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The Ethel & the Ferret - a Tale of Two Ships

Jim Lad

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The Ships

The lovely iron barque 'Ethel' was built in Sunderland in 1876 as the 'Carmelo'.  In 1891 she was sold to Australian owners who renamed her 'Ethel' and traded successfully until January 1904, when she was driven ashore on a small and remote beach on the southern Yorke Peninsula of South Australia in a severe storm.  One young crew member was drowned trying to swim a line ashore but the remainder of the crew were later rescued.


The 'Ethel' berthed in Hobart


The first vessel on the scene of the wreck was the Adelaide Steamship Company's S.S. 'Ferret', which was built at Glasgow in 1871 and later stolen by confidence tricksters and steamed to Australia.  The plot unravelled in Melbourne when a port official became suspicious of the ship’s true identity and the ship was seized and later sold to the Adelaide Company.  'Ferret' was unable to assist the 'Ethel' due to the severe weather at the time, but reported the loss and was later able to assist in the rescue of the crew.


In a bizarre coincidence, the ‘Ferret’ was caught in a sudden dense fog off the southern Yorke Peninsula in November 1920 and ran aground on the very same beach that had claimed the ‘Ethel’.  The ‘Ferret’s’ Master was censured by the Board of Inquiry for ‘not exercising due care’.


 The 'Ferret' in Port Adelaide


The Wrecks

The ‘Ethel’ was thrown high onto the beach above the high water mark by the storm that wrecked her, where she remained with her hull more or less intact until 1986, when another severe storm broke the weakened hull up.

The ‘Ferret’ was not as fortunate as she was wrecked in the surf line and quickly broke up.

Much of the cargo from both vessels was able to be salvaged at the times of the wrecks, apart from several barrels of beer from the ‘Ferret’s’ cargo which was washed up onto the beach and went ‘missing’!


The 'Ethel' and the 'Ferret' on Ethel Beach shortly after the 'Ferret's' stranding



The remains of the ‘Ethel’ are still easily visible high up on the beach today and are very easily recognised as a shipwreck, in spite of the work done by the 1986 storm.


As the ‘Ferret’ broke up in the surf there is very little to see of her now.  Sometimes the sand will wash away from a part of the wreck as it had on the day of our visit a few weeks ago, leaving the end plate of the boiler just protruding from the sand – the rest of the boiler is buried under the beach along with the remainder of the wreck.


The Remains of the 'Ether' today



Faceplate of the 'Ferret's' boiler just protruding above the sand

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Hard to be sure. I was only told about one wreck, and by someone not versed in things maritime, so I was only looking for one. But if I remember correctly, there was only one group of remains visible, so it's likely the Ferret remains were buried.


The wreck is on a narrow bit of beach at the bottom of this enormous cliff. There's a timber walkway/stairway down to the beach now, but it would have been murder getting up the cliff in the day. It's now all part of a National Park, very popular with fishermen, and you can stay (if you can afford it) in the renovated cottages used by the gypsum miners. Worth a visit, but pretty bloody stark and rugged. It's all limestone just under the sand and scrubland on top. I think I saw a tree there . . .😉 



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