The Western Australian coast is littered with shipwrecks. The West Australian Maritime Museum lists 78 known wrecks along the South West coast alone. Few of them are remembered for anything other than loss and tragedy, but one stands out.
On 1 December 1876, the combination steam and sail schooner S.S. Georgette, with a cargo of jarrah and sundries, sprung a leak 32 kms out to sea. An initial attempt to get a life-boat away ended in disaster when it was swamped. Two women and five children were drowned. Willie and James Dempster and two crewman, Dewar and Nunan, put off in another of the ship’s life-boats and rescued the survivors. They made for the shore and reached Injidup twelve hours later.
Meanwhile the Georgette, her pumps inoperable, was being bailed by the passengers and crew. After a desperate run to the coast under sail she grounded off Calgardup Beach (now known as Redgate Beach), south of Prevelly and began to break up. This horrific scene was witnessed by an aboriginal stockman, Sam Isaacs, who immediately rode to the Bussell homestead and delivered the news.
Another life-boat was launched but was swamped in the rough conditions of the surf. By the time Sam Isaacs and the other hero of the hour, Grace Bussell, arrived they were met with a scene of chaos, women and children thrown from the boat in the raging surf. Sixteen-year-old Grace had no hesitation, in plunging into the surf on her horse. Over the course of four hours she and Sam Isaacs fought the waves and the wind and rescued many women and children from certain death.
The commemorative plaque now located at the site of the disaster, Redgate Beach (formerly Calgardup) records that “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.” For their efforts both Sam Isaacs and Grace Bussell were awarded medals of the Royal Humane Society.