Fremantle Stuff > books and papers > Hitchcock 1921e
Hitchcock, J.K. 1921e, 'Early Days of Fremantle Wreck of the s.s. “Georgette” A Western Australian Grace Darling, Fremantle Times, Friday 4 March 1921: 2.
"The 'Georgette' has gone down!" Such was the terrible report which, on Saturday night, December 2, 1876, was flashed through the telegraph wires over the length and breadth of the colony, and excited a widespread feeling of alarm amongst the friends and relatives of the passengers and crew, about whose fate the wildest rumours soon began to circulate.
Nowadays we are accustomed tp catastrophes of one kind and another that few can realise the consternation that was created, "by the news of this event. At that time the population of the whole State did not exceed 27,000 people, and but few of these had ever seen a larger steamer than the "Georgette," or known of a vessel, to leave the port of Fremantle with such a large complement of passengers as she was carrying. She, however, would be considered very small in the present day, being a screw steamer of only 212 tons net, and 337 tons gross register. She was built at Dumbarton in 1872, and was for a short time engaged in the coal trade between Cardiif and the Continent, when she was purchased by Messrs. Cc|nnor (and McKay for employment on the Western Australian coast. It is hardly correct to say, as some do, that she was the pioneer of the coastal steam service, as, prior to her advent a little steamer named the "Xantho," belonging to Mr. C. E. Broad hurst, had been running between Fremantle and Geraldton until her career was ended in December, 1872, by contact with a reef in the vicinity of Jurien Bay.
The "Georgette" arrived in Fremantle from Glasgow in September, 1873, and thereupon was placed in the coasting mail service under contract with the Government. Early in her colonial career she met -with ill luck, for, on the return trip from Albany she struck on the Murray Reef on October 19, 1873, and narrowly escaped becoming a total wreck. At the time she was in charge of the chief officer, the captain who brought her out having left her at Albany in order to return liome by the P. and O. steamer. She was got off and repaired, but the mishap cost the chief officer his short-lived promotion to master. On her last ill-fated voyage she was proceeding to Adelaide for overhaul, via Bunbury, Busselton and Albany, carrying about 50 passengers, a crew of 22 and a cargo consisting- principally of jarrah timber, hides and wiiale oil.
As the names of the crew and passengers will be familiar to many old residents of Fremantle it may not be without interest if I mention them here. Crew; John Godfrey, master; William Dundee, chief officer; John Dewar, second mate; Wm. Sinclair, chief engineer; J. Horrigan, second engineer; W. Horton, steward; R. Cruise second steward; Ann Breman, stewardess; J. Wilson, E. Johns, T. Lennon, Firemen; J. Hearns, W. Cameron, A. Brand, A. McLeod, J. Schroder, R. Munce, T. McGovern, V. Turpin, A.B.'s; John Brown, cook; J. Norman and ~J. Plaice, boys. Passengers : Saloon, for Adelaide, Mrs. E. Harris, Mrs. Herbert Dixon and infant, Miss Dixon Master Geo. Leake, J. P. Dempster, W.- S. Dempster, Thos. Connor (part owner), Mr. Poole, Mr. Geddes, J. P. Lambe, M. Crawthorne; steerage, Mrs. Jane Weeks, Mrs. E. Maxwell and two children, Mrs. Conlin, Mrs. A. Stammers, Mrs. Simpson and in fant, Mr. Oliver, Mrs. Susan Davis and child, John Maloney, S. Wells, J. Anderson, T. Savage, F. Goldsworth, J. Denny, W. Gill, W. Walter, Miss C. Hall, Miss C. Welch, H. Hobbs, W. Trainor, R. Flanagan, Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Mr. and Mrs. H. Miers, Jas. Johns, H. Fisk,- Mr. Le Mesurier, Mrs. Osborne, and Master Osborne.
The "Georgette" left Fremantle on the morning of Wednesday, November 29,. 1876 ,and landed at Bunbiiry a few pasengers whose names are not inclued in the above list. Clearing from Busselton on the afternoon of the 30th all went well until the vessel reached about mid-way between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Hamelin, distant from the coast about 25 miles, when it was discovered that she had sprung a leak, and was making water rapidly. Thia was about midnight; the sea was tolerably smooth, and the moon shone brightly ,thus favouring operations for preserving life. The , pumps soon became disabled, and finding that the water must very soon extinguish the furnace fires, Captain Godfrey, who displayed the most commendable coolness and courage throughout, ordered a course to be shaped for land with the greatest speed the engines would give. There were about twenty women and children on board, and, of course, their welfare was the first consideration. Fifteen miles from land the life boat was lowered and filled with passengers, but soon afterwards she was stove in against the side of the steamer. She contained sixteen passengers, mostly women and children, and of these six were drowned, namely, Mrs. Susan Davis and child, Mrs. Maxwell and two children, and Mrs. Herbert Dixon's daughter, aged eight years. A lad named Obosrne was at first supposed to be drowned, but was afterwards found dead in his bunk; it was thought that he died in a fit caused by fright. The remainder of those in the water were rescued by J. Dewar, second officer, and J. P. and W. S. Demptser (passengers), and, being placed in another boat which was lowered for their assistance, they ultimately reached the shore next day at a place called Minninup.
Shortly after sunrise the vessel was run on a sandbank, a short distance from land, near the Margaret River, in the neighbourhood of Mr. A. P. Busscll's farm, and those still on board eventually reached the shore with the greatest difficulty. Meanwhile the most intense excitement prevailed in Perth and Fremantle as news filtered through. The telegraph offices in both places were kept open all night in anticipation of further particulars reaching Busselton, and the operators were besieged by anxi ous enquirers, numbers' of whom had friends or relatives on board. On Monday, December 4, the small steamer "Start" was despatched from Fremantle for the scene of the wreck, having on board Marine Surveyors, Captain Owston and Mr. James Storey (shipwright). At Bunbury Captain Hairis, of the "Charlotte Padbury," joined the party, and from Busselton they proceeded overland to the wreck. They found that most of the passengers' luggage hadj been saved, but that the vessel and cargo were irrecoverable. The schooner "lone" had previously been despatched from Busselton, but she returned without having been able to effect communication with the wreck, though she brought back to Busselton five of the passengers and three of the crew of the life boat whom she had found at Minninup.
It was in the difficult and dangerous operation of landing the passengers from tlie wreck through the heavy surf that Miss Grace Bussell rendered heroic service, and earned for herself the title of "The Western Australian Grace Darling." This young lady, who was only 16 years of age, was an expert horsewoman, and was out searching for cattle in the early morning when she descried the "Georgette" in her perilous position, with most of the passengers still on board, and every rising surge threatening to engulf her. Without a moment's hesitation 1 Miss Bussell plunged into the surf on horseback, and it is said that on her first return to the shore she carried a woman on her back and a, baby in her arms, bringing both to safety. For four hours 6he bravely kept at her task, and when at "last every person was landed she rode eight miles to her father's farm for assistance and clothes for the helpless women and children. Wet and exhausted she fainted on reaching home, and for a time could not communicate to her father and brother what had happened. On learning the fact the Bussell family hastened to the assistance of the shipwrecked people whom they brought to their homestead and treated them with the greatest hospitality until means were ' available for conveying them to Fremantle.
Miss Grace Bussell was awarded" the medal of the Royal Humane Society, and undouoteoiy her deed of heroism deserves to oe bracketed with that of urrace Darling, daughter of the Jt'arne island liglit-Keeper, whose daring action in saving life from the wreck of the steamer Forfarshire in 1838 caused her name to become a housenold word all over Europe. The following lines from a poem written in praise of Grace Darling are equally true of Grace Bussell:—
'Mid the warfare of wind and wave,
And dash of the blinding spray,
That chilled not her hope, nor hand, nor heart,
Nobly the maiden played her part,
Winning the hard-fougiit day.
Swiftly the tiding flew
Of the Jieorine's deed of} love;
And her courage ten thousand bosoms stirred,
And the name of "Grace" was a household word,
Dearest, all names above.
Miss Bussell became the wife of the late Surveyor-General Brockman, and was the mother of Brigadier-General E. Drake-Brockman, C.B.O., M.C., D.S.O., who is one of our Federal Senators. Another son is Mr. K. E. Drake-Brockman, who is a candidate for the Claremont-Cottesloe seat at the forthcoming State elections.
The Bussell family, after whom Busselton is named, settled in the Margaret River district as far back as 1834, and named their homestead "Cattlechosen" from the fact that the rich pasture land which they selected and still hold, was discovered through following their straying cattle to the locality, the bovines being good judges of tha kind of country that best suited them.
The two Dempster brothers, tfho also played a conspicuous part in rescuing the ''Georgette's" passengers, were members of an, old Western Australian family. Their grandfather was th ownert of the "Eagle," which traded in the early days between Australia and Timor, and he was among the first settlers on the Swan. Their father, Captain Dempster, relinquished a seafaring life to engage in agricultural pursuits in the Toodyay district from whence he conducted a notable exploring expedition into the interior in the year 1861. The lure of the sea, however, was often too strong for him, and up to 1868 he made occasional trips to Mauritius in command of the "Mary - Ann," an ol bluff-bowed, square-stemed, topsail schooner of 104 tons register, of which he was the owner.
Before taking command of the "Georgette" Captain Godfrey, who was formerly a member of the water police force, had been in charge of various coasting vessels. After the loss of the steamer he became master of Messrs. J. and W. Bateznan's brig "Laughing Wave," which was employed chiefly in the China trade, and it was from her that he disappeared one night whilst on a voyage from Fremantle to Wyndham. It was supposed that he walked overboard whilst in a state of somnambulism.
Tlie "Georgette's" chief officer, William Dundee, was afterwards well kown as master of different sailing vessels engaged in the coastal trade. Latterly he made a speciality of contracting for the delivery of luggers from jjtie builders to the owners at Broome, and it was whilst taking one of these-vessels to the pearling grounds that he and his crew were lost in a cyclone a few years ago.
I omitted to mention that when the "Georgette" first arrived in Fremantle in 1873, she created a commotion similar to that which is often noticeable when a train steams into an out-back hamlet, and the whole population flock to the station to gawk at the passengers. The "Georgette" berthed at the Long Jetty, the first section of which had just been completed, and if she had been the "Great Eastern" she could not have attracted a larger crowd. Many employers gave their hands an hour or two off to go and view the novel sight. Truly we were a primitive community in those days!
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