Jack gets a headstone

Captions at end of story. Photo by Lyn McConnell. Headstone donated by Grave Tales’ readers and Markwell & Swan Memorials, Warrnambool. Read an extract of Jack’s story below.

At last, after 113 years, Jack received a headstone!

We’re very proud to be able to put a headstone on 17-year-old-sailor, Jack Denham’s grave, thanks to our ‘Grave Tales: Great Ocean Road – Geelong to Port Fairy’ paperback buyers and Markwell and Swan Memorials (Warrnambool) who matched our readers dollar for dollar.

It was a very moving day, and we’re grateful to the Warrnambool Mayor, Cr. Tony Herbert who officially unveiled Jack’s headstone for us, in the company of Harry Ferrier (Marlo Volunteer Coast Guard Commander), the grandson of La Bella hero William Ferrier with Laurie Ferrier, nephew of William; and Warrnambool Cemetery Trust Chairperson Sheryl Nicholson and Secretary Clive Rayner.

Jack Denham died in 1905 when the La Bella ran aground; he has rested in an unmarked grave in Warrnambool Cemetery since then. The hero of the day, local fisherman, William Ferrier working with the local lifeboat rescue crew, was able to save several of the sailors (see the story extract below) but unfortunately Jack perished.

Read Gus McCubbing’s story in the Warrnambool Standard – here
And catch Kate Lambe’s story for WIN TV Western Victoria – here

Jack’s story – an extract from Grave Tales: Great Ocean Road – Geelong to Port Fairy:

“Jack Denholm was a ship boy – a boy who runs errands for the captain and attends the needs of passengers or officers. Hailing from Melbourne, he chose the sea as his employer and before he had reached adulthood, Jack had survived his first shipwreck in June 1905 on the barque Emerald. Five months later Jack left Auckland aboard the barquentine La Bella delivering a load of timber.

 It was around ten p.m. on Friday 10 November 1905 when the lightkeeper at Warrnambool spotted the La Bella rolling heavily with huge waves breaking over her. The timing could not have been worse; some members of the local lifeboat rescue crew were away, and a whaleboat instead was despatched to the rescue.  Jack and the sailors strapped themselves to the rigging. The whaleboat made a futile attempt to get near the La Bella, but as it did, the foremast and mainmast crashed into the ocean. Back on land, a call was put out for volunteers. Fisherman, William Ferrier, 25, jumped into a dinghy, propelling himself towards the La Bella.

Frozen to the bone, exhausted and with no relief in sight, Jack and the crew watched as rescuers looked for a moment to intervene. William showed no fear for his own safety. The heavy seas kept the rescuers at a distance; residents watched and prayed from the shore. Seaman John Noake held Jack to stop him from being been washed overboard. Eight sailors remained on board.

William Ferrier persisted, propelling his dinghy with one oar (his arm injured). He used the oar to propel himself, tying himself to La Bella, and getting on board, he helped rescue several of the crew who were immobile with cold. A huge cheer went up from the shore as William returned with his stricken passengers. Jack was washed off by a heavy sea at around seven o’clock in the morning, shortly before the last man was rescued.

William Ferrier was awarded the Silver Medal for bravery. He said: ‘Anyone else in the same position would have done the same thing.’ Of the 12 on board, five men survived. The La Bella wreck rests for divers to discover on what is now known as La Bella Reef. Jack was buried on the 23 November 1905 in Warrnambool Cemetery with La Bella survivors and residents in attendance. His grave has been unmarked for 113 years.”     

Read the full story in Grave Tales: Great Ocean Road – Geelong to Port Fairy.


Slide 1: Chris welcomes guests who have come to remember Jack (left); Harry Ferrier, grandson of La Bella hero William Ferrier, speaks of his grandfather’s endeavours to save Jack and the other sailors, despite being injured.

Slide 2: Sheryl Nicholson, Chairperson of the Warrnambool Cemetery Trust; and Warrnambool City Mayor Cr. Tony Herbert say a few words; Mayor Herbert unveils Jack’s headstone.

Slide 3: Laurie Ferrier (nephew of La Bella hero William Ferrier), co-author Helen Goltz, Harry Ferrier (Marlo Volunteer Coast Guard Commander and grandson of William Ferrier), Warrnambool Mayor Tony Herbert and co-author Chris Adams at Jack’s grave.