MARIA 1840

The MARIA was a 136 ton wooden brig built in 1823. She was a coastal trader and her crew were not from South Australia.

MARIA then left Adelaide on June 26th, 1840 bound for Hobart Town, and foundered south of the Coorong within the next few days,
running aground on Margaret Brook reef in the south-east of South Australia. It was a month later (July 1840) that news of the wreck
of the vessel MARIA reached Adelaide, and that all twenty-six on board (including Captain W. Smith two dozen settlers and the crew)
were rescued by local Aboriginals.

An exact location for the wreck has never been established but the fact that large amounts of wreckage washed ashore
along the beach of Lacepede Bay, suggest that this is where the vessel went down, (see picture on the right) near the southern tip
of the Coorong. Although the vessel was never found, Maria Creek is a reminder of the wreck of the Maria.

Because there were no survivors, first hand information is not available but it is believed that all the passengers and crew made it to shore and began to make their way toward Adelaide, a journey of around 180 kms. Here they were assisted by members of the aboriginal nation the Ngarrindjeri, who agreed to help them across land, providing food, water and shelter. The Captain of the ship FANNY (wrecked in the same area two years previously) spoke glowingly of their rescuers "...during our stay amongst them, which was about seven weeks, they at all times evinced the greatest of friendship."

In the case of the MARIA however, something went terribly awry. The first news of the shipwreck which reached Adelaide told of how the entire party had been killed by members of the Milmenrura people (which are a lanklinyeri, or tribal grouping, within the Ngarrindgeri nation).

Immediately a Mr Pullen was dispatched to investigate. Once Pullen and his party made contact with the aboriginal people they were led to a place where the bodies, including those of women and children, lay. On questioning various groups of aborigines, many of whom remained silent, Pullen decided he had found the guilty parties describing two as " the most villainous (sic) looking characters I ever saw". After abandoning his search for the wreck of the Maria he returned to Adelaide to report.

Messrs Thompson, Walker, Fox and Sullock were also sent in a whaleboat on August 17, 1840 to assist in the search for survivors of a wreck believed to have been the MARIA near the Coorong.

The explanation from the Ngarrindgeri regarding the deaths has been passed through their traditions of oral history. They report that members of the travelling party (some of the crew) had continually made sexual advances to young Ngarrindgeri women, a practice which carried dire consequences in Ngarringeri law. After regular warnings, and attempts to split the party into separate groups at night, a violent altercation eventuated. All of the survivors of the MARIA were killed.

After reading Pullen's report, Governor Gawler was determined to exact justice. He dispatched Pullen along with Commissioner/Major O'Halloran, Inspector Tolmer, 12 police, 11 sailors and three Encounter Bay aborigines to apprehend those responsible and instructed them "...when to your conviction you have identified any number, not exceeding three, of the actual will there explain to the blacks the nature of your conduct ...and you will deliberately and formally cause sentence of death to be executed by shooting or hanging". Their aim was to punish the culprits by hanging three of the ring leaders. In the round up of the guilty, three aboriginal men were killed and an unknown number wounded trying to run away. O'Halloran took 65 prisoners on August 22nd 1840 and in a "bush" trial sentenced two Aboriginal men, Mongarawata and Pilgarie, to death. After a gallows had been built, the sentence was carried out immediately, with instructions that their bodies were to be left hanging to rot on makeshift tree gibbets over the graves of the first victims. This party also found further bodies wedged in wombat holes. Over the next six months bodies were found and given a burial. These graves were not permanently marked and therefore their locations were soon lost.

Once the story of the hangings became public, debate over the issue raged in Adelaide journals for some time, and Governor Gawler was eventually recalled to England, in part due to the way in which he had handled the affair. The "punitive expedition" contravened British justice by denying the accused a proper trial.

Graham Jaunay has researched this shipwreck and reports: "The passengers and crew managed to launch a boat and it would seem that all arrived safely on shore. They were befriended by members of the local tribe, the Milmenrura [known by the Europeans as the Salt Creek Tribe], who apparently negotiated to take them east along the coast towards Encounter Bay - the nearest settlement. While accounts vary, when the party reached the territorial boundary at Little Dick Point, the aborigines would go no further. The wreck survivors argued that they had negotiated to be taken all the way to Adelaide. Despite the protestations, an exchange took place and the so-called Needles Tribe took over escort duties. It would seem that the refugees' clothes were coveted by some men of the clan although contemporary reports have never made it clear which clan. The difficulties were seemingly compounded by some individual crewmen attempting to entice sexual favours from some aboriginal women without realising that this placed certain traditional obligations on them." Jaunay also wrote: "When belated news reached Encounter Bay Whaling Station in the form of rumours of a shipwreck, a party of five sailors, a policeman and three local aboriginals led by William JS Pullen with Dr Penny travelled to the location and located many aborigines dressed in items of European clothing and eight dismembered bodies on the lake shore about 25 miles [40 km] south of the Murray Mouth [SW of the present day town of Meningie]. The terrible news reached Adelaide on 25 July 1840 causing major consternation and a special supplement to the Register was printed. " (we have a copy of this special supplement)

Some records indicate only one child returned. This may well be the York baby - not listed in the inventory of twenty-four passengers issued by the Port Adelaide Customs House in December 1840 and nor is it listed in the body count. Jaunay cites a number of sources including South Australian State Records and reports in the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN REGISTER newspapers of the day.
THE VICTIMS INCLUDED THE PASSENGERS: Mrs William E SMITH [the captain's wife],
Mr Samuel & Mrs Ann Sophia DENHAM of North Adelaide SA, and their children: [Andrew [10], Anna [4], Fanny [8], Thomas [12], Walter [6],
The Denham family arrived in the colony on the LADY EMMA in December 1837. Record indicates that they arrived in Adelaide with seven children.
Samuel Denham soon established himself as a builder in Buxton Street, North Adelaide although his trade was that of a bootmaker
James STRUTT [the Denham's servant],
Mr & Mrs George Young GREEN,
Mrs YORK & baby daughter,
James William York and his wife arrived in South Australia in March 1839 on the BUCKINGHAMSHIRE. Although they had quickly established themselves in Kensington, James York died in April 1840 [aged 35 years]. Mrs York resolved to resettle in Van Diemens Land.
Some records indicate only one child returned. This may well be the York baby (not listed in the inventory of twenty-four passengers issued by the
Port Adelaide Customs House in December 1840 and nor is it listed in the body count). No further information is currently available about this child.
and Mr Thomas & Mrs Kitty [née Vingoe] DANIEL of Long Plains SA,
Thomas Daniel, a basket weaver of Long Plains, and his wife Kitty had arrived in the province on the ASIA in July 1839 with their three children.
All three children died in the few months after arrival and the Daniels had resolved to seek a new life elsewhere.
The nine crew were
Captain William Ethrick Smith [master], John Tegg [crewman], John Griffiths [crewman], John Durgan [crewman], James Biggins [crewman],
John Cowley [crewman], Thomas Rea [crewman], George Leigh [ship's boy], and James Parsons [cook].
There is some confusion over some of the names:
* Strutt is sometimes called Sturt,
* the Greens are called Greenshield[s] with Mr Green being also called James, and,
* a later newspaper account spells Leigh as Lee and Durgan as Dengan.
The above list comes from the custom house records in a letter to O'Halloran in December 1840 and the names must be deemed
to be the one's most likely to be correct as all other sources seem to stem from this one.

While the exact locations of the victims graves are not known, it would appear they were buried at four sites where they were found by various parties as follows:-

Located and reburied in August by the initial Pullen party from Encounter Bay 40 km from the Murray Mouth.
*  A mass grave containing eight bodies thought to be Mr & Mrs Denham, James Strutt, Mrs York and four of the Denham children.
   These being found as a woman's body stripped of most flesh lying on the sand, a shallow grave containing dismembered bodies of two men, a young woman
   and a child about 10 years of age, nearby two male children aged about 10 and 15 and a 10 year old fair haired female a short distance away. [8 bodies]
Located by the Tolmer party on mainland side of Coorong SE of previous site
*  A man and a woman in a wombat hole found 2 Sep 1840 [2 bodies]
Located by the Captain Nixon expedition off South arm of Lake Albert on 22 Nov 1840
*  A man found in a wombat hole
*  A 12-14 year old fair haired boy found in a wombat hole [a Denham child ?]
*  An upper torso of a man with jet black hair found in a wombat hole
*  A woman with long brown hair and an ear ring in left ear found in a wombat hole. [4 bodies]
Located by Dr. Penny's party on 10 Apr 1841
*  Three male and one female body under a large unusually shaped rock. [4 bodies]

In 1840, in the seas south of the Coorong in SA, the brig MARIA foundered.
The twenty-six survivors were slaughtered after being rescued by local Aboriginals (the Milmenrura).
Only one child returned. No one knows why the Milmenrura turned on the MARIA passengers.
They had previously safely escorted survivors of the brig FANNY two years before.

A punitive expedition was sent from Adelaide.
Two Aboriginal men, Mongarawata and Pilgarie, were hung. In the colony, a debate erupted.
Were they entitled to a trial? What had happened? Robbery?
Interference with Aboriginal women again? A reciprocity dispute?

This website does not attempt to present any answers.
It is merely an exploration of the place, shipwreck, shock, puzzlement and the evidence available.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN ?    Further research