Mysterious end to the voyage of the James Service

Modern painting of James Service

Nationality: Australian

Vessel type: Barque

Date lost: 22/07/1878

Cause of loss: Wrecked

Number of Casualties: All

Discovery date: 1962

Location/water depth: 5 Fathom Bank, Murray River area Western Australia

On April 27 1878 the James Service began a return journey from India to Melbourne, carrying a crew of three European officers and eleven Malaysian crewmen. The passengers included members of a theatrical company.

July 1878 saw strong north-westerly gales hit the south west Australian coast, with winds reaching 145 kilometres per hour. During the night of July 22 several settlers south of Mandurah claimed they heard the signal gun of a ship in distress.  Another local reported seeing a large vessel, which appeared to have lost its mizzen mast beating to the north off Mandurah.

A search was conducted by Constable Holmes and other locals along North Beach.  A longboat marked James Service Melbourne on its stern was discovered.  Many tins of castor oil were found.  Large quantities of clothing, boxes, trunks and theatre props were strewn along the beach, making for a surreal sight. There were no survivors.

Insane Captain

After the ship left Calcutta for Melbourne it was becalmed for sixteen days in the Bay of Bengal. During this period Captain Young became delirious with sunstroke. A passenger, Mrs Cowdery, wrote to her sister in Melbourne complaining: “We have been five weeks at sea with an insane Captain.”


Anchor in church yard of Christ's Church Mandurah, part of the WAM collection, and is currently on loan in Mandurah. 

Headstone of Bessie and Albert Cowdery, passengers

Objects of interest (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the shipwreck story.

  • Gentleman's dress cane recovered from the beach after the wreck on display at Mandurah Community Museum.
  • Anchor in church yard of Christ's Church Mandurah placed over graves of crew.

AMMC Member Institution

Mandurah Community Museum

submitted by Nicholas Reynolds

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