Wreck of the Georgette

The Georgette, under the command of Captain Godfrey was bound for Adelaide with a cargo of jarrah and 50 passengers and crew. She had departed Fremantle on the 29th November 1876 and after brief stops at Bunbury and Busselton she rounded Cape Naturaliste on her way to the next stop at Albany.

Just after midnight on the 1st December a leak developed, possibly due to damage caused by the jarrah being loaded. The Georgette's pumps wouldn't start and by four in the morning most of the passengers were assisting with the bailing out. Two hours later with the swell rising and the boiler room flooded the lifeboats were swung out. The first with 20 passengers aboard was smashed by a wave sending everyone into the water. The second lifeboat scooped them from the water but two women and five children had already drowned.

The Georgette was beginning to drift into the surf as the swell pushed her closer to the shore and it was then that the stricken vessel was spotted by 30 year old aboriginal stockman Sam Yebble Isaacs. Sam was quick to act and rode to the homestead of his employer Alfred Bussell for help. As the men were away at the time 16 year old Grace Bussell returned to the site with Sam to see what they could do.

By the time they had returned the Georgette's remaining passengers had been loaded into the third lifeboat, which was quickly capsized by the rolling surf. Sam and Grace boldly rode their horses into the pounding surf and out to the capsized lifeboats. Urging passengers to cling to their horses and clothes they carried them into shore. Several trips were made into the surf by Sam and Grace and an exhausting four hours later the passengers and crew were all safely on land at what is now known as Redgate Beach. Out of the 50 passengers and crew only 12 people lost their lives, due to the efforts of this unusual rescue.

Other settlers soon arrived and the passengers and crew were helped back to the Bussell's farm at Wallcliffe, on the Margaret River.

The daring of the rescue made world wide headlines and Grace was hailed as the 'Grace Darling of Australia'. In 1878 the Royal Humane Society awarded medals for their bravery and Grace received a silver medal and Sam a bronze. Clearly Sam was an equal hero on the day but the media focus was on the 16 year old girl from a prominent family. Sam's part in the rescue is now fully acknowledged and he didn't go unrewarded.

Awarded a Crown Grant of 100 acres of his selection, Sam chose land on the Margaret River close to Wallcliffe where he settled and raised a large family. Sam died in 1920 at the age of 75 after falling from a sulky and was laid to rest in the Busselton Cemetery. The large rock that sits off Redgate Beach is known as Isaacs Rock in honour of Sam.

Four years after the rescue Grace married Frederick Drake-Brockman, in St Mary's Church, Busselton. Frederick became surveyor general for Western Australia, and was responsible for marking out telegraph routes and roads in the North West, as well as the second line of the rabbit-proof fence from the Murchison to Eucla.

Grace passed away aged 75 in Guildford and her legend lives on in the name of coastal town 'Gracetown' and the wheatbelt town of 'Lake Grace'.

Captain Godfrey was held accountable for the wreck of the Georgette and while a court of inquiry found him not guilty, on five counts of negligence, his captain's certificate was revoked.

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