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Shipwrecks and sea rescue: Lifeboat service in South Australia - changes in management

New management and oversight

It took another disastrous shipwreck, that of the Star of Greece, to provoke an improvement in the service. In July 1888 the ship left Port Adelaide loaded with wheat for England. Caught in a north-westerly gale, she was driven ashore at Port Willunga, where delays in the arrival of the rocket gear contributed to the loss of 11 lives. As a result, the South Australian Navy, in the form of Commander John Walcot of HMCS Protector, was placed in charge of the lifesaving service. Protector and her crew visited routinely all of the ports where lifeboats and rocket apparatus were maintained. An instructor was detached from the ship at each port and intensive training given to a group of local residents. The gear and the boats were inspected and repaired as necessary, on the spot if possible, or returned to Port Adelaide if major work was required.

Commander Walcot's first report was published in The Advertiser, 6 March 1889. In this report Walcot made a number of suggestions for improvements in the service, beyond the mere training of men. These included a 'shoulder gun of large bore' capable of throwing a line 200 feet,'... they are inexpensive, and I would suggest that each lifeboat be provided with one.'  He also suggested a rocket apparatus and a lifeboat be re-established on Kangaroo Island.  With the life-saving service in the hands of the navy, all seemed well. An article in The Register 28 June 1892 reinforced this, noting there had been no 'marine disaster attended with loss of life along our coast' since the Star of Greece in 1888.  It also applauded the control of the service being in the hands of one man rather than a Board, 'incapable of taking the prompt action and issuing the immediate commands that are necessary to make succour effective.'  The article concluded with an account of the recent life saving actions of the lifeboat crew at Port MacDonnell.

In 1896 Robert Barr Smith provided a steam life-boat, City of Adelaide.  Built in England, it was stationed at Beachport. By this date there were 14 rocket stations around the coast - Port Lincoln, Elliston, Port Adelaide and Semaphore, Willunga, Normanville, Port Victor, Kingscote, Antechamber Bay, Kingston, Robe, Beachport and Port MacDonnell.

In March 1908 a new lifeboat was launched for placement at Port MacDonnell; the Undaunted would replace the 40 year old Percy, which would be moved to Victor Harbor, temporarily replacing the Lady Daly which would be brought to Port Adelaide to have an engine installed.  Lady Daly was returned to Victor Harbor, and in 1911 was involved in the wreck of the Margit on the Coorong coast. On her return trip to Victor Harbor, the Lady Daly was blown out to sea on an offshore wind and it was three days before she safely reached harbour.

Navy withdraws from managing the service

Meanwhile in 1909 Captain CJ Clare, Naval Commandant for South Australia, was forced to tender his resignation as Commander of the lifesaving services in the state. Since the Commonwealth of Australia had assumed the role of naval defence and taken over the Protector, Clare found it increasingly difficult to adequately fulfil his duties to the lifeboat service. This would now return to the management of the Marine Board, which had managed the service at the time of the Star of Greece wreck. Clare left the service in good repair: there were three powered lifeboats in service - Lady Daly at Victor Harbor, City of Adelaide at Beachport and Undaunted at Port MacDonnell. In addition there was a surfboat at Robe. There were rocket stations at Largs Bay, Port River, Aldinga, Normanville, Port Victor, Kingston, Robe, Beachport, Port MacDonnell, Kingscote, Antechamber Bay, Port Lincoln and Elliston. There were also 120 sets of lifebuoys distributed throughout the state.

Arthur Searcy was now appointed Superintendent of Life Saving Service and was quartered at Congate Street, Glanville. In 1919 he had issued Regulations, instructions, and useful information for officers in charge of lifeboat and rocket life-saving stations; also directions for restoring the apparently drowned.  This publication contained detailed instructions, including the maximum weights to be carried by pack horses in transporting the equipment, and rates of pay for practice drills.

In 1921 the rocket apparatus at Antechamber Bay was relocated to Cuttlefish Bay near Penneshaw. Rocket stations were now located at Port Adelaide (Inner Harbor) and at Outer Harbor, Aldinga, Cape Borda and Cape de Couedic lighthouses, Port Lincoln and Elliston, Glenelg, Kingscote, Normanville and Kingston.

The Marine Board Report number 52 of 1922 detailed the condition of the four lifeboats, including the extensive repairs made to the City of Adelaide. This had been returned to its station at Beachport. The following year the surfboat at Robe was decommissioned as the harbour 'is now practically closed to shipping'. It was sold to local residents on the proviso that it could be used for rescue work if required. There were 16 rocket stations now in place - Port Victor, Willunga having been returned to the list. In 1926 there were reports of petty thieving of lifebelts and other equipment; lifeboat crews and rocket crews were regularly exercised. A new motor lifeboat Arthur Searcy was installed at Port Victor (Victor Harbor) replacing the old wooden Lady Daly.

Appeal for a new boat
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Change to the lifesaving service
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Launch of the Lady Daly
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Lifeboat regulations
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Lifeboat shed at Beachport, South Australia
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Lifeboats for Glenelg or Semaphore
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Life-saving appliances in South Australia
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Life-saving rocket apparatus in action on a beach
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New life-boat at Port MacDonnell, South Australia
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Our lifeboat service
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Our lifeboat system
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The 'City of Adelaide' life-boat
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