On this day …….. 25th May 1622
Australia has a history of shipwrecks which extends back to before European settlement. Around 8000 wrecks are believed to lie off the coast in Australian waters, although only a quarter of these have been located. The coastline of the great southern continent had not been fully mapped when the earliest ships, trading vessels on their way to the Spice Islands of present-day Indonesia, met their untimely fates, and nothing was known of the rocks and reefs that lurked beneath the waves. Australia’s oldest recorded shipwreck is that of the Trial, also spelt Tryall or Tryal. The Trial was a ship of the English East India Company which was sent to the East Indies in 1621 under the command of John Brooke. The Master was following Henderik Brouwer’s recently discovered route from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia, via the Roaring Forties; though a faster route due to the strong winds, it was also more dangerous, taking vessels into uncharted waters. The crew of the ship first sighted Point Cloates, a peninsula on Australia’s far west coast, early in May the following year but, due to a navigational error, the Trial ran aground on an unknown reef on 25 May 1622. This reef is now known as Ritchie’s Reef, in which can be found the ‘Trial Rocks’. 100 crewmen lost their lives, along with the Company’s goods the ship was carrying. The remaining crew spent a week ashore before sailing a longboat to Java. Whilst the Dutch had, by this time, already discovered the west coast by accident, this was the first time an English crew had sighted any part of the Australian coastline. Records suggest that the ship’s Master falsified the location of the rocks to hide his error. Consequently, Trial Rocks remained undiscovered for over 314 years, due to the fact that they were not where they were reported to be. The actual wreck site itself was determined only in 1969: however, no evidence has yet been found to identify the site conclusively as being that where the Trial went down.