by Rodney Hammett

Double shipping tragedy off the NSW North Coast felt in Glebe & Forest Lodge

Captain Forbes (source:

Scottish born Alexander Forbes arrived in Australian waters as second mate on the barque King Malcolm on 1 February 1890 after ‘an average passage as to duration and weather’. 1 Aged 27, Alexander was in search of adventure and a future life away from the drudgery of his homeland. He needed a NSW Master’s Certificate for him to work on the NSW coastal trade; the records show he passed at his third attempt on 15 May 1891.2

A year later on 6 June 1892 he married 28-year-old Amelia Margaret Marshall at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, 20 Grosvenor St, Sydney.

The family lived close to the harbour at Millers Point, Alexander now a Master on various cargo vessels mostly on the Sydney-North Coast route. Here Alexander Webster James Forbes was born in 1894, followed by Pearl in 1896, Frederick in 1898, Marguerite in 1899 and Daniel in 1901. Appointed as pilot for the Nambucca River in April 1903, Irene was born at the Pilot Station, Nambucca Heads in July of that year. Their last child – Mary – was born at 27 Catherine St, Forest Lodge on 8 July 1905. Marguerite, Daniel and Irene each died before reaching the age of two.

Sydney Morning Herald; Tue 28 June 1921, p.8.

Coastal vessels have always been at the mercy of the changeable seas and weather, particularly then not knowing how the weather might change. Today we enjoy the wonderful weather radar and reasonably accurate forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology. Captain Forbes found himself at the mercy of foul weather when in charge of the steamer Narooma at Boat Harbour in Broken Bay (Hawkesbury River) on Thursday 4 February 1909, having sailed from Sydney the previous evening. After loading some of his cargo of sleepers, in the afternoon the seas came up and it was ‘all over in a couple of minutes’ he recalled, when reporting at the Marine Court of Inquiry in Sydney on Monday 22 February. Luckily there were no casualties however the Narooma was totally lost.3

Daily Telegraph, Tue 28 June 1921, p. 5.

The storm that claimed Captain Forbes’ life, along with four other crew from the Our Jack occurred on the morning of Sunday 26 June 1921 while the ship was off the Manning River. Fortunately, nine were saved. On the same night the ship Fitzroy also foundered, a few kilometres south, with the loss of 31 lives (19 crew and 12 passengers). Only four were saved. 5

While Alexander sailed to and from Sydney, Amelia held the family together, first at 27 Catherine St, then at 12 Arundel St from 1904 until 1922.4

Notes: 1. Sydney Mail Sat 8 February 1890, p, 325; 2. Ancestry; NSW Registers of Seamen, 1886-1971; 3. SMH; Mon 8 Feb 1909, p.5 & Tue 23 Feb 1909, p.9; 4. Sands Directories; 5. Daily Telegraph, Tue 28 June 1921, p. 5.