[Editor: This letter to the editor, from H. C. Barnett, about a Western Australian heroine, was published in the “Our Open Column” section of the The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA), 31 January 1877.]
A Western Australian Grace Darling.
To the Editor of the Inquirer and Commercial News.
Sir, — Compared with those great shipwrecks in which many hundreds of lives are endangered and scores of lives lost, the loss of the Georgette may seem a small affair, but for variety of incident and for nobly brave conduct, in some instances amounting to heroism, the story, if properly detailed, would take its place in what may be called historical shipwrecks.
From personal knowledge of many of those who were on board, and from having had opportunities of frequently conversing with them on the occurrences of the time, I know that I do not exaggerate to the above statement, and it is really strange how little the public have yet learnt of what took place. I have not time, even if I had the inclination, to write a long account of the affair; but I deem it right to tell of one noble act of heroism which, in any other country than West Australia, would ere this have been sounded far and wide.
When the steamer had been run on shore a boat was got out and went off to the shore, but so heavy was the surf that she capsized, and they were an hour righting her and returning to the ship. They then had a line from the ship, and putting some women and children in the boat, they paid out the line so as to get near to the shore. The boat swamped; they were all in the water and in the greatest danger, when, on the top of the steep cliff appeared a young lady on horseback.
Those who were present have told me that they did not think a horse could come down that cliff, but down that dangerous place this young lady rode at speed; there were lives to be saved, and, with the same fearless and chivalrous bravery that urged Grace Darling to peril her life for her fellow creatures, and gave her a name in all English history hereafter, Grace Bussell rode down that cliff, urged her horse into the boiling surf, and out beyond the second line of roaring breakers, till she reached the boat when the women and children were in such peril.
Her horse stumbled over the rope, and she was nearly lost, but managed to get alongside the boat and then, with as many women and children clinging to her and the horse as possible, she made for the shore and landed them. A man was left on the boat, and he could not get on shore till Miss Bussell sent her black servant on horseback to aid him. So fierce was the surf that it took four hours to land fifty people, and every boat engaged was capsized.
Then my heroine — for well she deserves the name — galloped home about a dozen miles, and little wonder if she reached home in almost a fainting state, and was long before she could tell her story and have relief sent to the poor drenched, half-naked people, who were all night on that rude sea-beach.
Through the woods, in the night, galloped back to the rescue Mrs. Brockman, a worthy sister of Grace Bussell, and the unfortunates were supplied in their great need with tea, sugar, milk, tobacco, flour, and even a bucket and a pannican were not forgotten.
This noble act of high courage deserves public notice. It is not merely Busselton but all Australia that is honored by such an act as that I have hastily narrated.
H. C. BARNETT.
Jan. 23, 1877
The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA), 31 January 1877, p. 3
ere = (archaic) before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)
Georgette = the SS Georgette, a steamship, built in Scotland, launched in 1872; it was based in Fremantle (Western Australia), and carried passengers and trade goods; the ship developed a leak and sunk off the WA coast on 1 December 1876
Grace Darling = Grace Horsley Darling (1815-1842) an English heroine; in 1838, with her father (a lighthouse keeper), she rescued survivors from the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer which had become shipwrecked in the Farne Islands (off the coast of Northumberland, north-east England)
pannican = a small metal pan, or a small metal cup (also spelt: panakin, panikin, pannikin)
rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (distinct from the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)
[Editor: Changed “chivalous” to “chivalrous”.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]