Grace Bussell (1860-1935)
Grace Bussell became known as “Western Australia’s Grace Darling” in 1876 when she and Sam Isaacs helped rescue passengers and crew from the stricken ship S.S. Georgette.
The Early Years
Grace Bussell was the daughter of one of the first European settlers in the Augusta-Margaret River Region of Western Australia. Her parents Ellen and Alfred Bussell moved to a property they named Ellensbrook , in the 1850’s to start a dairy and cattle farm. This area would later become known as the town of Margaret River .
In 1865, the Bussell family moved to the property of Wallcliffe, near the mouth of Margaret River. One of many children, Grace would spend much of her time helping her mother with the daily chores on the dairy farm. She was a keen horse rider and also it appears, a keen cave explorer.
In 1870 she discovered the “Wallcliffe Cave” which is located behind her family home and in 1878, she also discovered the cave which is now known as Calgardup Cave. Alfred Bussell (not to be out done) was believed to be responsible for the discovery and naming of the Witchcliffe Cave. The name was later used for the townsite of Witchcliffe, 9kms from Margaret River.
Grace Bussell and the S.S.Georgette
Sixteen year old Grace would come to public attention in 1876, when she helped rescue passengers and crew of the stricken ship, S.S. Georgette .
On that fateful day, Grace was helping her mother and sisters with Christmas preparations, when their Aboriginal stockman, Sam Isaacs , burst into the house telling them of a stricken vessel in the Caldardup Bay near Redgate Beach .
Grace, ever the adventurer, volunteered to return to the bay with Sam to see if they could help. They both saddled up their horses and headed to the coast. From the cliffs they could see the ship was in trouble, people were already scrambling into lifeboats.Without hesitation they both rode their horses down the rocky cliff face and into the raging surf.
The horses struggled through the waves but eventually got close enough to the passengers for them to hold on. Grace and Sam urged the frantic victims to grab hold, as they lead their horses back to shore. Grace and Sam would continue to ride back into ocean until everyone was safely on shore. Some of the passengers made it safety to shore on their own but Grace and Sam were responsible for saving many of the fifty survivors.
Western Australia’s Grace Darling
The survivors were later taken to Wallcliffe where they were looked after by the family. It wasn’t long before the story of heroics broke around the world. Newspapers called her “Western Australia’s Grace Darling”. This was in honour of another Grace, who also helped rescue five people from raging seas. Grace Darling lived at the lighthouse on Farne Island, England with her family. In 1838, the Steamship, “Forfarshire”, ran onto rocks and Grace and her father, in a row boat, braved heavy seas to rescue the poor souls clinging to a rock.
Grace Bussell and Sam Isaacs would both be awarded medals from the Royal Humane Society of England. Grace received a silver medal whilst Sam (unfairly) received a bronze medal. The State Government also presented Grace with a gold watch and Sam a 100acres of crown land of his choice. Alfred Bussell would receive a hundred pounds compensation from the government for the family’s role in feeding, clothing and sheltering the survivors.
Frederick Drake-Brockman, a government surveyor, heard of Grace’s courageous efforts and rode from Perth, some 300km, to meet her. They would later marry in 1882 at St Mary’s church in Busselton. Her husband became the Surveyor General of Western Australia and would name ‘Lake Grace’in his wife’s honour.
Frederick’s responsibilities were to map out telegraph routes and roads in the state’s north-west. He was also responsible for marking out the second line of the rabbit proof fence from Murchinson to Eucla. Grace and Frederick would have seven children – Enid ,Frederika, Edmund, Geoffrey, Deborah, Frederick and Karl.
Brides Cave was named in honour of Grace’s daughter, Deborah, when she married Winthrop Hackett in 1905.
Grace Bussell Drake-Brockman died in 1935 at the age of 75, in Guildford.