Australia’s island status has shaped its unique maritime history, which is full of exciting tales, notable events, and, of course, its fair share of tragedy. South-Western Victoria is home to a particularly volatile stretch of coastline, due to its unpredictable weather conditions and rocky terrain. Over the years, this section of Victorian coastline has seen many maritime accidents, earning it the apt moniker “Shipwreck Coast”. In this blog, we share with you the tales of some of the coast’s most infamous shipwrecks, which have contributed the legend surrounding the Great Ocean Road.
The Loch Ard is perhaps the most well-known ship to have perished along Shipwreck Coast. The Loch Ard set sail from Gravesand, London, on the 1st of March 1878. Bound for Melbourne, the cargo ship was approaching the the coast through Bass Strait when it became engulfed in a thick, view-obscuring fog. By the time Captain Gibb had realised the ship was headed for the treacherous cliffs off Mutton Bird Island (just east of Port Campbell), all efforts to change course would prove futile. When the 1700 tonne ship inevitably crashed into the rocks, all but two of the 54 passengers and crew on board would be lost at sea. The two survivors were passenger Eva Carmichael and cabin boy Tom Pearce, who were washed ashore in the cove now known as Loch Ard Gorge. Today the ship’s resting place – 30m below the water’s surface at the foot of Mutton Bird Island – is a spot favoured by professional divers. For those wishing to remain dry, artefacts from the wreckage can be viewed at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, Warrnambool.
Marie Gabrielle and Fiji
The anchors and other remains of wrecked ships Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji can be seen on Wreck Beach, situated in the Great Ocean Road’s Moonlight Bay. Marie Gabrielle was delivering a cargo of tea from China in 1869 when a South Westerly gale caused it to be wrecked just off Moonlight Head. Miraculously, all the crew were saved. Just over 20years later in 1891, the iron barque Fiji was not quite as lucky. Fifteen of ship’s crew made it to safety, while 12 unfortunately perished with wreck. The recovered bodies were buried high on the surrounding cliff face.
Antares 1888 – 1914
The Antares, a sail trader carrying inbound cargo, was the last sailing ship wrecked along the Shipwreck Coast. Travelling from the French city of Marseilles to Melbourne during World War I, the ship was nearing its destination when wild conditions caused it to collide with rocks just off Petesborough. A young boy saw flares in the distance, and told the townspeople believing it was the Germans invading, however his concerns were dismissed. It wasn’t until two weeks on the 13th of December, 1914, later that local farmers began to find evidence of the wreck. All 24 people onboard perished. The wreck of the Antares can be seen today just 80 metres off shore near the Bay of Islands, submerged in only 4-6 metres of water.
You will learn about these infamous shipwrecks and many more when taking one of Melbourne On The Move’s Great Ocean Road tours. The day trip is available as either a general day tour or a more intimate small group tour, and will take you past all the great sights of the Great Ocean Road including Apollo Bay, Otway National Park, the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell, and, of course, the shipwreck coast.