by their descendants.
The story of: George Leake Massingham, 16 yrs. Ticket 2657, steerage.
By Karina Taylor, admin of this website.
My ancestor George Leake Massingham, was onboard the Netherby travelling alone, aged just 16. He wrote an extremely descriptive letter home to his mother in England right after the shipwreck and I would like to share the contents of that letter (HERE).
The original version of the letter was donated by George's great granddaughter Suzanne Barton to the Maritime Museum of Tasmania in 2004 for safe keeping.
His letter prompted me to learn more about the Netherby shipwreck and I built this website to share what I found and what so many generous people have shared with me over the years.
George was my great great grand-uncle. His older brother William was my maternal grandmothers grandfather. It always fascinated me that someone so young would be so brave as to travel across the world to a new country on his own.
George went on to be a well known portrait and landscape photographer in Queensland and Victoria, with much of his work retained in the National Library of Australia. George was interviewed by The Argus (Melbourne) 20 August 1927 about his memories of the shipwreck and was the owner of a copy of the Netherby Gazette.
Scroll to the bottom to see photos from the 150th Anniversary on King Island.
TRANSCRIPT: of this article
The Argus (Melbourne) 20 August 1927
A WRECK OF THE SIXTIES.
MELBOURNE MAN'S MEMORIES,
NETHERBY STRIKES A REEF.
Some months ago, Miss Emma E. Hunnekin, writing to "The Argus" from Troy, U S A, explained that she was in possession of a copy of the Netherby Gazette, which contained an account of the wreck of the ship Netherby on the west side of King Island on June 11 1866. She was a grand-daughter of the late Mr Arthur Angel, who travelled to Australia by the Netherby but she thought that ther might be passengers in Australia still surviving, or descendants of passengers whom the book might be of greater Interest than it was to her.
She invited those desiring to possess the Gazette to state their claims making it a condition only that the applicants must either have been passangers on the Netherby when she was wrecked, or be destendants of passangers In due course Miss Huneckin received 10 letters-nine from descendants of passengers and one from Mr George Leake Massingham of Frank Street Preston who as a boy of 16 had travelled by the Netherby on her last voyage Mr Massingham s claims she judged to be the strongest and he received from her what may be the only copy of the ' Gazette ' in existence.
The 'Gazette on the whóle makes dull reading of more interest are Mr Massinghams memories of the wreck.
No lives were lost in the wreck of the Netherby, though there were many narrow escapes from death to Mr Massingham the breaking of the ship on the reef, the short rations and the blinding rainstorms were but parts of a boyish adventure un-comfortable, perhaps, but pleasurable because of the excitement of it all. The Netherby had passed through a succession of storms for a fortnight before she was piled upon King Island The passengers had but little idea of where they were when she struck the reef one wintry evening So thick had the weather been for many day s that it bad not been possible to take observations
' We looked a wreck in deed before we were actually wrecked, with so many spars carried away and everything moveable on deck smashed by the breaking of the seas " said Mr Massingham Just before the ship struck it was a little after 7 o'clock on a dirty black night. Captain Owens had been sitting in the saloon talking to some of the passengers none dreaming of the disaster which was imminent Suddenly they heard the second officer, Mr Jones, cry, Put the helm hard up' Hearing this startling order, Captain Owens rushed on deck Through the murk there could be seen land looming up close to the starboard bow, and they could hear the roar of breakers. Immediately after this the Netherby struck a reef and begnn pounding heavily. An hour Iater she was leaking like a sieve.
Passengers as well as the crew manned the pumps but no impression could be made against the inrush of water soon the whole lee side tween decks was awash The safety of the women and the children was the captains first consideration they were assembled in the cabin and they behaved well The pinnace was launched with the intention of taking a rope ashore but it was almost immediatley stove in Eventually the crew of another of the ships boats succeeded in secuting a rope to a projection on the reef. and this served to pull the boat backwards and forwards hand over hand between the reef and the ship. The sea had subsided somewhat and eventually all were safely landed on the reef and they got ashore
The prospect was dismal Everyone was soaked to the skin, not had anyone procured a change of clothing so quickly had the ship broken up. There was no chance of drying such clothes as they had for the rain effectually prevented that. Parties were sent to search for food among the wreckage washed ashore but all that could be discovered at first was a barrel of flour some biscuits and a little preserved meat. Among 400 this would not go far so everyone was put on very short rations the women and children receiving a little more than the rest. A large quantity of flour, meat, and other foodstuffs had come ashore but it had been overlooked.
The refugees were therefore as Mr Massingham said, starving in the midst of plenty But by great good fortune some of the passengers before leaving the wreck had taken their guns together with powder and shot. Thus we were able to shoot a few kangaroo said Mr Massingham and we helped the kangaroo meat out with limpets scraped off the reef. These we ate raw as if they had been oysters and perhaps because we were very hungery they did not taste all bad
Tents made out of the ship s sails had been pitched and as there was plenty of dead wood about we were able to enjoy the comfort of a fire! I had really been enjoying it all but the adults seemed to think, that my cheerfullness was assumed.
I remember sitting before a large fire one day when a sudden change of the wind blew a puff of smoke into my eyes. They naturally began to stream with water, and I put up my hands to wipe them all poor boy, he has broken down at last!' said someone and I remember I was very indignant at this '
It was decided that a small party should seek the lighthouse. It was thought that the best course would be to walk round the island until it was found Mr Perry, who was chief offiecer was in charge and Mr Massingham was one of the party
After a very tiring tramp we found it" he says. Mr Spong, if I remember rightly, was the name of the lighthoues keeper At that time then were only two or three families on King Island Mr Perry was given the lighthouse boat by Mr Spong', and he sailed for Queenscliff from there he went on to Melbourne to seek assistance In the course of a day or two the little steamers Victoria and Phaios came to our rescue. And they had to make a couple of trips, before they got us all off. The Victoria took 240 aboard including all the women and children. As the weather was still stormy the embarkation was not without danger but though some were bruisedl no one was seriously hurt. An abundance of hot soup and other food had been prepared and there were spirits and wine for those that needed them.
When we got to Melbourne the Victorian Government came to our rèscue and we were most hospitibly treated. We had quarters in the old Exhibition Building and elsewhere and a reliel committee collected 700pounds to buy necessaties for those who had no money. The agents of James Baines and Co of Liverpool the owners of the Netherby provided us with passages to Queensland for it is was to that State, that we were bound "
Considering how very little was saved it is remarkable the salvage should have included the tiles (handwritten) of the Netherby Gazette but what the ship s papers were to Captain Owens so were those previous documents to the joint editors. Messrs Vincent and Townsend.
It was from these complete files that the little volume of the 'Gazette ' was printed by W. B. Stephens of 115 Collins street Melbourne a copy of which is in Mr Massinghams possession.
Below left: is an old photocopy I had since the 80s of the inner page of George's bible. Not the one he carried with him on the Netherby, but one presented to each passenger after the shipwreck by the Victorian Auxiliary Bible Society.
George used his a diary and recorded all the towns he lived and worked in. Thanks to his descendant Suzanne Barton I can now share photos of the bible and its inner pages in the scroller below.
Suzanne donated the bible to the King Island Museum during the 150th commemorations in July 2016 - photo below (also Karina holding the bible).
Karina finally touched the real letter at the Hobart Maritime Museum in Nov 2016 - photo below.
Tasmanian Maritime Museum Magazine Article Spring 2004. Descendant Suzanne donating the original letter by George to the museum.
14-17 July 2016: Suzanne and I joined 168 other shipwreck descendants on King Island for 4 days of commemorative events. Suzanne and I both gave a speech at
Netherby Cove on Sunday 17th. I have added the transcripts of the speeches here and some photos from the trip.
Jim Benn MC: Welcome to everybody, and I've now got to introduce Karina Taylor and Suzanne Barton, descendants from George Leake Massingham. Please ladies: (Inviting speakers to microphone)
Welcome everyone. I'm Suzanne Barton, and I'm here today because of the letter that – my great-grandfather George Massingham at 16 wrote a letter to his mother back in England about the Netherby wreck.
My father Guy had possession of this letter and when he died in 2001 I became the owner of the letter and I knew it was very – a very special piece of history – so I spoke with my brothers and we decided to donate it to the Tasmanian Maritime Museum in Hobart, and that's where it is today.
You can see a copy of this letter at the Netherby Room at the King Island Historical Museum.
And also today I'm donating a Bible that my great-grandfather George had. It was presented to him by the Bible Society of Victoria, in 1866, in memory of the wreck of the Netherby.
He was actually a professional photographer and he travelled all over Queensland, and New South Wales, and Victoria.
Oh dear, where am I up to – first time I've spoken to people ... (Laughs) Oh!
I'm excited to be here, on the place where it all happened, and excited to be among all the descendants of the survivors.
And – I would like to then thank Ann Rutte for all the work she did in organising this great day and weekend and also to Karina Taylor who is a great-great niece of George's brother William. And she did a wonderful lot of work on all the survivor families including the Massinghams. Thank you Karina! And also helping with the celebrations this weekend.
And a big thank you to the people of King Island for your help and friendliness.
Karina Taylor: Welcome to Netherby Cove to the descendants of the survivors of the wreck and their friends and the King Island people who have made us so welcome this week.
In 1984 aged 15 I was given a given photo copy of Georges letter to his mother by my grandmother. He was my great great grand uncle on my maternal grandmothers side. Until I saw that letter genealogy was just that page at the front of my baby book with that little tree with 3 lists of names. But this was a letter written by a real person, a 16 year old boy travelling alone and it was an amazing adventure that he was writing about. He was one of the group that walked to the lighthouse. It made me want to know more. George started my genealogy passion from a really young age as well as a quest for adventure. So before I turned 16 I had stowed away on a ship from Perth to Singapore. It’s his fault! By 19 I did what George did and moved to the other side of the world - for me it was to work in America.
In September 2005 I started building a website dedicated to George and the Netherby shipwreck and what I had in my possession were Georges letter, the surgeons report by Marshall Hall, the Schoolmaster Hope Martins letter, the immigration agents letter, the passengers petition, Captain Owens report, and some news articles I had found while holidaying in Melbourne and visiting the state library. Within a week people were contacting me. And many many of you have sent me things over the years, and built that website into what it is now. So thank you to anyone who has ever emailed me over the years.
Some years ago when Ann Rutte found my Netherby website and we got talking and we started pondering on just us getting together for the 150th. It kinda grew. It seemed a long time coming when we first started talking about it and then suddenly this year we went “oh – it’s now!”. I would like to personally thank Ann for her passion and drive and her
meticulous organisational skills – I have seen the folders – they are colour coded. She made my little personal dream of being here for this event come true and she has also made all our your dreams come true too.
Sitting in the empty hall on Thursday night I was nervous. Even though she had an RSVP list – I was nervous. And the doors opened and everyone started pouring in and filled me with relief and joy!! You all came! Thank you for that.
My biggest thanks go to our tenacious ancestors who, no matter what their personality was when they boarded that boat in England, they became survivors and without that none of us would be here.
Through building the website I have also been lucky to find some fellow Massingham descendants including Suzanne.We are a very spread out, non-communicable non-breeding family; there are not many of us. So to finally actually meet someone from the Massingham line was exciting to me. Many of you have found me over the past few days, I have put all of my website into a photobook that is going to go into the sea chest and I have tried to collect all of your signatures. Its in my bag – I would love anyone that hasn’t yet signed it with a message to the people of the future to come and find me today and sign it before it goes into the sea chest.
And… thank you all for coming, cos you have made my dream come true and I hope everyone has had as marvellous time as we have. And thank you to the King Island people who made us so welcome here and helped us achieve our goals
Above - George is the final name on this page
In 1927 George was interviewed by the Argus about his recollections of the wreck after he responded to the above letter to the Argus editor.
24 Sep 1927, Smiths Weekly.
George made notes on this article from The Australasian 12 Nov 1927.