Snuff Box awarded to Owsley Cockburn Esq. for rescuing survivors of the ship "Cataraqui" on King Island, August 4th 1845.

The wreck of the 802 ton barque Cataraqui, off King Island in Bass Strait, on the 4 August 1845 was Australia's worst ever peacetime maritime disaster. Captained by C.W. Finlay, the wooden-hulled ship was carrying immigrants bound for Port Philip, many of them family groups, when it approached the western entrance of Bass Strait 106 days out from Liverpool. For several days the ship had been battling heavy seas with overcast skies preventing the usual noon sextant readings from being taken that was critical to accurately determining a ship's position.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday 3 August, Captain Finlay ordered his crew to heave-to until daylight, estimating his position to be 70 miles west of King Island, however, he later changed his mind and ordered sail to be put back on, setting a north-west course. Unbeknown to Finlay, the vessel was actually 60 miles off course and at 4:30 am on the morning of 4 August, she ran onto exposed rocks on the south side of Fitzmaurice Bay. The ship soon began to break up under the heavy surf and most passengers and crew drowned either immediately or over the following hours trying to make their way ashore.

Records for the lives lost vary but of approximately 400 passengers and crew only nine survived, including just one passenger. The survivors spent five weeks on King Island, helped by sealers, before being rescued by a passing boat. Less well known than later wrecks on the Victorian coast such as the Loch Ard or the Schromberg, the Cataraqui resulted in a far greater loss of life and had a direct impact on the colonial government, leading to the construction of lighthouses on King Island and Cape Otway to provide protection for future shipping.

Physical Description

Silver rectangular snuff box with hinged decorative engraved lid.

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