Historical Snippets, WA History

Wreck of the Cochituate

At midnight, on 30 June 1861, a man arrived in Fremantle in a state of exhaustion and starvation. He was a Dutchman named John Barlish and was part of the crew on the barque ‘Cochituate,’ of Boston, U.S.A. The ship left Melbourne on 7 May, bound for Singapore, when it struck West Reef of the Abrolhos Islands at about 3 am on 14 June.

Houtman Abrolhos circa 1753. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call number: MAPR0000001).

The ship began to fill with water, and within an hour, started to break up. It became necessary for the Captain and the crew to abandon ship. They boarded the ship’s boats with some provisions; Captain Bangs, the second mate and three men in one boat, and the first mate (Mr Devries) and six men in the other.

The men did not know that the town of Geraldton existed, so they attempted to sail south close to the coast. On the second day, strong winds resulted in the decision to beach the boats. During the process, Captain Bangs’ boat was swamped, and the provisions were lost. Mr Devries’ boat was beached without incident, ten miles south of the Captain, somewhere near Cockleshell Gully.

Captain Bangs and the four men walked towards the other men, eating dead fish and birds found along the way. After a day’s walk, they reached Mr Devries and his party. That night, they slept on the beach. In the morning, the second mate and six men headed south along the beach, while the Captain, Mr Devries, and three men remained on the beach, hoping to relaunch the boat. As the weather did not improve, on 18 June, they, too, decided to walk south.

The second mate’s party made it to Moore River and crossed it on a makeshift raft. As hunger and weakness set in, they killed their dog and gave extra meat to John Barlish. He travelled alone and managed to stagger in to Fremantle to raise the alarm. The Resident Magistrate was informed, notice was given to Perth, and mounted troopers, Aboriginal trackers, search parties, and provisions were despatched. On 1 July, they found the men on a hill, waving their hats to attract attention. The police gave them some wine and then took them to Mr Liddelow’s station to rest until someone could take them to Perth.

The Captain’s party, however, walked for 14 days. Exhaustion was setting in when a search party from Gingin, led by Mr Dewar, found them on 2 July about ten miles south of Moore River. He gave them food and brought them to his home, where they stayed for a few days before being taken to Perth.

Had the party not fallen in with them at that time, their situation would have been critical, for they could walk no further, and 2 of the men had fallen behind, and were picked up by the searching party a few hours after the captain and mate were found.

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 10 July 1861; Page 2; Local and Domestic Intelligence

Captain Bangs and the men arrived in Perth on 6 July. He was without his sextant, quadrant, and other items, which he left in a pile on a beach. They could not save much from the ship; all they had were the clothes on their backs. Nevertheless, both the Captain and Mr Devries expressed their gratitude to the people who rescued them and cared for them. They conveyed special thanks to the authorities for their prompt action.

He [Mr Hogan] received the news of the wreck at 1/2 past twelve at night, and, without waiting for orders, he collected the searching party together, who in less than three hours, were equipped and started on their journey.

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 10 July 1861; Page 2; Local and Domestic Intelligence

On 17 July, the ‘Cochituate,’ and its contents left aboard and on the beach, were offered for sale by private contract. John Wellard was the successful purchaser. By the end of July, the Captain and crew left Western Australia. Captain Bangs travelled east to Melbourne, while the crew travelled to Singapore aboard the ‘Guyon.’

John Wellard sent the cutters ‘Mystery’ and ‘Speculator’ to inspect the wreck. They found it to be in relatively good condition and had sustained no further damage. Everything on board was lying in “great confusion.” The stores were still intact, and by means of a zip line, they removed and landed everything from the ship, including two large anchors and chains.

The objects left behind on the beach by Captain Bangs were never recovered due to inclement weather. From the ship, 28 casks of beef and pork, peas, bread, flour, hams, 13 spars, a set of sails, and other articles were sent to Fremantle on the cutter ‘Favourite.’ Remarkably, even a pig survived. It was shut in its sty for 71 days with only the food provided before the ship struck the reef. It, too, was brought to Fremantle. Though weak, it recovered its health.

By December 1862, word reached Charles Adams (English ambassador for the United States), of the wreck and the survivors. On behalf of President Abraham Lincoln, he thanked the authorities of Western Australia and offered to reimburse them for the costs expended in searching and caring for the survivors.

Once the crew from the cutters removed the cargo, they set the ‘Cochituate’ on fire. Not much of the ship remains today. The record on the Western Australian Museum’s Maritime Archaeology Database states that Fred Cato may have seen the wreck in 1930. Divers in recent years have photographed bronze railing thought to be part of the wreck. Officially, however, it has not been found.


  • Featured image courtesy of Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales; Garling, Frederick, 1806-1873 1868, Views of ships ca. 1864-1868 / watercolours by Frederick Garling; 2. The Kate, P. Carter Commander, on her passage from Auckand to Sydney, 18th Oct. 1865; Call number: DGD 4
  • Information on the wreck Cochituate courtesy of the Western Australian Museuem’s Maritime Archaeology Database; http://museum.wa.gov.au/maritime-archaeology-db/wrecks/id-55
  • Part of a map showing the Houtman Abrolhos courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia; Het Westelykste Gedeelte van ‘t Land vande Eendragt of Nova Hollandia : Strekkende van het Eyland Rottenest tot voorby de Willems Rivier; Call number: MAPR0000001
  • 1861 ‘SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8 May, p. 4. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5699994
  • 1861 ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence.’, The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 3 July, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69136469
  • 1861 ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence.’, The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 10 July, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69137234
  • 1861 ‘Advertising’, The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 17 July, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69136971
  • 1861 ‘MISCELLANEOUS.’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 17 August, p. 5. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158182428
  • 1861 ‘General Intelligence.’, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), 26 July, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2933290
  • 1861 ‘General Intelligence.’, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), 2 August, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2933305
  • 1861 ‘General Intelligence.’, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), 27 September, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2933423
  • 1861 ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence.’, The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 2 October, p. 2. , viewed 23 May 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69136403

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