Wreck of the Dunbar


One of the more interesting accounts of the wreck is this one:

Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), Thursday 29 August 1907, page 7

Dunbar Wreck.A SIGNALMAN’S STORY. Around a miniature flagstaff, fitted with yards and halyards complete, there were gathered on Tuesday week last at the signal station grounds, Watson’s Bay, about 40 or 50 persons. Noticeable in the assemblage were several white-haired men, bent with the weight of years, who listened with evident interest to the story of the Dunbar wreck, as related by one who had acted his part in that grim sea tragedy half a century ago. The narrator was Mr. Henry Packer, who at the time of the disaster was assistant ‘ signalman at South Head, when Mr. James Graham was the chief. Mr. Packer had braved a long journey to tell his story, and the vivacity and dramatic fervour with which he related , ‘ some of the incidents made his advanced years difficult to realise. Mr. Packer told his hearers that he had been prompted to take that course yesterday, mainly from a desire to correct wrong impressions which had become implanted in the public mind concerning the end of the ill-fated ship. Fathers and mothers, he said, brought their children to the Gap, and pointing seaward told them that ‘ there ‘ was where the Dunbar was wrecked.’ He would tell them later where the ship did strike. Quoting from some authority he recited that the ship was skillfully modelled, copper fastened throughout ; she was built in the yards of James Laing, constructed of teak, and was the property of Duncan Dunbar, of London. Her masts were in keeping with the rest of her ‘ ponderous ‘ structure. Her length was ‘ 80ft. 8in, and she was built for the enjoyment of first-class passengers. The Dunbar was declared to be one of the finest merchant ships of her day. ‘ What sort of a day was it 50 years ago’?’ he asked, and answered by saying that there was a heavy sea that morning: Dirty, leaden clouds — the sort that mariners dread — hung from the heavens, and between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon it was something dreadful indeed. The sea was mountainous, and heavy rain fell. Mr. Packer discerned a ship, which proved afterwards to be the Dunbar. She had painted ports, and a red lion figurehead. Running to the signal staff he signaled ‘Sail ho!’ to the Sydney Post Office. The code, 4, 9, 1, 0— -‘What ship is that?’ — was then run up. Mr. Packer illustrated the signals by a demonstration on the miniature staff. Then followed : 1, 4, 9, 5 — ‘ Where did you come from ?’ ; 1, 6, 5, 3 — ‘How many days out?’ The answer from the ship was returned by code. The Dunbar was then beating about some miles out. Continuing, Mr. Packer said that he knew nothing more until the next morning, when the wind was blowing with terrific force, sending the spray high over the cliffs. The spray went over the top of the lighthouse 75 feet high.’ So dense was the spray that the signal-station’s kitchen garden suffered severely from the salt, while the water in the tanks was almost undrinkable. Looking out he saw no vessel, and came to the conclusion that the Dunbar, had put out to await the weather’s abatement. Subsequently an object like a bale of wool caught his eye, which later transpired to be Mrs. Egan and her daughter, two of the passengers, locked in each other’s arms. At the base of the cliffs lay the ship with her back broken in two. ‘ I saw her; her head was pointing south, and when I saw her before she was heading north.’ Continuing, Mr. Packer said that when the news reached Sydney thousands- came flocking out to see the wreck, braving the awful roads, which were in places veritable bogs after the rain. Then a man named Palmer walked along a ledge in the hope of seeing some of the wrecked persons. A man was seen lying on the rocks, and a derrick was promptly improvised with the aid of the signal staff, A young. Icelander, named Antonio Woollier, volunteered to effect a rescue. A sum of £15 was collected on the spot as a reward for the young Icelander, who, however, said that he was actuated solely by a desire to assist a fellow-being, and not for the purpose of making money.Mr Parker related a dream which he alleged had been dreamed by Mrs Graham, the wife of the signal master, on the night of the wreck. Mrs Graham woke her husband up, and said: ‘Go down, James, and rescue the poor fellow in the sea.’ After pacifying her, Mr Graham was again urged later in the night to rescue the man. Mr Packer, whose room was ‘ next to that of Mr and Mrs Graham, was awakened subsequently by Mrs Graham, who knocked at the partition, and urged him, for God’s sake, ‘ to help that man under the cliffs.’ After Johnson was rescued he happened to pass by the signal station premises. Mrs Graham, who caught sight of him, said : ‘ That is the face I saw in my dream.’ Mr Packer considers it is difficult to assert positively that the anchors of the Dunbar are those which are thought to be hers, because other vessels, the Daniel Webster and the Ena, were both lost in the locality, ‘ supposed to have, been the scene of the Dunbar’s wreck.

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