Hoaxes & Pranks
Launch In Storm

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW )
Date: May 17, 1945
Page Number: 1
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 lifejacket, 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 it's journey homeward about 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Nothing more as heard of it until about 2 p.m. yesterday.
     When the collier was off Cape Three Points, near Barrenjoey, and 2 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.

Hoaxes & Pranks
Message in a Bottle Hoax, 1945
Search Fails To Find Any Trace
Of Missing Doctors
The Canberra Times (ACT)
Date: May 18, 1945
Page Number: 3
SYDNEY, Thursday.
     A search by air, sea and land, in which the Air Force, Navy, police, fishermen and medical students took part, for four doctors and a medical student, proved fruitless.
     The only evidence found was wreckage, identified as belonging to the Robin May, which had been washed up on a beach.
     Two planes left Sydney at daybreak for the search, but had to turn back owing to bad weather. Two hours later several planes were despatched. They skimmed the sea, but pilots failed to find any trace of the missing men or the boat.

Launch Broke Up When Gale Hit

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
Date: May 17, 1945
Page Number: 4
Dr. Collins, the survivor from the wreck of the launch Robin May, had revived considerably by the time he had reached Sydney Hospital. His five companions are missing.
     He told the story of his 11 hours' ordeal. He said that after leaving Catherine Hill Bay he and his companions hoped to reach Sydney by dusk.
     When they reached Broken Bay a storm appeared likely, and they decided to shelter for the night inside
Broken Bay.
     The launch was turned about, but the seas became rougher, and the wind, which was head-on, became
     They decided then to try to make Port Jackson.
     However, a strong current had developed running northward, and they had made little progress before
     A terrific thunderstorm swept over the sea from the west, and towards midnight, he said, the position appeared to be so serious that his companions and himself put on life jackets.
     "It was so dark," he added, "I don't exactly know what our position was when we were struck by a sudden violent southerly gale.
     "This would be, I should imagine, about 3 a.m. We would then be some miles off the coast, and not far from Sydney Heads. I would not be certain.
     "When the gale struck us the launch seemed to break up immediately, and the next thing I knew I was in the sea. The waves were huge, and I don't know how I survived. I believe I could hear some of my mates calling out. "It was so dark it was impossible to see anything. I seemed to be drifting for days and days when I noticed a ship approaching, and I knew then I would be rescued."
     The master of the collier, Captain Knitson, after rescuing Dr. Collins, circled round the area of the wreckage for some considerable time, but no signs could be found of the other members of the wrecked launch.
     Arrangements were made last night for an extensive search to be made this morning along the coast from the air by airmen, at sea by naval and mercantile ships, and along the shore by police for the lost men.
     Dr. Ian Collins is a son of Dr. Archibald J. Collins, of Macquarie Street. He was a medical student at Sydney University, and distinguished himself in this year's final examinations.

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The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
Date: June 18, 1945
Page Number: 3
Police are convinced that a note found in a bottle, purporting to be a message from four doctors and a medical student who disappeared in a launch on May 16, was a hoax.
     A search of Bird Island, where the note said the men had been wrecked, revealed no trace of them.
     The bottle containing the note was found by Shirley Bellmont at Davistown, near Woy Woy, on Saturday. The note read: "Wrecked on the southern side of Bird Island. Come quickly. We have no food left. Doctors of the Robin May."
     At dawn yesterday a R.A.A.F. plane and R.A.A.F. launches, with a number of police, left Newcastle to search Bird Island, a small mound of rocks, about two miles off the coast, just north of Norah Head, near Catherine Hill
     A heavy sea prevented a landing on Bird Island, but the launch circled it several times, while the police and
others on board scanned every visible part with powerful binoculars and telescopes.
     The R.A.A.F. plane flew round the island at least 60 times, not more than 200 feet from the top of the rocks. Observers with powerful binoculars saw only a few birds on the barren rocks.
     Four police searched Moon Island, a short distance away.
     Shortly before noon the plane and the launches returned to Newcastle and reported that a further search was not warranted.
     Detectives are trying to trace the perpetrator of the hoax, which, a police officer said, had caused further anguish to the relatives of the men.
     He said a charge of having committed a public mischief could be preferred against the person responible.

Examiner (Launceston, Tas.)
Date: June 19, 1945
Page Number: 4
The story of a note in a bottle purporting to tell the location of the missing five doctors is thought to be a hoax. Naturally, the matter will not be left there. Careful search will be made of Bird Island and all doubts, either way, will be removed. There have been hoaxes of this kind before, but it is hard to imagine anything more criminally heartless than the deliberate raising of hopes without foundation. The signing of the note, "Doctors of the Robin May," does not encourage belief in its bona fides, but strange things happen and nothing can be overlooked when the safety of human lives is concerned. If the information in the message is found to be false, there will be double regret that the doctors are still missing and the perpetrator of the hoax is unidentified.

The Canberra Times (ACT)
Date: June 23, 1945
Page Number: 2
SYDNEY, Friday.
     A memorial service was held in the Great Hall of the Sydney University this morning for the four doctors and the medical student who lost their lives when the launch, Robin May, foundered last month. Included in the 1,000 persons present were the parents of the deceased, University lctuerers and students.