Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

The Fate of the “Llewelyn” … and its Proserpine Connection

For many years, the fate of the “Llewelyn”, which disappeared off Queensland waters in 1919, remained unsolved, until ……… on August 28, 1998, ‘The Daily Mercury’ reported that a Mackay diver, Mark Earney had solved the 79-year-old maritime mystery when he discovered the wreck near Bees Island.

It was almost intact and was resting in a vertical position.  

The “Llewelyn” was an iron steamship of some 350 tons, 112ft long, 19ft 6inches wide, and 9ft 2ins deep. Built in Chester, England in 1884, it was engaged in pilot service in the port of Brisbane.

During this time, it narrowly escaped foundering in heavy seas at Cape Moreton and was declared by a well-known mariner to be unsuitable for use in heavy seas.

Consequently, the State Treasurer, Mr Barnes, took steps to safeguard the lives of seamen on this steamer by issuing instructions forbidding it to be put to sea in rough weather.

On July 16, 1919, the “Llewelyn” departed from Rockhampton enroute to Bowen, making a port of call at Cape Capricorn on July 17 and leaving there that same day.

Based on the report by Captain Wilson of the “Florant” of “a terrific sea … and wind of gale force” in the area which did not abate for “a couple of days”, it is believed that the ship struck a bad storm with strong south-easterly gales.

It appears the warnings of the ship’s unsuitability in rough seas was well-founded.

Early searches by Captain Wilson and others between Mackay and Bowen located very little wreckage despite their search lasting a week during which time they walked around the coastline of every island, each wearing through two boots in the process.

A hatch cover of the old type used on vessels such as the “Llewelyn” was found and Captain Wilson, who had served on the “Llewelyn” some years previously, was of the opinion that the wreckage was part of the ill-fated steamer.

Mr Busuttin from St Bees Island, an 18-year-old at the time, reported seeing lots of wreckage passing north around July 25, 1919, and recalled, many years later, that he had picked wreckage off the beach at St Bees as well as a bell bearing the name “Llewelyn”.  

Considering the weight of the bell and its inability to be able to float, he believed that the wreck would have had to be very close to shore.

Mr Busuttin also stated that the bell “was cursed with the number 13” - a number dreaded by sailors of earlier times who believed it would be certain cause of death and disaster.

Some reports say that there were thirteen aboard including two passengers - a commercial traveller, Will Bradford and Rowena Gordon who was a probationer nurse at Rockhampton Base Hospital travelling to visit friends in Proserpine then on to Bowen.

Rowena Gordon was born Rowena Sheen Ryan in 1900 but was brought up by her aunt Emily Gordon.

Her mother, Rebecca Sheen, had been in a relationship with William Harold Ryan who was a police constable in Proserpine and who went on the be the 6th Police Commissioner for Queensland.

Rebecca registered Rowena’s surname as “Sheen Ryan” making no doubt as to who the father was.

Sadly, Emily Gordon, nee Sheen, went on to commit suicide in 1944.

Rowena was well thought of as a very compassionate nurse with a bright future.

A nightie was found washed up on St Bees with the name “Gordon” stitched on it and also some dark hair in a life ring.

It was reported that she had been tied to the life ring, no doubt in the hope that her life would be saved.

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