The People of Gibraltar
1811 - The Java - A Triumph of Skill

W. H. Smith

On the 26th of July 1939 an article about the last East Indiaman ship appeared in the London Times. 
The "Java" believed to be the last East Indiaman still afloat has been towed out of Gibraltar Bay to be broken up. The ship, which has been moored in Gibraltar Bay for more than 80 years, was perhaps the most familiar mark in Gibraltar territorial waters. She was used exclusively as a coal-hulk and was known to generations of merchant seamen as hulk No. 16, for from her spacious holds thousands of merchant vessels have been supplied with bunkering coal for the best part of a century. 

The coal hulk Java in Gibraltar Harbour

Several months later another article dated October 1939 appeared in the Sea Breezes magazine. 
 Hundreds of people regretfully watched her silent departure from the Rock . . .
The owner of the ship at the time was Mr. W. H. Smith, the local P & O agent and the proprietor of Smith Imossi & Co a well known local shipping agency. Knowing that the Java would not survive another winter storm Smith had reluctantly decided to cut his losses and had sold her for £500 to the Genoese ship breaker, Riccardo Guisseppe Sarnpierdarena.

The Java in Genoa ready to be scrapped

The Java was built in the Calcutta Dockyards in 1811 and was launched from the yard of Blackmore and Company in Howrah. Two years later she was admitted to the service of the East India Company. She had an unusually long active life for an East Indiaman and remained with the company until 1827. She was later converted into a troopship.

When she set out for her final journey to Gibraltar - fully laden with coal - she struck Pearl Rock which lies south of Punta Carnero. Despite being damaged she managed to hobble on towards Gibraltar but her underwriters insisted that she should return to England for repairs. When docked it was discovered that she had a large piece of rock stuck into the bottom of her hull. As a testament to her builders, when she was finally put to rest in 1939, her only leak was precisely where these repairs had taken place.

When the author, W. H .Coates - a Commander of the Royal Navy Reserve - came to Gibraltar in 1899 he visited the old ship and made a point of describing her in a chapter of his book The Good Old Days of Shipping.
On a visit to Gibraltar . . . a most strange coal hulk attracted my attention. Her shortness, her low bluff bow, and tumble -down sides, her square stern, and the fact of her being pierced by gun- ports on two decks, all pointed to a bygone date. An accommodation ladder hanging down, I went on board, and the appearance of her upper deck confirmed the impression I had already formed of her from outside. 
The waist, from the break of the poop to that of the forecastle, was so short as to seem almost a square. On this upper deck were 12 gun-ports, and in the stanchions on either side of them were still to be seen the heavy iron eyebolts for securing the breeching of the guns. One mast still stood, which being of teak, might be reasonably assumed to have been the original stick. By courtesy of her master I was shown all that was visible, her hold, being full of coal, checking all exploration below the main deck.  
On her forecastle head were still showing her knightheads, a stump of a bowsprit protruded from the bow, and one of the original catheads, the other, I was told had been torn off by a passing steamer. Her windlass though antiquated, seemed massive enough to have held the "Great Eastern". We descended then into her main deck. On this deck she had apparently carried twelve guns, and here, as on the upper deck, the breeching bolts for securing her guns to the side still remained, a silent testimony to the stirring times in which she had been afloat. 
We found, during our wanderings, the old pair of double steering wheels which had formerly had their place, as was the custom in those days, under the break of the poop. Now, in the closing days of this grand old ship, they had been removed from their place and utilised as the wheels of the hand winch. The upper and main deck beams were supported by massive teak stanchions handsomely turned. 

A view towards the Moorish Castle (see LINK) and Sierra Carbonera in Spain - the large ship almost in the middle of the photograph is the Java   ( Late 19th century - George Washington Wilson )  (See LINK)

At sometime in the past she had boasted a figurehead representing a woman with her hands decorously crossed over her breasts. In this the Java followed the old conceit as believed by many a mariner that a naked woman before the mast had the power to calm all storms and gales. However, according to Commander Coats who heard the story from a French Naval Captain:
A girl of birth and position was so circumstanced that she was carried off by savage islanders, and a British naval party, landing to effect her rescue, found her taking refuge in a bush and bereft of her clothes. As the party approached she covered the upper part of her body with her hands. Her father, allegedly a Governor, showed his gratitude for her restoration to him by building and equipping the "Java", providing her with a figure-head of the nude bust of a woman with her hands crossed over her breast, and gave the vessel to the gallant naval officer, the rescuer of his daughter.
The figurehead was ripped off from her bow by a passing ship and lay hidden away under the coal in one of her holds for many years until rescued by Mr. Smith. An almost forgotten hulk she was, as Coatts went on to remark . . .
a link in the chain of progression in the art of ship building- a ship that when built was considered a triumph of skill, a credit alike to designer and builder, but now a floating monument to the palmy days of shipping, and a reminder of the ceaseless changes in the phases of commerce."