It was a cold and stormy night off the coastline of Western Australian coast in 1876 when the “Georgette” began to sink.
My 3x great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Laking) Hauxwell (41), was on board with at least four of her children Frances (8), Isabella (4) John (2) and my 2xgreat-grandmother, Annie (Hauxwell) Stammers (20) , who also had two young children with her – Mary Ann (4) and John(1). They were travelling to Adelaide where both fathers had gone to establish a building business.
There are two parts to the disaster that night. When the steamer began to take on water, the engines were flooded and stopped. It was left lifeless in the rolling waves. The captain gave the order to launch the first lifeboat with twenty women and children on board. It started to take on water very quickly then a large wave smashed it against the bow of the boat splitting it in two. All the passengers were thrown into the water. Some were pulled into another lifeboat, but two women and five children drowned. These included my 3x great-grandmother Elizabeth and her three children, Frances, Isabella and John.
All of this I know. All of this my fellow family historians agree with. My challenge is what happened to my 2x great-grandmother Annie and her two children. The passengers who were rescued into the second lifeboat drifted away from the “Georgette” and eventually landed. This is the first part.
Mary Ann (Stammers) Mitchell is my great-grandmother. As a child, my Nana Mitch told me the story of the shipwreck. She told me how she was put into the lifeboat. She told me how she was pulled back into the ship. Most importantly, she told me how the lady on the horse rescued her, her little brother and her mama, just as portrayed in the painting below.
Most of the newspaper reports that were received secondhand from either passengers or other witnesses to this disaster vary incredibly. Some record the women and children as all being on the lifeboat – that would make twenty-two plus crew. Some record the number on the lifeboat as being 17, including the crew and male passengers on board. Some reports record the names of passengers on board the lifeboat, including one Mrs Summers, who, by the way, is on none of the official passenger lists – some say this is Mrs Stammers – and this is the accepted story within the family. And, so it goes on. They are severely conflicted in their supposed facts.
The most reliable report comes from the Master himself. I choose to go with his official report. In this, it is stated that SOME of the women and children were put onto the lifeboat. It then states that SOME of the women and children were pulled back into the Steamer when the lifeboat sank. The second lifeboat with seventeen passengers onboard made landfall safely.
Then Part Two – the Georgette, still with fifty or more passengers, including six or seven women [and children] continued to take on water and drifted further south before the captain’s decision was to launch the last lifeboat. This was used to try and ferry passengers to the shore although it capsized on each occasion. Most made it to shore safely, but it was at this moment that Grace and Isaac intervened, assisting those floundering in the surf to make it to shore.
This account matches the oral story relayed to me by my great-grandmother. Now MY CHALLENGE is to convince the rest of the family!