Lake Macquarie History

The wreck of the Scotch Queen

On Sunday 21st December 1919, a party of Newcastle men set off for a fishing excursion on Lake Macquarie, having hired the vessel “Scotch Queen” from its owner David Gordon. At the last minute Mr Gordon decided to join them, as a machinery failure at the steelworks meant he was unexpectedly free for the day. This bought the number in the group to 10 men.

photo:  launch of the scotch 

queen, c.1900

The party travelled by train to Cockle Creek Station, where they boarded the launch and left Cockle Creek at about ten o'clock, proceeding down the Lake. It was their original intention to go through the heads and fish outside, but before they got near the bar they decided against this, as the conditions were unfavorable.

Scotch Queen being Launched c.1900

They tried to turn back, but water splashed onto the magneto, causing the engine to stop. After managing to re-start the engine shortly afterwards a heavy sea came over the launch, and the engine stopped again. Everyone tried desperately to keep the magneto dry, wiping it with handkerchiefs, but the spray kept coming in making this impossible. The men then went to get the oars which had been on the launch, but found that one of them was missing, having apparently been washed off. The launch drifted for about twenty minutes after that, before being hit by a series of big waves, whereupon she capsized and sank.

Plummer's heroic effort

Thomas Plummer, who was a strong swimmer, attempted to rescue two of his companions. The Newcastle Herald reported:

"The first man I saw when I came to the surface," continued Mr. Plummer, "was Jack Rose. He could not swim. I had clung to a piece of timber that was floating nearby, and I swam to him, and brought him to it. He got a grip on it, and held on for a while but it was turned over by a wave, and he was washed off. I got him again and brought him to the timber, and he said, ‘That was a near thing.' He hung on for a while longer, but was washed off again. I got him again, and brought him to the timber, but he was nearly done, and his head dropped on the timber. Shortly afterwards he was washed off again, and I did not see him afterwards. He must have been absolutely exhausted. Just after the capsize, I noticed another member of the party swimming towards the piece of wood, but I don't know who it was." Mr. Plummer also said that James Dooley reached the timber, and he (Mr. Plummer) was holding him up as Dooley had been seized with cramps in the legs. Dooley told Plummer not to bother holding him, to let him go, but Plummer said, "Hang on, It's all right. I see some people on the shore, who are coming to our help."

At that time Mr. Plummer saw two persons on the shore, and a few minutes later saw a number gathered there. He kept on supporting Dooley, and later on saw the launch coming. When the launch arrived a rope was thrown from the craft. Mr. Plummer placed it round his companion, who was pulled on the launch, and he was taken aboard afterwards.

On shore rescue efforts

On shore, the officer in charge of the pilot station at Swansea, Mr J. Pobje, saw the launch drifting towards the bar. The danger signal was up, and Mr Pobje ran down to the breakwater and waved to the occupants of the launch to go back. Unfortunately it continued to drift towards the bar and into the middle of the break as there was a strong north-east wind blowing, and the tide was going out.

The launch rolled about in the break for about forty minutes before it capsized and sank. The water was too rough to permit the launching of the small boat used at the pilot station. However, with the assistance of some men who were camping by the Lake entrance, Mr Pobje retrieved and launched a nearby eighteen-foot boat and rescued James Standen, who was by this time well over the bar, having been carried out to sea by the tide.

The Newcastle Herald of Tuesday 23 December 1919 reported:

"The water was too rough to permit of the launching of the small boat used at the pilot station, but Messrs. A. Proudlock, W. Evans and W. Forbes, who were camping for the weekend, carried, with the help of Mr Pobje snr., who ran to them when the launch sank, an eighteen foot boat to the boat harbour. The boat was launched, and then Messrs. Proudlock, Evans and Forbes put out in it and rescued James Standen, who, as well as the two other men who were rescued, was by this time well over the bar having been carried out by the tide. "

photo: swansea channel

All the while Mrs Pobje was trying to phone Newcastle exchange to raise the alarm. The Pobje’s son sped on horseback to Swansea a distance of about three miles by road, and informed launch proprietor Mr James Boyd of the situation. Mr Boyd lost no time in launching a boat to assist in the rescue. He arrived in his launch, having with him his son Mr Ernest Boyd, and some other men. They rescued Thomas Plummer and James Dooley.

Standen was placed on Boyd’s launch and taken with the two other survivors to Swansea, where they were seen by Dr. Byrne, who ordered Standen's removal to the Newcastle Hospital by the local ambulance. He made a full recovery.

Both Plummer and Dooley were suffering considerably from shock, but were able to make their way back to their homes by train and car with some assistance.

Those who perished

The accident was perhaps made more poignant by the fact that five of the seven deceased men were soldiers recently returned from World War I - one man had only been home a few months, and two of the returned men were twins. To have survived the horrors of the war only to come back and drown in a horrible accident is truly tragic.

David Gordon Aged 63 Employed at Newcastle Steelworks and lived at Hamilton. He was survived by his widow and married daughter
Owen McNaughton Aged 39 An engineer living at Wickham. Left a widow and six children, the eldest of whom was seventeen years of age
Thomas Dick Aged 22 A returned soldier who had only come home in May. Lived with his parents in Merewether
John Rose Aged 26 A returned soldier employed in the interlocking department of the railway. Lived at Broadmeadow. He had only been back from war service for about four months
Peter McCauley Aged 32 A returned soldier who lived with his parents in Wickham. Was a twin of Alick McCauley
Alick McCauley Aged 32 A returned soldier who lived with his parents in Wickham. Was a twin of Peter McCauley
John Strong Aged 26 A returned soldier employed in the interlocking department of the railway. Lived at Broadmeadow

Those who survived

Thomas Plummer Aged 38 Served transport duty during the war and was submarined on two occasions. Was employed in the Railway Department, and lived in Newcastle
James Dooley Aged 20 Lived with his parents in Merewether
Thomas Standen Aged 34 A returned soldier employed at the Steel Works as a moulder. Lived at Hamilton


Although the police and others maintained a close watch, it was some time before any bodies of the deceased were recovered. Some wreckage was washed up on the northern breakwater at Swansea, near where the disaster had occurred, as reported by the Newcastle Herald:

“Among this were three coats. On one coat was a returned soldier's badge No. A 30789, with regimental colours white and green, another coat had a returned soldier's medal with the name A. B. Macaulay inscribed on the back. There were also found two felt hats, a straw boater hat, two small leather bags, three boat cushions, a glass jar, and an earthenware jar enclosed with wicker work.”

The coat of Mr McNaughton was also washed ashore.

The body of David Gordon was washed ashore at Catherine Hill Bay on Tuesday 23rd December 1919. None of the other bodies were ever found.

The inquest into David Gordon's death took place on 16th January 1920. At the inquest the coroner remarked on the bravery of the two boating parties who mounted rescue efforts, particularly the launch manned by Mr Boyd which, despite the danger, rescued two men. The coroner also commended Mr Plummer for his efforts at saving his comrades. The delay in Mrs Pobje's emergency phone call being answered was also noted for further investigation.

photo: james lewis boyd

A meeting was held at Swansea early in January 1920, where it was decided to take steps to recognise the bravery and resourcefulness of Mr James Boyd in rescuing two of the men. Mention was made that Mr Boyd had been involved in eight rescues in recent years. According to the Newcastle Herald:

"The residents of Swansea propose recognising his services. At last night's meeting of the New castle Labour Council Mr. T. Smith (Steel Works Union) said the conduct of Mr. Boyd, who went to the rescue of the survivors of the launch, was worthy of commendation. He moved that the matter be brought under the notice of the Royal Humane Shipwreck Relief Society. This was agreed to."

James Lewis Boyd

photo: gold pocket watch awarded to arthur proudlock

Although no information could be found on any formal recognition being given to any of the men involved in the rescue that day, there is proof that a ceremony did take place. The image to the left is of an inscribed gold pocket watch awarded to Arthur Proudlock in recognition of his part in the rescue.

The name plate of the Scotch Queen was picked up on Bar Beach on 28th January 1920.


1919 'SURVIVORS' STATEMENT.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 23 December, p. 5. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1919 'SWANSEA BOATING FATALITY.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 23 December, p. 5. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1919 'LAUNCH DISASTER.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 22 December, p. 5. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1919 'SWANSEA LAUNCH DISASTER', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 30 December, p. 6. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1920 'DISTRICT NEWS.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 2 January, p. 5. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

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