HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

28 September 2017

Wreck of the Martha and Elizabeth May 1855.

There are many shipwrecks in the Shoalhaven area, some have a story to tell while others leave us in wonder as to the fate of the ship, crew and passengers.  The people involved in this story found themselves in a rapidly deteriorating life-threatening situation where small decisions and quick actions made the difference between life and death.

The story of the Schooner Martha and Elizabeth is one of heroism, and a great deal of luck. 
The fact that there were no casualties in such dire circumstances is amazing.

As you read the story try to put yourself in their situation.   It's pitch black, you trying to stay upright on a twisting, pitching, rolling ship,  all around you the noise of the ship smashing and grinding against the cliffs down both sides of the ship,  timbers are splintering and coming apart around you, the rigging is hanging everywhere,  the ship is quickly breaking apart.   The fearful shouts and screams from the passengers trying to be heard over the sound of crashing waves engulfing the ship, the captain shouting orders to his crew, the wind-driven rain against your exposed wet and cold skin.  These people were in a desperate struggle for survival.

The schooner Martha and Elizabeth under the command of Captain Anderson was on a voyage between Melbourne and Newcastle when she ran into difficult weather and currents
close to Jervis Bay.

April 26th -  At 5.30pm. nearing Jervis Bay they sighted Cape St George,  the wind at this time was variable from the S.S.E, with rain and thick weather, Captain Anderson steered the vessel N.E by N. 

7.30pm - The wind was variable, with heavy showers and the current setting was very strong to the southward.

8.pm - Captain Anderson found the current setting put the vessel down upon Point Perpendicular, he immediately tacked to the southward.

8.40pm - Finding the schooner would not fetch the south-head of Jervis Bay, on the port tack, the captain tacked to the N.E.

8.50pm - At this time all was calm,  but, the vessel was setting in fast to the breakers with a heavy swell from the eastward. 

9.pm - Finding the vessel close to the cliff,  with no possibility of saving her, they cleared away, and launched the boat but owing to the heavy ground swell the boat filled and parted from the ship with one hand,  Robert Jellicar in her, but he, fortunately, caught a rope  and was saved by hauling him over the stern of the schooner.

9.30pm - the vessel came stern on,  the main boom struck the cliff and she parted amidships.  the vessel payed around to starboard and was driven into a gully in the cliff just large enough to admit her lengthways. Upon entering the vessel struck instantly abaft,  the sea breaking furiously over her. 
Finding she could not last many minutes they endeavoured to get a line ashore by means of a small grappling.   Finding the grappling would not hook the rocks one of the hands R. Jelliear,  got footing by swimming from the stern,  while another,  John Rogers,  jumped from the bowsprit, which instantly afterwards parted from the vessel.  The remaining hands, with the captain's wife and sister, had robes slung around their bodies and hauled ashore by those ashore,  the captain was the last to leave the vessel. The crew and the captain's wife and sister had scarcely any clothing,  and not a shoe to their feet. They had scarcely secured a footing on the slippery rocks when the vessel broke up.

11.pm. - The vessel had broken into small pieces.  After some searching in the dark, they found a small ledge in the rocks where they all assembled for the night.  It was intensely cold, with a strong easterly wind and incessant rain throughout the night. 

April 27th.
First light revealed a desperate scene.
- The survivors could see nothing of the Martha and Elizabeth other than some small pieces of wreckage,  nothing could be saved.

Assending the cliff
. They found themselves at the base of steep cliffs, they now had to find a way to the top,  which they did with great difficulty.   The area they were in was isolated with no help close by,  to make their way to the Shoalhaven they had to contend with thick high scrub trees and in some places wade through waist-high swamps.   Having no shoes and scarcely any clothes made the task more painful.  After walking about 18 miles they had the good fortune to come across Mr Kinghorn's whaling station.   Captain William Kinghorn set up a land based operation on the northern side of the bay near Montague Point on the Mount Jervis property belonging to his father Alexander Kinghorn.  How long the station remained in operation is unknown

They remained with Captain Kinghorn for the night and were kindly treated.


Captain Kinghorn.

28th April - The party proceeded to the Shoalhaven where they were heartily made welcome by Captain Noel,  of the steamer Nora Creina, and received from him a passage to Sydney.

30th April - After an uneventful trip, the party arrived in Sydney at about midnight, they were most grateful for their lives and to those from whom they received so much kindness.

An amazing story!.

Specifications: Martha & Elizabeth. Schooner, 81 tons. Built Clarence River, 1843; reg. Melbourne, 277/1854. Length 67 ft. Operated in the timber trade off Wilson's Promontory in the 1850s.

                         Nora Creina 142 gross tons, 93 net. Lbd: 133'7" x 18' x 7'7". Iron paddle steamship built at the Neptune Foundry Waterford Ireland for the Commercial S N Co., Waterford. 1853 owned by A G Robinson, Sydney. 1854 purchased by the Shoalhaven S N Co., Sydney and worked the Sydney - south coast ports of New South Wales as a passenger - cargo vessel. February 1857 of the unofficial Illawarra S N Co. (read - Kiama S N Co) Sold 1861-2 to Far East interests. Wrecked October 1849

Meaning: Abaft - in or behind the stern of a ship.

Ref: https://www.flotilla-australia.com/iscsnco.htm


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