Crown of England
GPS: S20° 37.060' E117° 43.940'
Location: Balla Balla/Depuch Island
Site depth: 3-9 metres
Divable conditions: 0.5m swell. Neap tide
Visibilty: 2-5 metres
Vessel: Sailing ship
Tons: 1847 tons
Vessel length: 80 metres
Wreck event: Wrecked on shore during cyclone
The Crown of England was lost in an intense cyclone in March 1912. The same cyclone that claimed 5 vessels anchored off Depuch Island for the Whim Well Copper mine and also the SS Koombana, one of Australia's longest standing maritime mysteries, lost without a trace off the coast between Port Hedland and Broome.
The Crown of England went aground in the dark with it's anchors straining against the 100 knot winds of the cyclone towards a lee shore of rocks and reef. The vessel lost almost half of it's crew, six of which were buried on the shore near the site of the wreck. The site is dominated by it's huge masts laid out in deeper water, it's sobering to dive amongst the mast sections that the stricken crew were lashed to during the cyclone only moments before the vessel began to break apart. Also to the north of the site is one of its anchors, still set and holding with cables attached and leading to the bow of the wrecked ship.
HOW THE CROWN OF ENGLAND WAS LOST.
Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (Sydney, NSW : 1891 - 1954), Thursday 28 March 1912, page 4:
"Further advices relative to the loss of the Norwegian ship Crown of England have been received. It seems that she struck Depuch Island at 11 o'clock on the Wednesday night during the height of the 'willy-willy. All night the men had been in the rigging; but they took to the rail of the main deck. They had barely left, the rigging when the three masts went over the sides. At the same time the vessel broke in three pieces, the forecastle and poop separating from the main part of the ship. The men were advised by the captain to strip, but they did not seem to like the idea and kept their clothes on. Some were already washed off, so the remainder, with the exception of one, jumped in the sea and swam to the shore. The captain mustered the men. Eight were missing. Their bodies were found between the point where the vessel was wrecked and the north point; but the discoverers were so exhausted that they could do nothing more than take them higher up the beach, out of the way of the sea."
Diving the site:
The site was visited to coincide with neap tides and dived on the top of the flood tide for better visibility and to take advantage of slack water of the tide change in case of currents. Visibility was still low at around 2 metres in the shallower parts of the wreck but became somewhat clearer (around 4 metres) at deeper depths around the mast sections. The site was somewhat protected from any swell with the most danger likely from surge being the area around the exposed bow section that rises above the oceans surface and is encrusted with oysters. Anchoring was easy with the seaward area of the site all surrounded by sand allowing anchoring right next to the wreck possible with out causing any interference to the wreck.
The site is orientated with the hull laying parallel to the rocky shore with the bow to the south. The outline of the hull is easily distinguishable and to the east descending into deeper water lies the extensive collapsed mast sections. Near the southern most mast, the anchor, still set, can be found with cables leading to the bow. Near the northern most mast sections a boiler can be found on the site and small areas of structure create tight swimthroughs.
Extreme care should be taken on the site due to it's remote location. It is well beyond radio range of any active sea rescue and due to the extreme currents found throughout the area a manned boat should always be left on standby should a diver become swept off the site.