(There are a few versions of this story in circulation. They are all relatively close in their narratives. The basic story is verified by the records of Lloyd's of London.)
In 1829, a lady from Yorkshire, England, Sarah Richey, embarked on a voyage from England to Australia, in search of her long lost son Peter, rumored to be living in Australia. In October of that year, as her ship, The City of Leeds, wallowed in the waters off Australia, and as Mrs. Richey prayed for success in her difficult quest, what at first appeared to be the hand of bad luck began to make life difficult for the crew of another ship.
The sailing ship Mermaid sailed out of Sydney Harbor, bound for the other side of Australia. After 4 days at sea, a terrifying storm drove the Mermaid onto a coral reef. The entire crew managed to scramble onto some rocks.
After 3 days, another ship, the Swiftsure, anchored near the rocks and picked up the crew of the Mermaid. After 5 days at sea, this second boat for the crew of the Mermaid was itself swept onto rocks! The passengers and crew of both ships, however, were stranded at that location for only 8 hours, when another ship sighted them and closed in for the rescue.
When the crew of this boat, the Governor Ready, heard that this was the third ship for the crew of the Mermaid, many began to grumble about bad luck people. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the survivors of the Mermaid and Swiftsure sinkings were crammed onto the decks of the Governor Ready.
This time, after only 3 short hours, the Governor Ready caught fire and sank! All aboard managed to make it to the lifeboats. There were no casualties.
A mere 18 hours later, a government boat, the Comet, sighted the life boats, hove to, and picked-up the steadily increasing number of survivors. The Captain of the Comet had to put down a near-mutiny, to keep the survivors of the 3 shipwrecks on board among his crew.
Just 5 days later, whatever force sank the first 3 ships attacked the Comet -- another terrifying storm dismasted the ship. As it leaked badly, the spooked crew of the Comet took to the lifeboats, abandoning the sinking ship to the survivors of the Mermaid, Swiftsure, and Governor Ready sinkings. In short order, they found themselves in the water the fourth time, clinging to flotsam, kicking away hungry sharks.
Within 18 hours, the next victim appeared on the horizon -- the Jupiter. Bursting at the seams with sailors and passengers after retrieving the survivors, the Jupiter managed to sail for only two days more before it, too, slammed into a reef, punching a hole in her hull and sinking.
Mrs. Richey's ship, the City of Leeds, was on-hand, however. Every last man, woman and child of all 5 previous ships were retrieved, and made comfortable, as the boat continued its voyage to Australia.
Mrs. Richey, in the meantime, became deathly ill. As the ship's doctor, Thomas Sparks, kept watch over her, Mrs. Richey called-out again and again for her son, in her fever.
Dr. Sparks, anxious to do something to fulfill the dying woman's last wish, saw a crewman of the Mermaid strolling by Mrs. Richey's door. Dr. Sparks called out to the sailor, and demanded that he pretend to be Mrs. Richey's son. The crewman agreed, and walked over to the bed.
As he stared at the groaning woman's face, and the doctor explained that the dying woman was Sarah Richey from Yorkshire, the sailor went wide-eyed, and burst into tears. "Doctor," he explained, "My name is Peter Richey, and that is my mother!"