This day, 163 years ago, was the beginning of South Australia’s worst maritime disaster

On 6 August 1859, the iron-hulled screw steamer Admella, on a voyage from Adelaide to Melbourne, under command of an experienced Captain Hugh McEwan, was wrecked on Carpenters Reef, near Cape Banks in South Australia’s south-east, less than two years after her maiden voyage from Scotland.

Of a total complement of 113 passengers and crew, only 24 survived, including one woman, rescued eight days after the strip struck a then uncharted reef, about 30 km north-west of Cape Northumberland. Within 15 minutes, the Admella had broken into three sections. For those on board it was the beginning of a horrific week, in mid-winter, at the mercy of the elements, as they clung to the tilted wreck , with pounding surf washing over them, or slipped to their death from cold and exhaustion. In all, 89 people lost their lives including many women and children.

They could see the shore but could not reach it. Several tried and were either drowned or washed out to sea. They had no water and the captain shared out what little food their could retrieve from the submerged lockers.

For further details of this tragic shipwreck, the people involved, and the heroic rescue attempts, a new book – Reef of Despair: The wreck of the SS Admella – is soon to be published.

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