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Star of Greece

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FA Contributor

06 July 2024, 8:00 PM

Star of GreeceStar of Greece shipwreck by G.F. Gregory junior (c.1888. Private Collection)

The wreck of Star of Greece on 13 July 1888 was an important event in the history of the Fleurieu Peninsula and, more generally, in the colony of South Australia. Today the wreck lies in only 4m of water and a small part of the bow still appears at times of very low tide, to the north of Port Willunga. Proximity to Adelaide makes it the largest and most accessible shipwreck in South Australia for snorkelers and SCUBA divers who regularly visit, usually in the summer months. Star of Greece is an impressive site with massive iron frames and plating spread across the seabed. Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries (EMS) takes snorkelers to the site each year, so if you want a chance to see the site just look up EMS on Facebook.

 

Star of Greece sank after loading 16,002 bags of wheat at Port Adelaide for a return voyage to London and then being towed out to moor off Semaphore. The captain and the last of the crew came aboard on Thursday 12 July 1888 and the vessel set sail to head through Backstairs Passage into the Southern Ocean. At about 3am the next morning, Star of Greece came to grief off Chinaman’s Gully at Port Willunga, only 200m from the shore.

 

When the wreck was sighted at first light, the people of Port Willunga rallied to rescue the distressed crew. Unfortunately, with the sea so turbulent, there was not much they could do. When Mounted Constable Thomas Stephen Tuohy from Willunga reached the scene he dashed into the breakers and rescued one exhausted sailor. He risked his life several times trying to save more but unfortunately eighteen men died in the tragic events of that day and just ten of the crew survived. Some of the bodies of the victims were buried in the Aldinga Methodist (Uniting) Church graveyard and were marked with a memorial obelisk. In 2018 the Willunga Branch of the National Trust of South Australia arranged for a bronze plaque with all 18 names of the deceased seamen to be placed next to the memorial.

 

It is always interesting that many marine artists choose to paint shipwreck events that they have not witnessed themselves. They often appeared on the scene sometime after the shipwreck event had essentially finished. One example, and the most prolific artist of the Star of Greece wreck event, was George Frederick Gregory junior (1857-1913) who was the oldest son of noted Melbourne marine artist George Frederick Gregory senior (1821-1887). At least seven works by G.F. Gregory junior depicting the Star of Greece wreck are known to exist; four are held in public collections (two in the Art Gallery of South Australia, one in the State Library of South Australia and one by the South Australian Maritime Museum) and three are held in private collections. During May through to July 2024 two of the Gregory paintings of Star of Greece were on display in the “Coast” exhibition in the Art Gallery at Waverley Park Homestead.

 

Star of Greece shipwreck by G.F. Gregory junior (c.1888. Private Collection)

 

There are two important public collections of material from Star of Greece, some of which was salvaged at the time of the wreck and other material was raised by SCUBA divers, mainly in the 1950s to 1970s, before state and federal heritage laws largely brought a halt to looting from shipwrecks. One of the Star of Greece artefact collections is exhibited by the Willunga National Trust in the Courthouse Museum, Willunga and the other is held by the South Australian Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide. One significant item from Star of Greece is Captain Harrower’s telescope that was recently purchased at auction by the Willunga National Trust.


Star of Greece telescope held by National Trust Chair Dr Paddy O'Toole (photo by Mark Staniforth)

 

Public fascination with Star of Greece is on-going. For more than thirty years Willunga National Trust Branch has conducted an annual Star of Greece heritage walk for members of the public on the weekend closest to 13 July to commemorate the sinking. The next Star of Greece heritage walk will take place in July 2024.

 

Admission to both the Courthouse Museum and Waverley Park Homestead is free, as is the annual Star of Greece heritage walk. For more information and to book see the Willunga National Trust website

 

Dr Mark Staniforth

Willunga National Trust member

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