Star of Greece figurehead, SA Maritime Museum, Joyce West

2018 marks the 130th anniversary of the wreck of the Star of Greece.

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On Saturday 13th July 2013 our community commemorated the 125th anniversary of the wrecking of the Star of Greece at Port Willunga.  National Trust member Julie Taylor led a group of very interested folk on a guided walk of the historic township, the old port and original survey area. This was followed by afternoon tea, the screening of the film “A Day in July” and much informative discussion.

A reminder of what happened 125 years ago.

The Star of Greece was a three-masted ship built at Belfast in 1868, 277 feet long and weighing 1227 tons. She carried cargo around the world, setting records for fast passages, and soon became one of the finest ships in the Star Line. In June 1888 she delivered a 22-ton gun to Port Adelaide – it was one of two guns supplied for the defence of Adelaide. The Star of Greece was loaded with 16,000 bags of wheat and sailed from Port Adelaide on 12 July 1888, bound for the United Kingdom.

Early next morning on Friday 13 at about 3am, she was driven ashore just north of Lion Point at Port Willunga during a fierce south-westerly storm.

Star of Greece wreck, gouache, G F Gregory, State Library of SA

Word of the disaster quickly spread through the Port Willunga township after early-rising residents saw the masts of the ship looming above the cliff tops. Thomas Martin, the ex-Harbor-master, immediately galloped to Aldinga Post Office to telegraph for assistance. Unfortunately, the news was delayed for an hour until the opening of the telegraph line at 9am. Mounted Constable Tuohy immediately responded from his post at Willunga Police Station and began to organise the futile rescue attempts.

The Marine Board in Port Adelaide responded slowly. What followed was described as a saga of “inaction and procrastination… coupled with indecision, at the Marine Board and within Government”. The citizens of Port Willunga were left to cope with the disaster as best they could until the belated arrival of rescue equipment and steam tugs just as the late afternoon darkness was closing in. By then, however, the last two crew members had abandoned hope of rescue and had cast themselves into the merciless sea, hoping in vain to reach the safety of the shore. Of the twenty-eight men on board, only eleven survived the tragic day.

Although the ship was only 200 metres from shore, poor lifesaving facilities and the severity of the storm contributed to making this shipwreck one of South Australia’s worst shipping disasters.

The remains of the once beautifully decorated three-masted Star of Greece lie to the north of the jetty. At very low tide, a piece of the wreck is clearly visible from the shore, a constant reminder of the horrifying tragedy that occurred.

Further Reading: “The Tragic Shore” by Geoffrey Manning, 1988, available from Willunga National Trust.

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