In May of the following year, news came that the 'Examiner' was aground. The messenger said that no tug was available and William had tried to take her out of the Clarence Heads under her own steam; the vessel was leaving the port in ballast and being light was carried ashore while negotiating the treacherous bar. The tide proved too strong, the ship was swung around out of the channel by a high wind, and blown onto the north beach.
Magdalen felt sick with shock. She recalled the loss of the 'Pelican' and how depressed William had been. The 'Examiner' had been launched less than two years. What a blow to William! The loss of the 'Pelican' had been worse in some ways because they were struggling to feed and clothe seven children in those days. Now the children were all grown up and working. Tommy was nineteen. But they now had so much more to lose. There were the regular payments on the properties which they were buying on conditional purchase on behalf of the boys, as well as many other commitments. The 'Examiner' represented so much investment in time and money.
"Your husband has not given up," said the messenger. "Everyone else believes it is hopeless, sitting high and dry on the beach. The sailors are leaving. People on passing ships are shrugging their shoulders when they see the ship firmly bedded in the sand."
"What will Mr Yabsley do?" asked Magdalen.
"He wants his son to come across as soon as possible," said the messenger.
"Will you be able to leave in the morning?" Magdalen asked William junior when they had given him the news.
"I'll leave as soon as Frances can put a few things together, and I can saddle up Carpenter. There is nothing in the Shed that the others can't handle for a while."
"At night!" said Frances. "Can't you leave it until daylight?"
"I'll be ready to start a day's work at daylight," he said. So different from the irresponsible young man he seemed a few years ago.
The tracks were few and very bad but he knew the country well and was an experienced horseman. As he had said he was at the Clarence Heads by daybreak. When he saw the vessel at low tide far up on the beach, a mile north of the Heads, he was dismayed. It would be impossible to refloat her, the seas were too rough. But to abandon her was unthinkable.
"We've got a problem here all right," said the older man.
"What are you thinking of? Not refloating her? She's 265 tons and eight feet in the sand."
"Well I can't leave her here. She's too valuable. And she looks silly," he said dryly.
"No. We're going to refloat her."
"Father you don't really think that is possible in this surf? She'll be washed back by the seas."
"Then we'll pull her to the river."
"But that's a mile..." he stopped, recognising in his father's steady gaze, his determination to save his ship, and he seldom failed in any task he undertook. The small nuggety man, dwarfed by the huge ship, was still intending to be master.
"First we'll take the engines out. They add a lot of weight, and could get damaged, or damage the hull."
This was easily said. With no equipment they had to improvise everything from what was available in the bush. Even William, who seldom swore, mumbled and cursed under his breath during the following week. At last reluctantly the engines came out and onto a slide, using the ship's derrick, tackle and winch.
Meanwhile Harry and Thomas King had seen to some of the tasks at Coraki, then had set out for the Clarence, bringing tents and supplies as William had requested. William had decided he needed bullocks and more manpower, so he sent Harry back to Coraki.
The spars and sails came down and everything movable was taken off.
When Charley, Oliver Jones and some other workmen arrived they were put to work cutting logs in the scrub a mile away. The logs were hauled to the beach and squared on two sides, some for blocking under the vessel and some for under the screw jack and levers. Forty trees, fifty or sixty feet long and two feet thick were needed to use as levers.
William junior had to return to Coraki to judge in the annual regatta, riding each way at night. He was able to assure his mother that everything was under control, although after three weeks, the ship was in exactly the same position.
"Do you really think it's possible?" asked Magdalen. "I've never heard of such a thing being attempted."
"Father has made up his mind. You know what that means. How are you coping here? If we persevere with this idea it'll take us months, hauling her across the sand."
"Mundoon has been most reliable. He's the best of the Aborigines as far as I can see. He knows how everything is done. Some of the neighbours have helped me in the store. Any enquiries about ship repairs, I turn away. I'm quite enjoying being useful for a change, but I do get tired easily, and have to have a rest in the afternoon."
She hoped William was not tackling something impossible. He could be stubborn, but was usually realistic. At his age was it too much for him? Necessary routines at Coraki were under control. Everything else was at a standstill. Working in the store was interesting to Magdalen, and she met and talked to people she would not otherwise see. Since the Provisional School had been built, Magdalen was not required to teach the younger children, and she missed the contact, especially as she had help in the house, and not much to fill in her days. Society required that she maintain a certain position, but it was not one she was fitted for. William kept busy. It seemed as he got older he worked at more and more things. The heavier tasks could be performed by the young men and apprentices, but William was always there organising and planning, and fully involved. For the first time for years Magdalen was getting up in the morning with the thought that she too was needed. Of course Frances was there too, but her six children kept her busy, and the seventh was due next month, so with the men away, Magdalen was called upon for decisions and approval. It felt good.
Back at the 'Examiner', sawpits were dug for sawing cleats for bolting on the side of the vessel for the end levers to grip under. The pieces were six feet by eight inches by six inches, bolted on with bolts 7/8" thick.
On 25th May, the Queen's Birthday, a passenger steamer came from Grafton with sight-seeers to look at the stranded 'Examiner'. Some hands were bolting on cleats, others were getting levers in position, with the ship's derrick tackle and winch. They stopped work momentarily to greet the onlookers on the steamer, who pretended to help heave the ship upward. Then the workers went on with the task. When these preparations were finished, the sand was dug out from under the vessel to get screw jacks in.
In June all hands were working with screw jacks and forty levers, twenty to each side, lifting the stern eight inches. The next day they lifted her another two feet and the following day eighteen inches.
The 'Schoolboy' passed on her way from the Richmond River to Sydney. Both crews paused in their work to communicate their feelings by waving clothing and hats. Then back to work again. Another two feet and the stern was out of the sand. But now heavy rain enforced a rest. And the cook left!
By this time a lot of workmen had arrived. All of William's men, his brother John, some of Eliza's in-laws and some members of Frances' family. Some of them put in a week or two, as they could spare the time. A cook was appointed and nobody complained that the standard of meals was not high. "He'll soon improve. He can't get worse."
The next task was to take the rudder off with a lever. As the men strained, the lever broke and struck Tommy on the side of the head, knocking him about three feet across the deck. Harry rushed to help him up but found him quite insensible so shouted for his father. It was immediately obvious that a doctor was needed so William sent three men in a boat to Grafton. Harry attended to his brother while the others began to remove the rudder with a strong lever. Then they began to lift the bow by the same tedious method that had raised the stern.
When the doctor arrived, Tommy had regained consciousness and was improving slightly, but he was ordered to return to Coraki to rest as soon as he was sufficiently recovered. The doctor stayed overnight on board the 'Examiner' as did many other visitors who came and went. The 'Schoolboy' passed again going north. The 'Examiner' had moved little since last time, but William showed no outward sign of feeling disappointed or losing heart. He was continually organising the making and sharpening of tools, cutting and threading of bolts and nuts and mending of chains and harness.
By the end of June they were laying ways to launch the vessel inland to get clear of the breakers. Tackles were rigged to draw her up the beach using bullock teams, four teams each of eight or ten bullocks pulling in the yielding sand. She would be pulled by the stern which was slightly further from the water.
Some days they pulled her fifteen or twenty feet, other days only ten feet, all hands putting logs and ways under the vessel as she was moved astern.
All hands were bolting planks together for launching the vessel on, when Magdalen's old friend, Captain Freeburn who had been the pilot at the Clarence Heads for eighteen years, arrived. Francis Freeburn had called from time to time to see how the work was progressing. He took a keen interest in the family, as he considered Magdalen to be one of the most extraordinary women he knew.
"How is your wife?" he asked William. "Please send her my best wishes. I'll never forget the first time I met her on the wharves of Sydney, setting out to find her husband who was off in the wilderness somewhere in New South Wales starting to make his fortune."
"Looking back it's hard to believe it ever happened the way it did. I certainly never would have expected to be here, one day, digging my own ship out of the sand."
"I can't picture Mother," said Charles who could not remember the days before Coraki, certainly not the stringy-bark and greenhide days.
"In her own way she is just as intrepid as your father," said Francis Freeburn looking at William who had gone back to work making large tackle blocks.
"For a woman to set out alone into the Wilderness in those rough days was about equal to towing a 250 ton ship a mile across a beach."
"Mm. Mother is more or less running 'Brook' station now while we're away, at least supervising. She sort of rises to the occasion, but most of the time she is in the background going about the house without any fuss."
"That is the true pioneer woman," said Francis Freeburn. "A real support for a man when he needs it, no airs or graces, no moods or temperaments."
"The girls are trying to encourage Mother to be more fashionable and to socialise, now that we are comfortable and can afford to entertain."
"How old are you?" asked the older man.
"I'll be twenty-two in September."
"Not courting yet? I suppose it's the same on the Richmond as it is here, a great shortage of young ladies, because of all the single men, especially since selection came in."
"My brother Tom and I are both friendly with two sisters we know. Not exactly courting yet though. My sister Magdalen will be married soon to one of the men working with Father." He indicated Thomas King. "And my younger sister Lizzie may marry one of the apprentices, Oliver Jones, when he finishes, in a year or so. That only leaves Annie and Harry in their mid-twenties. Annie has many suitors but she seems to be in no hurry. Harry has had no luck with women. There are none of his age, and the younger ones don't interest him. The only thing he's really good at and enjoys is cricket"
"And how is Jane? I remember her as a girl of six or seven when your mother came up from Sydney with the next baby."
"Jane is married to a most sincere man, after an early marriage before we moved to Coraki, before I was born. She has eight daughters and one son. They live at Fernmount."
"What a lot of petticoats!"
"Eliza and her husband live at Swan Bay. John Robinson has responsibilities as he owns a sugar mill. He comes to help when he can, and some of his family. Father was not happy about Bill's marriage. I sometimes think that he felt that Bill married beneath him, he took so long to be reconciled to the marriage. Frances is a fine woman, but her family is certainly not upper strata, and she has no polish or education. Father may have hoped for a better match for his eldest son, but I think Bill has grown up so much since he married, and Father respects him more now, but he's always trying to prove himself, and always has to be better than anyone else."
Francis Freeburn was sympathetic to Charles' feelings.
"Your father would not be an easy man to work for. He demands such a high standard for himself and everyone else. He is from a generation of pioneers. There can be no second generation of that ilk. I suppose he expected great things of his eldest son, and probably no-one could live up to that expectation."
Charles was surprised to find how he had been confiding in the old family friend. Suddenly he decided he had better get back to work and let their visitor entertain himself for a while.
William had fifteen men and three sons working for him now that Tommy had returned to Coraki on Carpenter. They worked hard for six days, and on Sunday usually stayed on board the 'Examiner' and did their housekeeping, and prepared for the week's work. Sometimes they visited the Pilot Station.
Every night the bullocks were tailed until 11 pm, then they were put into a yard. They were taken out to graze again from 4am until 8am, then yoked for the day. William had everything organised so that each man had a job and knew what to do and how to go about it. Towards evening some of the men always set traps for the next day's dinner. A large dingo often came at night to inspect the strange ship. Once he was caught in the snare, but managed to get away.
"Pity he got away," said one of the men. "Dingoes are a pest to farmers."
"I don't think this one was, there are no farms around here. I think even dingoes have a place in nature."
"Anyway I don't think he'll be curious about ships in future."
* * *
All hands were putting down wooden anchors to hook the tackle onto. Then four large tackles and four small ones to hook onto the larger tackles for the bullocks to haul on, were made and set up, and they commenced to tow the vessel toward the river with four teams of bullocks. The anchors began to show the enormous strain, and after the ship was moved only two feet, William decided some adjustments were necessary. The next day they were able to draw her much further, and each day made some progress until mid-July when an easterly gale and heavy seas arose. At high tide the vessel was still not out of the reach of the waves which washed logs from under the vessel and let her down into the sand again.
"We'll have to block her up again,"said William, "and haul her further inland, clear of heavy seas."
So everyone was set to work putting logs under her and blocking her up again. There was still the best part of a mile to go and they had already been two and a half months. William seemed undaunted by the set-back. The men were set to lifting the vessel again with levers and screw jacks. When they moved her forward again, a big cable of 11/2" chain doubled, was broken. When that was repaired progress was better.
The first day she was moved fourteen feet toward the river, the day after forty, and fifty and one day even ninety feet. Nearer the river going downhill, progress was greater and most days they achieved a hundred feet, once a hundred and sixty-nine feet.
In August William junior returned home on foot to find a new arrival in the house, Baby Mark, and also to learn that there was another baby in the Robinson home, Baby Charles.
Magdalen felt tremendously relieved that the enterprise was succeeding and that the ship should be launched for the second time within a few weeks.
"I won't be there with my bottle of brandy this time," she said. "And I hope she doesn't shoot right across the river like she did at her first launching. But of course the Clarence at the Heads is a very wide river!"
"That's not what we're worried about. After months out of the water, she may go straight to the bottom."
"I hope your father isn't overdoing it at his age. He thinks he is still a young man."
"Sometimes I think he is. But don't worry about us. How are you managing?"
"Your father has lost a lot of trade. A lot of clients have had to go somewhere else."
"I expect Father realises that."
"And the poor 'Index' waiting in the Shed for you to get on with."
Progress on the tug had come to a complete standstill for five months. Some of the boys had returned to Coraki for short periods and given instructions for urgent tasks on the property, which Magdalen had seen to as best she could. But of course this did not include anything to do with the Ship Yard. She was used to William being away for weeks at a time when he was at sea, but five months was the longest separation since she had joined him at the Settlement over thirty years ago. Even in his absence everything on the run was done as nearly as possible as William would organise it. Although he was not there Magdalen and the girls sometimes had the feeling of his presence directing them. And the Blacks knew exactly how the routine tasks were done. Mundoon proved most reliable.
"Well I'm afraid the 'Index' will have to wait a bit longer," William junior was saying.
"How long are you staying?"
"I just came home to see if Frances had had the baby yet. I'll go back in the morning. Every day counts. Do you think Tommy is fit now?"
"Yes. He's been doing some of the most urgent tasks, working around the run. I'll send Mundoon to tell him to get ready to leave in the morning."
The next day it was raining but the two brothers set out knowing that anything less than a cyclone would not stop work at this stage.
The 'Examiner' was getting nearer to the Clarence River. In September distances that she was hauled in a day, increased to 241 feet as the record, which William senior and junior noted as usual in their diaries.
When they had finished hauling her to the river, they had to lower the stem and lift the bow with levers and screw jacks ready for launching. The enormous cleats were removed and the bolt holes plugged, the rudder replaced and some caulking done. The first attempt at launching failed for want of grease, but on 24th September William wrote in his diary: "Day of joy to see the vessel plunge into the Clarence River. Tight and sound. Pilot Freeburn, crew and other visitors to see vessel slide into river."
She was hauled by boats to a suitable anchorage and moored for taking in gear and engines and putting up masts and spars, rigging and finally the sails.
Charley and Tommy started for home with the bullocks, gladly bidding goodbye to sand and salt water, bringing home the news that the 'Examiner' had been safely relaunched. Magdalen was glad to have her younger sons back but still waited anxiously for William and his ship. Young Magdalen had been miserable apart from her fiancé and had a lot to tell him about wedding preparations and the trousseau which had kept her occupied. A dozen other wives and mothers were glad to have their menfolk home and were pleased at the success of the undertaking.
Early in October the 'Examiner' lay at the Clarence Heads and finally crossed out safely. She sailed up to the Richmond River and steamed up the river very short of coal, but triumphant and undamaged.
Henry Barnes was at Coraki as part of a welcoming party.
"If anyone else had said he could save that ship, we would have said he was crazy. But when YOU said it, everyone who knew you, knew you would succeed. I was reading somewhere that the difference between a wise man and a fool is their ability to know themselves and what they are capable of. A fool might have tried that task without any chance of succeeding. Most sane men couldn't have done it, and knew they couldn't, so they wouldn't have tried to. But you could salvage her, and you knew you could."
"Interesting idea," said William.
"It also goes the other way," said Magdalen. "People won't even try to do things which they really could if they wanted. My daughter Annie was saying she can't sew, which is nonsense. Of course she can. What she should have said was she doesn't like to or want to."
Annie laughed at the teasing. "Actually I prefer to have the services of a professional dressmaker."
Lizzie added "Mother who is it won't even try the sewing machine?"
"Aren't young people cheeky to their parents these days?" Magdalen asked Henry.
"Well I keep a strap for my boys. I'm just waiting to be able to use it on the new baby Charles Grafton."
"But not on your daughters. I hear they rule you."
"So do the boys. At least they don't take it too seriously when I punish them."
"What unusual names you give your boys - Robert Richmond, Walter Clarence and now Charles Grafton."
"Well," said William getting back to important matters. "She didn't leak a drop."
"This will be written up in all the newspapers," said Henry. "People will talk about it for years."
"I'm going to offer a free trip to everyone who helped refloat her."
"What a good idea."
The cost was £1400. The insurance company was more than satisfied to pay its share of the cost. William had not left the ship for over five months. He supervised all day and every night after tea he made decisions about the next day's work. He organised everything personally and asked advice of no-one. There was no-one to ask. The situation was unique.