The wreck of the 'Netherby' By Joyce Hammond Published in Weekly Times, p34, February 6, 1974.
This newspaper page has been in my family since 1974. My mother marked a paragraph and told me that the baby Netherby was a relative. Mum did not elaborate and I thought little about it til I found several copies after mum passed away. Through the Netherby2016 search for descendants — we found relatives who are more directly linked to Joyce Hammond, author of the newspaper article and granddaughter of Netherby Cubbin. My sincere thanks to Neil and Wendy for allowing me to use the article on this web site.
Please note that I have not edited the content. It is as Joyce Hammond wrote it.
The 'Netherby' approximately 900 tons, owned by the Black Ball Line, left London early in April and from Plymouth on 13th April, 1866 bound for Brisbane, Queensland, in Australia, 20,000 miles away.
It was an emigrant ship being brought out to Australia under the Queensland Government’s system of assisted immigration. Its cargo consisted of railway iron for the Queensland Railways.
There were 452 passengers and 50 crew. Among the passengers were the Cubbin family – William Cubbin, 27 years of age, a joiner, his wife Ellen (nee Clucas), aged 24 years from the Isle of Man, travelling with son William James, 5 years, Alfred,4 years, and Elizabeth Ann, 2 years. Another child was expected.
It is reasonable to suppose that as the Cubbin family had to travel first from the Isle of Man they would board the Netherby at Plymouth at the southern tip of England. Travelling overland to London with three small children was harder in those days than over water. The Irish Sea lay between the Isle of Man and Plymouth.
The route was across the Indian Ocean sighting Freemantle first.
The passengers and crew were very fortunate indeed in having such an able captain from the start. The trip was favourable considering the conditions forced upon any migrant ship of that period, under sail.
The Netherby was an old ship but the weather remained fine throughout the journey almost to their destination. It was a well run happy ship with no brawls and no dreaded epidemics of dysentery or typhoid which spread through many such ships of that time and took many hundreds of lives. This was due to the fine direction of Captain Owen Owens, his second officer Mr Parry and a fine surgeon- superintendent.
To prevent boredom on the long tedious trip of 20,000 miles, the captain suggested that a journal should be written up regularly, passengers themselves could contribute poems and articles of interest. The captain and medical officer would in turn keep everyone informed of any happenings on board. However, the captain was quite firm, he would not tolerate petty grievances being aired in the journal.
This journal of the voyage, presently held in the vaults of the LaTrobe Library in Melbourne, makes interesting reading. A few grievances understandably crept into the journal. This was only to be expected when one considers the live pigs, fowls, sheep and other animals had the run of the small ship as well as 500 humans, for food rations kept better on the hoof in those unrefrigerated days, unless meat was salted.
So, on the crowded decks and narrow companionways, up and down stairways, on stairs leading to the bridge, there were too many people trying to find a few inches of space. As well, the animal droppings, together with wet, swaying decks, tended to make the going dangerous and slippery. However, by the reading of the journal, tempers remained calm, and any differences were settled by the captain before any fights started.
To keep the passengers occupied, the captain urged them to keep their cabins clean and tidy. Most of them did so, if only to fill in a bit of time and to cut the chaos of living in such cramped quarters down to a minimum. One wonders how everyone dined onboard, or even found the room to lie down to sleep.
There were 2 tragic happenings on the voyage. Two small children died of illness and were buried at sea. One child of ten months who died was named Eliza Snooks. Heart rendering poems were written up in the journal for these solemn occasions. There were also two births, and these were joyously written up. There was a "Jacob Moses" who lent money as his "profession". And then there was much laughter and hilarity as the traditional "crossing-the-line" ceremony was carried out when crossing the equator.
The "Netherby" was said to be a good clipper – which were the latest in American sailing ships at that time, with speeds up to 20 knots. The "Netherby" had passed six other ships. Some migrant voyages took 6 months coming out of Australia, but in 4 months the "Netherby" was within sight of the new chosen land of Australia.
So near their destination, on 14th July the "Netherby" was making its average 7 knots close to the entrance of Bass Strait, but freakish weather conditions and thick fog prevented observations being taken on the crude instruments used at that period of time. To the captain’s dismay, at 7.30pm on 14th July the "Netherby" struck rock on the western shore of King island near the southern tip – on a treacherous out-lying reef – not in the captain’s reckonings.
It must have been a shock to the diligent captain, having safely passed through the great Australian bight and the tricky southern Victorian coastline where many ships had been wrecked with all on board lost.
Being in July, night had set in when the ship struck the reef, and a high surf had risen. The breakers were so high, and the rocks so numerous and rugged, it was impossible to take a life-boat to the shore. The ship ‘Netherby’ was taking in water fast. The crew took provisions from the lower hold, and saved about 10 bags of bread and some bags of flour. In no time the ship was full of water up to the ‘tween decks and listing badly. In this position the passengers sheltered themselves as best they could all night, waiting til light of morning. The women and children behaved most patiently and enduringly during this long night of suspense.
By this time a gale had blown up, and rain began to fall. The sails were in shreds. One of the life boats was dashed to pieces, nearly pinning two crew. With much difficulty, under the command of Mr Jones, the chief officer, another attempt was made to carry a line to the shore in a life boat – the distance was 300 yards, all jagged rocks. They were ultimately successful. A rope was fastened to the rocks, and hove taut onboard, the sea breaking furiously on the shore, which was lined with rocks in every direction.
About 8am on the 15th July a commencement was made to land passengers - the women and children first, with sailors stationed on the rope ladder. Apparently a boat was hauled backwards and forwards along the rope which had been made fast to a rock on the beach. The 2 boats kept passing and repassing along the rope-line with, about a dozen passengers in each boat. Mr Parry was in command of one life boat, Mr Jones in command of the other. By 3pm all passengers were safely on the shore, but some were dragged, insensible by the force of the sea, up on the shore. It was a miracle that no lives were lost, as the boats were half full of water. Officers and men behaved gallantly throughout the day. The captain and the surgeon superintendant stood at the gangway, preventing too many of the passengers from rushing the boats. This was not an easy matter, as all were so anxious to get into the boats, their families’ lives at stake with the "Netherby" breaking up around them on the rocks.
The life boats were several times nearly swamped by overcrowding. On the hole, however, the passengers behaved very orderly and awaited their turn with great courage and patience.
It is interesting to note that from the captain’s notes that the saloon passengers, both ladies and gentlemen, refused to go until all other passengers were safely landed.
It was decided the next morning, July 16, after a well earned rest, to despatch a party overland to the Cape Wickham lighthouse on the northern part of the island to send for help by telegraphy, as it was thought to exist there a few years previously. They did not know the distance was 35 miles from the wreck.
The party consisted of Mr Parry, the 2nd officer, one of the crew, and a party of volunteers, gentlemen of the 2nd cabin. They started off about 7am with a small supply of bread, all the food that could be spared, and bearing 3 letters of authority.
The others left behind succeeded in saving 18 casks of flour, 6 bags of bread and a quantity of passengers’ luggage from the wreck – a hazardous task as the sea was very rough. 8 guards were appointed to keep watch on the food throughout the night to prevent pilfering. A bell was struck every half hour which was answered by another bell at the provision depot. Shelters were made from boughs of trees, tablecloths, scraps of sail, anything they could find. Daily rations were half pound of flour, a little oatmeal, and quarter pound of salt meat to an adult, with half pound flour and a biscuit extra to women and children.
It was into this setting on the wintry King Island beach that the Cubbins’ 4th child, a daughter, was born on 16 July 1866 – the day after the rescue over the rocks from the wreck to the beach.
An entry in the captains log was written: "Mrs Cubbin delivered safely a baby daughter on July 16."
Meanwhile, unaccustomed to bushwalking in a strange country, 2 of the party travelling overland gave in on Tuesday or Wednesday and set out to retrace their steps back to the scene of the wreck. The others persevered, sustaining themselves with the little food they carried and wallabies which they caught.
Reaching the lighthouse on Thursday morning, Mr Parry in his exhausted state found that rescue lay only in taking a boat to Melbourne as there was no telegraphy at the lighthouse after all. The only boat available from the lighthouse-keeper was a whale boat 24ft long, requiring 6 men on the oars. The chances of making the run safely was so remote that one of the party refused to embark, and Mr Parry proceeded out to sea with only the little middy and 2 others, none of them having had experience in managing such a boat. The wind was high, blowing half a gale, the sea exceedingly rough but Mr. Parry knew the shipwrecked victims depended on them getting through.
Fortunately for everybody, they reached a spot between Point RoadKnight and Barwon Heads – a distance of about 50 miles from King Island – late on Friday night, luckily meeting up with a survey party who gave assistance. Mr Parry then rode a distance of 26 miles on horseback to Geelong where a message was telegraphed to the chief secretary. He then proceeded by train to Melbourne.
Very soon after, the "Victoria", a government ship was sent to the scene of the wreck, with Mr Parry directing them.
Meanwhile at Williamstown Captain Ferguson, harbour master, picked up the distress signal and decided to set about in his steamship "Pharos" to rescue the unfortunate souls on King Island. It was night time, so he unashamedly looted homes and shops near Williamstown waterfront to take food and warm blankets and clothing to the shipwrecked people.
The two rescue ships arrived within hours of each other on Monday, 23rd July, and must have been very welcome sights indeed. It had been 8 long days and nights of wintry weather with lack of food since their ship had been wrecked on the uninhabited island.
On 20th July Capt Owens, the sailmaker and 4 sailors who volunteered, had set out for the lighthouse in a life boat to see if Mr Parry had ever reached there.
If he had not, all 500 survivors would have a long walk to the lighthouse. By boat, using oars, it took the captain from 10am to 6pm. He must have been delighted to learn that Mr Parry had made it and had gone for help to the mainland.
The newly born Cubbin’s babe and mother survived their ordeal. The baby girl, the author’s grandmother, was later named "Netherby Victoria Louisa" – the "Victoria" being after the first rescue ship that arrived, and "Louisa" after the lighthouse-keeper’s wife who had given Mr Parry gin in a bottle to sustain him in the whale boat whilst going for help to the mainland 50 miles away during a gale.
The baby’s name "Netherby" was of course the emigrants’ ship, their home for the past four months now broken up on the rocks.
Netherby Victoria Louisa Cubbin’s birth certificate states birth place as being "King Island – at the site of the wreck Netherby".
An unusual birthplace perhaps, but in those early days of sail and shipwreck along the treacherous coastlines there were surely more people named after lighthouse keepers and their families and wrecked ships than any other happening or profession.
The miracle of "Netherby" was that none of the 452 passengers and 50 crew lost their lives – indeed one life was gained!
Others were not so lucky. 20 years previously on almost the same spot on the treacherous reef off King Island another ship was wrecked, in which all hands were lost. There have been 57 ships wrecked in 171 years on King Island, aptly named "Shipwreck Isle".
A later lighthouse keeper W.M. Hickmott and daughter Caroline at Cape Wickham assisted many shipwrecked souls, among them a fishing boat from Geelong in 1870 wrecked in a howling westerly on King Island. The survivor, by the name of Grave, married Caroline Hickmott and named their son Hickmott Grave, reputed to be the first baby born on King Island. This is not so; it was some 4 years before that the Cubbin’s baby was born on the island, as shown in Captain Owens log and on the child’s birth certificate – on 16th July 1866.
The shipwrecked survivors were temporarily stationed in the vast Exhibition building which was then just being built. A testimonial fund was commenced for the destitute people to supply them with goods and clothing.
Many of the passengers decided to settle in Victoria, but about half travelled onto Brisbane as planned, by a special ship provided for them.
A petition was signed by all the passengers commending the bravery of Captain Owens and his crew, and especially Mr Parry for saving their lives. Mention was made of Captain Ferguson and his rescue steamship "Pharos".
The Cubbin family apparently had had enough and had settled and they settled in Rosslyn street Melbourne (known as West Melbourne) near the Flagstaff Gardens and Victoria Market. The two storey residence is still standing, in immaculate condition. Later 2 daughters Nell and Emily were born making a family of 6. The "shipwreck" infant, called Nettie, was baptised in St James’ old cathedral, West Melbourne – "the church of the pioneers" – 6 weeks after the shipwreck.
Nettie Cubbin was an exquisite needleworker. She married a seaman, James Cannell, from her parent’s land of birth, the Isle of Man. James Cannell retired from the sea, became a caretaker of the Winfield Building in Collins Street, near King Street. Nettie and James raised their family of 3, living on the top 5th floor of the early – established stone building with it’s embellished circular tower room (used as a music room) and turret windows leading out onto the roof garden and roof washing line, where noisy cable trams raced down Collins Street hill past their home. Nettie lived to the age of 94 years.
There have been 5 generations living in Melbourne stemming from the Cubbin family who migrated to Australia from the Isle of Man in the "Netherby".
Some of the passengers’ names on the "Netherby" as entered in Captain Owens’ log were: Grindal, Yorston, Exton, Dippie, Pinnuck, Carbery, Snooks, etc., to name a few.