Lieutenant Ernest Frederick GriffithsPrint Page Print this page

Photographs supplied by John Huth / Arthur Garland

The marble tablet commemorates Lieutenant Ernest Frederick Griffiths who drowned whilst attempting to save convicts when the ship "Governor Phillip" was wrecked in the Bass Strait in October 1848.  He was an officer in the 2nd Battalion of the 96th Regiment, the Manchester Regiment, which was stationed in the colony from 1839 to 1849, for the latter years, in Launceston.

In October 1848 Griffiths was placed in command of a detachment of the 96th on board the brig 'Governor Phillip', sailing from Norfolk Island and Sydney for Hobart, carrying passengers, convicts and military. On the 27th the brig struck the reef off Gull Islet, three quarters of a mile east of Cape Barron in the Furneaux Group. In such cases convicts were usually abandoned but a passenger, the Reverend Henry Elliot, persuaded Griffiths to allow the prisoners up on deck and have their chains struck off. This was done, Griffiths striking off many of the chains himself. Of the eighty-five persons on board, only fifteen or sixteen lives were lost.

Griffiths was one of the last to leave the wreck and was overwhelmed by the sea before he could reach the shore. His courage and devotion was recognised officially by the Government in a General Order, dated 30th November, 1848. 

Commander of the Forces in Sydney has issued the following general order relative to the death of Lieutenant Griffiths, who, it will be remembered, was unfortunately drowned, when the brig Governor Phillip was wrecked.

His Excellency the Major-General Commanding, is desirous to record his deep regret at the loss of Lieutenant Ernest Frederick Griffiths, with six soldiers of the 96th Regiment, who were unfortunately drowned in the wreck of the brig Governor Phillip, on the 27th October last, in Bass's Straits ; and, in so doing, to hold up to the admiration of the officers and troops in this command the heroic and exemplary conduct of this lamented and excellent young officer. On this fearful occasion the courage and presence of mind of Lieutenant Griffiths never deserted him-they were wholly and actively devoted to the safety of the escort and convicts under his charge ; knocking off the irons of the latter with his own hands ; directing the escape of the passengers, the military and prisoners, by the boats, he finally, when almost the last person on the wreck, threw away perhaps the only chance of preserving his own life by attempting to save that of his own servant, failing in which good endeavour, he leaped into the sea, and had nearly reached the shore by swimming, when death overtook him.

The service at large, and the 96th Regiment in particular, have sustained a severe loss in the early and disastrous death of so promising an officer.
-By command, &c., G.G. Munday , Lieutenant Colonel, Deputy Adjutant General.
South Australian (Adelaide), 9th February 1849.



Address:34 Cameron Street, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Launceston, 7250
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -41.252099
Long: 147.216274
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Plaque
Monument Theme:People
Actual Event Start Date:27-October-1848
Actual Event End Date:27-October-1848
Artist:J. Kenney (Launceston, TAS)


Front Inscription

Sacred to The Memory of Ernest Frederick Griffiths,
Lieutenant in Her Majesty`s 96. Regiment

Who was wrecked in the Governor Phillip on Penguin Reef in the Bass` Straits when in command of an escort returning with Prisoners from Norfolk Island.

He lost his life in the faithful performance of his duty.   Superintending until the last disembarkation of his charge and personally engaged in freeing the prisoners from their manacles. 

He disregarded the moment of self preservation, and was drowned at the termination of his useful and successful efforts on the 27th day of October 1848.

Aetat 25.

This tribute to his memory is raised by his brother officers in token of their affection for him, and admiration of his heroic conduct.

J. Kenney. Sculp Launceston

Source: MA,JG
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