The sinking of Larry Writer

For anyone living in Sydney immediately after August 20, 1857, the main topic of conversation was the wreckage of the Dunbar outside the southern head of the Port Jackson entrance.

In his book The shipwreck, Larry Writer has diligently studied the background of the Dunbar and respectfully presents the story of a tragedy that occurred 165 years ago, the specifics of which we might otherwise never know.

The writer guides us through the substantial progress of the settlement of New South Wales: from the initial coastal survey by Lieutenant (and later Captain) James Cook; Arthur Phillip’s decision to reject Botany Bay in favor of spectacular Port Jackson; through the colony’s succession of colored governors; then to his research and description of various society figures in 1850s Sydney.

On the evening of August 20, 1857, a gale force wind was blowing and a fast current was running along the NSW coast north of Botany Bay, confounding estimates of the distance traveled. With low cloud and heavy squalls of rain obscuring Macquarie Light’s navigation beacon, the Dunbar, after safely negotiating the oceans of two hemispheres, plunged into the 60-metre cliff about 840 meters to the south from The Gap.

The destruction of the ship was rapid. 121 passengers and crew died, the only survivor being a 20-year-old Irish seaman named James Johnson who clung to a cliff edge for nearly 36 hours before being rescued.

Residents of colonial Sydney were shocked by the sinking of the ship and the loss of family and friends. They then saw their trauma amplified as they witnessed bodies and body parts of the deceased mangled by sharks being washed inside of heads by the continuing storm, in the bays and inlets of Sydney Harbour.

Larry Writer records that in 1857 testimonies and reports from official bodies were published in newspapers and pamphlets, then shared by word of mouth and later featured in ballads, sketches and paintings. Here in the 21st century, we have sound and vision within minutes of major events in the world via cell phones on the Internet, but we are no different from our ancestors in that we mourn our losses and express our grief. with those around us.

The Dunbar was an elite clipper designed to provide a quick and comfortable passage from England to Australia, with a copper-sheathed hull and British oak frames reinforced with steel beams, a deck and the three main masts East Indian teak. Captain James Green, a highly respected and disciplined captain, was selected by owner Duncan Dunbar for the first and second races to Sydney.

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The hand-picked crew were experienced in working the intricacy of sails and heavy hemp rigging. In The shipwreck, we learn the names, status and reasons for the voyage of many of the Dunbar’s passengers, and we learn the names and maritime experience of some of the crew. They become real people, with a real purpose.

In this book, Writer meticulously uncovers a tragedy that encompasses a multitude of coincidences and synchronicities. Continuing recriminations clouded the consequences of the loss of the Dunbar, but the simple lesson of this unprecedented disaster for the growing colony was the need to identify the Heads entrance with sensitive markers and lights, and this has was made shortly thereafter.

The shipwreck is a sad story well told.

“The Shipwreck” is available on Amazon for $24.00.

This book has been reviewed by a member of the IA book club. If you wish to receive free high quality books and have your opinion published on IA, subscribe to Independent Australia for your free IA Book Club Membership.

Dermot Daley is a fourth-generation Australian living in Victoria, who is now retired from managing construction projects​​​​​​.

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