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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

"Our Friends" plaque unveiled in Moruya

In March 1797, five British sailors and 12 Bengali seamen struggled ashore after their longboat broke apart in a storm. Their fellow-survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove were stranded more than 500 kilometres southeast in Bass Strait. To rescue their mates and to save themselves the 19 men must walk 700 kilometres north to Sydney.


That remarkable walk is a story of endurance but also of unexpected Aboriginal help. A ceremony was held on the banks of the Deua River to unveil a plaque commemorating an historic meeting between First Nations people and shipwreck survivors in Moruya 225 years ago, in a remarkable story of survival and goodwill. The Plaque reads:

"On 8 February 1797, the cargo ship Sydney Cove was wrecked at Preservation Island in Bass Strait, after travelling from Calcutta.

Five British and twelve Bengali sailors (known as Lascar sailors), led by Chief Mate Hugh Thompson, left behind Captain Guy Hamilton and many other crew members on the island on 27 February to seek rescue in Port Jackson, Sydney.

They sailed a modified long boat (sail and oars) to 90-mile beach on the coast of Victoria, 40-45kms south of Lakes Entrance, where they were marooned again on 2 March after a southerly gale. All 17 made it to shore safely but with barely any provisions. They decided to walk to Sydney, some 700 kms away. On 14 March 1797, they set off, traversing rivers, rocks, bluffs and beaches. None would have survived without Aboriginal people showing them how to find food and water, guiding them along paths, taking them across rivers in their canoes and welcoming them to their camps.

One of those camps was here at Moruya. The brindja Yuin and djirringgandj Yuin people assisted the party to cross three rivers - Narooma on 13 April, Tuross on 15 April, and Moruya on 16 April.

After these crossings, nine Lascar sailors fell ill and remained with the local Aboriginals, who William Clark, one of the survivors, describes in his journal as "Our Friends". It is not known what happened to those sailors, but the rest of the party moved on.

On April 17th, Thompson nearly drowned at Mossy Point, walbandja Yuin land, which slowed their progress. After two months, three men completed the trek: William Clark, John Bennet and an unnamed Bengali sailor. On 17 May 1797 they were found at Wattamolla Beach, just south of Sydney. In early June, a rescue was launched by the vessels Eliza and Francis, which reached the stranded crew at Preservation Island on 10 June.

2022 marks 225 years since this historic event.



At a ceremony on December 9th 2022, elders Kerry Boyenga and Trish Ellis performed a welcome to country and smoking ceremony before the plaque was unveiled with the assistance of historian, Mark McKenna. Photo: Moruya Mail

The unveiling was low key with no media invited. Attending, representing the Eurobodalla Mayor who wasn't able to attend, was Deputy Mayor Alison Worthington whilst the Member for Bega, Dr Michael Holland, also unable to attend the unveiling, was represented by one of his senior staff.

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