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Archibald Bryan Pursell (1923–1945)

from Sydney Morning Herald

A young medical graduate was saved after 11 hours and five others are missing from the wreck of the 42ft launch Robin May, which foundered near Cape Barrenjoey in the gale which swept the coast early yesterday.

Dr. Ian Collins, 22, of Springvale Road, Killara, the man saved, was rescued by S.S. Wallarah, a collier, which had to manoeuvre in high seas to reach him. He was floating in a life-jacket, two and a half miles from the shore.  

His right leg was broken and he was suffering from severe immersion and shock.

It is believed, that the other five may have perished although they were wearing lifejackets. A wide search by air and sea and along the beaches will be made to-day.

They are:

Dr. Archibald PURSELL, of Pursell Avenue, Mosman. 

Dr. John ASHLEY-THOMSON, of Livingstone Avenue, Pymble.

Dr. Peter WHITEHOUSE, of The Boulevarde, Strathfield.

Dr. Richard KING, of McIntosh Road, Gordon.

Dr. George MacCULLUM, of Rose Bay.

The six young men had recently graduated at Sydney University, and they decided to have a fishing holiday in a launch along the coast.

Dr. Pursell is believed to have been the skipper.

They left Sydney Harbour some days ago and travelled north, fishing on the reefs along the coast.

They spent some days at Catherine Hill Bay, about 25 miles south of Newcastle, and then decided to return to Sydney.

The launch was powered by a gas-producer unit. With the six men on board it began its journey homeward about 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Nothing more was heard of it until about 2 p.m. yesterday.

When the collier was off Cape Three Points, near Barrenjoey, and 2½ miles from the coast, wreckage was seen by the second mate, Mr. Alexander Frederick Shepherd.

Shortly afterwards he heard a weak voice coming from the sea.

The collier hove to.

Shepherd then saw the man floating in the rough sea about 200 yards away.

An attempt was made to launch a lifeboat, but this was impossible because of the mountainous waves.

The master, Captain Knitson, then decided to steer the steamer as close as possible to the man, who was strapped in a lifebelt.

After great difficulty the collier was manoeuvred into such a position that when Dr. Collins rose on a wave, a member of the crew was able to reach him and grab his clothing.

He was dragged on board and immediately changed into warm clothing, wrapped in blankets, and given stimulants.

He revived sufficiently later to be able to tell Captain Knitson of the wreck.  

A wireless message was sent to the Navy headquarters from the collier.

Sergeant Van Wouwe and Constable McGhee, of the Water Police, in the police launch Osiris met the collier when it arrived in Sydney Harbour last night.

With a Robertson stretcher Dr. Collins was lowered to the police launch. The launch was met at Circular Quay by the Central District Ambulance and the doctor was taken to Sydney Hospital, where he was admitted.

The Robertson stretcher, on which Dr. Collins was lowered to the police launch, is made of canvas and battens, and is strapped round a patient when it is desired to transfer him from one ship to another. It was made by Constable Noldart, a former member of the R.A.N.

Original publication

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Additional Resources

Citation details

'Pursell, Archibald Bryan (1923–1945)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


New South Wales, Australia


15 May, 1945 (aged ~ 22)
at sea

Cause of Death