Recognition for Samuel 'Yebble' Isaacs, an Aboriginal hero who saved the lives of family that 'built Burnie'

RELATIVE RESCUE: Claire Turfrey at Wivenhoe Cemetery amidst the graves of her ancestors who were rescued from the shipwreck SS Georgette by Samuel Isaacs, the Aboriginal hero also known as Yebble. Picture: Simon Sturzaker
RELATIVE RESCUE: Claire Turfrey at Wivenhoe Cemetery amidst the graves of her ancestors who were rescued from the shipwreck SS Georgette by Samuel Isaacs, the Aboriginal hero also known as Yebble. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

It has taken nearly 150 years but a Western Australian locality has been named after the Aboriginal hero of a 19th Century shipwreck.

And Tasmanian woman Claire Turfrey, of Burnie, is celebrating because her ancestors were aboard the ship.

The SS Georgette left Fremantle on November 29, 1876 carrying 50 passengers and a cargo of jarrah timber.

Sadly, Ms Turfrey's four-times great-grandmother Elizabeth Hauxwell and her three youngest children died in the shipwreck.

But many, including Mrs Hauxwell's daughter Annie Stammers and her two children, survived thanks to heroic efforts of Aboriginal stockman Samuel Isaacs and 16-year-old Grace Bussell.

Mr Isaacs spotted the ship in obvious distress and likely to founder in Calgardup Bay.

Samuel Isaacs, whose Aboriginal name was Yebble.

Samuel Isaacs, whose Aboriginal name was Yebble.

He rode his horse 20km to his employer's homestead to raise the alarm of the unfolding tragedy, and with the teenaged Miss Bussell returned to the wreck.

Together they rode their horses in and out of the wild seas for four hours to rescue survivors.

Miss Bussell was widely recognised for her role in the rescue, including having nearby Gracetown and Grace Lake named in her honour and being awarded a silver medal by the Royal Humane Society.

IN OTHER NEWS:

Mr Isaacs, whose aboriginal name was Yebble, received a bronze medal and was gifted 100 acres of land, but received no landmark recognition.

But in March, the Augusta Margaret River Shire Council voted to name the area south of Gracetown Yebble, and on April 6 Premier Mark McGowan announced the "nod to a local hero".

Ms Turfrey said the formal recognition for Yebble had been a long time coming.

"It's wonderful to see some more long-awaited recognition for his role in this amazing rescue," she said.

"No doubt without him spotting the ship initially and his efforts in the rescue many more people would have lost their lives, and perhaps I may not be here now to help keep this incredible story alive 145 years later.

"Family legend has it that air trapped underneath Annie's skirt actually helped to keep her and the children afloat until they were rescued.

Shipwreck survivor and matriarch of the Stammers family, Annie Stammers.

Shipwreck survivor and matriarch of the Stammers family, Annie Stammers.

"I can't imagine how terrifying and heartbreaking that experience must have been for her."

Ms Turfrey's great-great-grandfather John Jnr was just 11-months-old when he survived the wreck with his sister and mother, who would go on to have a total of 13 children with her husband John.

Having survived the shipwreck, the Stammers family moved to Adelaide for nearly a decade and then to Burnie in 1885.

In the book Pioneers of Burnie Richard Pike wrote that "it is no exaggeration to say that Stammers built Burnie - at least old Burnie".

Ms Turfrey said that John Stammers, Annie's husband, his four sons and nine other bricklayers went on to build a number of iconic Burnie buildings including the Bay View and Beach Hotels, the National Bank of Tasmania and the original Burnie State School.

She said the Stammers family bricklaying business continued for more than 100 years and included three great-grandsons and one great-great-grandson of the original John Stammers.

John Stammers Jnr, son of John and Annie, died on February 12, 1947, and an obituary in The Advocate noted that the name Stammers had become "a household word so far as bricklaying was concerned".

Claire Turfrey's great-grandfather Vivian Stammers, in the 1950s, building the Cooee Memorial Hall.

Claire Turfrey's great-grandfather Vivian Stammers, in the 1950s, building the Cooee Memorial Hall.

This story Wreck survivors' descendant praises recognition of Aboriginal hero first appeared on The Advocate.