The wreck of the Sovereign

Sovereign 2

11 March, 1847: Mr Gore’s bag, as well as some of Mrs Chettle’s trinkets were washed up onto the beach, as were the bodies of Mr Gore’s wife and oldest child. The Sovereign had sunk in heavy seas between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. Mr Berkeley was lost in the breakers. He had been clinging to the same piece of wreckage as the ship’s Captain, who was carried ashore unconscious by an Aboriginal man. Captain Cape survived. 44 people died when the Sovereign was wrecked. 10 people were saved by a group of Aboriginal men. One of those men is remembered as Toompany.

Toompany and his company have left us a wonderful memory of Sovereignty in our own age of ‘Sovereign Borders’. Their own borders had been violated, and the intentions of the new arrivals were not clear. The beliefs of the new arrivals were bewildering.  Toompany and company risked their own lives to save these foreigners, who asserted a foreign sovereign which took many forms.  Sometimes it took the form of a great woman in a distant land, who controlled great armies, sometimes a coin, sometimes a man who would defeat death, and now, a ship devoured by the waves. The actions of Toompany and his sovereign company are vital memories for all Australians in one of the sacred struggles of our age.

Even some recent accounts of the wreck of the Sovereign tell the story without reference to the role of the Traditional Custodians in saving the lives of 10 passengers.

When I read the accounts of the last moments of the lives of the Gore family and Mr Berkeley, I was profoundly touched. Along with some of these details about the wreck of the Sovereign (below), I have include an old hymn. It is a fitting sound track and tribute to the last moments of the lives of the Gore family.

I want to remind the people who want to assert and nurture Australia’s Christian heritage that this heritage includes an appreciation that human life at sea can be perilous, which did not stop them from traveling by boat. This same Christian heritage abounds in expressions of compassion for travelers on the ocean and with prayers for their arrival in safe harbours.


The following details about the characters listed in the street names of North Stradbroke Island are copied from Thomas Welsby’s book , Early Moreton Bay, published by Rigby in 1913. (pp 61-63)

From ‘The loss of the ‘Sovereign’ Steamer, wrecked 11th March 1847’ As printed by the ‘Moreton Bay Courier’ in an extraordinary, issued 17th March 1847.

Mr and Mrs Gore

‘Mr Gore, addressing his wife, said ‘Mary, there is no hope for us now; we shall go to heaven together.’ Mrs Gore, turning to the stewardess said, ‘We can die but once. Jesus died for us. God keep us.’ She repeated these short sentences several times, and seemed perfectly prepared to meet the inevitable fate which awaited her with calmness and Christian-like resignation.’

Mr Stubbs

“As Mr Stubbs was swimming, he saw for the last time, Mr Gore cling to the skylight with the child in his arms. Shortly afterwards a man with a blue shirt and dark hair came close to him, supported by a long piece of wood, which hit him in the head and nearly rendered him senseless. Having escaped this danger he had to encounter another still more formidable. He saw breakers ahead proceeding from the bar, which appeared coming towards him like a wall, upwards to fifteen feet in height, frothing and foaming, and enough to appall the stoutest heart. How he got through them he does not recollect, for he saw nothing more until he reached the shoal water of the beach, which was about four miles from the spot where he left the vessel. He had just vigor enough remaining to get out of the reach of the breakers, when a native belonging to the pilot’s crew seized him by the waist, and supported him till his strength returned.”

Captain Cape

“(Captain Cape) managed to catch hold of the paddle-box and called to Mr Berkeley to come to him which he did; and they kept company for an hour and a half. On nearing the surf Captain Cape advised him to hold on with all his strength in going through the heavy breakers, when Mr Berkeley immediately called his attention to the mountain wave behind. The water broke upon them, and poor Berkeley disappeared. Captain Cape sustained three more breakers, and does not remember anything else until he found himself on a hillock of sand on the beach, where he had been carried by the black who dragged him through the surf. As soon as he had partially recovered his strength the natives conducted him to the part of the beach where Mr Stubbs was. On going there, they found the body of Mrs Gore, which had been washed up near the spot where Mr Stubbs landed, and shortly afterwards they found the body of her eldest child.”

“Mr Richards and Mr Clements who were fishing in that neighbourhood, rendered every assistance in their power, and aided by a prisoner of the Crown, named William Rollings, a servant of the pilot, and the native crew, by the most who, but for their assistance, must have perished in the surf.”

“The only articles washed up before the party left the island, at sundown, were some trinkets belonging to Mrs Chettle and a small, but heavy case with Mr Gore’s name upon it.”


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