Research Document #20
The Report of the Board of Trade’s Inquiry
into the Wreck of the Norwich City.
This document is provided on this web site as a matter of general interest and to aid in research by individuals. No permission to reproduce it or transmit it is implied or granted.
Click on any link below to go to that document.
  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List
REPORT OF J. THOMAS, FIRST OFFICER, S.S. NORWICH CITY

This is a transcription of a handwritten document. Misspellings have been corrected but no other edits have been introduced. Notations in a different handwriting at the top of the document refer the reader to H.O. (Hydrographic Office) Chart 125 and H.O. Publication 166.

Sydney N.S.W. Dec. 16th 1929
QH85-H1-1

Gardner Island.

Being one of the survivors of the stranded British steamer Norwich City which came to grief on “Gardner Isl” on the night of November 29th, 1929, and subsequently being rescued by the combined efforts of the crews of the Norwegian tank m/v Lincoln Ellsworth and the British steamer Trongate who was specially equipped with a native crew and surf boat to carry out the rescue work which was compelled on December 4th. I have been requested by the navigating and 2nd officer A. Holm of the m/v Lincoln Ellsworth to make a few observations on the characteristics of the island as we found it during our five days awaiting the rescue.

It is the opinion of our captain and my fellow officers that the island appears to be of volcanic origin which has become extinct, the crater which is now full of water making the lagoon.

The island is surrounded by a shelf which projected some 200 yards from the shore into the sea. This shelf is comprised of a hard black rock which in our opinion is lava, which when the volcano was in action, was thrown into the sea where it immediately cooled, forming one large mass of rock. At all states of the tide a greater depth of water was found to exist nearer the shore, than on the outskirts of the shelf. The edge of the shelf appeared to be almost perpendicular, and we were afterwards informed that a depth of 60 fathoms existed almost up to the breakers. The sea shore is mostly coral which has also formed on top of the shelf, and walking is most difficult unless heavy boots are worn to protect the feet. Throughout the whole of our walks of exploration, not a single break was found in the shelf, and landing at any part of the island would be extremely dangerous unless made by the most experienced native boat crew. The taking off from the island proved to be still more dangerous than the landing, for even during what appeared to be ideal weather conditions high seas continued to break on the edge of the shelf, repeatedly throwing the surfboat and its occupants back amongst the anxious watchers.

Some idea of the dangers of the taking off may be formed from the fact that during the first day of rescue work, only 3 of the 24 survivors were successful in being taken across the reef to the boats assisting in the rescue work outside, which were kept rather busy in keeping the sharks away from the surfboat after its safe crossing. I may here state that outside of the reef there were swarms of sharks which certainly did not add any comforts to the rescue work. 24 men got rescued and 11 lost.

During our stay on the island the rise and fall of the water appeared to be about 5 feet, but this was greatly influenced by the force of the wind. The undercurrent out near the edge of the shelf was tremendous, and even at low water with a depth of 18 inches, it was most difficult to keep ones feet.

The lagoon which is situated in the centre of the island was about 4 miles long and 1 mile broad, and had two entrances from eh sea, one from the NW and the other from S. Both entrances were tidal, a depth of about 3 feet existing at low water. The water at the NW side of the lagoon was very shallow for about 1 mile from the entrance, after which deep water existed of an extremely blue character. A coral shelf about 10 yards wide existed all around the lagoon, and the whole of this inland water was absolutely infested by sharks of a small species, the largest being about 4 feet long, which did not hesitate to attack us when walking along the shelf.

The island consisted of a strip of coral surrounding the lagoon covered with trees. The distance between the lagoon and the sea shore varying from 1/4 to 1/2 miles. The highest of the trees reached a height of about 60 feet above sea level. The trees were of a light character and full of sap, the diameter varying from 15 to about 24 inches on the larger; a few sharp blows with our small lifeboat axes was quite sufficient to bring down any of the trees, the wood being of such a soft nature.

A few coconut palms were found around the NW entrance to the lagoon from which we daily gathered the nuts, but these were not of a very good standard and like everything else which grew on the island, appeared to be in a state of decay. Near the palms we found two disused galvanised roofed huts and a large water tank, all of which were in a state of collapse, but which indicated to us that the island had at one time been inhabited, most probably with a view of growing coconuts, but that this had not proved to be very profitable and had been abandoned. The whole island was covered with rats, crabs and large sea birds. The rats were of a small specie and brown in colour, and we were informed after being rescued, that a Dr. at Apia had informed the Master of the S/S Trongate before she sailed on her voyage of rescue that the rats were deadly poisonous. The land crabs were of enormous size and of varieties such has none of us ever seen before, and they did not hesitate to come into camp during the night and make attempts to bite us. The claws or pinchers of these crabs were easily from 4 to 8 inches long with large teeth at top and bottom, and we have sat and watched them carry away our coconuts in their claws without the least trouble, and also to eat birds which were the size of a small duck. The natives who rescued us were simply delighted at seeing them and immediately caught several and threw them on to the fire until they became a cherry red, when they certainly made good eating to a hungry person; the natives informed us that these crabs were valued at 1$ each at Apia.

The birds of the island were all large, the average being about the size of a duck. These birds appeared to be so fascinated at seeing humans there that they would sit on the branches of the trees and allow us to walk up and catch them, without making any attempt at escape. These birds were also quite eatable, so between crabs, birds and coconuts one would never starve on the island.

Water was our greatest trouble, but after the prolonged rain which existed at the time of our stranding and throughout the first day and night we found quite a lot of brackish water on a guano dump to the NE of the lagoon. Although this does not sound to be very drinkable, we were all more than glad to take our ration of it after it had had a good boiling, and we experienced no ill effects. Following the first day of dry weather this pool of water was non-existent, but we had collected sufficient when the opportunity offered to have lasted us about 3 weeks should we have had no more rain. Fortunately, we were not called upon to stop more than 4 days before the rescue ships arrived, and on the afternoon of the fifth day the last of the survivors were transferred from the island to the rescue ships.

J. Thomas
Late chief off. of the stranded s/s Norwich City.

I hope that these observations may in future be some use to your Hydrographic Department. Exact copy made by

Asgur G. Holm
2nd Off.
Tank m/v Lincoln Ellsworth
Go. T. Dannerig & Co.
Oslo, Norway.

s/s Norwich City pos
S. 4°41′30″
W. 174°36′0″

Crew List of the S.S. Norwich City

This crew list was taken from The South Wales Echo of December 4, 1929, and from a partial list provided by the S.S. Trongate. No doubt there are inaccuracies, especially in the spellings assigned to the Arab firemen's names.

Rescued:
Captain D. Hamer, Master J. Thomas, Chief Officer
H.C. Lott, Second Officer C.O. Coldcleugh, Third Officer
W. Willis, Chief Engineer D.F. Harkness, Apprentice
G.B. O’Brien, Apprentice D.T. Ross, Apprentice
T.G. Stephenson, Apprentice P. Stockbridge, Cook
H. Pearson, Messroom Boy G. Bradshaw, Galley Boy
J.R. Harrison, Boatswain G. Isbestes, A.B.
A. Walker, A.B. J.C. Hitchcock, A.B.
A. Leiper, A.B. Cassim Hassan, Donkeyman
H. Rowlands, Second Engineer T. Clark, Wireless Operator
C. Durant, Cabin Boy Abdul Hassin, Fireman
Mohamed Noss, Fireman Abdul Wahab, Fireman
Drowned:
J.W. Horne, Third Engineer T.E. Scott, Fourth Engineer
J.L. Jones, Steward J.J. Leslie, Carpenter
F. Sumner, O.S. Redman Yousef, Fireman
Said Metanna, Fireman Saleb Ragee, Fireman
Ahmed Hassan, Fireman Ayed Naif, Fireman
Ali Hassan, Fireman  
Click on any link below to go to that document.
  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List
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