She was the wife of Captain James Fraser, master of the Stirling Castle. There were 18 people aboard the ship and a cargo mainly of spirits, which may have been involved in the accident. They struck a reef hundreds of kilometres north of Fraser Island. They then launched two boats, one of which landed at Waddy Point on Fraser Island. It was here that she claimed she was captured by Aborigines; her husband either died from starvation or was killed by an Aborigine because he was unable to carry wood. They were stripped of their clothing.
Eliza was found by John Graham, an escaped convict who had lived for six years with the Aborigines, and is said to have gone naked to get the confidence of the Aborigines. Whether John Graham acted alone in rescuing Eliza is a matter of some conjecture. For many years her rescuer was thought to have been another escaped convict David Bracewell (not Bracefell or Bracefield as is frequently written). Bracewell became the rescuer of legend - a legend enhanced by the equally false tale that Bracewell had led Eliza overland to the outskirts of present-day Brisbane where, rather than, as promised, seeking his pardon in return for his assistance, she threatened to betray him for having taken advantage of her. This story is demonstrably untrue. Official records show with certainty that it was the convict John Graham who walked with her from a corroboree ground on Lake Cootharaba north of present-day Noosa onto the ocean beach near present day Teewah. Here they met the waiting Lieutenant Otter and his small band of soldiers and convict volunteers. They proceeded north along the beach to the main rescue party waiting at Double Island Point from where Eliza was taken by longboat to the Penal Settlement at Moreton Bay. However David Bracewell may well have played some part, perhaps crucial, in her rescue.
The Eliza Fraser story was a theme to which painter Sidney Nolan returned over the years. His first Mrs Fraser painting was in 1947 when he visited Fraser Island. The crouching, bedraggled, half-human half-animal form - downcast head obscured by matted hair - is one of his best known images. Over the years Nolan emphasised the Bracefell (as he called Bracewell) betrayal story, and his iconic Mrs Fraser image has become emblematic of what he saw as his betrayal by Sunday Reed.
Eliza later secretly married another sea captain (Captain Alexander Greene) in Sydney and they both returned to England aboard his ship, the Mediterranean Packet. Controversy followed when she appeared before the Lord Mayor of London to request that a charity appeal be set up for her three children as she was left penniless after her husband had died, not mentioning her marriage to Captain Greene or the £400 received in Sydney by a fund set up to help her. Sensationalised accounts of her experience were published in London.
Patrick White wrote a fictionalised account of the incident in the 1976 novel A Fringe of Leaves. Other writers to have written her story include André Brink, Kenneth Cook and Michael Ondaatje. Sidney Nolan painted a wide range of personal interpretations of historical and legendary figures, including Eliza Fraser.
In 1976 a drama film titled "Eliza Fraser" ("The Adventures of Eliza Fraser" was an alternate title) was made about her. Susannah York played the title role, and the film was directed by Tim Burstall. It was the first Australian film with a seven figure budget, costing $1.2 million to make.
- "Eliza's Landfall". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 2014-07-19.
- "Nolan's "Mrs Fraser": Reconstruction and Deconstruction". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 2014-07-19.
- Goldie, Terry (1989). Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Literatures. Toronto: McGill-Queens University Press.
- Russell, Lynette, et al., eds (1998). Constructions of Colonialism: Perspectives on Eliza Fraser's Shipwreck. Wellington: Leicester University Press.
- Brown, Elaine (1994). "The Legend of Eliza Frazer : A Survey of The Sources". Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 15 (7): 345–360. ISSN 0085-5804. Retrieved 24 October 2012.