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Walter Hood sources and historiography – what’s true and what’s not?

In compiling this historical account of the wrecking of the Walter Hood on 26 April 1870 to commemorate its 150th anniversary, I have referred to as much primary source material as possible.

Most of these are articles or advertisements in newspapers that were published at the time, to which there is online access through Trove, the National Library of Australia’s digital archive. There we can read first hand how reporters of the day understood the story, and also the letters written to the paper by others with differing opinions.

However it’s always wise to read all source material with a mindset that says ‘what motivation might this person have for telling the truth, or for hiding it? Or for deliberately lying?’ Each man who survived the Walter Hood shipwreck, as well as each man who arrived there to rescue those survivors might intend to tell his ‘truth’, but also has a reason for not reporting the facts as they really happened. It might be self promotion of his own bravery, or protecting his reputation, sensationalising the story to sell more newspapers, or hiding criminal behaviour. Sometimes its just the embellishment that happens as a story is retold many times over the years. Why not spice it up a bit with more heroics?

And, of course, there’s another important factor here – the remoteness of the site. Reporters were not going to flock to a place that was a gruelling two day journey from Sydney through dangerous floodwaters and had no accommodation when they got there. So we only have one unbiased (probably) eye-witness account of the shipwreck rescue – that of the reporter (name unknown) from the Town and Country Journal.

There are also several excellent secondary sources. The first is by RH Cambage CBE, a mining surveyor, senior public servant and excellent amateur botanist and historian. His account, published in the Ulladulla and Milton Times in February 1926, ‘Walter Hood – Disaster, Thrilling Details, Stories of Heroism and Death‘ is full of careful and painstaking research. It’s important to note, however, that he brushes very lightly past stories of scavenging and subsequent court cases. Although, when he writes, it’s 56 years after the events, no doubt there were many descendants of those involved still living in the district whom he didn’t want to offend. We also miss out on Williams’ extraordinary revelations of 1927 – although we know Cambage was at the cairn dedication, there’s no addendum to his story.

The second source is by GA Mawer – ‘Fast Company: The Lively Times and Untimely End of the Clipper Ship Walter Hood‘, published in 1994 (2nd ed. 2004). Mawer carefully footnotes his sources and his account is well-researched. He pays attention to the credibility of the various accounts and explains his reasoning for favouring one over the other. From here I took most of the material about Walter Hood the man, and Walter Hood the ship and also his most interesting and well-argued thoughts about what might have happened to Captain Latto.

The third source is simply titled ‘Walter Hood‘, compiled by Rex Elliott. Elliott’s interest in the story comes from a beautifully made ship’s model of the Walter Hood in the Coastal Waters Retirement Village  where he lived, on Erowal Bay. The model ship is reputed to be made from a ship’s model that was saved from the Walter Hood and presented to Mark Jones, who worked on its salvage. Leigh Blanchfield, Jones’ grandson reworked the solid cedar model into a replica of the Walter Hood. The model is still on display in the village. Elliott draws heavily on Mawer and Cambage for his book.

Model of the Walter Hood by Leigh Blanchfield


If you’d like a deeper dive into the story of this famous shipwreck, here are some other great places to look:

Jervis Bay Maritime Museum and Gallery – where you can see original artefacts from the Walter Hood

The Walter Hood – Shipwreck. Isolation. Survival. at Exploria.me and also their Facebook page for recent discussion of the event

Environment NSW Government Maritime Heritage Walter Hood monument

Walter Hood and Co Aberdeen-built ships

Walter Hood yard, Aberdeen



Cathy Stewart

Milton Ulladulla Historical Society

April 2020


Mutiny and Murder? - what really became of Captain Latto?
MUHS bus trip to historic Braidwood, NSW