Stories from Moreton Island – 1

Dr Robert Anderson OAM (Uncle Bob):

‘In 1832, on the south end of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) at dawn, surrounding a camp of Ngugi people on the banks of a fresh water lagoon, soldiers shot down as many as twenty people. Hidden in the bushes, Winyeeaba Murriaba a child of three at this time, was one of the survivors. Winyeeaba Murriaba and the remaining Ngugi were removed from Mulgumpin to Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). Much later she was to become my Great Grandmother.’

The 'Sovereign' attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847
The ‘Sovereign’ attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847

Winifred Davenport:

‘The Sovereign went to sea on the morning of 11 March 1847 and was wrecked on the bar of the South Passage within a mile and a half of the shore and almost in a direct line with the south end of Moreton Island. Only 10 of the 54 passengers and crew were saved. Both the pilot and his assistant were absent at the time.’

The Moreton Bay Courier:

‘The steamer had still another wave to encounter before getting over the bar; and at this critical juncture, the engineer called out to Captain Cape that the framing of the engines and part of the machinery had broken down…on descending from his post on the paddle-box, he examined them, and found that the frames of both engines were broken close under the plummer boxes, which were turned upside down … the ship … was drifting on the north spit. The engineer shortly afterwards let the steam off, by order of the Captain, to prevent the vessel from being blown up. The sea at this time was making breaches over her, and the rudder chains parted … As the vessel still drifted, the lar-board anchor was let go, the starboard one having been carried away from the parted in the swell … she continued to drag on the north spit. Previously … the sails were set to provide against the danger … but all to no purpose. The rollers now broke upon the devoted vessel with great violence, carrying away bulwarks and causing the wool and billets of wood to move violently about the decks, whereby three men were killed, while several more had their arms and legs broken, or otherwise disabled. The Captain then told the passengers that he saw no hopes of saving the vessel, as she was still dragging towards the spit. He had just ceased speaking when a tremendous sea broke over the ship, and swept washed away the fore hatches. Tarpaulins were then nailed over them, but they proved of no service …. The passengers were in the utmost consternation, they set up most piteous cries for help; some ran to the side, and in the agonies of despair, plunged into the sea … [Men] … worked for some time at the pumps which, however soon got choked up, and they then assisted in heaving overboard the remainder of the deck cargo … The doors of the companion were then opened, and the females came on deck together. The dreadful moment which was to determine the on, and every one saw in the countenance of his companion the vivid expression of his own feelings …. Mr. Stubbs, who appears to have maintained his presence of mind throughout, now cried out, ‘avoid the suction’: and jumped overboard. One dreadful shriek was heard, proceeding from one of the females in the forepart of the ship, as she took one roll, heeled over and sank, and then all was still. The struggle for life then commenced; some of the passengers clung to the wool bales, some to the portions of the wreck, while others, who had been disabled on board, soon sank to rise no more alive … Mr. Stubbs … saw breakers ahead proceeding from the bar, which appeared coming towards him like and foaming, and enough to appall the stoutest heart. How he got through them he does not recollect, for he saw nothing more until he reached the shoal water of the beach, which was about four miles from the spot where he left the vessel. He had just vigor enough remaining to get out of the reach of the breakers, when a native belonging to the pilot’s crew seized him by the waist, and supported him till his strength returned … Mr. Richards and neighbourhood, rendered every assistance in their power, and aided by a prisoner of the Crown, named William Rollings, a servant of the pilot, and the native crew, by the most arduous exertions succeeded in saving the lives of six more individuals, who, but for their assistance, must have perished in the surf.’

Peter Ludlow:

‘The loss of the Sovereign, with the loss of 45 lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community.25 More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.’

Tom Welsby:

‘The Aborigine, Toompani is said to have swam in the surf at the point and to have saved several passengers, with the assistance of his mates. The New South Wales Government gave him a brass plate on which I have read his actions anent the ‘Sovereign’, and for years that Government, and later on the Queensland Government kept him supplied with a first class boat, by which he was often enabled to make hauls of fish for either sale or for food amongst the inhabitants ashore.’