Shortly before the Nestor sank in Portland Harbour, Henry Barcham was discharged because he had married. The following articles are transcribed from issues of The Portland Guardian. The case was also reported in Melbourne in The Argus and further afield.




As strange and extraordinary an affair as has ever occurred at any port happened on Friday night last to one of the immigrant ships in the bay. The Nestor, barque, 458 tons, Brown, commander, which arrived here with 166 immigrants on the 16th September last, had been for some days ready for sea. The captain had procured a crew from Melbourne, and she was to have sailed for Madras, having in ballast a quantity of iron rails for the Madras Railway, early last week. On Friday evening last, about 10 o’clock, signals of distress were fired from her, and observers who soon collected on the jetty, learned that the captain had slipped her chains, and she was drifting to shore. There were seven other vessels in harbour at the time, amongst which were two other immigrant ships, and a barque with merchandise, all of large tonnage; the wind, though blowing fresh from the eastward, was not very severe, and there was but little sea on, small boats going to and from the shipping without any risk, and two of the vessels riding securely at single anchor. The captain was on board, the first mate, who had been ashore, came down to the jetty and went off in the boat that conveyed the Harbour Master to the Nestor. Captain Brown's account, we hear, was, that about 8 o’clock he ordered the carpenter to try the water in the hold, who reported ten inches; the captain then went to his cabin, but about an hour or so after, perceiving a singular motion of the vessel, he ordered the pumps to be sounded again, when there were SIX FEET of water in the hold, and shortly after there were found to be seven feet of water. The captain then slipped both chains and let the vessel drift ‘to save her’. No assistance was sought from the shore or the other ships: no intelligence conveyed to the Harbour Master, or any of the authorities on shore, that we can learn of, before the extraordinary proceeding was adopted of setting the vessel adrift. The Nestor generally drifted in towards the jetty, and was aground at a short distance between 11 and 12 o'clock. A ligter [sic] belonging to Mr Kean was turned over by her, but fortunately she drifted clear of the shipping. Mr Blair, the Police Magistrate, was on the jetty, which was crowded with anxious spectators. We understand that the police were on watch at the jetty during the whole night, and had orders to take into custody any parties that should come ashore from the Nestor. By the next morning the vessel had worked a little to the southward of the jetty, being deep in the water. We have heard it stated by parties that were off to the vessel the night of the disaster, that there was a great deal of intoxication on board at the time. Whatever may be adopted of explaining this catastrophe, it is doubtless a very queer looking affair.




An investigation, which occupied four or five hours, was held at the police office on Saturday last, relative to the conduct of the captain of the Nestor in sending his vessel ashore. . . . The proceedings were listened to by a large attendance with great interest. . .  .  The captain and mate of the Arabian [in the harbour at that time] were also examined. The captain of the Arabian stated that he was woke up on the night of the 27th, about 10 o’clock, by his mate reporting that a gun was fired from the Nestor, and that he feared something was wrong. His orders were that if this was repeated to call him again. On the second report he jumped up, thinking the Nestor might be adrift as he knew her cable was foul. The mate with four hands went off by his orders in the quarter boat to render assistance to the Nestor. These were away for about an hour: on their return the mate reported that the Nestor was broadside to the wind, drifting towards the jetty; the mate stated that the captain of the Nestor had told him there was six feet of water in the hold, and that he [Captain Brown] had slipped both chains. Captain Brown did not seem to care about any assistance: the captain of the Arabian did not consider the degree [direction] of the wind or cross sea sufficient to endanger any vessel properly moored, although it was blowing fresh; his ship was riding at the time nicely, and he had not found it necessary even to brace his yards by; the barque Nestor had been at anchor in about five fathoms of water; there was no sea sufficient to spring a plank in a vessel; he understood the Nestor was tight when she came into port; could form no idea how a vessel should make so much water in so short a time unless she had been scuttled.

David Bowen, chief officer of the Nestor, was then examined. He produced the log book, but it appeared that there was no entry after the 12th October; . . .log book was not made up since the 12th because there was nothing of importance to enter; one of the crew has deserted and two have been put in jail since then, but was not bound to enter this in the log unless he had the captain’s orders; has a private note book on board from the entries in which he can fill up the log book; . . . [he] was on shore all yesterday by leave from the captain; was sent for by the captain during the day, and promised to be on board during the afternoon; went on board last night about 11 o'clock, ship was then adrift: thinks he was not very sober at the time; [here the Police Magistrate remarked he should say from his own observation at the time that he, the mate, was very drunk then]; . . . private note book is in his coat pocket on board; heard it reported that the captain wanted to have his ship condemned immediately on his arrival, on the ground that she was very old. . . . The mate was then brought round to sign this deposition to which he had been sworn; but after he had left it was found that his signature was only a feint, and he was called back to sign his proper name; at a subsequent part of the proceedings he was again called up, and sentenced to 14 days imprisonment for the reckless manner in which he had given his evidence, and for contempt of court in attaching his signature to his sworn deposition merely in pretence. . . .

Further proceedings in the case were adjourned to Monday morning (this day) an account of which we must defer till our next publication.

[The Portland Guardian, Monday Evening, October 30, 1854]




On Thursday last the examination of this case was continued. John Buckman, cabin boy on board the Nestor deposed: when the carpenter said there were 10 inches of water in the hold the captain said ‘never mind pumping’. The captain laid down, but directly after said the motion of the vessel was strange and ordered me to go and call the second mate to get the ship pumped. The starboard pump was tried but would not fetch, and it was found the carpenter had neglected to put the lower box in after sounding. [The] carpenter said, while the box was out he would sound again; on drawing up he found the line wet. The men called to me for a light; I went down with them and found the water within 4 or 5 feet of the [illegible]. We returned and continued pumping for half an hour; then went below again, and found the water gaining on [illegible]. Captain then gave orders to have the shackles knocked out, which was done by Henry Tester, who got the tools from the carpenter. I know Henry Tester did it, because I held the light. [The] carpenter’s tool chest was in his cabin off the cuddy. I believe the men would not let the carpenter do it; [I] believe the carpenter was not sober. The carpenter could get as much drink as he liked; a decanter was always lying within his reach. The captain was sober; [I] believe I saw him take one wine glass full of rum. I believe the second mate was sober, but am not sure. We fired a gun three times to get assistance from the shore. The guns were fired during the time the men were knocking out the pins from the cable.




Another survey has been held on this ill-used vessel. On Friday there had been 72  [illegible] pumping night and day, and the water in the hold had been reduced three feet, leaving about 9 feet in her. . . . This survey have decided that it was lost labour to attempt to pump her out; and it was ordered to dismantle the ship and have her sold. The Nestor is we understand insured for upwards of £1000, and her cargo of iron is also insured for about the same amount. There are many suspicious facts about the stranding of this vessel; and the general impression in this town is - whether right or wrong we say not -that her stranding has been designed; and in fact that she was scuttled while at anchor. 




Since our notice above was written an important discovery has been made, justifying the suspicions that were generally entertained of foul play in the stranding of the Nestor. Some of the lascar crew upon the Nene Valley were engaged last Saturday to dive under the Nestor, and they have reported the discovery of three augur [sic]-holes through her bottom under the cuddy, two of these are on one side and one on the other. Her captain (Brown) was immediately apprehended and lodged in jail. His examination takes place this day, and will be reported in our next. 

[The Portland Guardian, Monday Evening, November 6, 1854]


During the investigation by the magistrates further depositions were made by David Bowen (first mate), Morris (third mate), Henry Morgan and Henry Tester (seamen), John Jolly (carpenter), John Buckman (cabin boy), the Harbour Master and his crew, the Police Magistrate, the Tide Surveyor, the Immigration Agent, the Surgeon Superintendent and Salim, a Muslim diver who was


 . . . sworn after the way of his country; a cock was brought and a copy of the Koran produced. The Arab then turned towards the [illegible], put his hands to his face, repeated some passage of the Koran, and cut the head off the cock. Captain Hardwind of the Nene Valley was sworn as interpreter. The Arab then deposed: that he had had been engaged to dive under the ship by the captain of the Nene, and was paid £5 for the service. He found the ship bedded down on [next words illegible] on the starboard side, one about midships, the other close [illegible]. He then dived at the port side and found a hole abreast the [illegible] underneath, about one span from the sand. . . . Received from the Harbour Master a peg to put in the hole, which he found too large, and had [illegible] smaller, and went down again when it was put in the hole.

[The Portland Guardian, Thursday Evening, November 9, 1854]


The preliminary investigation concluded on 13 November when Captain Brown, John Jolly and the newly appointed second mate Allen Robertson were charged with ‘unlawfully casting away the British barque Nestor.’ The witnesses were bound over to appear at the Assizes on 20th December.



The Circuit Court for this town was opened by his Honour, Judge Barry on Thursday last, 21st December. The day named in the Government Gazette for the opening of the court was Wednesday the 20th December. But His Honour accounted for the [illegible] through rough weather as sea that had unavoidably delayed him reaching the port at the time specified; and explained the provision made by Act of Council to meet such contingency. Mr Adamson conducted the prosecution for the Crown. Two leading counsel from the Melbourne Bar, Mr Chapman and Mr Dawson, appeared for the defendants.



The third case called was that of Captain Brown, [John] Jolly, the carpenter, and [Allen] Robertson, the second mate, all of the Nestor, who were charged with feloniously injuring the barque Nestor with intent to destroy her. We reported so fully the evidence of this case at the preliminary examination before the magistrates that the leading facts must be familiar to our readers. The same witnesses were examined, and the same ground gone over in this trial. No new evidence was produced. The captain’s expressed desire to have the ship surveyed immediately on his arrival in port; his having remarked on the evening of the 27th October that he had felt a strange motion in the ship, and ordering the ship to be pumped out while in harbour; the carpenter having sounded the pump at 8 o’clock, and having found only 10 inches of water in her, and then the pumping of the ship at 9 o’clock by orders of the captain and shortly after the discovery of five or six feet of water in the hold, the slipping of the cables by order of the captain and the firing of the guns as signals of distress while the cables were being slipped; the grounding of the vessel; the discovery by a diver of a hole in her bottom like an auger hole and of two [illegible] having been started were all detailed with an abundance of evidence. Mr Chapman, counsel for master, Brown, handled the case admirably, and commented with great effect on the [illegible] of the evidence. Although he was only [illegible] for Brown, yet he would include the other two prisoners in his defence, and argued that if the case was weak against the captain, it was also weak against the carpenter and second mate.

The jury, after retiring for a few minutes, returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ against the three prisoners.

[The Portland Guardian, Monday Evening, December 25, 1854]


Suspicious losses are fairly common, as reported in The Lyttelton Times, Wednesday, October 29, 1862:


The Liverpool Post says: ‘The authorities in London and Liverpool have been during the past weeks, and are still engaged in bringing to light the most nefarious conspiracy. It is that underwriters have received information that for some time past ship owners have been carrying out a deeply laid scheme of fraud. Their plan . . . seems to be to purchase vessels, . . . for an outward and homeward cargo, . . . and insure the same for considerably above the value. They then hire a suitable master, who is promised a good bonus if the vessel goes to the bottom. The vessel is then . . . in some convenient part and the apertures are filled with plugs, which can easily be removed by . . .  in the secret. At the first breeze of wind the plug is removed, and the vessel begins to take in water; the leak keeps on increasing, until the men are exhausted with pumping, request the captain to abandon the ship. As soon as another ship comes within hail, the request is granted; the heroic captain is the last to leave the doomed vessel, his last task on board being occupied in removing the remaining plugs, to make sure the vessel herself leaves no tales. The whole of the details have come before the Government, who have determined to make their utmost endeavours to put a stop to the crime, hence the publication of posting bills, which readers must have observed . . .  offering a reward of £200 and a free pardon to masters and mates who will give evidence against their principals. We earnestly hope that this will have the effect of bringing the arch-offenders to justice.