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The DESPATCH, Captain Pritchard, on fire 12 March 1839

Date: 1839
Overall: 230 x 201 mm
Medium: Lithograph on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Lithograph
Object No: 00034273
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    This lithograph by colonial artist William Nicholas shows the wreck of the barque DESPATCH under the command of Captain Pritchard on 12 May 1839. The vessel left Sydney bound for London on 8 March 1939 with passengers and a cargo of wool. The cargo caught fire on 11 March while off Lord Howe Island, and had burnt to the waterline a day later.

    The caption reads: The DESPATCH Capt Pritchard, on fire March 12th 1839. The crew and passengers, 30 in number were picked up by the whalers GOVERNOR BOURKE & WOODLARK
    SignificanceEarly 19th century lithographs of New South Wales shipping disasters by colonial artists are quite rare due to their ephemeral and transitory nature - sold for a quick sixpence on the streets of Sydney while the disaster was fresh in the minds of the colonists, and then disposed of as the event declined in importance.
    HistoryThe barque DESPATCH left Sydney, New South Wales for London, England on 8 March 1839 under the command of Captain Pritchard. As well as a cargo of wool the vessel carried 12 passengers including Mr and Mrs Street, their two children, two servants, Mr Christyman, Mr Augity, Mr Bentley, Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr William Webber.

    At 9 am on 11 March smoke and flames were noticed coming from the cargo hold of the vessel. Upon investigation the crew discovered a large fire had taken hold among the cargo of wool. All attempts to extinguish the fire failed and Captain Pritchard ordered the ship's boats to be prepared and the vessel headed back toward Lord Howe Island and Sydney.

    At 7 pm 11 of the passengers, including the family of well known Sydney merchant Thomas Street, and 10 of the crew took to the ship's longboat. Captain Pritchard, Dr Macfarland, Mr Bentley and five seamen remained onboard still trying to extinguish the fire. By midnight the fire had broken out of the hold and began to spread rapidly to the rest of the vessel and the remaining passengers and crew took to the ship's jolly boat. Just after midnight the masts went by the board and by 5 am the DESPATCH was a sheet of flames.

    Although there was a heavy swell and fresh breeze from the south-west, the weather was mild and the two boats headed west toward Lord Howe Island. After five days on very short rations the whaler GOVERNOR BURKE, Captain Dawson, picked up the survivors in the jolly boat on 16 March 1839. The whaler searched for the missing longboat but after a few days, headed the ship back to Sydney where the survivors were landed on 24 March 1839.

    After nine days at sea the longboat made Lord Howe Island where they 'were kindly treated by the natives on the island'. The survivors were then picked up by the whaler WOODLARK under the command of Captain Grimes, that had arrived at the Island for water. They subsequently were taken to Newcastle and then onto Sydney arriving on 30 March 1839.

    The 362-ton, wooden, three-masted barque DESPATCH was built at Portsmouth, England in 1812. The vessel, the majority of the cargo and the whaler GOVERNOR BURKE were all owned by Thomas Street.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: The DESPATCH, Captain Pritchard, on fire 12 March 1839

    Web title: The DESPATCH on fire

    Related People
    Lithographer: William Nicholas

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