Academic journal article Transnational Literature

'My Pen Shall Add a Testimony to Men Noble and Daring'; Poetry, Heroism and the Wreck of the SS Admella (1859)

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

'My Pen Shall Add a Testimony to Men Noble and Daring'; Poetry, Heroism and the Wreck of the SS Admella (1859)

Article excerpt

The South Australian Register first coined the term 'Admella poetry' in November 1859, almost two months after the wreck of the inter-colonial steamer the SS Admella off the South Australian coast on 6 August 1859.1 The vessel, a Clyde built screw-steamer of 478 tons and costing £15,000, broke into three parts and of the 113 passengers and crew, eighty-nine lost their lives, with the nineteen survivors huddling for eight days on the Admella's storm ravaged and severely damaged after-deck.2 Survivor James Miller later wrote in a letter, an extract of which was published in the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle on 24 September 1859, that 'For eight days, I may say I was face to face with "the King of Terrors," but am yet alive by the blessing of God' (3).

Miller's letter was just one voice in the unparalleled surge of missives newspapers around the country received from local and international readers in response to the wreck. The outpouring of sympathy and support in the wake of the disaster was unprecedented. Never before had one single event mobilised colonial communities throughout Australia. 'The calamity was one which afflicted all. Legislation was suspended, shops were empty, crowds stood in the street day and night for a week.'3 Parliamentary members were involved in relief efforts at a bureaucratic level, while communities local and interstate organised charity events, and popular visiting and local theatre stars of the period donated proceedings from performances to the cause. One report claimed that 'the loss of the Admella has developed in a most marvellous manner the intense, though perhaps heretofore unsuspected sympathy which binds South Australian colonists together'.4 The report also doubted whether anyone could 'call to mind an instance in which a whole community ... consented to yield up time, thought, feeling - all to the contemplation of one calamity'. Thus, domestic publications ensured that the British readership was kept especially well-informed; 'The disaster of the Admella, and the suffering of the survivors created a profound sensation in the colony; and, in fact, in England subscriptions were liberally made for the survivors.'5

Many English journals and print reports ensured the transnational connection between the Admella disaster and the Imperial spirit.6 References in the British Millennial Harbinger of 1859 emerged in the form of two obituaries, both causalities of the Admella disaster: Edwin Chambers, 'a very promising disciple [Latter Day Saints]' and noted Adelaidean James Magarey.7 Two months after the wreck the English Illustrated Times related news of the wreck and the Medical Times and Gazette included the death notice of one of the Admella's passengers, one James Vaux, 'surgeon to the Norfolk'.8 The reference to the Admella in the 1861 edition of Transaction of the Royal Scottish Society of the Arts came in the form of Thomas Sheddon's article 'On the Construction of Iron Ships'. Sheddon's contribution focussed on the structural integrity of the Admella and the question of cause. Other transnational connections between the Admella disaster's aftermath and the Imperial spirit emerged in the expressions of valour conferred upon various seamen and volunteers by the Royal Humane Society, the Royal Benevolent Society, the Privy Council of the Board of Trade, and other English and Australian colonial associations.9

The Wreck of the SS Admella

The inter-colonial steamer SS Admella wrecked on Carpenters Reef some nineteen miles north-west of Cape Northumberland on the morning of Friday 6 August 1859 as she made her journey from Port Adelaide, in South Australia, to the port of Melbourne, in Victoria. Initial reports claimed the cause of the wreck was the shifting of one of the three race horses the vessel carried as cargo (a theory later discredited although one oft-cited, even today).10 Later investigations established that a design fault caused the vessel to break into three parts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.