Alt banner image

Acts of bravery – lives saved at sea

This is a sneak peek into edition 24 of Traces!

By Olivia Niethe

For more than 140 years, the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales (now the Royal Humane Society of NSW) has recognised bravery in saving human life, and reminds us that heroes are the everyday people who walk among us.

At a time when many Australians could not swim, the bravery required to save a drowning person was perhaps more impressive than it is today. These acts were often publicly celebrated. The Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales (RSRHS NSW), originally established as the National Shipwreck Relief Society of New South Wales, was inaugurated on 25 July 1877. Sadly, the impetus for the creation of the society was a harrowing tragedy.

On the morning of 15 July 1877, the iron paddle-steamer Yarra Yarra was attempting to re-enter Newcastle Harbour, having delayed its passage to Sydney due to a violent storm. Without the technological and mechanical advances of modern-day vessels, those at sea were often at the mercy of the weather. The storm had struck at around 6 pm the evening before and continued to rage with unabated fury throughout the night, with heavy south-east gales and rain beating the steamer. Unfortunately, with towering waves crashing across its entrance, the harbour was no longer a welcoming haven. To make matters worse, a crowd of anxious onlookers had gathered on the shore, including family members of those on board the struggling steamer.

As the Yarra Yarra attempted to re-enter the entrance of the harbour, it was swamped by an onslaught of waves near the Cawarra Buoy, pushing it north towards the perilous Oyster Bay. The imminent danger was obvious to those on shore, who fired the signal gun to summon the local lifeboat and its crew. But it was too late – the fate of the steamer was sealed. The ailing vessel was relentlessly struck by squalls and surges, causing it to turn broadside to the sea. With this final twist, the Yarra Yarra foundered and sank, taking the lives of all 18 passengers and crew on board. It was a tragedy that left the community anguished as they grappled with how such an extreme loss of life could take place in sight of the safety of the shore.

To find out how this tragedy influenced the RSRHS NSW to honour those who help save lives, read the latest edition of Traces.

Image courtesy of iStock.

Join our mailing list