The schooner, Empress of India, was travelling from Port Macquarie to Sydney loaded with sawn hardwood when she encountered fierce weather. Captain Peter Williams sheltered in Cape Hawke Bay but during the night the winds were so violent that the ship started leaking and was in danger of being driven ashore.1
The following morning, 23 July 1900, Captain Williams made the decision to cross Forster Bar. Just as the crew of five entered the bar, heavy seas smashed the wheel, disabling the vessel and lodging it on a sand spit. Heavy seas endlessly swamped the ship. Fearing the vessel would rapidly break up, three of the crew insisted that Captain Williams launch the lifeboat. Although Williams was opposed to the move he eventually gave way to the wishes of the men. Sadly the lifeboat capsized and three men were drowned: Captain Peter Williams, John Glasson, cook, and Bernhard Norling, seaman.2 The bodies were recovered over the following days as they washed ashore. The remaining two crew were saved by the pilot boat.3
The inquest found that the Captain had made an error of judgment in attempting to cross the bar and then again in leaving the vessel. The ship was also found to not be fitted with lifesaving equipment which may have saved the men.4
After the ship broke up, the timbers spilled onto Tuncurry Beach where they were salvaged and used to build historic Keepsake Cottage (formerly Fazio Cottage).5
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 28 July 1900.
2 NSW BDM Death Indexes for Bernhard Norling 10654/1900; John Glasson 10655/1900; Peter Williams 10657/1900.
3 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 28 Jul 1900.
4 Wreck report for “Empress of India” http://www.plimsoll.org/resources/SCCLibraries/WreckReports/18022.asp
5 Great Lakes Advocate, 15 May 2015 http://www.greatlakesadvocate.com.au/story/3081592/historic-keepsake-cottage-to-be-saved-photos/