John Phillips Coulson was born in Scarborough Yorkshire in 1845 and earned his First Mates Certificate in 1869, then Masters in 1873.
He married Henrietta Coulson in 1879 in London, and moved to New Zealand by 1887.
His wife and two younger children moved from Greytown to Auckland about 1901, after his decision to come out of retirement and go back to sea.
John was First Mate on La Bella, under George Mylius for several years.
The barquentine “La Bella” made its 201 day maiden voyage to New Zealand in 1900 from Hamburg after being purchased by shipping agent D.C. Turnbull.
(La Bella )
Her main trade was between ports in New Zealand and Australia, carrying timber and coal. The shipping log below shows her work in 1902.
29th dec 1901 arrived Sydney from Kaipara, loads coal at Newcastle for Timaru
18th Jan left Newcastle
27th Jan arrived Timaru
12th Feb sailed with grains Timaru to Auckland
24th Feb arrived Auckland
6th Mar departed for Sydney via Kaipara
17th mar arrived Kaipara
10th May arrived Sydney
4th June sailed from Newcastle with coal
21st June arrived Lyttleton
2nd July sailed to Newcastle with fodder
23rd July arrived Newcastle
30th July sailed for Timaru with coal
11th August arrived Timaru
22nd August sailed to Sydney
13th September arrived with fodder
4th October arrived Lyttleton with coal
15th October Timaru to Kaipara
22nd October arrived Kaipara
30th October loading timber at Port Stephens for Timaru
29th November arrived Sydney from Kaipara
31st December sailed Sydney to Timaru
La Bella had been aground at least 3 times while owned by DC Turnbull & Co. In October 1903, beached for repairs at Ohiro Bay, Wellington. On 13 October 1904,stranded on Dog Island at entrance to Bluff Harbour, NZ. On 25th July 1905, stranded again at the same place.
On the 11th November, 1905, newspapers were reporting that a vessel, most likely La Bella, was on the reef at Warrnambool, Victoria in heavy seas. Rescue vessels had not been able to reach her, or her ten crew members, although several men were seen clinging to the rigging.
By the 13th November, seven men were named as victims of drowning.
John Coulson was one of them.
The inquest afterwards revealed that John Coulson had suffered a broken leg in the wrecking of her, and was unable to maintain a hold on the vessel, and by the time the rescue was successful he had gone beneath the waves. He was 60 years of age.
The story of Captain Mylius is told in news reports:
Evening Post, 1 December 1905
MELBOURNE, This Day. The Court found that Captain Mylius, master of the La Bella, which went ashore about half a mile from the Warrnambool breakwater, was guilty of gross misconduct in attempting to enter the harbour without a pilot. The Court suspended his certificate for twelve months, and ordered him to pay £28, costs of the enquiry.
Wanganui Herald, 26 December 1905
SYDNEY, December 25. George Mylius, late master of the barquentine La Bella, was charged with the manslaughter of Harold Watson, a seaman drowned at the time of the La Bella wreck. He was remanded pending the arrival of a warrant from Melbourne.
Wanganui Herald, 22 February 1906
Melbourne, February 21. Mylius, captain of the barquentine La Bella, has been acquitted on a charge of manslaughter of Seaman Watson, who was drowned at the time of the wreck.
Mylius became very ill and died in Melbourne Hospital 6 months after the wrecking of La Bella.
A widow’s fund was set up for the families of the crew who drowned.
The story of La Bella has become well known in the Museum in Warrnambool, books have been written and the reef she foundered on has been re-named La Bella Reef. It is now a dive wreck.
Only one of the drowned crew was recovered.
John has a headstone in Hastings.