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Australian History

December 1, 1876 – Aboriginal stockman Sam Isaacs and teenager Grace Bussell rescue about 40 people from a stricken steamship off Western Australia

Sam Isaacs

Sam Isaacs

The SS Georgette was a steamship built in 1872, which was sold in England to Western Australia, and used as a coastal trading and passenger service between Fremantle, Albany and Champion Bay.

On 1 December 1876, the Georgette sprang a leak 32km out to sea, whilst carrying fifty passengers and a cargo of jarrah wood.

The pumps failed to work, and despite passengers and crew bailing water non-stop, by 6pm the water had risen to put out the steamship’s fires, leaving the ship adrift.

A boatload of passengers was lowered into the sea but the lifeboat was smashed against the ship’s side and broken.

Some of the survivors were rescued by a second lifeboat, but twelve were killed. Each lifeboat that was released was swamped or capsized in the storm-driven seas.

As the stricken Georgette drifted into Calgardup Bay, it was seen by the Bussell family’s Aboriginal stockman, Sam Isaacs.

He and sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell raced down to the surf on horseback, and Grace then rode her horse into the bay until it was alongside one of the swamped lifeboats.

People clung to her and her horse as she returned to shore and landed them. One man was left on the boat, and Isaacs was sent to collect him.

Bussell and Isaacs continued their rescuing efforts, taking over four hours to land all the passengers.

For their acts of bravery and heroism, Grace was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s silver medal and Isaacs received a bronze. The wreck of the Georgette still lies about 90 metres off Calgardup Beach.


About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner, Writer, Teacher and Business Consultant. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications. Please consider donating, to support our social justice campaign, by clicking on the "Donations Page" button in the top menu.


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