The first ship to be built in the Cape Hawke area (now known as Forster Tuncurry), was the Brigantine Fanny Campbell.
It seems hard to imagine this ship was built alongside the narrow Coolongolook River, not far from the township that now spans the Pacific Highway.
As was common in the colony at that time, ships were often built alongside sawmills.
The Fanny Campbell was built by William Peat who had come to Coolongolook from the Hawkesbury River having gained his shipbuilding skills from his father George Peat.
The origin of the name Fanny Campbell comes from his sister Frances who had married John Campbell of Sydney.
John Campbell had commissioned William to build the vessel.
The Fanny Campbell was launched at Coolongolook on November 6, 1870 and registered in Sydney a month later.
The two-masted ship was quite large at 105.6 ft in length and a register tonnage of 151 shipping tons.
Soon after completion, she was offered for sale by the owner/agent John Campbell and was sold to Vivian McIntyre on January 5, 1871.
After making regular trips taking timber from the Richmond River to Sydney, she was based in Queensland in July 1871, where she began regular runs between various Queensland ports and Sydney.
In the meantime, she was being prepared for involvement in what was known at the time as the Native Labor Trade.
The Native Labor Trade in Queensland
In the latter part of the 19th century South Sea Islanders were transported to Australia as a cheap source of labour.
Those that came to Queensland were commonly employed in the new Queensland sugar industry.
They came predominately from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, but also New Caledonia, Fiji, Gilbert Islands, as well as New Ireland and Milne Bay - provinces of Papua New Guinea.
These peoples were collectively referred to at the time as Kanakas or Kanaks.
Between 1863 and 1904, 62,000 South Sea Islanders were brought to Australia to work in the sugar industry.
Numerous vessels were licenced to find new recruits or to return those who had finished their contracts back to their homes.
In 1872, for example, there were 10 vessels involved in the trade in Queensland alone.
The Fanny Campbell's involvement in the Native Labor Trade was to undertake one voyage returning labourers who had completed their indenture to their homes in New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).
Her owners expected to also pick up new recruits on the voyage.
The vessel was licenced to carry 140 native labourers.
Fanny Campbell's last voyage
Little did the owner realise that this was to be the Fanny Campbell's last voyage.
She left Mackay in January 1872 under the control of Captain Loutit.
She was returning 70 labourers who had completed their indenture in Queensland.
As well as the 70 labourers and the ship's crew, she was also carrying government agent Mr Ramsay, passenger Mr Roberts and the crew.
The first port of call was the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia; the vessel arrived on February 4 after a difficult voyage.
Returning labourers continued to be dropped off at numerous locations as the Fanny Campbell headed north.
On March 18 she was standing offshore waiting at the entrance to a small lagoon on what is believed to be Gaua Island in the Banks Group, approximately 400km north of Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Wrecked on Gaua Island
Just before midnight she was driven onto a reef and within three hours was a complete wreck.
Most of the crew and passengers remained on the vessel overnight and anxiously awaited daylight.
All the returning recruits swam ashore in the night.
The only natives remaining were 13 labourers who had been recruited for the return voyage.
When dawn came it was at once seen what a deplorable state the ship was in, all the port side having been completely washed away.
Plundered by local natives
In the morning natives came out in large numbers and began plundering the wreck.
Nothing was saved except a small quantity of trade goods, some firearms, two bags of flour, and a few articles of clothing.
All were landed on the beach in the only remaining boat.
A number of natives collected on the beach and promptly stole a great portion of the clothing saved.
Survivors stranded on Gaua Island
In a desperate situation the survivors were pleased when the chief of the village gave them a humpy for shelter; they were not troubled by the natives at all after the initial thefts.
With a limited amount of food taken from the ship things began to get desperate.
On April 4, 17 days after the Fanny Campbell was wrecked, the captain, two seamen, and two Lifou natives started out in the boat for Havannah Harbour - a distance of around 400km to the south.
Captain and four others picked up at sea
On April 10, the boat containing the captain and four others were picked up by ketch G. V. Brooke that had been sent from Havannah Harbour to locate the wreck and salvage everything of value.
On arrival at Gaua it was found that those on shore were suffering from fever, malaria, and dysentery with three native recruits having died.
The crew of the ketch commenced working to salvage the anchors, chains, etc. and were planning to take the survivors back to Havannah Harbour.
On April 22, while the G. V. Brooke was carrying out salvage works, the schooner Lyttona, under the command of Captain Rosengren, arrived on the scene and offered to take some of the crew back to Havannah Harbour.
Mr Roberts, Captain Loutit, the government agent and a crew member took up the offer while the remaining survivors were to return on the G. V. Brooke to Havannah Harbour.
Ketch G.V. Brooke fails to arrive at Havannah Harbour
The G. V. Brooke left on April 25 but as she had not appeared at Havannah Harbour by May 5, fears were held that she too may have been lost.
Finally, a letter from the New Hebrides was received advising that the G. V. Brooke had not proceeded to Havannah Harbour but had instead arrived safely at Tanna.
The final voyage of the Fanny Campbell was a sad ending for the first vessel constructed in the Cape Hawke area.
To see more of Chris and Graham's research, click here.
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