Shipwreck Coast - Cities, Towns and Localities
Stretching some 130 km, from Port Fairy to
Cape Otway and Moonlight Head, the
Coast”, encompassing Victoria’s “Great Ocean Road”, winds along the south-western coast of Victoria, around rugged
cliffs, windswept beaches and tall bluffs.
One of the key attractions along
this coastal drive are the over 700 known
shipwrecks, of which some 200 have been rediscovered.
There are currently 25 sites along the Historic Shipwreck Trail that have been
sign-posted, leading to information plaques that over look the cliffs where the
wrecks occurred. The stories reveal the fascinating maritime history of a time
when the Bass Strait was the route to the riches of Victoria.
• Wrecks and Locations
During the 19th century the Bass Strait was a major shipping channel for supply
ships, as well as those carrying convicts or immigrants to the colonies in
Victoria and New South Wales. King Island divided the entrance to this strait
into two channels, the southern channel which was obstructed by reefs or the
northern channel, which was only 75 kilometres wide. There were no guiding
lights on King Island until 1861, and ships would hug the Australian coastline,
as they tried to reach sight of the Cape Otway lighthouse.
In good weather,
ships would navigate the passage with ease, passing a beautiful stretch of
coastline. Unfortunately, Bass Strait could also be difficult and dangerous,
with its thick fogs and rough seas, making the coastline inhospitable. The lack
of lighthouses also made the strait perilous and during such wild and turbulent
waters many ships and lives met a watery grave.
These dramas and tragedies have now been brought to life through the Historic
Shipwreck Trail. With over 700 known shipwrecks and 200 having been
rediscovered, the trail documents the story of 25 of these sites.
||Port Fairy Bay
Driven ashore by southerly
gales, at least 20 ships were lost between 1836 and 1876. It was also during
this period that Port Fairy grew from a sealing and whaling base to a thriving
This British-built whaler was wrecked with its cargo of cattle, sheep and oil
The Liverpool-built South Americas trader was sailing from Sydney to London in
ballast when lost.
The Indian-built schooner owned by the Hentys was wrecked when its crew was
collecting wattle bark during the off season from whaling.
Government-built in Sydney as a troop and convict transport, it was privately
owned when wrecked carrying general cargo from Sydney.
||Between Port Fairy
In the 1800s there were several sightings of an ‘ancient wreck’ in dunes between
Port Fairy and Warrnambool. Theories about its identity vary from
‘sixteenth-century Portuguese caravel’ to ‘convict escape craft’. This mysterious
craft has not been found despite extensive searches and the offer of a
government reward of $250,000 in 1992-93. The Mahogany Walking Track goes from
Port Fairy to Warrnambool.
There are 15 shipwrecks in Lady Bay dating from 1850 to 1905. Their cargoes of
potatoes, wheat, coal, and timber reveal Warrnambool’s expansion as a centre of
Only a 40 metre walk from the car park, steps provide access
to Childers Cove Beach.
The Children was a coastal trader owned by the Henty family of Portland. On a
voyage from Launceston in January 1839, it was blown off course and struck a
reef at the mouth of Childers Cove. Seventeen people were drowned.
The best vantage point for these two wreck sites is at the trail marker at the
end of Radfords Road. Looking north-west to Antares Rock, it is possible to
appreciate the rugged coastline which has taken so many lives.
The John Scott was on a voyage from Adelaide to Melbourne with a cargo of flour
and wheat when heavy seas and fog caused the vessel to come ashore at Bold
Projection. The crew and passengers were all saved.
The Antares was the last sailing ship wrecked along the Shipwreck Coast. On a
voyage from Marseilles to Melbourne during World War I, the vessel sand with the
loss of all hands.
The Falls of Halladale was on the final leg of its voyage from New York to
Melbourne when its captain became unsure of his location due to the presence of
sea mist. The vessel, with all its sails set, struck a reef and became a total
The Young Australian was on a voyage from Queensland to Adelaide with a cargo of
sugar and rum when severe storms damaged the ship’s rigging and forced it
The Schomberg was one of the most magnificent sailing ships ever built. Captain
Forbes was below deck entertaining female passengers when the vessel was blown
ashore at Curdies Inlet. Both the ship and the Captain’s career were wrecked.
Poor weather conditions and faulty navigation caused the loss of the barque
Newfield while on a voyage from Scotland to Brisbane. The ship was blown
ashore at Peterborough with the loss of nine lives.
Campbell and Mutton Bird Island
The Port Campbell cemetery is the resting place of sailors drowned in the
The Rocket Shed
The Loch Ard disaster prompted Ports and Harbours to
deploy rocket equipment and other lifesaving apparatus at Port Campbell. The
Port Campbell rocket crew went to the rescue of sailors from the vessels Fiji
and Newfield. The equipment was managed by the local police and housed at
Port Campbell and Princetown.
The steamship Napier was engaged to salvage the
wreck of the Loch Ard, but came to grief while entering Port Campbell
Loch Ard (1873-1878)
The Loch Ard was on the final stage of its voyage from Gravesend to
Melbourne when sea mist obscured the land causing the vessel to run into Mutton
Bird Island near Port Campbell. Of the 51 people on board the ship, only two
managed to get ashore.
Beach and Moonlight Head
On Wreck Beach to the west of the walkway a windlass and anchor from the Marie
Gabrielle are often exposed in the sand. Further along the beach, two anchors
(one buried) from the Fiji are a stark memorial to the wreck.
On the cliff top is the now inaccessible headstone at the grave of drowned
sailors. They were buried in coffins made from the Fiji’s timbers.
Note: A steep climb up wooden steps is involved at these wreck sites.
While on the beach keep a lookout for large waves and changes of tide.
The wreck of the barque Fiji was caused by poor weather and faulty navigational
equipment. The ship was wrecked at Wreck Beach near Moonlight Head during a
voyage from Hamburg to Melbourne, with the loss of 12 lives.
While carrying tea from China to Melbourne the barque Marie Gabrielle was
blown off course and driven ashore at Wreck Beach near Moonlight Head. Despite
the south-westerly gale, all hands were saved.
Ships wrecked along the Shipwreck Coast (sorted alphabetically) include:
- Alexandra (1882)
- Antares (1914)
- Casino (1932)
- Edinburgh Castle (1888)
- Enterprise (1850)
- Essington (1852)
- Falls of Halladale (1908)
- Fiji (1891)
- Freedom (1853)
- Freetrader (1894)
- Golden Spring (1863)
- John Scott (1858)
- La Bella (1905)
- Loch Ard (1878)
- Lydia (1843)
- Marie Gabrielle (1869)
- Napier (1878)
- Newfield (1892)
- Schomberg (1855)
- Socrates (1843)
- Thistle (1837)
- Whaleboat (1836)
- Yarra (1882)
- Young Australian (1877)
It reads like a fable... that somewhere along the coast between Port Fairy and
Warrnambool lies the remains of a ship...
In 1836 while two men, themselves wrecked, were walking along the
beach they came upon the half-buried remains of a vessel high up among the
sand dunes, midway between Warrnambool and Belfast (now Port Fairy).
— Melbourne Argus August 10 1929. The Mahogany Ship1
This ship was very different from those know... observers testified to the
foreign build. Captain Mason in a letter to "The Argus" in 1876 declared that
she appeared to him to be a vessel of a model altogether unfamiliar to him and
at variance in some respects with the rules of shipbuilding... As to what
the ship was built from, the wood differed to the oak used by the English
shipbuilders. There are stories of old whalers huts floored with mahogany, the
same wood as the shipwreck. Spanish and Portuguese coins have been found around
the coast near Warrnambool. There are even local aboriginal legends of the
coming of 'yellow men' in the dim past.1
So the location, indeed the very existence of this wreck is debated... so until
perhaps by accident, a tourist might kick something in the sand dunes and
rediscover this fabled wreck...