Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society.

Early Days, Volume 8, 1977-1982

Shipwrecked on the North West Coast : the ordeal of the survivors of the Stefano

Neven Smoje

Smoje, Neven 1978, 'Shipwrecked on the North West Coast : the ordeal of the survivors of the Stefano', Early Days, vol. 8, part 2: 35-47.

During the past three years I have been engaged in research into the history of Croatian shipping in the 19th century and of early Croatian contact with and settlement in Australia. I soon found that the Western Australian coast was not only the well-known graveyard of many early Dutch, British and local ships, but that it had also taken toll of a number of Croatian lives in both the 19th and 20th centuries. My interest was especially aroused in the wreck of the barque Stefano just south of the North West Cape in 1875 and in the remarkable ordeal of the two Croatian seamen who survived it. The unlucky vessel’s home base was Rijeka (then known as Fiume), the chief port of Croatia, which at that time formed part of Austria-Hungary. Although it flew the flag of the Hapsburgs’ dual monarchy, it was in fact one of many Croatian ships that plied the world’s oceans in the second half of the 19th century.

After reading the story of the Stefano and its castaways in a previous issue of Early Days (1) and in other locally-available records, I communicated with Mr Nenad Gol, a journalist in Zagreb who writes for a Croatian emigrants’ magazine that enjoys wide dissemination. In due course he kindly supplied me with a substantial account of the tragic episode as described over a hundred years ago by one of the two survivors, Miho Baccich, on his return home. Although Baccich himself must have drafted or dictated the story, it was actually recorded or edited by a prominent Dubrovnik author, Stefano Skurla. It was written in the Italian language which was then in general use in literature and commerce all along the Dalmatian coastlands of Croatia that face Italy across the Adriatic. This source provides the main basis for my paper. (2)

The young midshipman Baccich came from Dubrovnik (then known as Ragusa), the port of southern Dalmatia so justly famed for its beauty, and he was a nephew of the vessel’s owner. Of 857 tons burthen, the Stefano had sailed from Cardiff in Wales on 31st July 1875 bound for Hong Kong with 1300 tons of coal. Its master was only 25 years of age and the oldest of the seventeen men aboard. Except for Harry Grose, an English lad from Stafford, all were from coastal Croatia. They were:

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Vlaho Miloslavic, master
Karlo Kosta, first mate
Martino Osoinak, second mate
Giovanni Lovrinovic, navigator
Miho Baccich, midshipman
Domenico Antoncic, carpenter
Mattco Zanetovic, dispenser
Baldassare Vukasinovic
Giuseppe Perancic
Gregorio Pavicic
Fortunato Bucic
Giovanni Paolo Radovic
Ivan Juric
Tomaso Dediol
Diodato Vulovic
Nicolo Brajevic

At the end of September 1875, two months after leaving Cardiff, the Stefano rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and continued heading eastwards in expectation of sighting the small island of St. Paul, half way across the Indian Ocean, and so enabling its navigator to correct his reckonings of longitude. Thick fog was encountered in the vicinity of the southerly island, and without sighting it, the voyagers were obliged to go on towards the west coast of Australia, veering northward. On the afternoon of 26th October, they sighted land in the vicinity of Cape Cuvier, and having made the necessary navigational observations, they immediately shaped course north with the intention of passing through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.

At midnight the first watch for 27th October was taken by Osoinak, Bucic, Perancic, Dediol, Vulovic, Brajevic and Antoncic. Then, suddenly at about 2.30am, the vessel hit a reef about two miles south-west of Point Cloates, keeled over on her starboard beam, and began taking water. Knowing nothing about the local waters and coastline, Milosevic and his crew took refuge in the rigging and anxiously awaited daylight. In those last hours of darkness the waves that crashed over the vessel washed away Pavicic, Vukasinovic, Radovic, Zanetovic and Grose. Next Perancic decided to abandon the ship evidently in favour of some flotsam, but as soon as he went overboard, his companions lost sight of him. At daylight a life-boat was got clear and Miloslavic, Osoinak and Baccich struggled into it. At once it capsized in the breakers, and the captain and second mate were drowned. Baccich survived by clinging to the keel of the boat, and was washed ashore. Kosta reached shore on a ladder, and five of the remaining men on various other pieces of wreckage. Kosta, Baccich and Dediol came ashore at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, to be followed by Lovrinovic, Antoncic and Bucic, while Juric arrived at dusk. Seven survivors therefore gathered together, and in order to keep themselves warm for the night, dug shallow holes on the beach and covered themselves with sand.

At dawn on 28th October, having recovered some-of their strength, the seven men decided to make a foray north in the hope of finding other survivors. After walking about half a mile, they came across Brajevic, lying unconscious on the sand. Realising that they could not assist him, they decided that Juric should remain with him while the others continued their search. They soon found various provisions that had drifted ashore - a case containing bottles of wine, a barrel of flour, a barrel of beans, a pot of lard, and a pot of oil. In order to raise their spirits, the men promptly consumed some of the wine. Afterwards they

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discovered Vulovic lying on the beach. The party then decided to go back to Brajevic and Juric, and in returning helped Vulovic along. Then after resting for a while, they headed north again in the hope of recovering other provisions and perhaps coming across more of their companions.

Next the young sailors busied themselves in gathering pieces of timber that had drifted ashore and in erecting a rough hut a short distance back from the water. Using needles and cotton found in the boatswain’s casket, Kosta made a ground-sheet from sailcloth. Gradually all the provisions collected were brought in to the campsite. There was desperate need of a fire for warmth and cooking. Luckily, a tin of gunpowder and a microscope lens were among the things found. Spreading some of the gunpowder on the sand, and heaping dry bushes around it, the men made several attempts to start a fire with the aid of the lens. Eventually Baccich succeeded in doing so, but the powder’s violent explosion destroyed the lens and gave him a nasty burn. However, the group were soon able to enjoy a cooked meal. It was important to conserve the fire, and the next few days passed rapidly as they gathered in firewood as well as provisions. Two miles from the camp they salvaged some barrels of water, but because of their weight, the water had to be carried to the hut in small containers.

On 31st October, to the castaways’ surprise and terror, a small group of Aboriginals walked into their camp. However, Kosta boldly adopted a course of action that obviated a dangerous confrontation. As the natives came closer, he began to speak to them in English and French. He inquired about Champion Bay, which he believed could be no great distance to the south. It soon became apparent that the visitors understood little if any of the words he spoke, but they obviously realised the plight that the Europeans were in and assisted them with their work until they had carried even the smallest item to the campsite.

Presently a native came up to Kosta carrying with religious reverence a fragment of paper, which made the first mate’s face at once light up with joy. It was a map of the north-west coast of Australia, doubtless the one by which the sailors had been plotting their course in happier times a few days before. Kosta estimated that the Gascoyne River lay about two degrees south of where they were. Their decision to go south was unanimous, and departure was set for the following day. That evening the Aboriginals camped a short distance to the east of the hut, and very early in the morning left and began walking north.

By dawn of 1st November the little band of survivors had buried all the food that they knew they would be unable to carry. They made twelve small loaves of bread, and filled three containers with various provisions; they took twelve bottles of wine, twelve bottles of water, some tins of preserved meat, and a small quantity of beans and flour. Kosta inscribed on the door of the hut the name of the ill-fated vessel, the names of the survivors, and the names of those who had been lost. By three o’clock in the afternoon they had tied pieces of cloth around their feet, and then set out on the journey southward.

They decided to avoid the rocky cliffs that bordered the coastline for long

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distances. However, in choosing to walk through the scrub, they encountered other problems. Thorny bushes tore into their flesh and reduced to shreds the scant clothing they were wearing. When they rested, they shielded themselves from the sun’s fierce rays by tieing a large sheet of cloth to four long sticks. The going became more difficult and more exhausting, and the tropical heat made them even thirstier. They knew they had to use their small quantity of water with great caution until they could find another supply of it. As the food they carried began to give out, they had to content themselves with shellfish, as they were unable to find any edible vegetation.

After five or six days, Kosta was suffering severely, and in order to save his companions’ lives, urged them to go on and leave him behind, saying:

‘Go on, brothers, and Heaven be with you ... I will die here ... and if it be given you to see our native land again one day, take my last greeting to my poor mother and Amalia... and tell them how I died with their sweetest names on my lips and in my heart’.

Aghast at his words, his companions did their best to comfort their leader. Baccich decided not to abandon him, and they took it in turns to support the exhausted Kosta as they continued southwards. They went on, passing Cape Anderson, but when they were more or less at the Tropic of Capricorn, Juric, Bucic and Vulovic collapsed on the sand with exhaustion and wept. The others deliberated as to whether they should leave the three men and themselves carry on in the hope of soon finding water that they could carry back to them. It was finally decided that the three should be left behind with two bottles of water, one bottle of wine and a few beans. The others took with them three bottles of water, one bottle of wine, some flour and some beans.

The advancing group pressed on for another day and night, picking their way between rocks, impenetrable bushes and thorny shrubs, little realising that only a short distance inland they could have been following a track that the natives had made. On 8th November heat and thirst forced them to stop and take a much needed rest They sheltered in a cave some twenty feet deep and twelve high near the foot of a hill or cliff on the very promontory of Cape Farquhar. By this time only one bottle of water remained. Then suddenly two grinning natives appeared at the mouth of the cave, and began addressing them in unintelligible language. The newcomers soon helped the seafarers to their feet, gathered up the empty containers, and beckoned the distressed men to follow them. Excitedly the white men followed in their new saviours’ footsteps, crossed over a narrow pathway, and soon lost sight of the ocean. Proceeding eastward, they came upon a small plain which was mostly sandy but dotted with trees about ten feet high. Here the two Aboriginals paused and seemed to be searching for something. Soon they found some shallow and scarcely discernable depressions about three feet wide and a foot deep. They then began digging with their hands, and heaping up the moist sand that they uncovered. Amazed and rejoicing at the sight of water seeping into view, the Europeans soothed their hot palates and drank with the aid of the containers they had brought. Filling their bottles, they now knew they

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could help the companions they had left behind and in the future have better hope of survival themselves. Wandering about purposefully, the natives scooped out more wells of brimming water in places where they and fellow tribesmen had been digging for long ages past.

As if to recompense themselves for saving the white men’s lives, the two blacks made gestures demanding a small quantity of flour. Next, while one of them took two sticks from a nearby bush and began rubbing them together to produce a smouldering fire, the other kneaded the flour and some water held in a hollow stone. The dough was placed under a pile of burning embers, and in little more than a quarter of an hour the small loaf was cooked. The natives then generously handed the whole loaf over to Kosta and departed. Shortly afterwards three of the group set out carrying water for the companions they had left behind.

Meanwhile, Juric, Bucic and Vulovic had recovered from their fatigue, and proceeded to walk in the direction their companions had taken. But the following day, 8th November, the oppressive heat made them give up again, and they lay down on the sand awaiting death. Then, while they were brooding there upon their recent misfortunes, they suddenly found themselves confronted by about fifty Aboriginals descending from the higher ground, armed, and uttering frightening cries. The unhappy men nevertheless felt there was some hope of help, and with struggling gestures asked the visitors for water. Proving friendly to a degree unhoped for, the natives, and especially the women, helped them as best they could, and led them to a sandy hill where they made a fire and soon cooked them some fish. What marvellous generosity!

Once their hunger was assuaged, the three men were escorted inland for about a mile until they came to a large sandy plain covered with occasional shrubs and trees. Judging by the number of fishbones strewn about, the white men realised it was a well-used meeting place for the local tribesmen. Presently they came to a rocky outcrop and creek of fresh water running east, and here they found a crowd of natives assembled, about eighty in number, including women and children. The sight of so many blacks filled the three newcomers with some dismay, but not for long. For suddenly they heard someone shout at them the word ‘Brothers!’ in their own language, a welcome sound indeed!

It was the voice of Perancic, who until that moment, they had presumed was one of those who had perished. The three embraced him in turn, and eagerly listened to his acount of his experiences which he told with emotion. On the night of the terrible disaster he had unsuccessfully tried to prevent the waves dragging away a lifeboat, but then had clung to the boat tenaciously for a whole day while the current dragged it some ten miles south from the wreck. He took refuge in a cave for two days, and wandered along the beach without eating anything but a few plants and obtaining some droplets of moisture from red flowers. On the third day he met up with the natives, and, like his friends, was amazed at their unexpected hospitality. He was taken to the place where they were and had always been given a share of the food. He too listened eagerly to the story of the friends with whom he was reunited.

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As sunset approached, the four whites decided to leave the Aboriginals, and returned to the beach where they met up with Dediol, Brajevic and Antoncic who were bringing them the water. They therefore turned south again and made their way to the others who were camped at the waterholes. For the third time eager ears heard Perancic’s story.

Having consumed the last of their food, the ten men filled all their containers with water and resumed their arduous journey southward. Although they made fair progress, passing the twenty-fourth parallel of latitude and reaching Cape Cuvier, they encountered a series of salt lakes and country more desolate than ever. When they were down to their last bottle of water, they argued as to whether they should continue towards their goal of the Gascoyne River or retrace their steps. Although they knew they had covered more than half the distance to the Gascoyne, they decided on 16 th November to turn back. Taking easier paths through familiar territory, and replenishing their stock of water, they were back at their original campsite in four days. Finding that the food they had buried had meanwhile been removed by the natives, the unhappy men had to depend on the marine life that they could catch at low tide and on a few herbaceous plants. However, a species of wild berry, which was devoured by all but Baccich and Juric, was found to cause severe stomach pains.

For over a month the ten men managed to exist satisfactorily, although gradually weakening. Then, on 21st December a furious cyclone hit the area and threw them into utter disarray. Groping about in blinding hails of sand, they had great difficulty in finding any food and became separated from one another. On Christmas Day Vulovic and Perancic died from exposure, and by 6th January 1876, another six were dead. This left only Baccich who was sixteen years of age, and Juric who was nineteen. Despairing now of ever being rescued if they stayed where they were, the two decided instead to try to find the natives who had helped them earlier.

Journeying inland, the two survivors located the tribe with which they were already acquainted, but found that the friendly natives had meanwhile been joined by others who apparently wanted to kill the scrawny whites. Finally the friendly faction prevailed, and the sailors were nursed back to health. They were carried or supported by the gins for the first few days, and were eventually able to join in the daily hunt for food. The tribe slowly moved northwards to the North West Cape, apparently with the hope of making contact with the pearling vessels that frequently came close in shore there.

During the three hot summer months they were with the tribe, the two young lads learnt much about their customs, ceremonies and language. The death of a young girl introduced them to a strange funeral ritual. The proceedings began with the girl’s parents throwing fish on to the beach. A fire was then made, and the corpse placed on the burning coals. After cooking for some time, the body was cut up, the first portion being given to the father to eat, the second to the mother, and the rest divided amongst the tribe. Politely no doubt, Baccich and Juric declined to partake of this unusual feast As soon as the meal was over,

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the girl’s bones were gathered up and buried. Then the whole company set out walking north, led by the dead girl’s father. No one speaking, the procession continued until after sunset when they came to a large deposit of limestone and shells into which they began digging. With the soft substance they gathered, the parents then daubed themselves on face and chest. The others followed suit, except for the married women who occupied themselves in plaiting their hair. For another ten days, at dawn and dusk, the married women repeated the mournful lament: ‘Hai biri gogaj’ (‘My unfortunate return’).

As they made their way up the long peninsula of the North West Cape, the Aboriginals became quite fond of the two white men, and tried to cheer them up, sometimes by patting them, and sometimes by saying: ‘White feller, Charlie Tuckey, come now and take you Tien Sin’ or ‘Soon we will see Charlie and go to Fremantle’. Although he had learnt a smattering of English in his travels at sea, and especially from the English boy, Harry Grose, Baccich could not make out what was meant by the words ‘Charlie Tuckey’. It was rather remarkable too if he understood the words ‘Tien Sin”, the tiny port 250 miles to the east that had grown up in the last dozen years; if it was marked on their map, the navigators of the Stefano had been well-equipped indeed.

Charlie Tuckey of Mandurah was one of the many young colonists trained in navigation who soon followed in the wake of the first pastoralist settlers in the North West for the purpose of exploiting the rich coastal pearling grounds. On the northern coast, the pearlers were based at Tien Tsin, or as it soon became better-known, Cossack, twelve miles from the government’s administrative centre at Roebourne; on the west coast, the pearlers’ base was Shark Bay. In 1875 Tuckey had acquired a new 47-foot cutter, the Jessie, of 22.7 tons, and already, on his first voyage home to Fremantle in her, had been told an account of a shipwreck by one of the natives he had employed as a diver. The Aboriginal said that a large vessel had been wrecked on the coast a long time ago, and that its survivors had been captured and eaten by local tribesmen, including himself. It may well have been true; several ships had disappeared in local waters in earlier years.

Now, on his next return voyage home from the pearling grounds, Tuckey put the Jessie into shore at Exmouth Gulf in order to land several of the native divers who came from that vicinity. Then, as he attempted to round the North West Cape, he was driven back by fierce gales and high seas, and obliged to take shelter on the lee side of the Cape.

On the morning of 18th April 1876, Juric awoke and at once went over to his friend who was still sleeping, and said:

‘Wake up! Wake up!....I dreamt a beautiful dream...Today we will be saved.’

‘What?’, replied Baccich, ‘So you believe in dreams? Well, what did you dream about?’

‘That an English boat will land on this beach and take us aboard and

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save us.’

‘Vain dreams. You know that the dreams we desire are difficult and almost impossible. You may have dreamt of happiness, but here you have misfortune. You dreamt of rescue, but you will have a much longer ordeaL Don’t dream, my friend. God will decide for us. The earth that you see is inhospitable and deserted, and there is little hope that one day we will come across a boat of some sort.’

‘And unfortunately it is true’, lamented Juric, ‘I can’t disagree’.

He began to cry, and for a long time the pair remained silent.

A few hours later they were startled by a great commotion amongst the natives, and one of them coming up and shouting, ‘Look! here comes the boat, here comes Charlie!’ The two lads ran towards the beach eager to verify what they had heard. And it was true! Less than a mile away they saw a little cutter heading in their direction - the one dreamt of by Juric.

In. a short time the Jessie anchored some distance from the beach, and Tuckey and one or two of his men came ashore in a dinghy. Their attention had been attracted by a great pall of smoke the natives had made with their fire, and Tuckey had decided to bring them some flour and sugar. He knew it was wise to maintain friendly relations with the local Aboriginals, as he recruited divers from them each season. At the same time he was ever wary and mindful of the tragedy three years earlier when one of the divers had murdered Ledger, a crewman on another pearling vessel that Tuckey and his brother were then operating in Exmouth Gulf.

While pulling ashore in the ship’s dinghy, the visitors discerned what they at first assumed to be two Malays amongst the crowd of Aboriginals, for the pair were of lighter colouring and just about as naked. On landing, the astounded captain was greeted by Baccich with the words, ‘No talk English. Austrian. Ship wrecked 27th October 1875'. Very soon the two lads were aboard the Jessie, and the recipients of food, medicine, clothing and kindly attention. After almost six months of misery, their wretched ordeal was over.

The Jessie arrived at Fremantle on 5th May 1876. In the little town, word spread fast about the wrecked Stefano and its two survivors, and amongst the people who soon came to greet them was a fellow countryman from the island of Sipanj known as John Vincent, who took them into his home. Originally named Vicko Vukovic, he had Anglicised his name since coming to Western Australia seventeen years earlier and was probably the first Croatian to settle in the colony. Baccich described him as being ‘about forty years old, not very tall, but rather robust, with a beard, and marked by smallpox*. He was married to an Irish girl from Limerick, whose Christian name was Bridget, and the couple had five children. Master of the schooner Rosette, Vincent himself was to meet a tragic death at sea only three years later when his ship was wrecked in a storm off Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago west of Cossack. (3)

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On 8th May 1876 a preliminary enquiry was held into the wreck of the Stefano at the Customs House, Fremantle. Tuckey and the two survivors gave their evidence, with Vincent acting as interpreter, and a report was sent to the Board of Trade in London. The colonial government decided that the Aboriginals who had behaved so creditably should be sought out and rewarded, through the agency either of a vessel going north or of the Government Resident at Roebourne. Tuckey supplied the names of some of the natives who had helped the lads and of those of them who had been in his employ, and offered to take the rewards to them himself on his next trip. It was agreed that the tribesmen should be made to understand that their reward would have been even greater had they saved all the men; in four or five days of walking, they could have got a vessel sent out from Roebourne to the rescue. (4)

While recovering their health, Baccich and Juric showed their willingness to take work in the colony, and their host Vincent soon gave them places aboard his schooner. In fact, Vincent was about to make a voyage north and was therefore commissioned to take the government’s gifts to the natives - two bags of flour, a bag of sugar, ten ounces of tobacco, a dozen sheath knives and a dozen looking glasses. And so, little more than a fortnight after they first landed at Fremantle, the poor survivors had to go to the hazardous northern coast again on the Rosette. In due course, the city press reported the mission accomplished, adding that, ‘The natives showed no hostility whatever, and at once recognized the foreign seamen and greeted them with apparent affection’. (5)

Miho Baccich and Ivan Jurich in Fremantle

Meanwhile, on 8th June, a benefit concert was put on at Fremantle for the sake of the two stranded men and also for the relatives of local seamen who had perished in the wreck of the cutter Gem off Rottnest on 18th May. Of this the same Perth newspaper reported:

‘The Oddfellows’ Hall was probably never so crowded as on Thursday evening last... Nearly every description of music was put before the audience ... and the enthusiasm, as is generally the case at Fremantle, was unmistakeably hearty ...’ (6)

Such a success was it, that the concert was repeated a week later. Baccich apparently spent'a short time at Mandurah with Tuckey and his parents, but then at the end of July, the two young men decided that they would prefer to return to their homeland, and wrote to the Governor in Perth for assistance. Governor Robinson at first proposed they should be sent to the Austrian consul in Melbourne, but at the suggestion of Lefroy, the Acting Colonial Secretary, it was finally decided that they should be consigned to the Austrian consul at Alexandria. And so, on 7th August 1876, they departed for Egypt, with £7.10.0 ($15) in pocket money each. The ever impoverished colonial government also despatched a note to the consul saying that reimbursement of the passage money was expected and that the two men had been treated with great kindness. (7)

Six months later the Fremantle newspaper was able to announce that Tuckey had received a letter from the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in London as follows:

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‘Charles Tuckey, Esq., Master of the cutter Jessie, Mandurah, W. Australia.

Sir - The distinguished services you rendered in saving the lives of two of the men on the occasion of the wreck of the Hungarian barque Stefano, have been reported to the Royal Hungarian Governor, Maiitimo, and they have sent a gold watch to this Embassy to be forwarded to you together with their best thanks as a proof of their acknowledgment of the distinguished services rendered by you on that occasion. I will have great pleasure in forwarding this token of the high estimate entertained in Austria of your conduct on that occasion, and to ensure its reaching its proper destination safely, I take the precaution first to write to your address - as supplied by Lloyds - and beg you will favour me with an answer affording me necessary directions as to where I should direct the aforesaid watch.

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant,

Count de Montyder, Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy.’(8)

The watch that duly arrived was inscribed with the names of the recipient - Tuckey Karol - and of the Royal Maritime Authority, in the Hungarian language and with the date 1876.

Once back in their native Croatia, Baccich and Juric must have received a hearty welcome from their families and friends, and presumably they visited or otherwise communicated with the relatives of some of their dead shipmates. Nothing further is known of the subsequent life of Juric, whose home was at Oskorusno on the Peljesac peninsula. Baccich, however, went on to enjoy a successful career as well as the place he has now won in history as a chronicler. He must have spent many hours either in writing or in talking with the editor of his story, and for Stefano Skurla it was a decided change of subject matter after his other works concerning Dubrovnik’s religious and architectural heritage. At the same time Baccich, or his family, gave early attention to commissioning a painting of the cutter, Jessie, the means of his and his companion’s salvation. Painted from a photograph in 1878 by the well-known Croatian maritime artist, Bazilije Ivankovic, it hangs in the church of Our Lady of Mercy in Dubrovnik. (9)

Baccich was not long returned home before he saw his need of renewed activity, and he therefore went off to Rijeka to study at the Nautical Academy, perhaps simply in accordance with earlier plans. Upon graduation, he took command of the Resurrection, a ship which his uncle Nikola Baccich had had built to replace the lost Stefano. (10) Apparently however, he soon decided that the life of a sailor was not for him; perhaps his terrible experience in shipwreck and as a castaway remained a recurrent nightmare and made him determined to avoid any threat of its repetition or worse. On the other hand, he may simply have seen an attractive business prospect while on a trans-Atlantic voyage, for in 1880 he relinquished command of the Resurrection and settled in New Orleans.

Aged twenty-one when he made his new home, Baccich adjusted well to life in the United States, and became a commission merchant and dealer in imported and

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domestic groceries and liquors. His store at the corner of Decatur and Ursuline Streets became a focal point for the Croatians who resided around the French market area of the great port and for the oyster cultivators who brought their wares up the Mississippi and berthed their boats at the foot of Dumaine Street, not far from the store. (11) Doubtless he often told the oyster fishermen how he had once survived for miserable weeks on end with tiny shellfish as practically his only food. No doubt, too, the destructive hurricanes that periodically swept in from the Gulf of Mexico reminded him vividly of the tragic Christmas of 1875.

Early in 1894 Charles Tuckey was delighted to receive a letter from Baccich. Besides enquiring about his welfare, the writer said he always remembered him as a saviour, considered him to have been a second father, and kept his photograph in a prominent place in his home. Shortly afterwards a photograph came of Baccich, and Tuckey observed a great change from the picture taken eighteen years earlier which showed the two young seamen lately restored to health and fitted out with new clothing. Deeply touched by the gratitude and kindness Baccich still displayed, Tuckey replied that he often thought and spoke of the remarkable events of 1876, and went on to say:

‘When here you spoke of getting a pamphlet printed of your adventures of the Nor West Cape, and through not receiving a copy of that, it was with great surprise and pleasure that I received your letters.’

He also promised to send a photopaph of himself when he could next get one taken at Fremantle and another of his now elderly parents. (12) Although the correspondence between Mandurah and New Orleans was kept up for a while, it appears that only one letter from each of the writers has survived. Charles Tuckey died in 1912 at the age of sixty-five.

At the turn of the century Baccich gave up his grocery business in favour of the field of real estate. Firstly he was a founder and president of the National Realty Company, subsequently president of the Gentilly Terrace Company, and eventually in business partnership with his son George under the name of M. A. Baccich and Son. He retired in 1933, and died on 12th December 1935, aged seventy-six. Baccich Street in New Orleans is named in his honour. (13)

It is not known whether, in his later letters to Tuckey, Baccich ever referred to the fate of the pamphlet he said in 1876 he hoped to publish. Had it ever come off the press in the Italian language and a copy come to Mandurah, Tuckey would have been pleased but at the same time frustrated unless he could have found a competent translator. At all events, a story of a great adventure and tragedy was duly placed on record at the time and has returned to enthral posterity in Australia a century later.

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References

1. J. H. M. Honniball, 'The Tuckeys of Mandurah', in Early Days, v. 5, pt 8, 1961, pp. 21-25.

2. S. Skurla, I Naufraghi del Bark Austro-Ungarico Stefano alia Costa Nord-Ouest dell Australia. (Dubrovnik, 1877?), manuscript.

3. West Australian Catholic Record, 22 May 1879.

4. Colonial Secretary’s Office, Correspondence Received, Vol. 844: Shipping, 1876. ff. 75-84.

5. Inquirer, 9 August 1876, Supplement.

6. Ibid., 14 June 1876, Supplement.

7. C. S. O. Vol. 844, ff. 135-140.

8. Herald, 10 February 1877.

9. J. Luetic, ‘Katastrofa Barka Stefano', in Pomorstvo (Rijeka), vol. 10, no. 1-2, 1955, p. 32.

10. M. M. Vujnovich, Yugoslavs in Lousiana, (New Orleans, 1974), p. 96.

11. Ibid., pp. 96, 98.

12. Early Days, v. 5, pt. 8, 1961, p. 24.

13. Vujnovich, op. cit., p. 98.

The author also expresses his thanks to:
- Mr Nenad Gol, of Zagreb, for obtaining Skurla’s manuscript,
- Mrs Sandra Campbell, of Sydney for translating the manuscript,
- Mr J. H. M. Honniball, of Perth, for reading the paper to the Society,
- The staff of the Battye Library, Perth, for professional assistance.


Garry Gillard | New: 1 March, 2022 | Now: 1 March, 2022