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Shipwrecks and sea rescue: Shipwrecks, 1859-1862

Chronological list of shipwrecks continued 


Brigantine Nora Criena en route to Melbourne from Adelaide called into Guichen Bay. Shortly after leaving there 1 January she struck a shoal and sank rapidly. Passengers and crew returned safely to Robe. Cutter Mary was driven ashore at Port Willunga in a storm on 11 February and was a total wreck. Paddlesteamer Melbourne, which regularly crossed the bar at the Murray Mouth, burst a steam pipe 16 November. She anchored at the end of Sir Richard Peninsula, but rolled onto her anchor and was holed. Some of her cargo of wool bales was saved. (See also separate sections for Wrecks in the River Murray).

Schooner Waitemata began leaking badly when off St Francis Island (Nuyts Archipelago). She was run ashore 20 May. Passengers and crew were landed safely, and most of the cargo salvaged before she broke up.  here is some confusion as to just how much damage the cutter Teazer sustained when driven ashore at Yankalilla, 11 October. No lives were lost (Parsons Ketches of South Australia 5th edition 2005 p 33.)


Wreck of the Admella

The wreck of the SS Admella may not rate as the worst in Australia's maritime history, in terms of loss of life or the monetary value of its cargo, but it is without a doubt, one of the most horrifying in its closeness to land, and the inability of those at hand, both ashore and afloat, to provide assistance.

SS Admella was an iron single screw steamer of 392 tons, built Glasgow in 1857. She was extensively praised for her appearance, and construction. She was equipped with four lifeboats, 2 pairs of lifebelts and 12 swimming belts.  A special safety feature was the watertight bulkheads that divided the ship into three atertight compartments. She had made 36 round trips between Adelaide and Melbourne when she prepared for what was to be her last. With 93 tons of copper, flour and general merchandise, as well as seven horses, she also carried 84 passengers and a crew of 29. She left Adelaide on Friday 5 August and by 1 pm was off Cape Willoughby. High seas caused one of the horses to fall in his stall and the ship's direction and speed were modified somewhat to enable the horse to be got back on his feet.  Admella was then returned to her usual course, parallel to the shore. At 5 pm 6 August 1859 she struck The Carpenter Rocks near Cape Banks and was immediately lifted high onto the rocks by the following sea. Within 15 minutes she was broken in three sections along the lines of the bulkhead rivets. Passengers in their night clothes clung to the vessel; rockets were fired to attract the attention of the lighthouse keepers at Cape Northumberland, but these were damp and failed to fire properly. Daylight revealed a deserted coast, and a steamer (SS Havilah) in the distance, but they were unable to attract its attention.

Three separate attempts were made to get a man ashore. All died in the attempt. That evening another ship passed close by but the survivors were unable to attract its attention.  Some passengers were successful in crossing to the poop section, but the women and children remained in the fore section, unwilling to risk the hazardous crossing. They died shortly after when the fore section broke up. A raft was constructed and some men got ashore, after a three hour struggle with the sea. After reaching the lighthouse at Cape Northumberland, and a desperate ride to the Post Office at Mt Gambier, news finally reached Adelaide on 8 August.  The nearest lifeboat was at Portland in Victoria. The lighthouse's small boat and one of the Admella's lifeboats which was repaired with soap and canvas attempted to reach the wreck but were deterred by the rough seas. By now the remaining survivors were clinging to the rigging and the hull. SS Corio arrived from Adelaide but was powerless in the strong seas. Its boat was forced onto the beach. The survivors meanwhile built another raft but lost it in the waves.  They were also now beginning to die of cold and exhaustion. SS Ladybird arrived from Portland with the lifeboat and a whale boat; SS Ant arrived from Robe. The Corio left as she was running low on coal. By Friday 11 August, only 30 of the passengers/crew remained. The Portland lifeboat's Captain Fawthrop and Ben Germein the head lighthouse keeper from Cape Northumberland worked assiduously and finally by Saturday 13 August the remaining survivors were safely ashore. Only 24 in all survived.

An Admella Relief Fund was vigorously subscribed to across the country and the money raised was used to pay for clothing, lodgings and doctors' bills for the survivors and medals and awards for the rescuers. A book was published dealing with the wreck; Narrative of the shipwreck of the "Admella" intercolonial steamer   on the coast of South Australia written by Samuel Mossman it was "drawn up from authentic statements furnished by the rescuers and survivors".

A commission into the cause of the wreck decided the principal cause was a strong inshore current, but that a contributing factor had been the way in which the watertight bulkheads had been inserted - the holes for the hundreds of rivets had weakened the metal. Other methods would have to be found for this safety device to be truly effective. The wreck was also instrumental in the establishment of a lifeboat service in South Australia.


Barque Fides was wrecked near Snug Cove, Kangaroo Island 22 May. She was en route to Adelaide from London with a general cargo. Ten crew died attempting to reach shore, and subsequently the remaining five crew walked west along the coast to the Cape Borda Lightstation where they received assistance. Brigantine Flying Fish with a cargo of wool, was driven ashore in a storm at Port Elliot 3 December and quickly broke up. Cutter Star built 1854 at Port Adelaide, was lost in Spencer Gulf sometime in 1860.


The cutter Henry and Mary was wrecked on a reef at Port Willunga, 26 May. No lives were lost.  Port MacDonnell and the far south east coast were the scene of a number of wrecks this year.  The schooners Adelaide and Bandicoot were destroyed in an April storm, both vessels dragging their anchors. On 24 May the barque Miami was driven ashore in a storm and her back broken.  The crew got ashore and subsequently an auction was held in which the hull, ship's fittings and the cargo of wheat and flour were sold for over £650. 22 October the brig John Ormerod was hit by a sudden squall off Cape Northumberland. Most of the crew were swept overboard. The captain and two seamen were rescued when the wreck drifted close to the lighthouse. The wreck eventually washed ashore some 30 miles west of Portland. The vessel had been carrying flour from Adelaide to Sydney. Schooner Emu disappeared without trace in December on a voyage from Port MacDonnell to Lacepede Bay. Wreckage was found some 14 years later at the southern end of Rivoli Bay.

The barques Alma and Livingstone were destroyed in a storm in Guichen Bay 15-16 December.  The Alma dragged her anchors and ran aground on the rocks. The local rocket crew was able to get a line aboard and all the crew were saved. The Livingstone was also driven onto the rocks, but the crew were able to save themselves. Most of her cargo of wool was salvaged.


21 February the small schooner Walrus sailed from Port MacDonnell and disappeared, believed foundered at sea.

Steel barque Hougomont
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Wreck of the Aagot
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Wreck of the Admella
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Wreck of the Ethel
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Wreck of the Songvaar
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