The Loss of Trial in 1622, Oldest Wreck on the Australian Coast

The Loss of Trial in 1622, Oldest Wreck on the Australian Coast

The English East India Company in 1621, dispatched their ship Trial on a journey to the East Indies via the Cape of Good Hope.

It had only been 10 years earlier that this supposedly faster route to the East Indies had been pioneered by the Dutch.

Ships rounded the Cape, then steered easterly, altered course to the North East to make a landfall in the East Indies, but, if a ship sailed too far to the east, before changing course towards the Indies, what is now Western Australia was likely to prove a navigational hazard.

In those early days of seeking out the East Indies, the actual position of those islands and of Australia with its nearby islands off its north west coast were not known with any accuracy. I caused problems for those early navigators and Masters of sailing ships attempting to visit and trade with the spice islands of the East Indies.

Longitude could only be estimated, and one's dead reckoning after a long haul across the Indian Ocean could and usually was very inaccurate.

Latitude was calculated with reasonable accuracy, but the ship's position east or west of the zero meridian of longitude depended on how far it was estimated that the ship had sailed over a given time span.

At this time navigation at sea was by no means an exact science, it took until late in the 18th. century and early into the following century for longitude to be calculated with accuracy.

First mention of Trial.
Trial is first mentioned in the Court of Committees at Plymouth held on the 13th. of July 1621, when the ship's name was spelled Triall.

At that time in England, there were three ships carrying the name Trial - The Triall of Aldborough, The Triall of London, and The Trial of Orston.

The Triall of London was most likely involved in the abortive venture at Virginia in 1606-7, and was a vessel of 160 tons, belonging to a group of fishmongers and citizens of London.

The Traill of Orston, was separately reported as being both 40 and 30 tons, and would be too small a ship to journey to the East Indies.

The records of the time do not make further mention of the Triall of Aldborough.

There is an interesting report on July 10, 1621 that

"Mr. Newport ... who had formerly bene named to the Companie to go Mr. of the Triall cannott yett resolve whether to undertake the charge yett or not until he have first sattisfied his wife, which he would do forthwith and then give his answeare."

Mrs. Newport was very obviously not satisfied, because it was reported on the 10th of August 1621:

"Mr. Brooks Mr of the Triall, being now ready to go downe to Plimouth desired allowance for the carying downe of himself and fouer servanntes. The Court ordered he should have 13 poundes."

The Trial sailed from Plymouth on the 4th of Septemver, 1621 with 143 good men.

Loss of Trial.
The President and Council of the London East Indies Company (E.E.I.C.) located in the East Indies wrote to home office in England on the 11th. of January 1622 expressing their fear that both Trial and Whale may have been lost on the backside ( south coast ) of Java.

On the 25th. of June 1622, Captain John Brookes arrived at Jacartra (Batavia) in a skiff with 9 others to announce the loss of Trial off the Great Southland. It is learned from Brooke's letters that Trial safely arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, where he me the Charles, a returning East Indiaman commanded by Captain Bickle. Brooks wanted the Master Mate from Charles plus some additional personnel from that vessel to join Trail, as they had not before made the journey from the Cape to Jacatra - but, no one would volunteer!

He sailed from the Cape on the 19th. of March 1621, and shaped a course south to latitude 39 degrees south, then turned east.

On the 1st of May, he made a landfall in latitude 22 degrees south, it was logged as an island 18 leagues long, Brooks sailed 10 leagues southwards of this island and then steered north east by east for Java.

However, from the 5th. of Ma until the 24th. of Many, winds prevailing from the north east prevented his ship form making any headway towards his target of Java.

On the 24th. of May a large island with three smaller ones at its eastern end hove into view, Trial, steered north east hoping to reach the western end of Java.


 "Ye 25th. daye at 11 of ye clocke in ye night, faire weather and smoth ye shippe strooke, I ran to ye poope and hove ye leade and found 3 fadoms watter, 60 men being upon ye decke, 5 of them would not beleave yt she strooke. I cringe to them to beare up and tache to ye westwards, they did ther beste, but ye rock being sharpe ye ship was presentile full of watter, for ye most part of these rocks lie 2 fadoms under watter. It strucke my men in such a mayze when I said ye shippe strooke and they could se neyther breach, land, rocks, change of watter, or signe of danger, ye shippe setting a god while after, yet I had hove ye lead whilst I had brought my sayles a backstaies before she strooke and ? strooke, ye wind began suddenly to freshen and bloweing, I strooke round my sayles and gott out my skiffe, and bid them sound about ye shippe, they found sharpe suncken rockes a half cable lenth astarne noe ground these rockes are steepe to, so I made all ye waye I could to gett out my long boate, and by two of ye clocke I had gotten her out and hanged her in ye tackles on ye side, soe setting ye shippe full of watter and ye winde to increase made all ye meanes I could to save my life and as manie of my compa, as I could."

 (original coreespondence Vol9, No. 1072)

Brookes evacuated his ship over a rope our of the poop into a skiff at 3 A.M., at 4 A.M. the boat got of, and half an hour later the forepart of his ship broke up. Out of 139, (presumably 4 died on the outwards voyage, as Trial had saided with a total of 143) ten including the Captain, excaped in the skiff, and , another thrity six in the logn boad, that made ti to Batavia on the 8th. of July. The remaining ninety three died.

There seems little doubt that Trail came to grief on "Trial Rocks," situated to the north west of Monte Bell islands.

On his arrival at Jacarta ( Batavia ) Brooks, arranged his evidence to maintain the fiction that he had followed his instructions from the East India Company, and saild north easterly as had been described in  Fitzherbert's journal, thus he should not be blamed from the stranding of Trial.

He initially took the stance that the Straits of Sunda lay north east by north of the wreck's position, but after reaching the eastern end of Java by steering a north east by north course, h corrected the Trial's position ot allow for this, and moved the location of "Trial Rocks" 200 leagues* further eastwards, making them due south of the Sunda Straits.

* In England at this time it was considered that 5,000 feet equated to one nautical mile, ad that three nautical miles made up one league.

For Brooks to have reached the eastern end of Java he would have had to sail due north from the wreck site, if as he maintained he had sailed north east from his stranding of Trial, ths course would have taken his skiff to the east of the island of Timor.

Thus to cover up his lying about the course he had taken after leaving his wrecked vessel, Brooks needed to relocate "Trial Rocks" 200 leagues eastwards.

The East India Company were entirely fooled by this hoax. and never places any blame what so ever on Brookes for the total loss of Trial.

Thomas Bright who had sailed in Trial - held Brookses totally guilty of negligence and responsible for the ship's loss.

In a letter from Jacarta dated the 22nd. of August 1622 he made the point that if one compared Captain Fitzherbert's journal with that of Captain Brookes, in the latter journal you would find that Trial sailded 400 leagues further east thatn any ship had ever sailed before, and when Trial foundered, they were steering north east, and Sunda Straits bore north west.

Having sailed so far towards the coast of the Great Southland, and steering to the north east, Brooks was placing Trial in a very vulnerable and hazardould position, and so it proved when she ran aground.

Brookds undetook some work around Sumatra for his East India company, and then in 1625 he came home to England in Moone.

"Four other ships arrived from the East Indies, but Moone was cast away up our coast."

The date was the 15th. of September 1625, and Moone was lost off of the coast of Dover.

Bookes and the Master, Churchman were charged with negligence and wilfully casting away the Moone, and both were imprisoned within Dover Castle.

On the 1st. of May 1626, Brookes petitioned the House of commons in an attempt to bring his case to a conclusion, he blamed the weather and the general rottedness of Moone's sails and ground tackle for the ship's loss.

Proceedings dragged on for yet another two months, until the 4th. August of that year, Brooks made a submissive petition ot the East India company praying their pardon, by now he had no estate, and finally on the 18th. of August 1626 both Brookes and Churchman were released and all suits against them for the loss of Moone and Trial, were dropped.

Routh to the East Indies.
The loss of Trial brought doubt upon the safety of the route that had previously been nominated.

Trial Rocks.
It took over another 300 years before Trial Rocks were discovered - they of course were not located where they were said to exist.

The Admiralty, initially stated that Trial Rocks did not in fact exist. Later their position we given to a group of islands in the general area, but, it took until 1934 for a reef known as "Ritchies' Reef" to be designated as "Trial Rocks."

The Australian Pilot of the area was then amended, thus 314 years after causing the loss of Trial, these roks were at last correctly located and recognised.

Search for wreck of Trail
It was not until 1969 that an attempt was made to find the wreck site of this first British shipwreck on the Australian coast.

A wreck site was found, and iron cannons and anchors were recovered.

In JUne 1971, the Western Australia Museum mounted another expedition, evidence indicates this, the present day Trial Rocks, is the actual site where Trail actually came to grief, but it is dificult to be absolutely certain the wreck site is that of Trial.

There is not written tradition extant at the time of the foundering, Western Australia was not settle until 1829, thus positive identification of the associated anchors/guns found in the vicinity of Trial Rocks linking them to the Trial still eludes us.

On the other hand, there is really nothing to indicate that this wreck site is not that of Trial, but should a further wreck site be found on Trial Rocks, one would have doubts that this reck site is that of the Trial.

Harrison, and the development of his ships chronometer allowed longitude to be accurately calculated.  Thus navigators were able to make an enormous leap forward in making their landfalls less hazardoud. particularly when arriving on a foreigh uncharted coastline.

The guesswork as to ones actual longitude was finally removed.


B.A.R Supplementary Series, 27, 1977: "Australia's Oldes Wreck" The loss of Trial, 1622" Jeremy. N. Green 1977.

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