Impact at sea: Societal sensibilities in late Victorian Australia — Australian Historical Association annual conference hosted by The Australian National University

Impact at sea: Societal sensibilities in late Victorian Australia (48)

Karen Filewood

On the evening of 8 December 1886 two coastal steamships collided off the coast of Coffs Harbour, NSW which resulted in severe damage to the ss Helen Nicoll, the sinking of the ss Keilawarra and the loss of around forty lives.  Lying at 75 metres below sea-level, the Keilawarra is one of the more intact shipwrecks in NSW and her story remains a fascinating narrative, however nothing further of the incident has been examined.  This unique case study investigates responses to the disaster by those on-board the ships during and after the collision by examining their lives before and after the event. Reactions to the occurrence by the general public are also ascertained, with the results compared to Duncan and Gibbs’ model of response stages to shipping mishaps (Please God Send Me a Wreck, 2015).  Using prosopography as a methodology, this examination explores the ideals and expression of contemporaneous cultural aspects of manliness, sentimentality, superstition, death and the arts, ascertaining if and how they reflect the values of Victorian society within Australia in the mid-1880s.