Ipswich is an inland city in Queensland with a population of over 220,000 people. Because it was first settled way back in 1827, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that shipwreck stories abound. Here are my top four picks based on the amazing lives of the people they involve. Recently I revealed the list live on West Bremer Radio.
#4 concerns the invincible Maurice Gough. He was born in Waterford in Ireland in 1834. Maurice was fourteen-years-old when he came to Australia and on the way out he was shipwrecked off the coast of China.
Once he got here, he worked on building Queensland’s first railway which was from Ipswich to Grandchester. He then became a gold miner and in the Warrego district he survived being speared by Aboriginals.
Maurice lived in John Street at Rosewood, before returning to nearby Ipswich where he died in 1933 at the grand age of ninety-eight.
#3 is about persistent Henry Platz. He was a cab driver in Ipswich. In 1863 Henry was taking a load of horses from Brisbane to Calcutta in India when the ship he was on – the barque ‘Antagonist’ – hit a sandbank in the Torres Strait.
The captain and chief mate were both asleep, and the second mate who had the watch, he was also asleep. Henry was set adrift and survived on a diet of fish, oysters, periwinkles, birds, turtles, pelican eggs, and shark. It was a journey home that took him seven months to complete, going via Cape York, Timor, Java, Hong Kong, and Melbourne.
In 1891 and back home in Queensland, Henry was a member of the Salvation Army at Kalbar (then called Engelsburg). That’s when he was convicted of assaulting another church member who Henry said had used bad language and was threatening to fill another person’s mouth with mud.
#2 involves the resilient Louisa Scott. She lived at the Workshops Estate at Bundamba. In 1886 Louisa was left with eight children when her husband Frederick Scott was lost at sea in the wreck of the ‘Keilawarra’ off the New South Wales north coast. The ‘Keilawarra’ collided with the ‘Helen Nicoll’ and up to forty lives were lost.
Louisa wrote to the National Shipwreck Relief Society of New South Wales asking for assistance, but she was denied because the secretary said that the fund was for widows and orphans of sailors, and not for relatives of passengers.
Louisa’s husband Frederick was a well-known Inventor. One of his devices was the “Scott’s Air Closet” which was an early clothes dryer.
Someone else who drowned in the collision was Tommy McGrade who was one of Australia’s top jockeys. In 1883 he’d ridden ‘First Water’ to second place in the Melbourne Cup. One of the horses that Tommy was accompanying on the ship was a promising two-year-old filly called ‘Fidelity’. There were rumours that the horse had actually survived the wreck and for years later was racing under another name.
And #1 includes the matriarch Alice Nicklin. Alice was nineteen-years-old in 1890 when she survived the shipwreck of the ‘Quetta’ in which both her parents died.
This wreck became known as Queensland’s Titanic. That’s because the Quetta hit an uncharted rock in the Torres Strait which ripped a hole through the plates from the bow to the engine room, and sank in less than 5 minutes. Terrible loss of life resulted with 134 people drowning. It’s still Queensland’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
Alice survived around twelve hours in the water by clinging to a floating crate, plank, and for a time, dead sheep. Virtually the whole of the Queensland colony was impacted because the ship had picked up passengers at every port on its way north. The captain and crew were exonerated, but the public was furious because so many crew survived while so many passengers did not – only 15 of the 100 saloon and steerage passengers survived.
Alice later married and lived in Harlin Road in Ipswich. Her husband William Horsley owned the Horsley bookstore on Nicholas Street. Alice’s nephew was Frank Nicklin who in 1957 became the 28th Premier of Queensland.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON WEST BREMER RADIO
Construction on the railway between Ipswich and Grandchester c1864 – Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council
The Barque Antagonist 1856 – by Heinrich Andreas Sophus Petersen, National Maritime Museum via Wikipedea Commons
Tommy McGrade – Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 25 December 1886, page 28
Alice Nicklin – Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 15 March 1890, page 34