Maria (1823 ship)

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United Kingdom
BuilderGrand Canal Docks, Dublin
Out of service28 June 1840
FateWrecked, Margaret Brock Reef
General characteristics
Tons burthen135,[2] or 136[1] (bm)
Length70.19 ft (21.4 m)[1]
Beam20.99 ft (6.4 m)[1]
Draught10.9 ft (3.3 m)[1]
Sail planBrigantine
ArmamentSingle cannon
NotesPassenger ship

Maria was a brigantine built in Dublin, Ireland, and launched in 1823 as a passenger ship. On 28 June 1840, she wrecked on the Margaret Brock Reef, near Cape Jaffa in the Colony of South Australia, somewhere south-west of the current site of the town of Kingston SE, South Australia. The wreck has never been located.

Aboriginal Australians on the Coorong massacred some or all of the 17 survivors of the wreck as they journeyed to Adelaide, an event known as the Maria massacre. A punitive expedition, acting under instructions from Governor Gawler that were later found to be unlawful, summarily hanged two presumed culprits.



Maria was launched from Grand Canal Dock, Dublin, in 1823.[1] The data below are from Lloyd's Register (LR).

Year Master Owner Trade Source & notes
1825 W.Lawson J.Gray Dublin–Barbados LR[2]
1830 J.Brooks
Martin Liverpool–Gibraltar LR; repairs in 1827 and 1828

Maria no longer appears in LR in 1835 and subsequently. She may have transferred her registry to Australia.

Final voyage[edit]

Maria left Port Adelaide on 26 June 1840 for Hobart Town, Van Diemens Land, with 25 persons on board, including the captain, William Ettrick Smith, and his wife. Passengers included Samuel Denham and Mrs Denham (née Muller) and their five children (Thomas, Andrew, Walter, Fanny, and Anna); the recently-widowed Mrs York (sister of Samuel Denham), and her infant; James Strutt (previously with Lonsdale's Livery Stables, hired as Mrs Denham's servant); George Young Green and Mrs Green; Thomas Daniel and Mrs Daniel; and Mr. Murray. The ship's mate and crew were John Tegg, John Griffiths, John Deggan/Durgan/Dengan, James Biggins, John Cowley, Thomas Rea, George Leigh and James Parsons.[1]

During the voyage, Maria foundered on the Margaret Brock Reef (named later, after the 1852 shipwreck of the barque Margaret Brock[3][4][5]), which lies west of Cape Jaffa on the south-east coast of South Australia. Eight people died,[failed verification] and survivors made their way to the coast somewhere near the site of the present Kingston SE.[1]


Major O'Halloran's expedition to the Coorong, August 1840.

The passengers and crew safely reached land. Accounts suggest that the passengers commenced trekking on the land side of the Coorong coast towards the lakes (Alexandrina and Albert), with the sailors heading inland at some point.

According to a later account,[clarification needed] around 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the wreck, in company with some friendly Aboriginals, they came across a track and at once had a dispute as to whether or not to follow it, and decided to split up: Captain Smith and the crew took to the track and most of the passengers continued along the shoreline. Two days later some of this latter group split from the party in the hope of rejoining the Captain. Around this time they were attacked and killed by a group of the Milmenrura (or "Big Murray Tribe", now known as Tanganekald, also known as Tenkinyra), stripped of their possessions,[6] hit over the head, decapitated[1] and buried in the sand[6] or in wombat holes.[1]

Such detail of how the Maria survivors came to be widely separated into three groups can only be supposition, as none lived to tell the tale. The body of the captain was found far removed from the others, and no trace of the crew members was ever found, so it is not known whether they suffered the same fate as the passengers. One contemporary noted that survivors of the schooner Fanny (Capt. James Gill), wrecked in the same area two years earlier (21 June 1838), were given every assistance by, presumably, men from the same tribe.[7]

In 2003 Ngarrindjeri elder Tom Trevorrow said that the story was well known among his elders, and that he was told the survivors had met up with their people. According to Trevorrow, the Ngarrindjeri group offered them "fire, water and food...It was the duty of male people to help these people. But every time they'd come to a boundary line, they had to hand them over to the next lakayinyeri (family group) — the Milmendura". He was told that the crew members had tried "to sexually interfere with them". The Ngarrindjeri people warned the sailors that this was not their way, and that their tribal law would punish such behaviour by death. At some point after this, a violent fight broke out, and the survivors of Maria were all killed.[3]


Word of the murders of multiple white people by natives reached Adelaide and William Pullen. A group of sailors and three Aboriginal interpreters, with Pullen in charge, set out to investigate on 28 July, and on 30 July reached a massacre site, recovering two wedding rings. On 1 August, they encountered a group of Aboriginal Australians in possession of blankets and clothing. They returned to Adelaide with the rings, which were identified as belonging to Mrs York and Mrs Denham.[8] The group reported finding "legs, arms and parts of bodies partially covered with sand and strewn in all directions", and a trail of footprints leading from the area. They also said they had found local natives with blankets and one was wearing a sailor's jacket.[3]

Governor Gawler commissioned Major O'Halloran to investigate further and his party left Adelaide on 15 August. Reinforcements were called for and on 22 August, O'Halloran left Goolwa with a mounted troop, including Alexander Tolmer, Captain Henry Nixon, Charles Bonney, and Pullen. They followed the coast, while boats sailed parallel. On 23 August the force ran into a number of Aboriginal Australians and rounded up 13 men, two boys, and 50 women and children. O'Halloran shackled the men and set the others free, though they remained nearby voluntarily.[9]

In his report, O'Halloran stated that his captives yielded up the man who had killed a whaler named Roach some two years previously, and pointed out where one of the Maria murderers could be found. O'Halloran pronounced a death sentence on them. Two Aboriginal Australians who tried to escape by swimming were shot and wounded. Maria's log-book was recovered in one of their wurleys, as were numerous articles of clothing, some blood-stained, and other incriminating evidence. At 3.00pm on 25 August, the two condemned men were summarily hanged from sheaoaks near the graves.[9]

O'Halloran was not exceeding his brief; he was following his instructions from Governor Gawler, whose instructions were:

"...when to your conviction you have identified any number, not exceeding three, of the actual will there explain to the blacks the nature of your conduct ...and you will deliberately and formally cause sentence of death to be executed by shooting or hanging".[10]

In Australia, little blame was apportioned to O'Halloran for his part in this affair; not so for Governor Gawler, who was severely criticised by sections of the press, notably the Register.[11] In London, the Colonial Office was of the opinion that both Gawler and O'Halloran were liable to be tried for murder.[11] The Aborigines' Protection Society roundly condemned Gawler's actions.[11] The Society also questioned the legality of the actions; the Chief Justice, though, was of the opinion that South Australian law could not be applied, because the tribe had not pledged allegiance to the Crown.[12] The controversy may have played a part in Gawler's recall some months later.

In a sketchbook by the then Surveyor General of South Australia, Edward Charles Frome, there is a sketch of a Milmenrura village in the south-east consisting of a cluster of about twelve established homes. It is annotated with the note “burnt by me, October 1840”.[13]

On 10 April 1841, members of the Tenkinyra tribe guided Richard Penny to a spot where they promised the remains of a drowned white man were buried. He believed it would be Captain Collet Barker, who was speared to death in the same area on 30 April 1831. They found instead the bodies of four of the five from Maria still unaccounted for; one drowned and four bashed to death. The Aboriginals told Penny that the attack had followed the shipwrecked party's refusal to hand over clothing that they had considered their just entitlement for guiding and sustaining the group and carrying the children across their land. The Maria party had promised plenty of blankets and clothing from Adelaide after they returned, but the Aboriginals started to help themselves to the goods and a fight ensued, ending in the killing of the shipwrecked party.[14]


Maria's hull was never found, though pieces of wreckage washed ashore at Lacepede Bay.[15][16] In 1972 a diver recovered a rubber gudgeon which may have come from either the Maria or the Margaret Brock. There have been rumours of gold sovereigns aboard the ship, but records have not confirmed this. There were stories of coins being passed around the Ngarrandjeri people, which may have been traded by survivors before the massacre.[3]

It is hoped that the wreck may one day be located, using advanced remote sensing technology. This would be of great historical value. Senior maritime heritage officer Amer Khan of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources State Heritage Unit, said that such a discovery could help to reveal the chain of events which led up to the tragedy. Khan suspects the wreck lies somewhere near Cape Jaffa, where the treacherous Margaret Brock reef is located.[3]

A cannon reported to have belonged to the Maria and which "was probably carried for the look of the thing or for signalling" was purchased from the Lee family of Middleton by D. H. Cudmore around 1914 as a garden feature for his home "Adare" in Victor Harbor, South Australia, then as a family tradition fired to welcome each New Year.[17] A bell, claimed to have belonged to the ship, was acquired by Nuriootpa High School in 1942.[18]

A plaque commemorating the wreck of Maria was unveiled at Kingston SE on 18 February 1966.[19]

Maria Creek was named as a reminder of the wreck.[15]

See also[edit]


  • Names of Aboriginal groups are as reported in the contemporary press. They must have been tribes or clans of the Ngarrindjeri people but may have no connection with any later group. The group here written as "Milmenrura" has elsewhere been described as the Milmendjuri clan of the Tanganekald tribe.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Shipwreck - Maria". Australian National Shipwreck Database. Australian Government. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b LR (1825), Seq.№M284.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hill, Kate (November 2015). "Murder, missing gold and lost shipwreck: Dark tale of the Maria massacre". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Shipwreck of the barque "Margaret Brock," of Hobart Town, on her voyage from Port Adelaide to Melbourne". South Australian Register. XVI (1942). South Australia. 6 December 1852. p. 3. Retrieved 14 October 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database: View Shipwreck - Margaret Brock". Australian Government. Dept of Environment and Energy. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  6. ^ a b Noble, Captain John 1970), Hazards of the Sea: Three Centuries of Challenge in Southern Waters, Sydney: Angus and Robertson. ISBN 0 207 12070 6
  7. ^ John Wrathall Bull (4 August 1877). "Early Experiences of Colonial Life. No. XIV". South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail. XX (989). South Australia. p. 18. Retrieved 19 November 2019 – via National Library of Australia. see also Early Experiences of Colonial Life in South Australia
  8. ^ "Supposed Wreck and Murder at Encounter Bay". The Southern Australian. 14 August 1840. p. 2. Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via Trove. Pullen's journal, 28 July to 3 August.
  9. ^ a b "Late Shipwreck and Murders at Encounter Bay". The Sydney Herald. 8 October 1840. p. 3. Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via Trove.
  10. ^ "Major O'Halloran's Instructions and Execution of two Natives at Encounter Bay". The Southern Australian. 15 September 1840. p. 3. Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via Trove.
  11. ^ a b c Foster R., Nettelbeck A. (2011), Out of the Silence, p. 27-32 (Wakefield Press).
  12. ^ "A Famous Wreck". The Evening News. 5 October 1895. p. 1 Supplement: Evening News Supplement. Retrieved 29 May 2013 – via Trove. This reference states that the bodies were stuffed down wombat holes, where others coyly refer to "shallow graves"; it is also one of the few to touch on the contentious possibility of cannibalism.
  13. ^ Marsh, Walter (1 October 2019). "Jonathan Jones and Bruce Pascoe offer a timely illustration of Aboriginal lands on the cusp of colonisation". Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  14. ^ "The Milmenrura Murders". The Southern Australian. 23 April 1841. p. 2. Retrieved 30 September 2018 – via Trove.
  15. ^ a b "Maria Creek". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Shipwrecks. 2003. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  16. ^ "Maria 1840". State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 14 October 2019. An exact location for the wreck has never been established but the fact that large amounts of wreckage washed ashore along the beach of Lacepede Bay, suggest that this is where the vessel went down...
  17. ^ "From Rosaline's Notebook". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 10 February 1934. p. 16. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  18. ^ "Passing By". The News (Adelaide). South Australia. 23 June 1942. p. 2. Retrieved 28 March 2020 – via Trove.
  19. ^ National Trust of South Australia. Kingston Branch (1966), Souvenir of the occasion of the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the loss of the brigantine "Maria", 1840 : Friday, February 18, 1966, Kingston Branch of the National Trust of South Australia, retrieved 23 November 2015
  20. ^ H. A. Lindsay (1975). "Ch. 11: Aborigines in the Murray Valley". In G. V. Lawrence and Graeme Kinross Smith (ed.). The Book of the Murray. Rigby Publishers. ISBN 0-85179-917-5.

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 36°55′55″S 139°35′05″E / 36.932015°S 139.584697°E / -36.932015; 139.584697