Thursday, 22 March 2012

The S.S. Koombana's Connections to the North Midlands

There's been a bit of press coverage lately about the steamship Koombana, which disappeared during a cyclone off the coast of Port Hedland one hundred years ago in March 1912. The Koombana was a passenger, freight and livestock steamship that operated from Fremantle up the Western Australian coast.

Hope was lost for the Koombana on 3 April 1912 when a stateroom door, smokeroom settee, part of a cabin draw and the bottom boards of a boat were found near Bedout Island. The wreck of the ship has never been found and all 157 passengers and crew were presumed to have gone down with the ship or perished in the water.

The steamship Koombana. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria, Image H91.250/1542

The challenge was put out for us to try and find some local connections to the Koombana. It seemed a steep request but we succeeded to find a few!

Frederick W. B. Clinch was among those who lost his life with the ship. He was a first cousin of James T. Clinch (at that time a farmhand in Carnamah) and also a first cousin of Mrs Janet M. Jones of Turipa Farm in Coorow. Frederick was also a first cousin of Mrs Ethel H. J. Maley whose children later resided in Three Springs (her children being George, Ken and Cecil Maley and Mrs Ethel M. M. Shute). Frederick's father was James Clinch who pioneered Berkshire Valley and was the first settler in the greater Moora district.

Another passenger on the Koombana was Donald McSwain who was a brother of Malcolm M. McSwain, who later took up farming in Carnamah and Marchagee.

Addendum, 8 July 2013:

George R. Cumming, captain of the schooner Queenie Alice found what was believed to be part of the bridge ladder of the Koombana and the back of a saloon seat. Both were found over a year later, on 20 July 1913, on Middle Forestier Reef halfway between Forestier Island and Depunch Island. George had also given evidence at the Court of Marine Inquiry into the loss of the Koombana on 3 May 1912. He asserted that global precautions in the event of cyclones put ships into greater danger as they failed to factor in the behaviour of cyclones in the north-west of Western Australia.

George's sons Andrew S. Cumming, Donald F. Cumming and Colin C. Cumming all farmed on the Inering Estate in Carnamah after the First World War. Donald's son Ronald G. Cumming also worked as a farmhand in Carnamah in the 1930s and in Waddy Forest in the 1950s. Our thanks to Lisa Dorsett for alerting us to the Cumming connection with the Koombana.


  1. Thank you for that information on the Clinch family loss.

  2. Andrew, you never cease to amaze me with your research and the information you and your society produce for others to learn from and understand.
    I have learned things I never new about my father and grandfather from the information you have managed to dig up and make available for others.
    Having spent my first 28 years as a resident of Carnamah, I still feel like it is home to me.
    Please pass my appreciation on to the members of your society.
    Keep up this great work.
    Wayne Bentley

  3. The Clinch connection was unknown to us as well until we started looking!

    Thanks Wayne - it is great to know our work is appreciated and I will most certainly pass on your appreciation. I only spent my first 21 years as a resident of Carnamah but am sure, like you, that it will always remain home.