Mutiny in the Rip
by CAPTAIN H. R. WATSON
The Annual Dog Watch Vol.8 1951 p.57-59
To transport the bountiful wheat harvest of 1901, a fleet of British sailing ships crowded the piers of Geelong. The barque Bessfield, loaded to plimsoll with 2,000 tons of grain was anchored in Corio Bay and, although ready to depart for Falmouth, was eight men short of her complement.
It was Saturday afternoon and eight able seamen shipped by the Melbourne Sailors' Home, were due to arrive by the Edina. To expedite the departure of the barque, so that she could catch the last of the ebb tide at the Heads, it was arranged that the Melbourne Steamship Coy's. tug Racer, with the captain of the Bessfield aboard, should intercept the Edina and transport the men direct. Captain Forbes, the well-known veteran master of the Edina, agreed to this plan and, slowing down, allowed the Racer to range alongside.
However, all efforts to induce the men to board the tug were in vain. They were a most villainous looking lot; they comprised all nationalities and were led by a truculent Liverpool Irishman, oddly attired in a threadbare clerical black coat. They demanded that they should be landed at the pier and supplied with a meal and liquor before they would consent to join the vessel. Sailors were scarce and the elderly captain, anxious to leave port, complied with their demand. This was to be his last voyage. After a delay of two long hours and still openly mutinous they sullenly condescended to go aboard and man the capstan.
When the vessel got under-weigh, the Racer extended the full scope of her 700 ft. sea-going hawser, safely negotiated the Hopetoun Channel - which was much narrower then than it is now - and entered the first leg of her 40 mile run to the Heads.
The tug's crew had been on duty since the night before, when they had towed the Loch Carron to sea, but as they were then making up for lost time at nearly eight knots and confidently expected to clear the Heads during "slack water,'' they hoped for a speedy return home. Alas for their hopes! To their astonishment and dismay, when the vessels were abreast of Sorrento the barque's end of the hawser dropped to the bottom of the South Channel.
The tug's crew had a strong suspicion that the new crew had surreptitiously cast it off, but, with the help of "Willie Wy,'' the diminutive Chinese cook who drove the tow-rope winch, they lost no time in heaving it in and overtaking the Bessfield, which had by then drifted to within a mile of Queenscliff. While Captain Dan Fearon, master of the Racer, and Captain McWilliams, pilot of the barque indulged in a passage of arms about "slippery hitches," the crew of the Bessfield insolently secured the hawser once more and the tug hastened to complete her contract.
Twenty minutes later, on, the inner edge of the Rip, the were stemming the first of the "young flood." The Racer surged ahead, nearer to Lonsdale, hugging the reef in an effort to beat the tide, for to lose this meant holding the Bessfield up to it for six hours. Fumes of blistered paint rose from the red hot funnel while Captain Fearon, proud of his good old Racer, watched the red sector of Lonsdale light change to white, the signal that they were out and clear.
Before they had time to appreciate their tug's splendid feat the Bessfield, to their amazement and alarm, had been cast adrift again. The barque was rolling heavily and quite unable to gain an "offing" under her fore and aft canvas and caught in the grip of the inrushing stream she was soon re-entering the Heads. Aboard the tug, hove to and rolling heavily as well, again it was a case of "all hands and the cook" on the hawser. Even in the pitch darkness - and there was no electric light in the Racer - the. hawser was "flaked" down in record time.
By this time all doubts were dispelled; the mutinous crew was evidently determined to delay the vessel's departure, even to the extent of wrecking her, so once more the Racer hastened to the rescue. Those in the tug felt that the barque's safety was assured, she was in the hands of a most capable pilot and her anchors were ready to let go, but twice her lights seemed dangerously close to Point Nepean. As the tug traversed the Rip once more, the lights of the Bessfield shone dimly two miles abreast of the Quarantine station at Portsea.
On this occasion the mutinous crew made no pretence of assisting so the hawser was secured by the aid of the pilot, mates and apprentices. Nothing remained then but to point the barque's bow to the tide, and for five dreary hours the Racer, at half speed, kept the Queenscliff lights abeam. No chances were taken aboard the Bessfield for, armed with revolvers, the mate and second mate kept vigil on the forecastle head.
At 3 a.m. the Racer with the barque, in, her wake, once more cleared the Heads. Three miles out the pilot was dropped. The Racer sounded her whistle to make sail and to make sure that the disgruntled crew, resigned to the inevitable, manned the topsail halliards. Ten miles seawards the tug sounded her whistle to cast off. She considered that she had more than fulfilled her contract. Then, passing the time honoured bag the old captain was equal to the occasion, for as the tug sped homeward it was not only the skipper who was smoking a good cigar.
From "Sea Breezes" Vol XVI, No 155, Page 149, Date Oct 1932
The Barque Bessfield
Submitted by Captain Sten Lille, from his barque Favell, in N. Atlantic
Some notes about the last trips of this graceful little vessel. In February 1932, Bessfield lay in Newcastle, NSW, when I arrived there as third mate in my present ship, the Favell. I remember how astonished I was to find the two ships so alike; both were three-masted barques with single topgallant yards, white painted with a black stripe, and their dimensions correspond nearly to the inch, though I believe that Favell loaded about 100 tons more, owing to her being deeper in the hold. Bessfield seemed to be in very good condition, her decks mostly renewed not long previously. She was under Norwegian colours and commanded by Captain Moy, an experienced master, earlier of the fine full-rigged ship, Siam.
She loaded a cargo of coals for Callao and left on a voyage that nearly proved her end, We never got any coals in the Favell as the strike, which eventually completely killed the Australian coal trade broke out by then and after three months of futile waiting, we also cleared for Callao with the stiffening (300 tons) and some of our old ballast that had been brought from Finland under a previous timber cargo to Durban. A pretty poor business it was for the owners, I fear.
In Callao we met with the Bessfield again and learned that she had all but capsized on the voyage, owing to the coals shifting by a sudden lurch of the ship. She had laid for a couple of days with deck-houses half in the water, before the crew managed to trim her upright again.
Later both ships were sent to Asia Island for loading guano. It was there we snapped the enclosed picture of Bessfield setting out on her home-ward passage by way of Cape Horn The main island can be seen under her bows and Favell at anchor just behind her stern.
We left later for London through Panama. On arrival I was sorry to hear that Bessfield had been broken up after unloading her cargo in Leith: She seemed to me good for many years’ service, but probably did not pay owing to her small size.
This ship was owned by William Porter & Son