I have often wondered about those who lost their lives when the Loch Ard sank off the Australian coast in 1878. It’s a tragedy that continues to capture the hearts of those who visit this majestic stretch of Victoria’s coastline along the Great Ocean Road. And for a country that’s welcomed immigrants and refugees onto its shores… this is one journey that did not end well for those who dreamed of a new start in a fresh world.
Named after the the iron ship that ran aground on the reef near Port Campbell, the Loch Ard Gorge will always be remembered for the wreck that claimed the life of 52 passegers and crew… and washed ashore only two survivors on the fateful day of June 1, 1878.
The history-lover in me became swept up in the Loch Ard disaster when I learned the two survivors, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, became full-blown celebrities in an era when social media came in the form of day old newspapers and animated drawing room discussions. Along with survival, the promise of romance wafted over their story in the hearts and minds of many who read of the incredible rescue of the orphaned English girl by the heroic Australian midshipman. Theirs would have been a romance unlike any other. And those who cheered their survival wanted to cheer for so much more.
The real Tom and Ada were not meant to enjoy a romance. Such was their fate. Much to the disappointment of Victorian era romantics, their futures never merged into happily every after.
But I had come across the fascinating detail about those who survive a near death experience together ~ often bonding in ways similar to those who fall in love, with the same chemical responses flooding the body. So I took the buried bones of a romance already chewed by the imagination of generations past, and turned them over in my mind until Tom and Ada’s battles took on flesh and a real heartbeat. At least within my storyteller’s veins.
I played with the names of our hero and heroine, who became Tom Darley and Ada Carmichael. I changed the ship from Loch Ard to The Black Swallow, and wrote a fictional account of what may have shaped our survivors if affections had taken hold. And I set all this in the world of characters I’d already created, Shadrach and Finella, and their new home on Phillip Island.
If the real Tom and Ada could read this story inspired by their horrific entry into Australia that June night… I hope they would smile at the liberties taken …and the match I made of them.
Because now, 140 years later… my version of their romance is here for the telling.
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