On this day ………… 26th February 1872

In the early 1870s, Australia was still in the grip of “gold fever”. Visitors to New Guinea had also sent back reports of gold being found on its southern coast, while geologists declared that New Guinea was prime prospecting country. With this in mind, the New Guinea Prospecting Association was formed in Sydney in 1871. Its purpose was to buy a ship to sail to New Guinea, settle along the coast and prospect their way to fortune. The brig ‘Maria’ was an ex coal-trading ship, old and possibly not suited to the purpose of such an extended journey as from Sydney to New Guinea. It departed Sydney Harbour on 25 January 1872 with many of the members of the Association on board. The ‘Maria’, which was found to leak, was unable to withstand a tropical storm which hit the brig off the coast of Queensland between February 17th and 25th. Pumps were insufficient to keep up with the water intake sustained by the vessel, and when the Barrier Reef was sighted, the captain made for it, knowing something of the bays and safe passages within. Despite his confidence, however, the ship ran aground on Bramble Reef on the morning of 26 February 1872. There were insufficient boats to carry the passengers ashore, especially after the captain deserted in one. Rafts were quickly constructed as it was evident the Maria was breaking up. Of the estimated 75 people on board, 35 people were killed, some by drowning and some by a hostile group of Aborigines. One of the survivors was Lawrence Hargrave, the Australian who would later become the inventor of the box kite.