Star of Greece: 3 masted ship, iron, 1257 tons. Built Belfast 1868
Because the site of the wreck lies close to suburban Adelaide, the Star of Greece is now one of the best known wrecks in South Australia.
Built in Belfast in 1868, the Star of Greece, laden with wheat, was wrecked in a violent storm off Port Willunga on the 13th July 1888. Some discrepancy exists in the actual number of lives lost, due to doubts about the number of people aboard the vessel when it left Port Adelaide, but most historians conclude that at least 18 perished.
The most striking part of the tragedy was that the ship was only 200 metres from shore when it broke in two amidships at 2.00am.The alarm was raised at 7.20am by a young boy taking his morning walk but because the Willunga telegraph station didn’t open until 9.00am, former harbourmaster Thomas Martin was unable to contact authorities in Adelaide until then.
The response to the call for help was disastrous. A combination of poor communications, bad roads, and an inability to find a good vehicle and horses to bring the necessary rocket gear for a rescue attempt meant that it was 4.00pm when useful help finally arrived. By then all the survivors were ashore and the others aboard had already drowned in the roaring surf.
Local residents had gone to the nearby beach to assist those who did manage to make it to shore. They bore witness to the deaths of those who fell into the sea, exhausted after desperately clinging to the rigging, and those who drowned in the mountainous seas as they tried to swim ashore. Helpless, they waited until some mariners made it to the shallows and then took them to nearby lodgings to recuperate.
Following the tragedy newspapers strongly criticised the Marine Board and its rescue operations and a later Coronial inquest was equally damning.
Today interpretive signs at Port Willunga tell the story of the Star of Greece near the café which bears its name. At low tide parts of the wreck are still visible from the shore.
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