James Ramsay Caithness was Captain William Bell's brother-in-law and was also a mariner. Not a very fortunate one as he seemed to go through a number of crises with the various ships he commanded. However, he was an interesting man and one whom we can track through news reports and other sources precisely because his ships were prone to disaster, references frequently being picked up in newspapers from much further afield. In this instance, the news concerns Caithness's schooner (also referred to as a brigantine*), the Prairie, stranded near Rocky Cape, Tasmania.
|Rocky Cape, Tasmania: beautiful but dangerous|
Although previously mentioned in this blog, the Prairie story bears repeating. It reveals some of the risks faced by the mariner during the days of sail.
People's Advocate, Launceston, 15 June,1856
This vessel James Ramsay Caithness, master, sailed from the Cape of Good Hope for Melbourne on the 25th March. There were on board nine passengers and a crew of eleven. The lading consisted of wine, oats, flour, raisins and other Cape produce. During the voyage she encountered extremely stormy weather, during which the boats were staved, the bulwarks much damaged, the water-casks staved and displaced, and the head rail on one side entirely carried away. After repairing damages as efficiently as possible she proceeded on her voyage but again encountered a violent gale off Cape Ottway on the night of the 26th May when she was dismasted and in imminent danger. The weather still contrary and the dismantled state of the vessel rendered navigation perilous in the extreme. It was necessary in order to save life and property to run her on shore at Sisters' Creek - between Rocky Cape and Emu Bay - which was successfully effected on the 2nd June. She now lies on the beach where she ran on shore. The owner, captain and some of the crew, arrived here on Saturday night per the Titania.
It was reported that 'the ship was but little injured and might be got off after discharging the cargo', but this proved over-optimistic. James and some of the crew, who had had to resort to camping on the beach, were taken from the site of the wreck by the Titania and there would have been time to reflect bitterly on another lost ship and the costs thereof. The stranded cargo on the beach near Rocky Cape would be sold at public auction. The voyage had taken over three months. Meanwhile, back home at the Cape of Good Hope, Eliza Caithness was soldiering on, caring for five boys aged ten and under.
*the term brigantine now usually means a vessel with the foremast square rigged and the mainmast fore-and-aft rigged, without any square sails. Historically, this rig used to be called a schooner brig.