City of York (1861-1899)


Official number: 60871

Where built: Glasgow, Scotland

Registered: Glasgow

Rig type: barque

Hull: iron

Tonnage: 1167 (1899)

Length: 67.9 metres (222.7 feet)

Breadth: 10.9 metres (35.8 feet)

Depth: 6.6 metres (21.7 feet)

Port from: San Francisco

Port to: Fremantle

Date lost: 12 July 1899

Location: Rottnest Island, City of York Bay

Chart number: DMH 001

GPS position:

· Latitude 31° 59.7200 ' S

· Longitude 115° 29.2500 'E

Finders: Underwater Explorers Club

Protection: Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (gazetted 1977)

Unfinished Voyages, volume 3:289-292

MA file number 661/71

ASD number: WA 89

Significance criteria: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6

An historic photograph showing the wrecking of City of York



A diver above the deck support knees of City of York

The vessel

City of York was built under special survey in 1869 by J. Elder and Company in Glasgow. It had two decks and three masts. It was registered to the Ship City of York Company.

Under the command of Captain Jones, City of York sailed from San Francisco for Fremantle on 13 April 1899 with a cargo of timber (743 444 feet) and 3 638 doors. The vessel made a record passage to Western Australia and approached Rottnest Island late in the afternoon of 12 July. The night turned stormy with blinding rain and a heavy sea (Cairns & Henderson, 1995:289). The pilot on the island sent up a flare asking if the vessel required a pilot boat. The ship's captain thought that the flare came from a pilot boat and acknowledged an acceptance of the offer. The lighthouse keeper telephoned Thomson Bay and the flare up signalled that the pilot was coming.

The wreck event

On the vessel the captain hove to thinking the pilot boat was ahead and the lead was cast three times, with five minutes between each cast indicating 24 metres (16 fathoms) and then 9 metres (5 fathoms). Soon after this, breakers were seen ahead. The vesel could not be steered away from the reef and City of York struck.

The sea started breaking over the vessel with force. Jones, believing the vessel was in danger of breaking up ordered that the boats be got out. Before this could happen it appeared that the mast was going to fall. Orders were given for all crew to board the starboard boat but it was found to be too small. Other crew got into the port boat and this capsized almost immediately. Eleven crew including Captain Jones perished and eight men reboarded City of York. One man was picked up by the first mate's boat. The other lifeboat was also swamped soon after launching, but seven men were able to reach the shore after about four hours. Two men made their way to the lighthouse to raise the alarm.

On 13 July, the steam tender vessel Penguin left Fremantle for Thomson Bay, followed by Captain Douglas in the tug Dunskey. He took off eight survivors in three trips using his dinghy. The first newspaper accounts of the wrecking did not appear until 14 July and it was soon apparent that the same storm was responsible for the wreck of the Carlisle Castle that same day.


The court of inquiry in Fremantle found that the wreck was caused by the 'gross carelessness and want of judgement shown by the master' (cited in Cairns & Henderson, 1995:291). Any potential for the lighthouse keeper's signals being at fault was ignored by the inquiry. However, concern about the case led to the setting up of a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament to investigate the harbour and pilot services of the colony which overturned the findings of the initial inquiry (Moynihan, 1988:39). It was found that the equipment and instructions supplied to the Rottnest Island lighthouse were completely inadequate and that the keeper gave misleading signals through ignorance. The Captain was exonerated. The Ship City of York Company instituted proceedings against the Crown for the recovery of damages for the loss of the ship, alleging that it was due to misleading lights. Settlement was eventually reached through the Privy Council and the Company awarded £5 000 plus costs.


City of York was abandoned by the underwriters and there was general agreement that there was no chance of saving the hull. Much of the timber cargo was salvageable and was bought for £323/5/- by a Perth syndicate who also bought the cargo from Carlisle Castle.

One anchor from the wreck site of the City of York was raised on 15 November 1959 (by John Körner and the Blue Water Wanderers), and this is mounted near Thomson Bay, Rottnest Island. Another has also been raised and is displayed at the Perth Flying Squadron, Nedlands.

Site location

The site lies 200 metres offshore west of City of York Bay.

Site description

The wreck lies in 7 metres of water, with the bow facing to shore on a reef bottom. It appears the vessel may have broken in two amidships with two sections of deck framing off centre. Several sections stand proud of the sea-bed. The hull has largely disintegrated with only the vessel's floors and the stern section recognisable. Plating, frames and stringers are strewn throughout the wreckage with one deck winch and sections of windlass the only machinery apparent. The anchors that were removed from the site are of the Pering's Improved type.

Statement of significance


This site is of historical significance as the remains of the vessel whose loss led to the examination of the Rottnest Island communication system. The aftermath of the tragedy led to a major upgrading of communications using more modern technology.


The loss of City of York and Carlisle Castle had a significant impact on the local community at Fremantle.The double tragedy prompted members of the community to start a fund for the survivors of the wreckings. A monument was erected at Fremantle cemetery in memory of the victims.


McCarthy, M., 1986, City of York, unpub. Wreck Inspection Report, Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, No. 66.

Nayton, G., 1989, The City of York, Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia Reports, December 1988-June 1989.

Moynihan, J., 1988, All the news in a flash: Rottnest communications 1829-1979, Telecom Australia and the Institute of Engineers, Australia, Western Australian Division.


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