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Shipwreck Coast

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Shipwreck Coast
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Shipwreck Coast - Cities, Towns and Localities
Stretching some 130 km, from Port Fairy to Cape Otway and Moonlight Head, the “Shipwreck 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.

Shipwreck Coast Attractions

• 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.

Town/City Location Ships
Port Fairy 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 rural port.
Socrates (1821-1843)
This British-built whaler was wrecked with its cargo of cattle, sheep and oil from Tasmania.

Lydia (1825-1843)
The Liverpool-built South Americas trader was sailing from Sydney to London in ballast when lost.

Thistle (1825-1837)
The Indian-built schooner owned by the Hentys was wrecked when its crew was collecting wattle bark during the off season from whaling.

Essington (1826-1852)
Government-built in Sydney as a troop and convict transport, it was privately owned when wrecked carrying general cargo from Sydney.

  Between Port Fairy and Warrnambool Mahogany Ship (1836)
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.
Warrnambool Lady Bay
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 rural trade.
La Bella (1893-1905)

Freedom (1841-1853)

Yarra (1850-1882)

Enterprise (1847-1850)

Golden Spring (1848-1863)

Freetrader (1850-1894)

Alexandra (1863-1882)

Edinburgh Castle (1863-1888)

Whaleboat (1836)

  Childers Cove
Only a 40 metre walk from the car park, steps provide access to Childers Cove Beach.
Children (1825-1839)
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.
  Bold Projection
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.
John Scott (1848-1858)
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.

Antares (1888-1914)
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.

Peterborough   Falls of Halladate (1886-1908)
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 loss.
Peterborough Newfield Bay
Young Australian (1864-1877)
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 ashore.

Schomberg (1855-1855)
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.

Newfield (1889-1892)
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.
Port Campbell Port Campbell and Mutton Bird Island

Port Campbell Cemetery
The Port Campbell cemetery is the resting place of sailors drowned in the Newfield wreck.

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. 

Napier (1874-1878)
The steamship Napier was engaged to salvage the wreck of the Loch Ard, but came to grief while entering Port Campbell Inlet.

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.

Moonlight Head Wreck 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.
Fiji (1875-1891)
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.

Marie Gabrielle (1864-1869)
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)
Mahogany Ship
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...


 

Source:
> Maritime Heritage Unit, Heritage Victoria, Department of Planning and Development - The Shipwreck Coast Historic Shipwreck Trail Guide,
from www.heritage.vic.gov.au/page.asp?pf=1&submit_action=&ID=297 (link no longer active)
> Department of lanning and Community Development -
Shipwrecks, from www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/heritage/maritime/shipwrecks
Shipwreck FAQ, from www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/heritage/maritime/shipwrecks/faq
Shipwreck dive sties, from www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/heritage/projects-and-programs/Shipwreck-dive-sites
1 Melbourne Argus. August 10 1929. The Mahogany Ship - A Memory of Warrnambool By Crauchan. Retrieved 25 April 2011 from www.swtafe.vic.edu.au/lrc/collections/mahoganyship/1929aug10.htm
 
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