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Grace Court

Grace Bussell

Birth:  Jan. 1, 1860
Western Australia, Australia
Death:  Jan. 1, 1935
Western Australia, Australia

Grace Bussell is Australia's official national heroine. Born in 1860 (exact date unknown) in Western Australia, her claim to fame rests on her involvement in the rescue of passengers from the stranded ship, SS Georgette, on December 1, 1876, when she was just 16 years old.

Born into a well-known and prosperous family to an English-born father and West Australian mother, Grace grew up on a large property, Wallcliffe, located near the mouth of the Margaret River. 

In 1876, the Georgette was floundering off the coast in a storm. "Under the command of Captain Godfrey and carrying 50 passengers and a cargo of jarrah, the Georgette departed Fremantle on the 29th November 1876 on what was to be its final voyage. Bound for Adelaide, via Bunbury, Busselton and Albany, it was just after midnight on the 1st December that it developed a leak, possibly due to undetected damage done to the hull when the jarrah was being loaded. The crew couldn't get the pumps to work and by 4am most of the passengers had buckets in hand and were assisting with the bailing out. Two hours on, with the boiler room flooded, the Georgette was adrift in a rising swell. The lifeboats were swung out, with 20 passengers huddled in the first. A wave smashed it against the hull as it was being lowered, breaking it in two and sending all into the water. Two women and five children drowned, while the others were dragged from the waves by the second boat and taken ashore. Meanwhile, the Georgette was drifting into the surf at Calgardup Bay, well south of Cape Naturaliste and a just a few kilometres north of the mouth of the Margaret River."

Watching from the shore was Sam Isaacs, an Aboriginal stockman who worked for the Bussells. He quickly rode twenty kilometres back to their property to raise the alarm. Finding Grace, the two of them raced back to the scene on their horses and found the remaining passengers off the coast, huddled in the third lifeboat.

To quote a contemporary newspaper (Commercial News, January 31, 1877), this is what happened next: "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 that 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 fellow creations, and gave her a name in all English history thereafter, Grace Bussell rode down that cliff, urged her horse into boiling surf, and out beyond the second line of roaring breakers, till she reached the boat where 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 to shore till Miss Bussell sent her black servant on horseback to aid him. So furious was the surf that it took four hours to land 50 people, and every boat engaged was capsized."

According to a plaque at the site "all on board reached the shore in safety and were taken to Wallcliffe House, the home of Grace Bussell, where they were welcomed and given shelter."

After the account was published, Grace's fame grew around the globe. She was readily compared to Grace Darling, a young girl who rescued shipwreck survivors in eerily similar circumstances some years before in England. 

The Royal Human Society awarded Bussell a silver medal for her bravery. Isaacs was awarded a bronze medal at a time when it was rare for Aborigines to receive any kind of official recognition. 

Having read the account of her exploits in Perth, Frederick Drake-Brockman, who was a young member of a prominent pastoralist family, rode 300 kilometres from Perth to meet her.

On 20 February 1882, Grace married Drake-Brockman, in St Mary's Church, in what became known as Busselton. Drake-Brockman eventually became the Surveyor General of Western Australia. He mapped out telegraph routes and roads in the state's north-west. He also marked out the second line of the rabbit-proof fence from the Murchison to Eucla. 

Grace is commemorated by having had several places named in her honour. One of these is the coastal hamlet of Gracetown, north of Margaret River. Another is the wheatbelt town of Lake Grace. Additionally, a street in the Canberra suburb Cook was named after her.

Grace passed away in 1935, at the age of 75, in Guildford. Her daughter, Deborah Vernon Hackett, became well known in the mining industry.

grace bussell  

 



the georgette

 

Grace Bussell   The Georgette

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