Stephen Tyler

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

Stranding of the Ship Susan Gilmore (SMH)

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 5 July 1884.

The American ship Susan Gilmore, 1,204 tons, Captain Carver, went ashore last night under the rocks near Shepherd’s Hill, about 50 to 60 yards south of the spot where the steamer City of Newcastle was wrecked some six years since.  Captain Carver reports that the Susan Gilmore left Sydney with a crew of 14 hands on Wednesday night, at 11 o’clock.  The glass then was high, but the weather showery.  She was bound to Newcastle for coal, and consigned to Messrs. C. F. Stokes and Co., and was in tow of the steamer Irresistible.  About half way to her destination, the captain noticed something wrong at about 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, on board the steamer.  The Irresistible kept slacking up, and Captain Carver saw the hands at work screwing something up near the engines.  The steamer, however, towed the ship until within sight of Nobbys, and then set signals for assistance.  None coming up, at about 2 o’clock on Thursday afternoon the ship’s head was put about, and she made sail.  At about 5 p.m. on Thursday set signals of distress, and the steamer Afghan, bound for Newcastle from Adelaide, came alongside, and tried to take the hawser from the Irresistible, but failed.  The Afghan then made another attempt, and was successful in getting the hawser on board at about half past 5 p.m., but going ahead quickly, the hawser, which belonged to the Susan Gilmore, parted.  The wind then drawing a little more astern, the ship’s head was kept up the coast trying to weather the Nobbys.  Finding, however, the ship close to the breakers, and not being able to weather the Nobbys, both anchors were let go.  The anchors not holding, the ship stranded at about 11 o’clock on Thursday night.  Captain Carver then threw up rockets and blue-lights, and burnt some flareups as signals for about 20 minutes, but as far as the captain observed no notice was taken of any of these signals by anyone on shore.  At midnight one boat was launched, but it was sucked under the ship and destroyed.  At daylight on Friday morning another boat was launched, but the sea filled her when alongside.  The third boat then put off immediately afterwards, and succeeded in safely landing seven of the crew in two trips.  On the third trip it was attempted to take the captain’s wife ashore, but the boat, like the others, filled alongside, and Mrs. Carver was thrown into the water, but was rescued by her husband, who passed a rope under her, and she as hauled on board again by the second officer, Mr. Peaselee.  The captain then had to swim ashore, being very nearly carried away, and had a hard struggle to reach the land.  Shortly after this the Rocket Brigade appeared.  A line had already been conveyed from the ship, by which the life-saving lines were hauled aboard.  The brigade succeeded in rescuing the captain’s wife and son, aged five years, and the remainder of the crew.  The captain then went aboard again, and brought ashore the ship’s papers, chronometer, two favourite dogs, a cat, and a pet canary, and other treasured articles.  There crew were conveyed to the Sailors’ Home, and Captain Carver, Mrs Carver and son, were taken to the Great Northern Hotel, where everything was in readiness for their reception.  From this hotel, however, they were invited on board the barque Escort, Captain Waterhouse, from Boston, who is related to Captain Carver’s family.  All are now being hospitably entertained on board that vessel.  Neither Mrs. Carver nor child have sustained any physical injury through the disaster.  The vessel is now lying where she stranded.  Great credit is due to Captain Humphreys, of the ship Eldorado; Captain M’Eachern, of the barque Edith Carmichael; and also to Mr. G. O. Hyde, for the kind assistance rendered to Mrs. Carver in helping her ashore and assisting her up the dangerous pathway up the rocks from the beach.  About 120 fathoms of hawser were out when it broke.  Captain Carver is part owner, and his share is stated to be insured.  The estimated value of the vessel, which was in ballast, is £9000.


During the pauses in the tempest of Thursday night, many persons in Newcastle thought they heard the noises of a gun firing about 12 o’clock : but, hearing no more reports, paid no attention to the sound.  This must have been the time when Captain Carver was firing the signal-rockets.  None of the sounds, however, reached the ears of the land or water police, and the night was not of an inviting character for passengers to be out, especially in the vicinity of the wreck.  In spite of the bonfires extemporised on deck by the crew, no sign of help was visible, and the ruddy glare of the flame flickered for a time on the darkened sky, and at last died out, leaving the vessel in gloom till the morning.  The ship’s position, about 50 or 60 yards due south of the boilers of the s.s. City of Newcastle, which can still be seen rusting away at low tide, was not at all a favourable one.  The hour at which she struck was a little past the time at which the highly steamers pass on their way to Sydney.  The rocks rise rugged and abruptly in the vicinity, in some places to 300ft., and it therefore was not at all likely that the fitful glare of the bonfire close under the rocks could be seen high along the coast or in-shore.  At the first streak of daylight efforts were made to reach the shore, but the first two were terrible failures.  Both boats came to grief, but no lives were lost.  The morning was cold, wild and stormy.  Heavy squalls came roaring through the rigging from the south-west; the sails were in ribbons, and the rudder was gone.   The rain drove fiercely in the men’s faces as they manned the third boat.  But it was clear that no times was to be lost in getting all hands ashore.  Though the ship lay within eighty yards of the beach, in a deep bed of sand, she had veered round, and her head was due south.  In her present position a sudden squall, more powerful than any of her predecessors, might cause her to fall over seaward, and bury all on board in the raging sea.  The third attempt was made in the only boat left, and this proved successful, as did the next trip also, when, by this time, seven of the crew had reached the shore.  The third trip was not so fortunate.  There was no abatement in the fury of the storm, and just as the boat put off with the captain’s wife, she heeled over, and threw all her occupants into the water.  The skipper struck out for his wife.  He is a strongly-built, powerful man, six feet in height, but he needed his strength.  Clad in large pea-jacket and heavy sea-boots, he was nearly sucked under the ship’s side by the under-tow.  Being a splendid swimmer, he managed to get out of his heavy coat and boots, and succeeded in rescuing his wife from sinking the last time.  Seizing a ripe handing from the ship, he fastened it under his wife’s armpits, and she was hauled on board by the second officer.  The captain himself then struck out for the shore, which he succeeding in reaching.  By the time the alarm had been given in town, the signal-guns announced the wreck, and the smoke from the funnel of the tug Prince Alfred, as he rounded the Nobbys. showed that the lifeboat’s crew were on the alert.  Presently she was seen in the offing, while the cheers from the shore and the cliffs proclaimed that the Rocket Brigade were at hand.  Their red caps soon appeared over the ridges of the rocks above.  The apparatus was lowered and quickly got to work.  By the time the edges of the cliffs which are inclosed in some places by the railed fencing, were crowded with spectators.  At the outer rails between 20 or 30 saddle horses were tied up, and from all the directions men, women and even children were seen hastening to the wreck.  The descent from the top of the rocks to the beach is at the best of times dangerous, but this morning was made trebly so by the increased rains, which had in the a great measure converted the pathway, only a yard wide in many places, into a mere muddy slope.  Down this narrow zigzag shelf came the brigade and all desirous of helping to rescue this on board.  A rope had already been brought ashore from the ship.  The life-lines and cradle were quickly hauled aboard, and the apparatus was soon in use, with celerity and despatch only to be produced by willing hearts and practical experience.  Captain Allan, like a sturdy old veteran, as he is, although ill in health, was busy in the midst giving directions here, lending a hand there, and infusing bravery in the works by precept and example.  Three of the crew were brought off safely, and, the apparatus being proved to be ably worked, the precious life of the only female on board, Mrs. Carver, was entrusted to the life-lines.  The wildest excitement prevailed by this time; the cliffs literally swarmed with people, waving hands and hurrahing to the workers below.  When the captain’s wide was fairly launched on her perilous trip through mid-air, above the roaring waves below, nothing was heard but the sighing of the wind or the sullen dash os the crested foaming waters upon the frowning rocks above.  The surf broke savagely, upon the sand in heavy rollers, scattering the spectators at times, but the brigade stuck to their post, and hailed the life-line, with its precious burden, swiftly, but carefully ashore.  It was a sight worth remembering to see the stalwart captain clasp his wife again in his arms, and lift her, as a feather from the chair into the air and on to the beach.  Despite the gathering waters around them, the moment Mrs. Carver landed a cheer rang out, which those who heard it can never forget.  It was followed by another, and then another, and was echoed along the cliffs in to the open sky, and made strong hearts vibrate again with joy and gladness.  Men stuck to each other by the hands, and felt inclined to shout once more a glad tribute of acknowledgement for the second preservation that day of now who had already had so narrow and escape from the jaws of death.  Nobody seemed to care or feel for the stormy wind or tempest then.  The rain drove on as furious as ever, but the crowd never moved, but stood watching, for it knew there was another helpless little one to be brought ashore.  Willing hands and gallant hearts had already carried up the dangerous precipice the mother, whose first cry on landing was “Where is my child?”  The little fellow was presently seen firmly strapped in the chair, sliding, with his arms extended, down the welcome life-line.  In the twinkling of an eye half-a-dozen arms were around him ere the cradle touched the shore, and one stalwart here carried him, shoulder-high, up the slippery pathway to the haven of shelter above.  One man remained aboard; and yea was joined by Captain Carver, who went back in the returning line.  He as the last to leave the ship, bringing with him the ship’s papers, his favourite dog, and a pet canary.  The good ship Susan Gilmore is now abandoned, apparently, to her fate.  The peculiarity of her position is fearfully against her ploughing the waters again.  Rudderless, and with her sails and national flag streaming in ribbons, the sport of the gale and the ocean, the chances are sadly against her ploughing the waters again.  Already some of her planks are breaking away.  She lies now broad-side on, her head pointing south-west, and exposed to the pitiless rage of the Pacific, when lashed into one of its fiercest storms.  The rain has partially ceased, but the gale continues.  The moon occasionally sheds a brilliant ray of light across the dark chasm-like region where the Susan Gilmore lies imbedded in the sand, giving it a weird, spectral, Flying Dutchman appearance.  One or two venturesome spectators stand on the summit of the beetling cliffs, attracted by the romantic yet gloomy surroundings of the spot.  There was no lack of hospitable offers of shelter for the captain and his wife and child.  Many residents of Newcastle would have felt honoured in entertaining the strangers thus cast upon its shore, but Providence willed it that some of Mr. Carver’s relatives were in port.  After being carefully conveyed to the Great Northern Hotel for rest, change of raiment, and refreshment they left for the barque Escort, where in the midst of friends and relatives Mrs Carver and child will assuredly recover strength, while her husband goes forth bravely again to grapple with the difficulties which the wreck of the Susan Gilmore has scattered in his path.