Queensland Places – Mount Adolphus Island – Mori – the Quetta Disaster

The history of Mount Adolphus Island-Mori, although long and varied, is often remembered as the site of one of Queensland’s most tragic events.  This event, although taking place where it did by chance rather than elsewhere, was one of Queensland’s worst maritime disasters, this being the sinking of the schooner Quetta, in 1890.  The site of this tragic event is now an historic site, well known to divers and others, who visit the area to take advantage of its natural beauty as well as to view the remains of the Quetta.

The Quetta began its fateful, final voyage, in Brisbane on 6 February 1890, where it took on sixty passengers bound for London, Batavia or Colombo.  As the Quetta made its way up the Queensland coast, a number of other passengers embarked, including 66 Javanese at Mourilyan, returning home after several seasons working in the Queensland sugar industry.  Amongst the passengers were a number of prominent Queenslanders including Alexander Archer, manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane and Captain Whish, Queensland Inspector of Road Surveys.

The Quetta’s voyage along the Queensland coast was routine and uneventful until the night of 28 February 1890, when the ship struck an uncharted reef at low tide in the Adolphus Channel.  The damage caused by the collision with this reef was so severe that the Quetta had sunk in little more than five minutes, leaving little time for passengers to save themselves.  In the chaos that ensued, many lives were lost, with those surviving doing so more as a result of good fortune than any other reason, with passengers grasping any pieces of wreckage they could find.  For instance, one passenger, Alice Nicklin, used a dead sheep to stay afloat until a wooden hatch floated past and she was able to use that to save herself.  In all, the Quetta disaster claimed 134 lives.  Such was the magnitude of the tragedy that it has become part of Queensland folklore, with the story of the wreck of the Quetta being constantly retold, thereby ensuring that it is not forgotten.  Also, the Quetta memorial and precinct on Thursday Island ensures that the tragedy is remembered.

Quetta. Taken in 1884 near Gravesend in the Thames River. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 166677

Quetta. Taken in 1884 near Gravesend in the Thames River. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 166677

This photograph shows the Quetta not long before taking its final, disastrous voyage.

Brian Randall – Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland