The Abrolhos Islands, or Houtman Abrolhos as they are more corectly called, consists of three separate groups of islands some seventy kilometres west of Geraldton off the Western A ustralian coast. The group extends eighty kilometres running north-south, with the Wallabi group to the north, then Easter, and finally the Pelsart group to the south. The islands are predominantly coral based, and the protected waters harbour some of the most magnificent coral gardens in the world, rivalling the larger Great Barrier Reef. The group is named after Frederik de Houtman, a Dutch sea captain who discovered the group in the early seventeenth century. In the late nineteenth century the southern islands were worked for guano. The northern islands are the centre of a lucrative cray fishing industry in season. The islands are a wildlife sanctuary and camping is prohibited without authorisation.
As expected, the islands offer superb diving, with excellent corals, marine life - and wrecks. Fifty-four vessels are listed here, and include two of the earliest recorded vessels lost in Australian waters, the terrible loss of the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia (1629) and the Zeewyk 1727). The largest veesel lost in the group was the 2892 ton iron steamer Windsor, off Pelsart Island, 1908. Most of the vessels lost in the group are small luggers and fishing boats, with a number of larger sailing vessels: the fully-rigged iron ship Ben Ledi, 1107 tons, 1879, the American barque,Cochituate, 347 tons, 1861, the barque,Hadda, 334 tons, 1877, and the wooden barque,Ocean Queen, 268 tons, 1842.
Loney [LW] is the predominant source at the moment, but is must be noted that the excellent three volume set covering the shipwrecks of Western Australia by Graeme Henderson has not been included. This is the definiate work, Henderson being the head of the Maritime Archaeology unit at the WA Museum. Holthouse [HH1],[HH2] provides information on some of the more 'significant' wrecks.
Associated links: WESTERN
Ada. Lugger. Lost on Abrolhos Islands, WA, 1920. [LW]
Ada. Unregistered cutter, 18 tons. Lost on the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 19 February 1921. [LW]
Ada. Lugger. Believed to have foundered off the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 1914. [LW]
Almar. Fishing boat. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 8 May 1968. [LW]
Angela. Fishing boat. Swamped near the Abrolhos, WA, 17 March 1976. [LW]
Anna Marea. Small craft. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 15 May 1970. [LW]
Aries. Fishing boat. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 6 May 1966. [LW]
Aroetta. Small craft, possibly fishing vessel. Lost near the Abrolhos,
WA, 16 July 1963. [LW]
Batavia. Dutch vessel, wooden, about 600 tons. Dutch East India Company. Commander Francois Pelsart. Wrecked Morning Reef, off Beacon island, Abrolhos islands, WA, 4 June 1629. Position known. Left Texel, the most westerly of the West Frisan Islands off the north west coast of Holland on 28 October 1628. The ship was crammed with trade goods and supplies; and twelve bound chests of silver coin worth 250,000 guilders and a casket of jewels valued at 58,000 guilders. Three hundred and sixteen soldiers, passengers and crew were jammed aboard the vessel, probably little more than 150 feet in length. Relations between Pelsart and his skipper Jacobsz were already poor and when the commander reprimanded him for drunkenness at the Cape of Good Hope they deteriorated further. Most of the passengers and crew reached safety on Beacon Island. Pelsart made a 1,200 nautical mile journey north in one of the boats and was picked up in the Sunda Strait and taken to Batavia (now Jakarta). Pelsart set out almost immediately in the Sardam to return to the Batavia and arrived back on 17 September after a voyage of 65 days. In his absence, Cornelisz, the Batavia's undermerchant, had seized the ship's treasure, and with his followers had indulged in an orgy of murder and rape; they killed no less than 125 of the wreck survivors. Forty had drowned in attempting to reach shore and twenty died of disease. Pelsart and a council of officers from the Sardam tried the mutineers. Seven, including Cornelisz, whose hands were first cut off, were hanged, while two others were marooned on the mainland and never heard of again. Others were punished when they arrived at Batavia. [LW],[LI],[NH],#MJ],[ASW1]
@ For many years the wreck of the Batavia was believed to lie in the Southern Group of the Abrolhos Islands. However, in 1963, the site was discovered by Max Cramer from Geraldton, based on information from cray fisherman Dave Johnson. The Western Australian Museum has undertaken extensive work on the wreckssite, and has raised all of the remains of the ship, many cannon, and huge sandstone blocks intended for a portico at Batavia. The museums display at Fremantle is impressive. [#HH2],[LAH],[DA]
Beagle. HMS Captain J.C. Wickham. Visited the Abrolhos islands in 1840, locating the wreck of the Zeewyk, but which he took to be the Batavia. It was this famous vessel which included Charles Darwin on the world voyage of 1831-1836. Again under the command of Captain Wickham, discovered King Sound in north-west Australia in 1838, and named Darwin after the famous evolutionist. On this voyage they saw the remains of the wrecked Dutch vessel Zeewyk in the Abrolhos islands, and named the Pelsart Group. [HH2],[HH1],[LH]
Ben Ledi. Iron ship, 1107 tons. Built Glasgow 1868. Lbd 218 x 34.5 x
21 ft. Ashore and lost in the Abrolhos Group, WA, 16 December 1879. All
saved. Remains lie awash in the surf on the eastern side of Pelsart Island
and a quantity of wreckage has been recovered. Some of this may be from
the small schooner Marten, wrecked nearby in 1878. [LW],[LH],[HH2]
@ Divers from the WA Museum have recovered relics from the site despite being in the surf line. [LAH]
Bimbo. Fishing boat. Lost off the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 15 July 1959.
Champion. In 1848, attempted to find a treasure chest on Pelsart Island, Abrolhos Group, supposedly buried in 1842 when the barque Ocean Queen was wrecked. They were not succesful. [ASW1]
Cochituate. American barque, 347 tons. Built 1848. From Melbourne to New York, wrecked Pelsart Group, Abrolhos Islands, 14 June 1861. Crew saved. The remains were destroyed by fire, the origin of which remains a mystery. [LW],[LAH - 14 January 1861]
Crusader. Fishing boat. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 8 May 1967.
Dordrecht. Dutch vessel, repudedly the first to sight the Abrolhos islands off the western Australian coast, 1619. [LI]
Durdrecht. (Dordrecht). Dutch vessel. Commander Frederick de Houtman.
Reputedly the first to sight the Abrolhos islands off the western Australian
coast. In company with Amsterdam, crews on the ships and sighted the mainland
coast near the present town of Bunbury on 19 July 1619. Sailing north,
de Houtman named Rottnest and Houtman Abrolhos. [LW]
Eva. Vessel of 41 tons. Lbd 48 x 14.7 x 8.5 ft. Lost near Cape Leeuwin, 10 March 1895. [LW]
Eveline Mary. Cutter, 18 tons. Built 1874; reg. Fremantle. Wrecked on
the Abrolhos Islands after leaving Geraldton, April 1891. [LW],[ASR]
Fairwind. Small craft, possibly fishing vessel. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 21 April 1964. [LW]
Florence. Fishing boat. Lost near the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 9 September 1959. [LW]
Flying Foam. Schooner, 33 tons. Built 1861 Lbd 60 x 15.7 x 6.9 ft. Disappeared
between Champion Bay and Fremantle, March 1872. May have foundered off
the Abrolhos during a gale. [LW]
G.27. Fishing vessel. Wrecked at the Abrolhos, WA, 18 April 1962. One life lost. [LW]
Gladstone. Portion of a vessel was picked up on Pelsart Island with
the name ‘Gladstone’ on it, August 1894. [LW]
Hadda. Three masted barque, 334 tons. Built Sundaberg, Germany, 1860, reg Newcastle, NSW. Lbd 128.7 x 27.5 x 15.6 ft. Captain John Lewis Parker. Ran on to a reef in the Abrolhos Islands, 30 April 1877. Abandoned 7 May 1877. All crew saved. She had been on charter to carry guano.The captain bought the salvage rights to the vessel, returned to the wreck and recovered all that was removeable, making ‘a handsome profit on the deal’. Her remains off Beacon Island were located by author-diver Hugh Edwards in calm waters, adding to the speculation that the Hadda had been deliberately wrecked for later salvage. [LW],[#HH2],[LAH]
Helen Maria. Fishing vessel. Lost in the Abrolhos, WA, 26 March 1960.
Ivy. Fishing vessel, 39 tons. Foundered off the Abrolhos Islands, 29 August 1914. Two lives lost. [LW]
Jon Jim. Fishing vessel, 46 tons. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 17 July 1961. [LW]
Lowana. Fishing vessel. Destroyed by fire in the Abrolhos, WA, 12 March 1960. [LW]
Mandrake. Fishing vessel. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 1 June 1961. [LW]
Marten. Wooden schooner, 28 tons. Built at Melbourne, 1871. Operated in Victorian waters in the 1850s. Wrecked in the Pelsart Group, east side of Pelsart Islan, Abrolhos Islands, 3 March 1878. The crew of four rowed to Geraldton. See also Ben Ledi. [LW],[LH],[LPA - wrecked 1879],[HH2 - ircorrectly spelt Martin],[LAH]
Maryna. Small craft, possibly fishing vessel. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 18 April 1964. [LW]
Miss Denison. Fishing boat. Lost at the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 24 May
Nautilus. Yacht. Wrecked at Gun Island in the Pelsart Group, Abrolhos islands, WA, 1897. [LW]
Ocean Queen. Wooden barque, 268 tons. Built Whitby 1831; reg London. Captain Harrington. Sailed from Fremantle about 10 September 1842; ran ashore on Houtman Abrolhos, night 13 September 1842. After recovering a chest of specie from the wreck the crew landed on Pelsart Island and remained there for ten days before setting out for Fremantle. Captain Thomas in the cutter Venus tried to local the gold, as did an expedition using the Perseverance in 1843, and the Champion in 1848. The treasure chest has not been found. [LW],[#HH2],[ASW1],[LAH]
In 1840, hit a reef off Flinders Island, Bass Strait.
Patch. Small craft, possibly fishing vessel. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 14 April 1963. [LW]
Patience. Fishing boat. Destroyed by fire near the Abrolhos Islands, 1959. [LW]
Perseverance. As a salvage vessel, sent to the Abrolhos Islands in 1843 by the insurers of the gold that travelled on the barque Ocean Queen, lost there in 1842 in an attempt to find a treasure chest on Pelsart Island supposedly buried there. They were not succesful. On board the Perseverance was explorer-naturalist John Gilbert who reported extensively on the islands. Ships timbers, cannon balls, old Dutch bottles and clay pipes were found, but no gold. [#HH2],[ASW1]
Preston. Schooner, 20 tons. Wrecked in the Pelsart Group, Abrolhos islands,
20 September 1861. [LI]
Repose. Fishing boat. Lost at the Abrolhos Islands, WA, 8 August 1968. [LW]
Rosslyn. Fishing boat. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 8 May 1967. [LW]
Sabik. Small craft. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 14 March 1970. [LW]
Seeker. Fishing vessel. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 28 February 1961. [LW]
Sharon Lee. Small craft, possibly fishing vessel. Lost near the Abrolhos, WA, 16 June 1963. [LW]
Sloepie. Sloop. Built on Half Moon Reef, Abrolhos Islands, from the timber of the wrecked Zeewijk; keel laid 7 November 1727, launched 27 February 1728. With eighty-eight survivors of the wrecked Dutch east Indiaman, made an epic journey of over two thousand miles to arrive safely in Batavia (Jakarta), 30 April 1728. [LI]
Southern Cross. Small craft. Lost at the Abrolhos, WA, 29 July 1971.
Venus. Barque. Lost in the Pelsart Group, Abrolhos islands, 10 April 1851. A decade previously, under Captain Thomas, she had gone to the Abrolhos Islands to try and find the gold lost when the barque Ocean Queen was wrecked in 1842. The gold was not found. [HH2]
Windsor. Iron steamer, 2892/1853 tons. Built 1890. Lbd 314.6 x 40.6 x 20.5 ft. From Fremantle to Hong Kong with a cargo of sandalwood, struck a reef off Pelsart Island, Abrolhos group, WA, and broke her back, 2 February 1908. About twenty of the crew, including fifteen Chinese reached the shore in her boats, but others remained on board while high seas and strong winds battered her. Later, the chief engineer drowned while trying to swim ashore, while the master and mate were lost when the ship broke in two. Finally, three apprentices and twelve Chinese who had been clinging to the wreck for four days leaped into the sea and were rescued. [LW],[LH],[HH2]
@ Wreckage including her boiler, windlass, propeller and some iron plating remains on the western side of Pelsart Island in about ten metres. See lies not far from the Dutch ship Zeewyk. ,[LAH - steel steamship]
Zeewyk. Dutch East India Company ship, 38-guns, about 280 tons. Built 1725. Length about 145 feet. Captain Jan Steyns. Struck a reef skirting Gun Island on the western side of the Pelsart Group of Houtman’s Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia, 9 June 1727. Position known. Sailed from Vlissingen, Netherlands, on 7 November1726, bound for Batavia with a crew of 212 and a rich cargo which included 315,836 guilders, carried in ten chests. After pausing at the Cape, she left on 21 April 1727 and sailed east - too far east. Immediately she struck rioting broke out among the crew who blamed the captain for the disaster but once order was restored a camp was set up on nearby Gun Island. Steyns immediately despatched a longboat north but it was never heard of again. As the months passed the castaways realised that help was not coming, so they built a sloop using timber from the wrecked ship; the survivors, numbering 88, left Gun Island on 26 March 1728 in their sloop which also carried the chests of guilders as well as provisions and water, reaching Batavia on 30 April with the loss of six more of the crew. The Western Australian Museum has done extensive work on the wrecksite. Nearby Gun Island has provided the site of the survivors' camp and a large quantity of historical material. Some cannon are in the Fremantle Museum and at H.M.A.S. Leeuwin, the naval training centre.
Unidentified. Guano barge. Wreckedin the Wallabi Group, Abrolhos islands, 1890s. [LI]
Unidentified. Wreckage, possibly from a whaler was sighted on the Abrolhos Islands, 1867. [LW]