The Wennington: A Voyage from Lancaster to Semarang

by Rilda A. Oe. Taneko


St. George’s Quay, Lancaster

March 30, 1865

It was a bustling day at the quay. The spring sun peaked from the grey clouds shyly. The air was icy. Nevertheless, with one thousand five hundred people gathered the crowd was no longer aware of the winter chill. People were chatting, praising an iron vessel, which was peacefully and gracefully docked at the jetty. It was the first iron sailing ship made in Lancaster, with 189.7 feet length, 32.0 feet breadth and 20.8 feet depth. Her name was Wennington.

“Look! There, there! How beautiful and elegant she is: three sturdy masts, a slim long bridge and a narrow pointed bowsprit. And she will sail to Australia!”


February 24, 1877

Wennington was now 12 years old and had sailed around the globe: Australia – San Francisco – Rangoon – New Zealand. She had ridden wind and waves, quail and storms, ocean to ocean, to foreign islands. She had witnessed many deaths on board and many births. She had led hundreds of new life seekers, the immigrants, to Australia and New Zealand, and brought spices and sugar from the Far East back home. She was under the command of Captain Sterwood.

On that day, Captain Sterwood climbed the gangplank and stood on the bridge, glancing around the pier. At the quayside, dozens of immigrants were waiting to board the ship, carrying hundreds of dreams in their heads about the new land, a new life in Wellington, New Zealand – their future.

“Pull! Pull! Pull! ”

Some foremen were moving their hands in the air, gesturing to the black workers to heave the rope. The workers’ hands showed bulging muscles when pulling the hoist. Meanwhile, on every door of three storey stone-walled warehouse, other workers were ready to catch and haul the goods from the crates. A thousand tons of cotton, spices, woods – mahogany, ivory and ebony – and sugar were to be stored in the warehouses which stood along the River Lune.

It was a market day: tents of vegetables, fresh fish, lamb, eggs and milk, fabrics and knitwear, fresh flowers, stood side by side on the narrow cobblestone road. Some sellers were screaming, trying to attract the attention of the crowd, hawking goods. The people, women and men, bidders and buyers, were intermittently stopping at the tents, looking at the items the seller had on offer. The children ran around, their clothes tattered, dried snot on the ends of their noses.

This land was his homeland. And on every journey he undertook, he always longed for home.


Tanjung Emas Seaport, Semarang

January 9, 1878

“Captain Sterwood, let’s take a rest.”

A sugar merchant, whom Captain Sterwood had relied on all these years for supplying sugar and spices, was standing on the dock. Sterwood was smiling; he had worked since morning, supervising the native workers to store tons of sugar inside the Wennington.

“Just a moment,” he said.

“But it’s dark already.”

The sun was setting behind the palm trees lined along the Kali Baroe. The sugar carrier boats rocked gently on the canal. There were many ships on the port, coming from all parts of the world: England, Holland, German, Denmark, Japan, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and France. They looked like a crowd of ants attracted by the sweetness of sugar.

It was a warm evening, and Sterwood was sweating. He kept batting away the mosquitoes which flew near his ears. He did not feel tired nor want to rest. All he wanted was to complete the voyage soon and return to Lancaster, meeting his family and friends. But, he realised, the workers were tired and needed to rest.

“It’s enough for today! Tomorrow we start early in the morning!”

For days, Sterwood had supervised sugar loading, until, finally, 1.151 tonnes of sugar in baskets filled the Wennington.

They were ready to sail home.

However, Sterwood never arrived on Lancaster soil. After sailing from Bali Strait, he disappeared with eighteen people on board his ship, the Wennington. Nobody knows what befell the ship. It remains a mystery.


Lancaster, 8 February 2013


I was inspired to research The Wennington, the first iron ship to be built at Lancaster, due to its connection to Indonesia, my homeland, where she was last seen. Wennington is like the missing-link between my home and my second home, Lancaster.

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