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A shipwreck in 1859

The SS Admella was an iron-hulled ship that was on its way from Adelaide to Melbourne when it hit a reef off South Australia's southern coastline on Saturday 6 August 1859. It took several days for two seamen who had made it to shore, to then walk the 20 miles to the Cape Northumberland lighthouse.  The lighthouse keeper borrowed a horse and rode to Mount Gambier to raise the alarm.  The information then had to be telegraphed to Adelaide and Portland, Victoria. 

SS 'Admella'. SLSA B 41900

Wreck of the 'Admella'. Research suggests that this may not be the steamship 'Admella' that was wrecked off Carpenters Rocks in 1859. SLSA: B 41900

The rescue

Two rescue boats were sent out, the Corio from Adelaide and the Ladybird from Portland. The Corio wasn't able to reach the wreckage until Wednesday of that week.  Twenty survivors were still clinging to the wreckage. Most of the Admella's passengers and crew had already drowned in the heavy seas or died of thirst or exhaustion.

It took another three days, eight days after the shipwreck, for the lifeboat Portland working with the Ladybird, to crash through the heavy seas to complete the rescue. Repeated attempts by the two larger ships had failed. In total, 89 lives were lost, including several of the rescuers. Women, men and children died. Families were destroyed. Working men lost the tools of trade, which also meant the loss of their livelihoods. 

The relief fund

Following the establishment of the first Admella Relief Fund on 27 August 1859, other communities throughout South Australia and Victoria established committees to raise money to assist the survivors and reward their rescuers. Money was collected in churches and in pubs, through District Councils and through responsible individuals. Sums donated ranged from 10 pounds to several of just one shilling. People gave what they could afford. All of the survivors received varying degrees of assistance from the fund.

Among the rescuers, the Portland lifeboat crew were rewarded as follows:

  • Captain Fawthrop received a gold medal and 100 pounds
  • Coxswain W Rosevear received a silver medal and 50 pounds
  • the 13 crew were given medals and amounts ranging between 12 pounds 10 shillings and 25 pounds.

A positive result of the wreck of the Admella was the rapid establishment of a lifeboat service in South Australia.

About the collection item

Title Admella Shipwreck Reward and Relief Fund
Date 1859-1860
Catalogue record 
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