Tragedy haunted Loch Ard shipwreck survivor

Eva Carmichael
Eva Carmichael

LOCH Ard shipwreck survivor Eva Carmichael was haunted by memories of the maritime tragedy that claimed the lives of her family near Port Campbell in 1878.

In a rare insight into her post-shipwreck life, her great-grandson has told The Standard how she was unable to write about the tragedy, even in later years, because it still upset her.

She died at the age of 73 in 1934 — 24 years after the other survivor, Tom Pearce, died at sea aged 49.

“I think Eva was quite haunted by the shipwreck her whole life,” Richard Townshend said while recalling what he learnt from his father Robert, who died on the weekend, and other family members.

“I know she was enormously grateful to the Australians who helped her, particularly the Gibsons for whom she had fond regard and of course a lifetime of letters to and from Jane Shields, who actually visited her in Ireland.”

Ms Shields was Eva’s close companion while she was convalescing at Glenample Homestead before returning to Ireland where she married and raised a family.

The Gibsons were a local family who played a key role in helping Eva and Tom recover from their ordeal.

When the ship broke up on a reef off Mutton Bird Island, Tom clung to an upturned lifeboat and Eva to a chicken coop and spar before waves swept them into a gorge.

He dragged the barely conscious Eva into a cave and then climbed the cliff to find two Glenample station hands.

Mr Townshend, of England, plans to visit the south-west in April to see the Loch Ard gravesite where the Carmichael family is buried, meet descendants of those who helped Eva and inspect Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village which this week purchased a gold watch found in the clothing of Eva’s mother after she drowned.

The watch will be placed along side the famous Loch Ard peacock, also recovered from the ship.

“Bob’s memories of Eva were not altogether happy ones — he was a young boy and she was a rather stern old trout who had firm convictions about things,” Mr Townshend said.

“I think my father stayed with her on occasional weekends while he lived in Bedford.

“Eva passed away when my father was 16.”

Mr Townshend has been writing a screenplay on the tragedy and hopes an Australian film company will be interested in producing it for the big screen.

During the April visit he will participate in a commemoration service at the gravesite, a boat trip over the wreck site and a speech to the Heytesbury Historical Society.