reeked of whale oil from the
lower mastheads down. And weeks afterwards, when
the ship had reached the tropics, the oil still dripped
from aloft to the vast discomfort of those on the deck
However by this timely use of oil Captain Clayton
saved his ship. Indeed the oil bags had hardly been
rigged out before the wind shifted and it came on to
blow harder than ever.
Captain Clayton, who had the additional anxiety of a
young wife with an infant in arms on board, never left
200 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
the deck for two days and two nights. Sustained by
occasional cups of coffee, he never relaxed his vigilance
until the wind had moderated and the danger was past.
On the Kent's arrival home, the general average
struck on the cargo for the jettisoned wheat and copper
ore came to only about a penny in the pound. Great
praise and also something more substantial than praise
was given to Captain Clayton by the owners and
underwriters for the way in which he had brought his
ship through the Cape Horn gale.
♦♦Kent's" Narrow Escape from Icebergs.
On the Kent's previous homeward passage, she
nearly got embayed by icebergs.
She left Melbourne on 15th October, 1861, with 22
cabin passengers, 172 steerage passengers and 105,603
ounces of gold.
On 27th October in 52° S., 162° W., she ran into a
regular nest of icebergs which stretched across he,
course as far as the eye could see. Sixty-one large bergs
were counted blocking her way. Night was coming on
and there was every appearance of thick and dirty
weather approaching. The question to be decided was
should the course be .'iltered to the north or to the south.
By inspiration, as he always considered, Captain
Clayton altered his course to the south, running to the
S.S.E. under double reefs until 7 p.m. By 9 p.m. it
was blowing a heavy gale, but no more ice was seen.
A few days later Captain Clayton dreamt that he
passed the Owen Glendower, which had sailed from
Melbourne two weeks before him. The next morning
a ship was sighted ahead and the Kent was seen to be
rising her fast. It proved, sure enough, to be the
Owen Glendower, and the Kent passed close by her.
CAPTAIN CLAYTON 201
The old "charmer" was no match for Wigram's little
flyer and was soon left out of sight astern. She event-
ually arrived in the London River two weeks after the
Kent, though it must be confessed that the latter made
an unusually line passage.
She rounded the Horn on 11th November, crossed the
line on 7th December, and hove to off Plymouth at 7 a.m.
on 6th January, 1862, 83 days out.
Captain Clayton gave up the command of the Kent
in order to settle in New Zealand. But it was a great
wrench and though comfortably circumstanced, he often
regretted it. "A bonny ship she was. I felt my soul
when I resigned the command," he wrote to me some
He took the new paddle steamer. City of Brisbane, of
the A. U.S.N. Co., out to New Zealand under sail and
steam, making the passage in 87 days.
Her owners begged him to remain in command but he
had decided on a shore billet, and became the marine
surveyor for Auckland of the New Zealand Insurance
Company. For twenty years also he was the Examiner
in Seamanship for Masters and Mates, whilst in 1875
he was appointed Lloyd's surveyor for Auckland; be-
sides these posts he acted as agent for Money Wigram's
Just before the outbreak of the Great War Captain
Clayton retired to his dairy farm at Manurewa. The
grand old sea cap'cain is now over 90 years of age. Up
to within four year's ago he still continued to paint
with all his old skill, a skill which is well shown in the
illustrations of his paintings which are given in this book.
In 1915 he still continued his duty as a lay reader
of Auckland Cathedral, though he wrote me that he
feared he would soon have to give it up.
THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
He had seven sons on active service during the war,
Long may he live to enjoy his retirement at Manurewa.
As for the old Kent, I believe she is still afloat as a
hulk on the West Coast of America.
The Wreck of the ''Dunbar."
On 30th November, 1853, James Laing launched
the first-class passenger ship Dunbar for Mr. Duncan
Dunbar. This ship broke the record by some 300 tons
for ships built on the Wear, and was considered at her
launch to be the finest merchant ship that the yards of
Sunderland had ever produced; her addition to the
Dunbar fleet raised its tonnage to close on 35,000 tons.
The followirg are some of the Dunbar's chief measure-
ments : —
. 1321 tons.
. 1980 „
. 201ft. 9 in
. 35 ft.
Depth of hold
. 22 ft. 7 in.
Height between decks . .
. 7 ft. 3 in.
Length of poop . .
. 82 ft.
Height of poop . .
Weight of mainmast
As was always the case with Blackwall frigates,
strength was sought after before all else. With
timbers of the best British oak, she was planked,
decked and even masted with teak. She was extra
copper-fastened and strengthened throughout with
enormous iron knees.
Lighting and ventilation were the chief difficulties
which beset the mid-Victorian shipbuilder, and in
the case of the Dunbar these two necessities received
such attention that every berth in the 'tween decks
was separately lighted and the 'tween decks themselves
THE DUNBAR 203
were so large and airy that they were compared to a
As regards finish, we are told that the break of the
Dunbar's poop was tastefully panelled and ornamented
by a row of polished teak pillars. The new ship was
generally admitted to be the finest in Duncan Dunbar's
fleet; her name will ever be remembered both at home
and in Australia as that of one of the most tragic wrecks
in the annals of our Merchant Marine.
The Dunbar was put on the run to Sydney, and under
Captain Green soon became a very favourite ship.
In the spring of 1857 she left London for Sydney with
a cargo valued at £22,000, 30 cabin passengers, 33
steerage passengers and a crew of 59, making 122 souls
all told. She sailed soon after the Duncan Dunbar,
a new ship of the firm, which was on her maiden voyage;
there were also two other ships on their way to Sydney
in front of her, the Vocalist and Zemindar. The
Dunbar made a splendid run out and passed all these
Late on the afternoon of 20tli August, she made the
Heads. The weather was very threatening with the
wind fresh from S.E. The sea had been rising all
the morning and by 3 o'clock a mountainous surf
was breaking against the Heads, whilst heavy rain
was falling from a black pall of dirty, leaden storm
The Dunbar had come along in sight of the Coast,
and just before dark she was picked up by the signalman
on duty at the South Head, named Packer, who was
soon able to distinguish her painted ports and red lion
figurehead. He immediately reported "Sail ho !"
by a flag signal to the Sydney Post Office.
Packer next attempted to get into communication
204 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
with the ship, and hoisted the following signals in
Marryat's code: —
1910 — What ship is that.' "
1495 — ■ Where do you come from? "
lg93 — '• How many days are you out ? "
Packer declared fifty years after the event that he got
answers from the ship; but it is hard to reconcile this
statement with the fact that, for some hours after the
discovery of the wreck on the following day, it was
supposed to be either the Duncan Dunbar or else one or
other of the two emigrant ships, Vocalist and Zemindar.
It was soon too dark to distinguish the ship, but
when last seen, according to ihe signalman, she was
standing to the northward. With the wind blowing
directly on shore and with every appearance of a very
dirty night. Captain Green had no relish for beating on
and off at the very door of one of the finest harbours in
the world, so he determined to run in, open up the light
on the rocks, called the "Sow and Pigs," within the
entrance, and let go his anchor in the shelter of Watson's
Sending his first and second officers and three sharp-
eyed seamen on to the foc's'le head, he bore away and
headed for what he supposed to be the entrance between
It was a pitch dark night, and the hard S.E. gale was
blowing stronger in every squall, but the shore lights
must have been clearly visible. We shall never know
how the mistake was made or whose mistake it was,
but for some reason or other the South Head light was
kept on the starboard bow instead of on the port bow,
and the ship was steered for a dent in the cliffs which
was known as the Gap.
Suddenly there came the terrible cry of "Breakers
THE DUNBAR 205
ahead !" from the lynx-eyed second -mate. All hands
were on deck, and all was ready for going about, but
before the helm could be put down the ship was in the
grip of the breakers, and was washed on to the rocks
which stretch out in flat -topped ledges from the base of
the precipitous sandstone cliff.
The passengers were all below, having retired for the
night; but when the ship struck many of them made
a desperate attempt to gain the deck, but were forced
back again by the boiling surf which was making a clean
breach over the vessel.
A survivor's account of such a terrible scene of
destruction must needs be hazy and disconnected, and
we know little of the heart-rending incidents which
took place whilst the Dunbar was being torn to pieces
by the surf.
According to Johnstone, the only survivor, the ship
took a full hour breaking up, during which time those on
deck were swept overboard by the looting seas, whilst
those below were drowned like rats in a trap. Johnstone
and two others were the last to hang on to the wreck,
then a big roller came in and took them and the part of
the ship to which they were clinging away with it.
Johnstone war; washed up on to a ledge along with the
old bosun; the bosun had not sufficient strength and
endurance to hang on, but Johnstone clung like a
limpet and survived. His own account was as
follows : —
I was eventually washed off the wreck, and driven up under the
clifis, where I succeeded in securing hold of a projecting rock. I
remained there until such time as the ship broke up. Up to this time
the Dunbar acted as a breakwater, but as she broke up I had to clear out.
I managed to scramble from one ledge of a rock to another, till I reached
one 20 feet high from where I was washed up. It was about midnight
on a Thursday when I tirst caught the rock, and I remained there until
206 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
noon on the following Saturday (in all thirty-six hours). On the Satur-
day the sea went down, and I dropped from one ledge of rock to another
till I could see the top of the cliffs overhead. I saw one man there in
the morning, but before I could attract his attention I was forced to
return to my retreat owing to three big seas following one another,
looking as if they would wash me away.
We will now take up the tragic story from the shore
During the night of the wreck, Mrs. Graham, the wife
of the signalmaster, woke up and called to her husband :
"Go down, Jim, and rescue the poor fellow in the sea. "
The wind was screaming, the roar of the surf was
deafening, and the spray swept in gusts against the
signal station, so that the small house was shaken to
its foundations. The fury of the gale was enough to
unnerve any woman. So thought the head signalman,
he soothed his wife and lay down again. She dozed
off, but in an hour or so, again awoke her husband and
urged him to rescue the man, whom she had dreamt
Again a third time she had a vivid dream or vision —
one cannot say which — of a man struggling in the surf
at the base of the cliffs. This time she knocked on the
partition separating the Graham's room from Packer's,
and besought Packer: ' ' For God 's sake to help that man
under the cliffs. "
But both men knew that with such a storm raging
there was no possibility of rescue work, even if there
were a man drowning in the surf. Two days later
when Mrs. Graham saw Johnstone she recognised him
as the man of her dreams.
On the following morning the wind was still blowing
with terrific force. The boom of the tremendous surf
could be heard for miles and clouds of spray blew over
the cliffs and even over the top of the lighthouse, 75
THE DUNBAR 207
feet high. The top of the cliffs were drenched with
salt water, to stand out in which was like a shower bath.
The kitchen garden of the signal station was ruined by
the salt; the water in the fresh water tanks was so
contaminated by the salt spray that it was rendered
undrinkable, whilst the flying spume reached as far as
the Marine Hotel, half a mile away.
The signalmen fought their way to the edge of the
cliff to see if there was any sign of the vessel which had
been sighted the night before. But the expected sight
of a ship hove to under lower topsails or running in for
the entrance was nowhere visible. Their eyes, however,
were caught by something tossing in the surf, which
looked like a bale of wool, but which afterwards turned
out to be the bodies of Mrs. Egan and her daughter,
locked fast in each other's arms.
Then, indeed, they looked down instead of out to sea;
and there lay the ship, a hollow shell in the wash of the
rollers, with her head to the south and her back broken.
The news was immediately signalled to Sydney that
a ship had gone ashore in the Gap, and crowds of
anxious people, including the Mayor of Sydney and
Mr. Daniel Egan, the Postmaster-General, were soon on
their way to the South Head. By this time wreckage
of every description including a broken mast was seen
tossing about in the broken water along the edge of the
And there was worse than wreckage. The first body
seen was that of a woman, nude, with both legs cut off
above the knees.
This horrible sight was revealed by the backwash
as it rushed out over the flat table rock which almost
fills the Gap. Then in came another comber and it
was seen no more.
208 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
At first there was no idea that anyone could be living
down in that maelstrom of raging seas, but evidently an
attempt was made, probably during a lull, to rescue
some of the bodies, for the Mayor wrote the following
account to the Sydney Morning Herald: —
At the Gap a brave fellow volunteered to go down to send up some
of the mangled corpses now and then lodged on the rocks beneath us;
now a trunk of a female from the waist upwards, then the legs of a male,
the body of an infant, the right arm, shoulder and head of a female, the
bleached arm and extended hand, with the wash of the receding water,
almost as it were in life, beckoning for help; then a leg and thigh, a
human head would be hurled along; the sea dashing most furiously as
it in derision of our efforts to rescue its prey. One figure, a female,
nude, and tightly clasping an infant to the breast, both locked in the
firm embrace of death, was for a moment seen; then the legs of some
trunkless body would leap from the foaming cataract, caused by the
returning sea, leaping wildly with feet seen plainly upwards in the air to
the abyss below to be again and again tossed up to the gaze of the
sorrowing throng above. We provided a rope, lowered the man, with
some brave stout hearts holding on to the rope above, and in this
manner some portions of the mutilated remains were hauled up to the
top of the cliff until a huge sea suddenly came and nearly smothered
those on the cliS, wetting them all to the skin.
Little, however, could be done that da^^ And the
one numbing anxiety of everyone was to know the name
of the ship. At first a rumour went round that it was
the Duncan Dunbar, as a gangway panel with a lion
rampant carved upon it had been discovered jammed
high up on the rocks. At last one of the ship's head-
boards with the name Dunbar upon it was picked up
inside the Heads and all doubt was set at rest.
By this time thousands had battled out the 9 miles
from Sydney in spite of the storm in their faces and the
road converted into a quagmire. The news that it was
the Dunbar spread from mouth to mouth amongst the
mournful crowd on the cliffs.
The poor Postmaster -General, who had inadvertently
watched his own wife and child tossing in the sea, fell
THE DUNBAR 209
back in a faint. Low cries of anguish ran quivering
through knots of people, whose eyes seemed to be glued
to that grim table rock, over which the mutilated bodies
of their friends and relatives washed to and fro. Many
of the best known families in Sydney were return-
ing in the Dunbar after a holiday in the Old Country,
and even its humble steerage held many a Sydney -sider.
Friday night fell upon a city in mourning — and upon
a young sailorman, clinging to a rock, alive in the
midst of the mutilated remains of his dead shipmates.
On the morning of Saturday the sea had gone down
considerably. A man named Palmer walked out along
a ledge in order to be able to see further under the cliff,
with the result that Johnstone was discovered lying
on the rocks.
The next question was how to get at him from the top
of the cliff. Whilst the signallers were arranging a
derrick contrivance with a signalling yard for lowering
someone down over the face of the cliff, a hat went
round for whoever should volunteer, and £15 was
A volunteer was found in an 18-year old Icelander,
named Antonio Woollier. Curiously enough he was
not a sailor, but a watchmaker's apprentice. He
gallantly refused the money, saying his only wish
was to help a fellow -being in distress.
A signal for hauling up was arranged and over
the edge went the boy. There was an anxious wait
and then the signal to haul up was received. The
seamen on the rope at once declared that they
were hauling up something much heavier than the
boy they had let down.
The excitement culminated when a huge sailor of
6 ft. 2 ins. poked his head above the edge of the cliff,
210 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
It was James Johnstone, A.B., aged 23, the sole
survivor of the Dunbar.
He was undoubtedly a man of the most unusual
strength and endurance, for in spite of his terrible
mauling in the breakers and 36 hours on the rocks
without water or food, he was able to walk to the Marine
Hotel, where he was given restoratives and put to bed.
Sympathy of a very practical nature poured in upon
him and for some days he was the lion of Sydney, with
his pockets full of money, a girl on each arm, and a
crowd of admirers in his train, he soon became a familiar
figure in the streets and at the theatres and music halls.
Years later the Carvarra, a fine new paddle boat of
the U.S.N. Co., with a full list of passengers, struck,
on the Oyster Bank off the Knobbys at Newcastle,
New South Wales. It was the middle of the night and
all hands went down with the ship except one little
foremasthand named "Hedges." Hedges was washed
on to a buoy at the mouth of the harbour, from which
he was rescued by the harbourmaster's boat, whose
coxswain was Johnstone of the Dunbar.
Johnstone was for many years chief lighthouse
keeper at Newcastle. He was still hale and hearty
though over 70 years of age, and was living at Petersham,
Sydney, on the fiftieth anniversary of the wreck of the