Agnes Grant Hay was the very wealthy widow of  South Australian pastoralist, merchant and politician, Alexander Gosse  Hay.  She was an inveterate traveller…and an author;

List of works by Agnes Grant Hay



Agnes Grant Hay

After spending many months in England and Scotland during 1908, Mrs Hay and her unmarried daughter  Helen (Dolly) returned home on the maiden voyage of the S.S. Waratah just in time for Christmas, (See link at the end of this piece for her account of the ship and the passage.)

S.S. Waratah


In  February 1909 the family’s  20 room summer residence (well, mansion) at Victor Harbour was  completely destroyed by fire. A workman had accidentally ignited preservative paint while carrying out  repairs under the roof.

The Hay mansion at Victor Harbour.

Source – AdelaideAZ


Ruins of Mount Breckan.

The Ruins. Source –

Agnes and her daughter managed to escape, but their personal belongings, including priceless items of  jewellery, were lost along with most of the furnishings.

It was perhaps as a distraction from the disaster that Mrs Hay  and Dolly decided to return to England on the S.S. Waratah in July.

The Waratah being loaded at the port of Adelaide.

As the ship approached Durban, Agnes wrote to her family;

I am sitting on the deck pf this fine steamer trying to write a few lines to you to post at Durban. We have had, on the whole, a fine weather passage, though through the Bight, or rather, I should say, across the mouth of it, we had, as usual, some stiff blows, which came to a climax when rounding Leeuwin. It is very seldom that portion of Australia does not give it’s final kick, and it gave us a pretty good specimen of what it could do, The captain said he was sure the mailboat would make much worse weather than we did.’

Mrs Hay was finding the voyage rather tedious, and was glad she could distract herself with the writing of her new book. She was intending to deliver the completed manuscript to her London publisher. She noted;

‘Nearly all the passengers are old, We have not one married couple on board, at least in the saloon, and only one child. It is a very good thing that I have my new story to occupy me, for otherwise I would have nothing to pass the time. Bridge is the great thing afternoon and evening,  and that I do not play. One gets very tired of the monotonous expanse of ocean, with not a vessel  of any sort to break its desolateness. This is my eighteenth passage….’    (Daily Telegraph (Launceston) Jan 4 1910.

The letter was duly posted at Durban before the ship sailed on towards Cape Town.   Is so happens that on this section of the journey  the  ship did spot another vessel, the Clan MacIntyre;

S.S. Waratah overtook the slower Clan MacIntyre, but  never  reached Cape Town. Tragically,  she was never seen or heard from again.  No trace has ever been found of the vessel or her 211 passengers and crew, despite extensive searches over many decades.  Mrs Hay and her manuscript are thus presumed to have gone to the bottom of the ocean. I wonder whether the final passage of the novel had been written by then?

Agnes Grant Hay was 71 years old and  had enjoyed a full and interesting life. Of course  others who perished  were mere children, with everything ahead of them. May they all rest in peace.



In January 1911 the Adelaide Advertiser published the following advertisement for a sale of items salvaged from the Mount Breckan fire.  Note the mention of the library, to be sold in lots. Perhaps someone went home with copies of the books Agnes had written.


Mrs Hay had published an article about her trip to Australia on the Waratah’s maiden voyage in 1908. To read it, CLICK HERE.

And for the full story of the S.S. Waratah, CLICK HERE.


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