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Adelaide Clunies-Ross, the Cocos Islands and Joshua Slocum the first person to sail solo around the world

The Cocos Keeling Islands -' extraordinary rings of land which rise out of the ocean' (Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle), are situated in the Indian Ocean about 700 miles S.W. from Sumatra and 1200 miles from Singapore.

'If there is a paradise on this earth, it is the Cocos Islands."    
Captain Joshua Slocum, 1897.

Located close to one of the inner pathways in Ladywell cemetery is the stunted remnant of a headstone inscribed with the name, Adelaide Clunies-Ross ( d.1924) Adelaide's (she was sometimes known as Addie) final resting place has featured in recent guided cemetery walks as her unusual background, growing up on the idyllic Cocos( Keeling) Islands in the Indian ocean, provides a fascinating link to two significant historical events which are referenced below. Although in 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert Fitzroy, arrived to take soundings to establish the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle.

The Cocos islands were discovered in 1609 by the British sea captain William Keeling. One of the first settlers was John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish merchant and much of the island's current population is descended from the Malay workers he brought in to work his copra plantation. The Clunies-Ross family ruled the islands as a' benevolent' private fiefdom for almost 150 years before the British annexed the islands in 1857, although the family retained complete control of the Island's institutions, a fact which was recognized by a royal grant in 1886. With some governmental oversight via Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and later Singapore before the territory was transferred to Australia in 1955.*

Photograph of Adelaide (undated) kindly provided by family historian Linda Hargreaves.

Adelaide, who was of mixed heritage, was born to George and his wife, Inin Malarat at Cocos in 1870. She was the second child of 13 and the eldest daughter. Being particularly close to her aunt Eliza, George's sister, she accompanied her for an extended visit to England, Scotland and Guernsey shortly after her 2nd birthday. In 1885 she was back in England and appears to have remained here, with frequent visits to Europe, including recuperative trips to Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera. Adelaide lived mostly in the East Grinstead area of West Sussex, before moving to London in the 1920's. During the Great War she provided support for Canadian soldiers encamped nearby. Adelaide never married and died aged 54 years in 1924. She was interred in Ladywell cemetery on the 8th October, 1924. Her aunt Eliza (d.1915), is also buried here..

Alfred Clunies-Ross (1851– 903) Adelaide's uncle, was a rugby union international who represented Scotland in the first international rugby match in 1871. He was the first non-white rugby union international player.

Captain Joshua Slocum, one of the 19th Century's most successful sea captains salvaged a 100 year old rotting oyster boat, he named 'Spray' and decided to use it to become the first person ever to sail around the world - alone. On April 24, 1895, at the age of 51, he departed Boston in his tiny sloop Spray and sailed around the world single-handed, a passage of 46,000 miles, returning to Newport, Rhode Island on June 27, 1898.

In 1897 he reached the Cocos Islands, where he was greeted by George Ross (Adelaide's father) noting that 'Though the winds and seas were fairly idyllic on our way to the Cocos Keeling Islands, our arrival wasn't as pretty. The wind screamed, the sea was grey and crashed around us and the rain poured down in torrents." In 1909 Joshua Slocum set sail from New England in the Spray to spend the winter in Grand Cayman and was lost at sea. He was assumed to have been the victim of a collision; he and the Spray were never found, and in 1924 he was declared legally dead.

Joshua Slocum on his "Spray". the first man to sail single-handedly around the world.He was a Nova Scotian-born naturalized American seaman, adventurer and a noted writer. His classic tale "Sailing alone around the world with the spray" was published in 1900. ( source; Sailing Spirit)


The Royal Australian Navy's first victory at sea - HMAS Sydney's destruction of the German cruiser SMS Emden on November 9, 1914. The Sydney was in a convoy escorting 29,000 Australian troops to Europe when it encountered the feared light cruiser Emden, which was intent on destroying the telegraph station on the Cocos Islands. The Emden was much feared by the allies and had been wreaking havoc on trading ships in south-east Asia since the outbreak of war. The battle was a huge victory for the Royal Australian Navy, which was then less than three years old; 136 Germans and four Australian sailors died in the battle.

In a spectacular footnote to the battle, around 50 German sailors, including their commander, Lieutenant Hellmuth von Mücke who had been stranded on the nearby Direction Island, commandeered the schooner Ayesha, owned by the Clunies-Ross family, to make their getaway. They embarked on what can only be described as a one of the most remarkable naval odyssey's of all time, sailing via the Red Sea, their 5,000-mile adventure ending in freedom in Constantinople in 1915!.

Wreck of the Emden, some time after the battle of 1914, HMAS Sydney's defeat of the infamous German raider SMS Emden during Australia's first naval battle of Cocos in World War I.

(source : Allan C. Green 1878 - 1954 - State Library of Victoria)

 Below is You Tube video on the impressive Clunies-Ross family dynasty. 

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* For readers interested in finding out more of the Clunies-Ross family - the 1950 book 'Kings of the Cocos' by John Scott Hughes is recommended