The Leschenault Shark

In June 1838 a report reached Perth that the American whaling ship Harvest was lost during gale force winds somewhere between Perth and Leschenault (near Bunbury and Australind).

The report was vague and while The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal chose to print the news anyway, they did so with the proviso that it may be best to await more accurate information before completely declaring the ship sunk. People who were anxious to hear news of the ship had about a month’s wait before the story was revealed.

The Harvest, under the command of Captain Stackpole, had indeed been in the Leschenault area and was anchored at Koombana Bay in Bunbury. The ship had recently returned from a successful whaling expedition and its crew was working on a whale (which was tied to the side of the ship) when they noticed they were drifting.

There was no reason for the ship to drift. The weather was fine and there was only a slight breeze. They were using a single anchor with a short cable and, in the hope of stopping the drift, they let loose a little more cable. It was no good. The ship continued to drift.

As they were using a lighter anchor the Captain decided to drop their heavier main anchor and then gave instructions to haul up the light one. He suspected it had a fault which was the cause of the drifting. Much to his surprise, there was nothing wrong with it.

Anchor

A short time later one of the crew members expressed his opinion that it looked like there was a problem with the buoy. An order was given to have it hauled on board and though it should have been a relatively easy task, the men struggled. Someone then yelled out,

There is a young whale fast to the buoy rope by the tail!

Upon closer inspection they soon realised their mistake. A whale was not caught, it was an enormous shark thought to be about 30 feet long.

Hitched

The shark remained suspended alongside the ship, caught in the rope by its tail. According to the report, the head of the shark could not be seen as there was not sufficient power to completely lift it out of the water.

The shark was killed and its liver removed. When the crew boiled it down in a whaling pot, it produced over 35 gallons (160 litres) of shark oil which they handed over to the Government Resident in Bunbury.

The story of the Leschenault shark proved to be a popular one. The main newspaper in 1838 (The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal) published an account which was written by a visitor to the district. A year later the same story was printed in Nathaniel Ogle’s book, “The Colony of Western Australia; a manual for emigrants“. Included under Chapter XI (Natural History) he wrote,

The sharks are numerous, and sometimes play pranks which almost tax our belief…

Shark

Sources:

  • 1838 ‘THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL.’, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 23 June, p. 98. , viewed 01 Jul 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article639498
  • 1838 ‘THE LESCHENAULT SHARK, AND BAY WHALING.’, The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), 21 July, p. 115. , viewed 01 Jul 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article639463
  • Ogle, Nathaniel & Royal Australian Historical Society 1977, The colony of Western Australia : a manual for emigrants, 1839, John Ferguson in association with the Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney (page 257).
  • 1930 ‘SHARK AHOY!’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 22 February, p. 5. , viewed 01 Jul 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32382296
  • 1936 ‘NEWS AND NOTES.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 26 June, p. 22. , viewed 01 Jul 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40728565
  • 1950 ‘Whoppers, Even In 1838’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 12 August, p. 21. , viewed 01 Jul 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47880016
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