Friday, November 25, 2011

A Tragic End to a Wonderful Story

If you live in Australia, you have probably heard about the bushfires raging across the beautiful coastline of Margaret River in WA. So far over 30 homes have been destroyed. Although I live in Melbourne now I spent a big portion of my life in and around that area. My sister and her family and my dad and step mum still live there but thankfully they are about 15 minutes further south.

I have been following the news closely from Melbourne and was absolutely shattered to hear that despite the efforts of firefighters and water helicopters, the terrible winds flaming the fire caused it to jump the Margaret River and they were unable to save historic Wallcliffe House.

Wallcliffe House, a picturesque homestead built in 1865 by the pioneering Bussell family, was perched on a small ridge overlooking the mouth of the Margaret River.  Whenever I would drive down Wallcliffe Road towards the beach I would always look out for its chimneys and shingled roof.  I remember my mum taking my sisters and I to visit the house and being amazed at the steepness and skinniness of its staircases.  I always wondered how the Bussell women had managed to climb up and down those staircases in their long Victorian dresses. 

Aside from its character and charm, one of the most interesting things about Wallcliffe House was its association with a famous episode of courage and heroism which generations of Australian school children were taught.

On 1 December 1876, the ship, Georgette, was grounded on rocks at Calgardup Bay just south of Wallcliffe House and began to break up. 

The pitiful scene was witnessed by a 30 year old Aboriginal stockman, Sam Yebble Isaacs, who immediately rode to the homestead at Wallcliffe House to get help.  The only person at home was Grace Bussell, then just 16 years old.  Grace rode her horse to the bay with Isaacs where they met a scene of utter misery with women and children from the boat being thrown into the surf.  Without hesitation, Grace Bussell plunged into the surf on her horse. 
Over the course of four hours, Grace and Sam Isaacs fought the waves on horseback and saved the passengers from certain death.  Almost all the passengers were saved and taken back to Wallcliffe House to recover.  Grace and Sam were later awarded the medal of the Royal Humane Society.

There are two interesting endings to this story….

The bravery of 16 year old Grace Bussell made her internationally famous. A young man from a well known Perth family, Frederick Drake-Brockman, read of Grace’s exploits in the paper and rode 300 kilometres on horseback just to meet her.  They fell in love and were later married.  Grace lived to the ripe old age of 75 and the little house owned by Frederick and Grace in Guildford is only a few doors away from my mum's house.

Sam Yebble Isaacs, the son of a Native American Indian whaler who had absconded from his ship in the 1830’s and an Aboriginal woman from the Wardandie tribe near Augusta, was granted a 100 acre block of land of his selection for his heroism.  He chose a spot on the Margaret River not far from Wallcliffe House and raised a large family there.  Sam Isaacs died in 1920 at the age of 75 (he was tragically killed when a sulky he was travelling in overturned) and is buried in the Busselton Pioneer Cemetery.  His descendents still live in the area.
It saddens me to think that Grace Bussell's family home is no more.  It's a terrible loss for the generations of families that have lived in the home and especially for its current owners, the Chaney family, who have put so much work into the property and gardens.  And it's a terrible loss of history for the wider community.  I will always have fond memories of Wallcliffe House.


  1. That's sad to see a bit of history and also a lovely building burned like that. I guess it will be rebuilt, but it's not really the same though is it? It's a wonder though that some of these places have survived all the years with the threat of a bushfire every summer.

  2. Thanks Eloise I learnt something of our Australian history. Sad to see that beautiful house burnt out and so sad that so many families have lost their homes in what was a preventable fire.

  3. This made me feel so sad. Thanks for sharing the history of the house, I like your description of the staircases. It is such a shame what has happened. I hope someone will manage to restore it to it's full glory.
    Visitng from the hop.

  4. I am washed with sadness as I read this post. Thank you for sharing this story with some of us far away readers. May the Wallcliffe house be rebuilt to keep the rich heritage going. Excellent historic reference and photos by the way. Admittedly I am enthralled with this post.


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