Married to Mermaids at the Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea – 105 Shipwrecks & Groundings along the Illawarra Coastline

The Sea

The age of the steam ships came to the Illawarra in 1839 according to a 1951 Illawarra Historical Society article, on the Illawarra Steam Packet Company, whose ships included the Maitland and William IV (built by William Lowe). “A “packet ship” was originally a vessel employed to carry post office mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. In sea transport, a packet service is a regular, scheduled service, carrying freight and passengers.” – 1. The business operated under a committee of 10 shareholders, four of whom were from the Illawarra, Charles Throsby Smith, Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott, J H Plunkett and Gerard Gerard. Later it operated as the General Steam Navigation Co. Produce was transported on the steamers.

Bill Bayley had written in 1960 of Bellambi as a Coal Port, which was cited in a later 1998 Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin article about the two Bellambi jetties – see also Joe Davis  1997 1998 articles – Fullwood’s Two Jetties.

In an issue of the 1973 Bulletin, a Mr G A Hardwicke wrote an interesting and brief history of coastal shipping in the Illawarra, which had been presented to a Royal Australian Historical Society Conference in 1972.

In 1975, the Illawarra Historical Society’s Bulletin included an article on coastal shipping associated with Coalcliff from 1877 to 1910.

As noted above, rough seas presented challenges for sea transport and freight over the decades. The “Shipwreck Atlas of New South Wales – 3rd Edition ” published by the NSW Government Heritage Office, clearly illustrates this with its long list of ships then known to have been lost at sea. It is believed that as many as 1800 ships, and perhaps into the thousands of ships, were wrecked along the NSW coastline, with up to 120 along the Illawarra coastline. See also Notes from the Illawarra Historical Society in the early 1950’s on shipwrecks of the Illawarra.

The first fatal shipwreck of Illawarra would appear to be the Foxhound in 1829, off Coalcliff, where all hands, including Barrett, Cullen and Thomas White (Whyte), were lost – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. A full list of those aboard has never been able to determined.

Not all shipwrecks along the Illawarra resulted in loss of life – sometimes the crew and passengers did survive.

But who could have imagined so many ships lost in a watery graveyard off the Illawarra coastline – with her sailors now married to mermaids at the bottom of the deep blue seas, as sung in the traditional British Folk song (1)?

There appears to be about 105 shipwrecks and groundings off the Illawarra Coastline – over a quarter of these occurred in the 1860’s, with 18 of these over the years 1866 – 1870 and the worst year was in 1867.

Those shipwrecks in the Illawarra able to be located, from the Royal National Park in the north, down to Gerringong in the south, include :

  • Wattamolla
      • 1919 SS Tuggerah, a Clyde built Steel Screw Steamer collier  sank in huge seas –

    Tuggerah

  • Garie Beach
    • 1918 SS Undola  (All Hands Lost (12) – some evidence into Inquiry of her sinking  that she was possibly destroyed by a German minefield- although she was sunk after WW1 ended ) –1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
  • North Bulli (Austinmer )
    • 1887 SS Waratah (Aberdeen built Iron Screw Steam Collier – During loading she was shifted to balance the load when she moved, then ran onto rocks and dragged her anchor and was wrecked) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,  7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16,
  • Bellambi Point, Corrimal and Towradgi Beaches
    • 1881 Queen of Nations – possibly the most famous shipwreck to occur along the Illawarra Coastline (An Aberdeen Wooden Clipper Vessel of the White Star Line, carrying vast quantities of spirits and wines from London, which ran aground due to navigation errors – 1 man drowned) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26,   . “A clipper was a very fast sailing ship of the middle third of the 19th century. They were fast, yacht like vessels, with three masts and a square rig. They were generally narrow for their length, could carry limited bulk freight, small by later 19th century standards, and had a large total sail area” – 1.
    • 1898 Saxonia Screw Steamer Collier- struck Bellambi reef during the “Maitland Gale” also coupled with navigational error – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,
    • 1896 Aldinga, Iron Screw Steamer (Piled up off Bellambi Reef due to current) – 1, 2, 34, 5, 6, 7, – an Iron steamship, 2 funnels and rigged as a 3 masted barque. (1)
    • 1907 Resolute – (Lost in calm seas when ran onto Bellambi Reef due to current) – 1, 2, 3,
    • 1949 Munmorah – ran onto Bellambi reef with heavy seas preventing recovery – 1, 2, 3, 4,
    • 2011 Wot Eva, a Sailors With Disabilities yacht (Ran aground on Bellambi Reef during Flinders Islet Race, a preparation race for the Sydney to Hobart event) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
  • Wollongong
    • 1943 HMAS Starfish – 1, 2, 3, 4,
    • 2016 Hammer’N– broke free of her moorings and washed ashore to Wollongong’s Brighton Breach during the June 2016 East Coast Low
  • Port Kembla
    • 1949 Bombo (Foundered in rough seas with 10 lost and 2 survivors off Wollongong – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
    • 1986 – Gabriela (Sunk when cargo rope snapped at Port Kembla – Marine Surveyors lost) –1, 2, 3, 4 (image below), 5, 6,
      ShipSpotting.com
      © Chris Howell
    • 2009 – Shockwave – 2 fatalities (grounded on rocks at  Flinders Islet Port Kembla during 92 nautical mile Flinders Islet Race) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
    • 2010 – Ocean Linx Wave Generator – not strictly a shipwreck,  but she broke her moorings in May 2010 and by 2016 still had not been removed – 1,
  • Bass Point
    • 1880 Our Own (hit rocks) – 1,
    • 1924 Kiltobranks1,
    • 1943 Cities Service Boston (ran aground in very heavy weather with 4 rescuers lost at Bass Point) – 1, 2, 3,
    • 1978 – Hexham Bank – abandoned when on fire  then recovered & ultimately taken to the Philippines) –1 , 2, 3, 4, 5


      ShipSpotting.com photo of Hexham Bank
      © Gordy

From the Royal National Park to Gerringong there are possibly as many as 90 ships still not found – see listing NSW Shipwrecks listing – 1, 2, 3.

  • 181o’s
    • 1817 Hawkesbury Packet, a sloop built for Solomon Wiseman known for Wiseman’s Ferry  (ran aground previously in 1816 and finally at Minnamurra) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,                                                                              Solomon Wiseman
  • 1820’s
    • 1823 Unnamed Open Boat (men blown out to sea near Five Islands) – 1,
    • 1825
      • Charlotte (Gale  – some wreckage washed ashore Port Kembla) – 1, 2, 3 , 4, 5, ;
    • 1828
      •  North Briton (Wrecked off Wollongong)  – 1, 2,
    • 1829
      • Foxhound, 60 ton schooner – all hands lost (Storm – dark, windy, squally night – Coalcliff) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, – (A schooner is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts).
  • 1830’s
    • 1836
      • Swan (Foundered after leaving Wollongong – All Hands & Passengers (16) Lost) – 1, 2,
      • Native (Coastal Trader lost in Gale off Illawarra)  – 1, 2,
  • 1840’s
    • 1840  Charlotte (parted her mooring in a gale at Woolongong) –1, 2,
    • 1842
      • Swallow (Gerringong) – 1,
      • Perseverance (All Hands Lost – South Coast) –12, 3,
    • 1843
      • Alligator (A 20 ton schooner which ran ashore Bulli) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
        A schooner has at least 2 masts. Her first mast is fore and aft rigged and all subsequent masts are aft rigged – 1.
    • 1846
      • Prince George – (Anchor Chain snapped & wrecked when she drifted into Wollongong)  1,  2, 3,
    • 1847
      • Lucy (All Hands Lost – shipwreck area unknown) –1,
    • 1848
      • Alexander (believed lost in a gale near the Illawarra) – 1,
    • 1849
      • Mermaid (Lost ashore Gerringong ) – 1, 2, 3,
      • Dolphin (All Hands Lost – South Coast – precise shipwreck area unknown)  – 1,
  • 1850’s
    • 1850
      • Petrel (Lost between Wollongong & Sydney) – 1,
    • 1851
      • Twin Sisters (drifted to shore & wrecked on rocks at Kiama) – 1,  2, 3,
      • Amphitrite (Storm – driven ashore at Shellharbour) –1, 2, 3;
    • 1852
      • Lapwing ( missed stays & hit rocks leaving Wollongong) – 1, 2,
    • 1854
      • Beppo (some reports have her lost at Wollongong but may have been lost in rough seas in Shoalhaven) – 1 ,2,
    • 1855
      • Frolic (lost at Kiama) – 1, 2 & 3 (incorrect year),
    •  1856
      • Neptune (driven ashore and wrecked in rough weather at Kiama) –1, 2,
    • 1857
      • Retriever (All Hands Lost – somewhere off the South Coast) – 1,
    • 1859
      • Excelsior (struck reef off Bellambi, and was probably one of early victims of this infamous reef) – owner Thomas Hale prosecuted the Master John Lewis – Hale had insured the boat for Melbourne but not at Bellambi – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
      • Helen (Parted anchor chain & driven ashore in heavy seas & gale force winds near Bellambi Creek) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
      • And in same heavy seas & gale force winds Victoria Packet (broke both anchor chains and driven ashore in a Gale near Bellambi Creek) –1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
  • 1860’s
    • 1860
      • Prospector (wrecked in a gale with 2 lives lost at Bellambi) – 1, 2, 3,
      • in same storm as the Prospector,
      • Colina (wrecked with 1 life lost at Bellambi- note salvaged and later lost at Narooma in 1865  ) –1, 2,
      • Ocean Queen (Drifted onto rocks at Bellambi) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
      • Cecilia (driven ashore in heavy weather hitting rocks and breaking her back at Wollongong) –12, 3,
    • 1862
      • Hope (ran aground Wollongong) –1, 2, 3,
    • 1863
      • Duke of Wellington (Five Lives Lost off Bellambi) – 1, 2,
      • Echo – (Shellharbour) –1 ,
    • 1864
      • Buonaparte (Lost 8 nautical miles north of Bellambi) – 1, 2,
      • Reaper (Lost in a Gale at Bellambi) – was headed for Sydney but went too far south to Bellambi – 1, 2, 3,
      • Breadalbane (Drifted ashore  in a Gale off Bellambi) – 123;
    • 1865
      • Spec (Foundered and 2 lives lost off Kiama) – 1, 2,
      • Agnes (Lost on Wollongong Breakwater) – 1,
    • 1866
      • Tiger (Stranded with 3 lives lost at Bulli) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
      • Adolphus (wrecked at rocks Pier Head Wollongong) – 1, 2, 3,
      • Corio (foundered with possibly 10 lives lost in a gale off Wollongong) – 1, 2,
    • 1867
      • Moselle (lost in a Gale off Bulli) – 1, 2, 3,
      • George (Ran aground off Bulli) – 1, 2,
      • Bright Planet (Lost in rough seas off Bulli Jetty) –1, 2, 3,
      • Matador1, 2,
      • Lord of the Isles (Lost at Kiama) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
      • Catherine (Hit rock and sprung a leak near Wollongong) – 1, 2, &
      • Margaret (Lost off Wollongong) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,  9, 1o, 11, 12,
    • 1868
      • Chippewa ( wrecked during a gale at Crookhaven Heads & drifted to Gerringong) – 1, 2; 3,
      • Nowra (hit Wollongong Breakwall – was she re-floated ?) – 1, 2,
      • Elizabeth (Capsized in a squall off  Bulli)  – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
    • 1869
      • Free Selector (Sank possibly in a gale off Wollongong) – 1, 2, 3,
      • Cle(i)o (Foundered off Wollongong in 1868 before lost off Wollongong in 1869) – 1, 2,
      • Christopher George ( All Hands Lost during a Gale off Wollongong) – 1, 2, 3,
  • 1870’s
    •  1870
      • Hannah (Lost near Bulli) – 1, 2,
      • Rangoon (blown ashore in strong winds – Kiama) – 12, 3,
      • Seaspray/Spray  (Lost at the Coalcliffs off Bulli) – 1, 2;
    • 1873
      • Nowra (Lost at Wollongong) -while believed to be lost in 1868, there are British reports of its loss in 1873 –  1,
    • 1875
      • Bernard & Isobel (Wrecked on rocks at Kiama) – 1, 2,
    • 1876
      • Blackwall (Lost on a Reef Shellharbour) – 1, 2,
    • 1877
      • Agnes (Wind direction change at Wollongong breakwater) – 1, 2,
    •  1878
      • Millewa / Mullewa (Lost entering Kiama Harbour) –1,
    • 1879
      • Bertha (Driven ashore and broke up in a gale near Shellharbour – Aboriginal witnesses to the shipwreck saved the lives of the Captain and crew by taking a line from the vessel to the shore)- 1, 2, 3,
      • Franz (wrecked in a gale Peterborough Head near Lake Illawarra & Shellharbour) – 1, 2, 3;
      • Margaret (Lost in a Squall off Gerringong – Kiama) – 1, 2,
  • 1880’s
    • 1881
      • Gosford Packet (Stranded Five Islands) – 1, 2, –  (A “packet ship” was originally a vessel employed to carry post office mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. In sea transport, a packet service is a regular, scheduled service, carrying freight and passengers.)
    • 1882
      • Llewellyn (Ran aground Bellambi Reef) – 1,
    • 1883
      • Nile (struck reef near Kiama) – 1, 2, 3,
    • 1885
      • Little Pet (Went onto Bellambi Reef) – 1,
    • 1886
      • Annie Powell ( Sprang a leak and founded off Five Islands) –1, 2,
    • 1887
      • Waratah – dragged anchor and lost on rocks at North Bulli – 1, 2,
    •  1888
      • Growler (wrecked near Gerringon Jetty) – 1,
    • 1889
      • Scotia (struck rocks at Kiama north of the blowhole) – 1, 2,
      • Ino (Struck rocks off breakwater at Kiama) – 1,
  • 1890’s
    • 1890
      • Maggie(Went ashore at Fairy Meadow) – 1,
    • 1891
      • Prince Alfred (Foundered at Five Islands off Wollongong)- 1, 2,
      • Bertha (Broke up in  gale at Bass Point) – 1,
    • 1894
      • Resolute (Sprung a leak off Five Islands – then sank in Wollongong Harbour but refloated) –12,
    • 1895
      • Norman (struck Bellambi reef) – 1, 2, 3,
    • 1898
      • Amy (Lost With All Hands (7)  near Thirroul) – 1,  2, 3, 45 ;
      • Malcolm (Very severe weather for extended period – lost with 6 lives lost off Bulli) – 1, 2, 3, 4,
      • Bellambi Jetty also severely damaged during February 1898 – 1;
  • 1900’s
    • 1901 – Alexander Berry -off Bass Point – 4 lives lost –  1, 2, 3,
    •  1904 – Nemesis – last seen off Wollongong – but was found near Kurnell  – 1,
    •  1907
      • Peterborough (Wrecked 8 miles off Wollongong) – 1,
  • 1910’s
    • 1912
      • Comboyne (unable to be refloated after hitting breakwater Port Kembla) – 1, 2,
      • Mt Kembla (Hit reef off Bellambi) – 1,
  • 1920’s
    • 1920
      • Comboyne – (Struck Object off Bass Point) – 1, 2,
    • 1927
      • Clio (Northern breakwater where crew of 2 reached safety at Port Kembla) – 1, 2,
  • 1930’s
    • 1939
      • Unnamed (Burned vessel off Shellharbour) – 1,
      • Koraaga (Struck Reef off Bass Point) – 1, 2, 3,   – model of Koraaga at Powerhouse Museum450px-Koraaga_Model
  • 1940’s
    • 1943
      • HMAS Adele (Struck Breakwater at Port Kembla) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
  • 1960’s
    • 1960
      • Hero (Tug forced onto rocks during gale, heavy seas, strong winds when trying to assist Bulwara at Port Kembla) – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
  • 2010’s

 

 

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