The last passage of the Royal Mail Steamship Quetta

Quetta Brown with her adoptive father Captain Edmund Brown, and dog. Photograph courtesy Queensland Women’s History Association.

Nationality: British-Indian Steam Navigation Company

Vessel type: Single screw steamer, schooner rigged, steel

Date lost: 28 February 1890

Cause of loss: Wrecked on submerged rocky outcrop

Number of Casualties: 134

Discovery date: Outcrop surveyed in late 1890

Location/water depth: Adolphus Channel, Torres Strait / 20m

An uncharted outcrop lay beneath the calm waters of Adolphus Channel. Under guidance of a pilot and carrying mail, cargo and many prominent Queensland families bound for Europe and intermediate ports, Quetta steamed into its path. At 9.14pm a jarring was felt throughout the vessel - the only indication of imminent tragedy. This was Quetta’s 12th and last voyage.  

Although well-appointed with life belts and life boats, there was no time for preparation.  Torn along its starboard side from bow to mid-ships, it sank in three minutes.

Suddenly in the water, the 158 survivors managed as best they could: they called for help, clung to anything afloat, or swam to Little Adolphus Island from where many were eventually rescued. Of these were just five of the 41 females known to have been on board.

The outcrop became known as Quetta Rock - a silent memorial to the loss felt throughout colonial Queensland.

The event remains one of Australia’s worst maritime disasters and in October 1981 the site gained protection under the Historic shipwrecks Act 1977.

The strange case of the unclaimed toddler

A toddler was plucked from the water and tended by a crewman until rescued from Little Adolphus Island. Unnamed, unknown and unclaimed, she was eventually adopted by a Captain Edmund Brown and his wife. They called her Cecil, but everyone knew her as Quetta Brown. Her true identity was never known. 

Some of the lost and saved of SS Quetta.  Photographic negative - 'Quetta' wreck as reported in 'The Queenslander', 15 March 1890. (Supplement to 'The Queenslander’, 22 March 1890). Courtesy  State Library of Queensland - John Oxley Library.

Quetta Binnacle cover, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Queensland Museum.

Quetta Porthole, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Queensland Museum.


Objects of interest (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the shipwreck story.

  • Binnacle cover
  • Porthole

AMMC Member Institution

Museum of Tropical Queensland

submitted by Vivienne Moran

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