Tom Nelson on the "Shirley", Coffs Harbour, 3 January 1960. Image courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour

Date of Event: 25 August 1950

Vessel type: 30-foot launch, “Shirley”

Location: South Solitary Island, Coffs Harbour NSW

Suggested title: Battling valiantly with a savage sea


Gale force winds, torrential rain, and mountainous seas couldn’t stop Coffs Harbour launch proprietor, Harry Fanning in his valiant mission to rescue a seriously ill woman from South Solitary Island, 16km off the Coffs Coast. Accompanied by volunteer Sister Pat Ayers and three other men, he battled the elements for almost six hours in “a marvellous feat of seamanship.”

Fanning skilfully manoeuvred the launch into position, whilst Mrs Southern, the wife of one of the lighthouse keepers, conscious and in great pain, was lowered 30 feet (9 metres) in a swaying, spinning basket by the island’s manually operated crane into the dangerously rocking launch.

Mrs Southern was in such pain that Sister Ayers gave her a needle. Fanning praised Sister Ayers as “the gamest person I have ever seen. She was marvellous. I cannot say enough to praise her.” Sister Ayers dismissed the praise, saying: “It’s part of my job.”

Interesting anecdote

Coffs Harbour is famous for its Big Banana, but Harry Fanning sighted many other big things in the 1940s, including marlin, squid, and giant turtles. His biggest surprise happened after almost losing his right hand in a circular saw accident; Harry won a local bowls competition using his left hand!

Landing at South Solitary Island 1950. Image courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour

Aerial View South Solitary Island 1945. Image courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour


Please briefly note any objects (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the story

Coffs Harbour Regional Museum has a large collection of photographs of South Solitary Island, the Island's manually operated crane, deliveries being made to the Island (of which Harry Fanning held the delivery contract), and Harry Fanning's boats being built.

Name of person submitting the story

Kylie Castor


AMMC Member Institution

Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

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