Remembering the Past Australia

The Loss of the Brig "Tobago"

Tasmania — Monday 2nd June 1845

What makes the loss of the brig “Tobago” particularly interesting is that the 15 boatsmen who were part of the rescue mission were convicts.  For their service all, bar one, received, as a reward for “Meritorious Conduct”, reductions in their sentences, tickets-of-leave, or conditional-pardons.  The one man who didn’t receive any award had already obtained his ticket-of-leave and would be fully “free” before a conditional-pardon could be received.


From Tuesday 3rd June 1845 reports started appearing in the paper regarding the loss of the brig “Tobago”, we pick up the story here on the 7th June 1845 in the Launceston Examiner.


Loss of the “Tobago.” — We reported the loss of this vessel in our last. It appears from particulars since received, that the night was unusually dark and foggy when she entered the heads, and the wind blew a heavy gale. The pilot, Mr. Forster, directed a boat to take up a certain position, and exhibit a light; but owing to the boisterous state of the weather it was found impossible to execute the order. The pilot was consequently misled, and the vessel went on the reef below the shear beacon. She continued bumping heavily all night, the sea occasionally breaking over her, and driving her further on to the reef. The gale continued for two or three days, and the vessel has since been reported a total wreck. The crew and passengers were landed in safety, but the cargo, consisting of about 150 tons of coals, is of course lost. We understand neither the vessel nor cargo were insured. The coals belonged to the Steam Navigation Company, and are much wanted, as the company’s agent has not sufficient on hand to supply the steamer Shamrock. Captain Friend proceeded in a boat with Mr. Babington, the pilot, to inspect the wreck, and such was the violence of the weather, that notwithstanding the practical skill of the pilot’s crew, the boat was swamped, and all hands had to swim for their lives. Fortunately they succeeded in reaching, or rather were driven against the shear beacon, to which they clung until they were discovered, when assistance was rendered, and they reached shore in safety, though nearly exhausted, and completely benumbed with cold.


On the 10th of June 1845 a copy of a letter addressed to Captain Moriarty of the Royal Navy, from the Port Officer, Mathew Curling Friend, dated 4th June 1845, from George Town was published in The Observer (Hobart Town):



RESPECTING the unfortunate loss of this vessel, reported in our last, the following letter has been received here :-

Port Office, George Town, 4th June, 1845.

Sir,—It is my painful duty to inform you of the stranding (and, 1 fear, the total loss) of the brig Tobago, coal-laden from Sydney, on the Western Reef, near the beacon, at the entrance of this river. She entered the Heads last night after dark, in charge of Mr. Forster, while blowing strong from the N.E.; weather dark and squally, with heavy rain. Mr. Hinton was dispatched in the boarding boat to place a lantern on the barrel beacon, and before he could effect it Mr. Forster mistook a light on shore for the lantern, which led to the sad catastrophe. 

On its coming to my knowledge I immediately repaired to the Low Heads, and sent the launch and boarding boats from George Town for the purpose of carrying out anchors; but from the state of the weather could do nothing. I found all the pilots that could be spared had gone to her assistance. This morning at daylight I went off with Mr. Babington in the Heads boarding boat, and finding the brig in a most fearful condition, lying to windward of the reef bilged, occasionally swaying to windward, with a tremendous sea breaking over her and into her, and it being yet upwards of two hours before high water, when I concluded she must go to pieces, it became necessary to bring off the people at any risk, and consequently endeavour to reach her by watching the intervals of the seas for the sole purpose of saving their lives; but our exertions were in vain: the seas broke into our boat and filled her, we were thrown on the reef among the breakers, but, providentially, all reached the beacon, where, with great difficulty, we held on until two boats, conducted by Mr. Tait and Mr. Lambert, approached sufficiently near to got us on board. The weather having considerably moderated, and the men attached to the department becoming quite exhausted, Messrs, Huiton and Vivian, with two of our boatmen, volunteered to accompany me again to the wreck, but we were only in time to witness the intrepid and praiseworthy conduct of Mr. Lambert and his boats’ crew, who succeeded in bringing off first three, and then two of the remaining five men on board.

No lives have been lost, but we have met with sad destruction to our boats and oars. We have not recovered our heads boat yet, and expect she will be quite useless.

I beg to recommend to your notice the excellent conduct of the boatsmen in this severe and trying service, and will forward you their names as soon as I can ascertain them.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

To Captain MORIARTY, R.N.

P.S. The Alpha cutter, from Port Phillip, is just reported to be on shore on the East bank, and I am now going to her assistance.


Just over a month later, The Courier (Hobart) published the following statement from the Comptroller General’s Office, Convict Department, dated 19th July 1845: 



Comptroller-Generals Office, 19th July, 1845.

The Lieutenant-Governor having had under consideration a report from the Port Officer, representing the praiseworthy conduct of the under-mentioned Convicts, belonging to the Marine Department, in recently rescuing the crew from the wreck of the brig “Tobago,” at George Town; His Excellency has been pleased to grant the indulgences to them stated opposite their respective names:

Charles Mills, Lady Nugent, Ticket-of-Leave.
James Sheen, Egyptian, Ticket-of-Leave.
Robert Wale, Runnymede, Ticket-of-Leave.
William Jones, Marquis of Hastings, Ticket-of-Leave.
James Thompson, Canton, Ticket-of-Leave in January next.
George Seaton, Lady Raffles, Ticket-of-Leave in March next.
William Lyons, Richard Webb, Ticket-of-Leave in September next.
Thomas Brown, Layton 3, Ticket-of-Leave in December next.
Edward Roche, Eden 2, Ticket-of-Leave in January next.
John Hubbard, Layton 4, sentence of extension remitted.
James Saunders, Recovery, sentence of extension remitted.

And His Excellency has been pleased to recommend the following rewards to the favourable consideration of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, for the same good conduct, to those men who are not eligible for further indulgence, according to regulations:

John Leitch, Marquis of Hastings, for a Conditional Pardon, available in the Australian Colonies and New Zealand.

James Hardwick, Lord Petre, for a Ticket-of-Leave.

Edward Cooney. Layton 3, for a Ticket-of-Leave.

M. FORSTER, Comptroller-General.


Shortly after, Mr. M. C. Friend of George Town received a letter from Captain Moriarty of the Royal Navy, which was subsequently published in The Cornwall Chronicle on the 13th August 1845:


Reward for Meritorious Conduct. — His Excellency Sir Eardley Wilmot, has been pleased, on the representation of the Port Officer, to reward all the men belonging to the marine department who exerted themselves in so praiseworthy a manner to rescue the crew of the brig Tobago from their perilous situation on the occasion of the wreck of that vessel near the west head. We have much pleasure in publishing the following:—

Port-office, July 22nd, 1845

“SIR, — The conduct of the men of whom you made such favourable mention on the occasion of the Tobago’s wreck, having been laid before the Lieutenant-Governor. His Excellency has been pleased to direct that they shall receive the indulgence directly set opposite their names; from this you will observe that all the men have been noted for some indulgence with the exception of Peter Casey, and he forms that exception merely because holding already a ticket-of-leave, he will become free before the Queen’s approval can be received for any higher indulgence.

“In notifying to you the favorable view the Government has taken of your recommendation of the conduct of these men, I must, at the same time, request you, whilst making it known to them, to take the opportunity of impressing it upon the minds of all the men serving in the department, the good result which must ever attend propriety of conduct. 

“I feel great pleasure in having it in my power to make this communication to you. — I am, sir. your most obedient servant.

(Signed) “Wm. Moriarty, Port-officer.”

To: “Lieut. Friend, R.N., F.R.S., Port-officer, George Town.


1210, John Latch, Marquis of Hastings — to be recommended for a conditional pardon, available within the limits of the Australian colonies.
1451, Charles Mills, Lady Nugent — a ticket-of-leave.
1220, James Thompson, Canton — a ticket-of-leave in January next.
2400, James Saunders, Recovery — extension of sentence to be remitted.
2702, James Sheen, Egyptian — a ticket-of-leave.
1463, George Seaton, Lady Raffles — a ticket-of-leave in March next.
4334, William Lyons, Richard Webb — a ticket-of-leave in September next.
10,725, James Hardwick, Lord Peter— recommended to the Rt. Hon. the Secretary of State for a ticket-of-leave.
2299, John Hubbard, Layton 4 — twelve months’ extension remitted.
3070, Thomas Brown, Layton 3— a ticket-of-leave in December next.
2670, Robert Wales, Runnymede — a ticket-of-leave.
1147, William Jones, Marquis of Hastings— a ticket-of-leave.
2513, Edward Cooney, Layton 3— to be recommended to the Secretary of State for a ticket-of-leave.
2596, Peter Casey, Runnymede— Nothing can be done for this man, as he already holds a ticket-of-leave, and will be free before the Queen’s approval can be received for any higher indulgence.
5358, Edward Roche, Eden 2— a ticket-of-leave in January next.
(Signed) WILLIAM NAIRN, Assistant Comptroller.

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