Why is the wreck of this ship being remembered in the Australian maritime history books all these years later?
Because it remains one of the worst maritime disasters in Australian history resulting in the tragic loss of 89 lives, mostly due to cold and exposure. They were in sight of land but unable to reach it.
Of the 113 persons on board when SS Admella departed Adelaide bound for Melbourne on a cold grey day in mid-winter 1859, only 24 person would survive. Of those 24 survivors, only one was a woman.
Within 24 hours of departing Adelaide and in the early hours of the following morning, the ship would hit a hidden reef approximately one mile (1.6km) off the coast and close to the point where the borders of South Australian and Victoria meet. (The S.A town of Port MacDonnell has since been established in close proximity to the Carpenter Rock reef.) The ship would be a total wreck within 15 minutes of hitting the reef, breaking apart amidships from the heavy seas that battered the ship.
In sight of the nearby shores but unable to reach it because of the weather and pounding seas, the survivors had to endure eight days of direct exposure to the elements, hanging on or lashing themselves to what remained of the ship to prevent being washed off. They had little to no drinking water or food so many over the period of time succumbed to weakness, exposure and just slipped into the seas and disappeared.
Many heroic attempts were made to rescue the survivors, only to be repelled by the seas until the eighth day when conditions were such a rescue boat was able to reach them.
On Saturday, 3rd March at 2:00 pm at our museum John Eades from the Australian National Maritime Museum, will highlight the events leading up to the ship hitting the reef: the initial attempts among the survivors to reach the shore; the two crewmen who were able to reach the shore and then walked through virgin bush, a distance of 20 miles (32km) to advise the distant Northumberland lighthouse of their plight; the rescuers and their attempts over the period of time to reach the survivors marooned on what remained of the vessel; and the final conclusion as to what factors contributed to this disastrous maritime accident.
It is an interesting tale of tragedy and survival and one that will remain in our Australian history books forever.