Sinking of the SS “Sovereign.”
On the 11th March, 1847, after being anchored off Amity Pt, Stradbroke Island for over a week in bad weather, the Sovereign attempted to cross the South Passage Bar.
Watched by tribal Indigenous people from Moorgumpin (Moreton) and Minjerribar (Stradbroke) Islands, the “Sovereign” capsized. Without hesitation, people from both Islands braved the wild waters, risking their lives to save the white passengers and crew.
Forty four white people perished, ten were saved.
The Indigenous men named in this poem received recognition from the Australian Government of the day, and are recorded in History for their heroic act. While six are named, there were many others who risked their lives.
While it is not recorded that any Indigenous men were lost in this act of extreme bravery, this poem is dedicated to the memory of all those native people, who drew no distinction between race, colour or creed, but who responded unselfishly and immediately, to an extremely dangerous situation.
Their response was one of pure human brotherhood: a totally unselfish act of offered kindness.
They were truly “Good Samaritans.”
It is with great respect that I dedicate this poem to their memory.
There are ghosts of years gone by:
Dead pilots, who still fly –
Of Columbia astronauts,
Who linger, in our thoughts.
But the ghosts I bring to you today
Lived in the past, in a different way.
These ghosts live close by here,
In waters, crystal clear.
Six dusky apparitions,
Defy earthly inhibitions.
I’ll introduce you, one by one
And finish the story, before we’re done.
Toompani, Woondu and Nuggan,
Juckle-juckle, Nu-ah-ju, and Toonipun:
Young men of earth and sea,
Dark skinned, strong and free,
Have left us now, but linger on
In dreamtime story and Murri song.
The ship, the “Sovereign” stood fast,
Off Amity Point, for the week just past:
The weather was unkind
And the captain had in mind
South passage bar was shallow and wide,
With treacherous waves, on every side.
But the wool in the holds below,
To Sydney, had to go,
Where the Queensland clip, in bales
And the wool from New South Wales,
Would sail on a ship, from Sydney shore
And make its’ way, to an English store.
The captain ordered “anchors aweigh!”
The eleventh of March was a fateful day;
For, an hour and a half from Amity Point,
There were forty four bodies, to anoint.
On that day, in eighteen forty seven,
Forty four souls, cried out for Heaven.
South passage waters divide,
Two islands, long and wide:
On Moorgumpin and Minjerribar,
Tribal people from near and far,
Came to watch the white mans’ boat,
Among the turbid waves, a-float.
As the gallant ship capsized,
Dark bodies fought the tide,
Though forty four whites, drew their last breath,
Ten were plucked from the jaws of death.
The natives showed they had no fear,
While corroborees of death, danced near.
The six I introduced, were there:
Saved the ten whose skin was fair.
They proved all men are truly brothers,
Although their skins’ wear different colours.
Their ghosts live on, in dreamtime story.
Their souls have found a place in glory.
©Dennis Scanlon 6th July, 2004.