1910: Ocean Liner Sinks Near Augusta

pericles.jpgThe largest passenger liner to ever sink off the coast of Australia went down near Augusta.

In 1907, the White Star Line’s S.S. Pericles was launched. It was a 158m long, four-masted twin-screw steamer with room for 500 passengers (100 first class, 400 third class) plus 150 crew. At the time it was considered the most opulent luxury liner servicing Australia.

But on 31 March 1910 the Pericles was on it’s 4th voyage, passing Cape Leeuwin, when it hit an unchartered rock. This tore a gash in the hull and the liner began to sink bow first into the water, completely sinking within two and a half hours. Thankfully, all passengers and crew were able to get into the dozen lifeboats, and as conditions were fair at the time, they were able to all make it to shore, guided by a signal fire that had been lit by the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse keeper.

Although there was no trace of the ship after it sank, over the following days tons of goods from the ship washed up on shore. From as far away as Wonnerup, south west families came down in droves, bringing horses and carts to gather up what they could find. The exact location of the wreck was left unknown for almost half a century until it was located and partially salvaged in the 1950’s.

For some time after the ship went down, there was much speculation about which rock the ship actually hit. It was an important question because if it could be shown that liner took an unsafe course around the cape, then White Star Line would be responsible, thereby releasing Lloyd’s Insurance from a half million pounds insurance bill. A formal hearing was convened, where officers testified that they had indeed set a safe course and were nowhere near the South West Breakers. The navy even dispatched a ship to finding the “uncharted rock”, but nothing was found. The hearing concluded that the SS Pericles did indeed hit an uncharted pinnacle of rock, which most likely snapped off, thereby ensuring future safe passage for other vessels to sail past the cape in that area.

Some of the survivors settled in WA, with some returning to Melbourne courtesy of the White Star Line. Most passengers lost everything. Some went on to London, but later returned to settle in WA, being overwhelmed by residents’ generosity of providing clothes and board in their time of need.

Today the wreck of the Pericles lies in sight of the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, in only 34 metres of water, but is generally inaccessible to the recreational diver due to the strong currents and big swells which naturally occur where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.

Although the local conditions make it dangerous for inexperienced divers, there have been some teams over the years who have been committed to mapping the wreck. The Pericles Research Group has been one such team, who report that there are plenty of nooks to explore, with three massive boilers still standing intact near the engine.

The Pericles remains the only shipwreck at Cape Leeuwin since the Lighthouse was built in 1896.

Information & photos courtesy of the Museum Of Underwater Archeology.

pericles2.jpg
Pericles Wreck - Photo by Ben Hall

 

 

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Comments (12)

Andrew Tully
Said this on 22-05-2011 At 06:47 pm

I believe a survivor was a joung Mary Folster,(my grandmother) later married Tully.

Can anyone assist me in advising me where I can obtain a ships passenger manifest for this event?

Many thanks

Andrew Tully

 

Mark Dyson
Said this on 15-09-2011 At 10:58 pm

Hello Andrew,

Did you find the info on your grandmother being a survivor of the Pericles sinking?

It so happens I have a copy of the passenger list and indeed there are 5 people with the Folster surname listed and were booked Sydney to Durban.

The list has a Mrs M Folster and infant, Miss N Folster, Miss Nonnie Folster and Master N Folster.  Possibly there was a mix up and the N and Nonnie Folster are the same person?  My records are a copy of the passeger list published in the Western Mail 9/4/1910.

I obtained my info from the Agusta museum and the State Library also has some records that I accessed.  From memory both resords are similar in that they are reports of inquiries into the sinking.

I have dived on the wreck and that sparked my interest in some of its story.

Let me know if you want any more info.

Mark Dyson

Maryann O'Shields
Said this on 01-03-2012 At 07:34 am

Hey Andrew, this is your cousin Maryann in Denver USA, gran was the infant Miss N Folster, should have been the infant Miss M. Folster, Nonnie, obviously Aunty Non and master N Folster, their brother Nial. I was showing the story to my son about this when I saw your comment. 

Maryann O'Shields.

Said this on 11-05-2012 At 01:12 pm

Hello Maryann

The mum on the boat Mary Folster was a grand or great aunt - my great grandfather's sister

They were all from a tribe called Tancred (as you probably know). I am doing a little piece on a brother of Mary (the senior) called John Tancred (aka Johnto to all)

Wonder if your nan or anyone of your relatives has any information on him? We know he left Australia went to fight in Boaer war and natal Rebellion (and then first WW) but while in Durbin turned up at Mary's home it seems unannounced and gave her somewhat of a fright

Johnt was the true soldier of fortune knock about loveable larrikan (am told he died before I was born but my Dad knew him)

Any information and especially a picture of Mary or even Johnto would be fantastic

Denver - we spend a little time up the road in Beaver Creek!

Cheers

 

Sandra Morrah
Said this on 08-12-2012 At 12:52 am

Hello John and Maryann

I am a Tancred descendant, my GG Grandmother Eliza Jane Tancred married Thomas Bruce was the sister of Mary Tancred/Folster and John Tancred.. I have been researching Mary Folster and found a death notice in the Sydney Herald on 2 September 1930 that may interest you..

FOLSTER - July 26 - Mary ( nee Tancred ) relict of the late Henry Folster. RIP

I would really like to learn  more on what happened to the children of Henry and Mary Folster. Also chuffed to see the refence to " Aunty Non " this name very familiar to me as appears a lot in my branch of the family and I too have an " Aunty Non " named for her Grandmother Honour Wood nee Bruce..

Look forward to hearing from you.

Regards from Sandra

Said this on 24-11-2011 At 09:08 pm

Please could you kindly tell me if my grandfather, William Black, (Architect, Black & Fagg, Cape Town) was a registered passenger on the Pericles? I would appreciate any other relevant information, if available.

Thank you.

Sally Ryan 

Mark Dyson
Said this on 11-12-2011 At 11:29 pm

Hi Sally,

Indeed there is a Messr W.R. Black who boarded in Brisbane and the ship was bound for London via Durban and Cape Town.  A Mr R Black is listed as a Sydney to London passenger though a footnote says that"Sydney passengers include some from Queensland"  Presumably its the same Mr Black though he is called W.R. Black in one list and as R. Black in another.

The WR Black listing is from a list in the Melbourne Age 1 April 1910 and the R Black listing is from the Western Mail 9 April 1910.

There is no other information on him in the information that I have.  Passengers were offered travel back to their port of embarkation and the Western Mail, 9 April 1910 lists some passengers availing themselves of this but R Black or W R Black is not mentioned.

If I can help with anything else let me know.

Mark

L. Van HolbyLee
Said this on 19-08-2012 At 02:21 am

Hi there.

 Can you let me know if my Grandfather, surname Meridew, was either passenger or crew on thevSS Pericles when it went down.  He was in the Merchant navy and I have a Union Jack, signed by some survivors which he gave to me when I lived in NSW.

Regards.

Beverley 

John
Said this on 03-04-2012 At 08:44 am

Hi,

I would like to know if my grandfather was on the Pericles when it sank please ..his name was Oliver Hunter and was most likely coming from south africa.

Said this on 04-04-2012 At 03:22 pm

A chest washed up on a beach and was picked up by one of our family on their stocklease after the incident.  Inside, passed onto our children was believed to be one of captain's crockery sets from this vessel.

Tragically, during a recent earthquake on the night of the eclipse (August 28 2007?) the wall cabinet that housed the crockery set fell off the wall.  Three small plates survived.  They are beautifully hand painted tuscan china from England - mainly white with a maroon/black floral finish around the edge.

Gary Muir

 

Libby Meakin
Said this on 05-06-2012 At 02:05 pm

Hi,

My great grandmother, Winifred Carmichael accompanied by my grand mother, Eilenn aged 14, was on SS Pericles when it sank. There was also a Jack Heron and his family on the ship who became friendly with them and subsequently became my mother's Godfather. The family story tells that Jack Heron was carrying a painting which was recovered and he donated it to the state Library. I have written to the Library but they failed to reply. I don't know the name of the painting. Do you have any information on this?

I would very much like to know more about this event. What time did it sink? Was there any panic? Sadly I have noone left in the family to ask.

Thanking you in anticipation

Libby Meakin

 

Lis
Said this on 06-11-2012 At 11:18 am

Hello,

We have uncovered in a family clean out a medallion given to a great grandfather who was a passenger on the Pericles.  The engraving on the back reads T.S.S. Pericles with the date March 31st 1910.  The front has a star above mountains and a star in the sea and in blue enamel on the front it reads (I think) OHNE HAST OHNE RAST.  Does anyone know anmore about these medallions, were they given out by the government, or cruise liner company?  Are many still around?

Many thanks,

Lis

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