My partner and I made our first joint purchase, an artwork ‘Lost at Sea’ by Tasmanian artist Catherine Stringer. It was highly commended at the annual Mission for Seafarers’ Art Prize 2016.

It is a beautiful piece of art; a night gown made of seaweed using the technique for paper making adrift on underwater currents; a feminine piece in a masculine art show celebrating sea faring men and ships; a memorial to women lost at sea; shipwrecks, and the treachery of voyages on boats.

‘Lost at Sea’ spoke to me on many levels: The ephemeral, almost sensual beauty of the almost transparent night gown buoyed by currents; a feminine work in a masculine show; lives lost at sea past and present; the treachery a sea voyage for refugees now, and immigrants then. But there was something else about the work that made me want it. I needed to own it.

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When the prizes were announced the story of ‘Lost at Sea’ was revealed. The artist had made it to commemorate the shipwreck of the Cataraqui on 4th August 1845. The Cataraqui an 800 ton sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne in April 1845 under the command of Captain Findlay. On board were 369 men women and children from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire all eager for a new life in the colonies. The migrants were mainly women but there were 120 married couples, 73 children and 46 crew. After hitting bad weather on 3rd August, the ship struck a reef off Fitzmaurice Point on the west coast of  King Island 4.30 am. Many of the sleeping passengers struggled to the deck only to be swept away by the huge seas. Others were trapped below. By daybreak about 300 people were clinging to debris. During the day lines were cast along the ship to give people something to cling to but by nightfall only 70 people were left clinging to the deck and by morning 30 more had drowned. More died as night fell again.

The beaches presented a terrible sight that day – strewn with wreckage and about 300 bodies. Only nine people survived. Eventually the bodies that washed ashore were buried in four mass graves.

In August 1995 my parents went to King Island to Fitzmaurice Cove to a special service to commemorate the wreck of the Cataraqui. Joshua Black my mother’s great great grandfather’s son was one of the passengers who died that night. My parents bought a print of a painting of the Cataraqui and had it framed along with a piece of slate that they found on the beach. The slate was part of the ballast the ship was carrying. I was vaguely familiar with the story and our family connection to the shipwreck.

But what of a joint purchase? Do I feel safe now in the danger of new relationship or does this make me more vulnerable. What happens now if we don’t make it?

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea by Catherine Stringer