Jirene's Genealogy Treasures

Genealogical Information of Interest on my Ancestors: Morris and Ellsworth families including Lee, Halladay, Wanslee, Gordge, McFerren, and Blackhurst (England, Ireland, Wales, Australia to the US: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Arizona), and the Butler and Adams families including Hancock, Lind, DeWitt, McCleve, Thetford, and Nielsen (England, Ireland, Denmark to the US: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Utah, and Arizona).

Jan 18, 2009

Samuel Gordge - Drowning Myth or Death by Shark?

SAMUEL GORDGE: I had always been intrigued with this ancestor because I had always known from my genealogy that he tragically drowned on Christmas day in 1850 in Australia, after having emigrated from Wales with his wife Merab. Two children were born of that marriage -- one of them my great-grandmother Anne Gordge. She just so happened to be the 18th wife of John Doyle Lee, the "scapegoat" who was executed by the US Government for the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah. Of course I was interested in these infamous ancestors!
(Merab Hancock Gordge Phillips)

In 2001 I was playing on my computer with a relatively new search engine called "Google" and decided to google "Samuel Gordge." I also included the word "Australia," and up pops an article from the Newsletters of the Historical Society of S.A. (South Australia), from January of 2001, called: "A Mixture of Mystery and Murder," by Russell Smith. Hmmm -- Samuel Gordge -- mystery and .... murder?! I read on!

The article did indeed contain information of MY Samuel Gordge, as it referenced his wife "Merah" [sic]. It was not an article about the tragic drowning of my ancestor, but one of thievery and death by shark bite. Below is an excerpt (author cited numerous Australian historical newspaper articles and public records):

When the Overland Escort from the Victorian goldfields arrived in Adelaide on November 19th 1852, successfully delivering the largest consignment of gold to be brought into South Australia to that date (13,875 ounces), most Adelaideans were elated by the news. But one lady, Mrs. Merah Gordge of Hindmarsh, was shattered. The official notice gave the reason for the Escort's later-than-expected arrival --- there had been a delay at Wellington in the south-east as the police were absent down in the Coorong where three bodies had been found washed ashore from the wreck of the J. Lovett. Merah's husband Sam was the cook on the ship.

News of its stranding in Discovery Bay near Cape Northumberland on September 19th had reached Adelaide a few weeks earlier but the report had clearly stated that all the crew and passengers were safe and that they were actually making their way across country, heading towards Portland.
(Discovery Bay)

The J. Lovett, sometimes referred to as the Jane Lovett, was making its third voyage between Melbourne and Adelaide. On the previous trip in July, the passenger list had totaled fifty-four but on the fateful September voyage there were, thankfully, only three. Most of the available space was taken up with much-sought-after and therefore easily saleable goods, predominantly wine and spirits, drapery and clothing, tea, sugar and coffee. The cargo was valued at £5,100.

The night of September 19th was a wild one. A vicious current sweeps towards the shore along the dramatically rugged section of South Australia's coastline between the Victorian border and Carpenter’s Rocks. A tiring captain's error and poor conditions were regular companions in the region. Captain John Broadfoot of the J. Lovett made one error of judgement and the violent weather did the rest. The little ship was caught in the current and dragged through the darkness towards the rocks. Miraculously it passed through, around and over numerous dangerous reefs and finally crashed onto a beach, to remain sitting there high and dry in an upright position, relatively undamaged.

No-one was injured. Captain Broadfoot decided to remain with the ship and its extremely valuable cargo, along with some of the crew, while the three passengers and the remaining crew walked towards Portland in the hope of locating a station property and somehow getting word of the disaster to the ship's agents in either Melbourne or Adelaide.

Five crewmen stayed with the captain, but not for long. Mate John Phillips, steward Thomas Pilkington, cook Samuel Gordge and seamen Henry Scott and George Foot saw an opportunity. They simply took one of the lifeboats, loaded it with wine and spirits and left the captain alone to fend for himself. No doubt the deserters gambled on reaching Port Adelaide in the open boat, quietly selling the grog and disappearing with the proceeds, but that was a fatal mistake.

A few days later, somewhere near Salt Creek, a group of natives made the gruesome discovery of the remains of a shark-mangled, headless body of a white man, dumped on the beach by the pounding surf. They buried the body in the sandhills, marking the location with driftwood and then continued on their way along the beach in a northerly direction. Two miles distant they found another two bodies and gave them a similar burial. Further along the beach there was a happier discovery --- an upturned lifeboat.

This they managed to maneuver across the sandhills to the quiet waters of the Coorong. A landholder named Robinson saw the natives in the boat and commandeered it. They told him about the bodies on the beach and he immediately sent details of the mysterious disaster to the police stationed at Wellington.

News of the stranding had already arrived in Wellington and it was assumed that the unfortunates found near Salt Creek must have been from that vessel. George Mason, Sub-protector of Aborigines, along with Mounted Constable Hall, promptly left for the scene. It was during their absence that the Gold Escort reached Wellington and via that news of the bodies on the beach was taken on to Adelaide and subsequently to Mrs. Gordge. The distraught wife of the ship's cook was to wait some time before it was eventually confirmed that her husband was indeed one of the victims.

Samuel Gordge did drown but not on Christmas Day in 1850. He drowned or was killed by a shark sometime between September 19, 1852 and November 19, 1852, following his looting of some of the J. Lovett's bootie!

Epilogue: I will be posting several original documents I received from Russell Smith of his generous research of our Gordge family following the publishing of his article. Thank you Mr. Smith for your assistance in exposing a family myth!

5/2/2010 update:  I've uploaded a copy of this article to my Google Docs (since it is no longer available for search on the internet).
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