The Georgette Rescue

This week we focus on a range of separate but connected collection items and tell the story behind them. The Georgette Rescue and the role of Sam Isaacs and Grace Bussell within it has become part of West Australian folklore and mythology.  

In 1876 sixteen year old Grace Bussell of the Bussell family – one of the first European settler families in the south west, and twenty five-year old Noongar man Sam Isaacs were involved in rescuing passengers and crew from the steamship the SS Georgette, which was en-route from Fremantle to Adelaide via Busselton.  

The Georgette had drifted into the surf at Calgardup Bay near Redgate, where it was seen by Sam Isaacs. He rushed on foot to the Bussell’s property, Wallcliffe, some 20kms away to raise the alarm. Grace, the Bussell’s 16 year old daughter, volunteered to help. 

From the cliffs, they could see the ship breaking up on the rocks as people scrambled into lifeboats. The two proceeded along the cliffs and then rode their horses down the slopes into the surf. They both encouraged passengers to grab hold of the horses, their saddles, tail and manes or Sam and Grace’s clothing. Bussell and Isaacs continued their rescuing efforts, taking over four hours to land all the passengers. The approximately fifty survivors were taken to the Bussell’s homestead, Wallcliffe, where they were fed and given dry clothing. 

Grace and Sam were hailed as heroes, with Grace receiving a silver medal from the Royal Humane Society and a gold watch, and Sam receiving a bronze medal and 100 acres of land from the State Government.  

The State Library collections contain a number of disparate items across a range of material types that help to illuminate the story. Most immediately we have the certificate awarded to Grace Bussell in 1878 for her bravery and heroicism.

Grace's Certificate of Bravery 

Certificate presented to Grace Vernon Bussell, 8 January, 1878 for her “Georgette” rescue work.

The State Library also holds photographs of Grace and Sam.

Grace Bussell (later Mrs F. Drake-Brockman)

Sam Isaacs (seated) and another man, ca 1900.

The State Library archives also include oral histories referring to the incident and to Sam and Grace, as well as the sprawling Bussell Collection containing extensive documentation of the Bussell family’s activities as settlers in the south west. More recently there have been several publications focused around the story of the Georgette Rescue, both illustrated children’s books and historical fiction. 

For more stories from the State Library and the State Records Office, follow @statelibrarywa and @staterecordsofficewa on Facebook and @statelibrarywa on Instagram.

Recorded live on ABC Radio Perth on 15 September 2020.

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