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Ships Wrecks of Australia


Sygna Shipwreck  1974


An unknown cameraman shot this film of the Sygna, days after it was shipwrecked on Stockton
 Beach in 1974.The Sygna ran aground on Stockton Beach 30 years ago and this unique film footage without sound shows the ship and the crowd it drew in the days after.

Here you can clearly see the snap in the hull.This bystander gives some scale to the damage done to the Sygna,In the background the stern of the ship is pounded by a massive wave.
Many families went down to the wreck for a picnic. This 70's VW beach buggy looks good just hangin' with what was left of the Sygna.

This rare film was supplied to the ABC without any details, if you were the cameraman, let us know.
The following is a long but by no means complete list of vessels lost in and around Newcastle during the past 200 years.
1 August 1808

The Dundee, making its way from Sydney to Fiji, battled against a gale attempting to enter Newcastle Harbour. It was washed onto Stockton Beach instead. Two lives were lost.
August 1826

The wreckage of Newcastle, a schooner was washed ashore after disappearing for almost a month. All nine people aboard were never seen again.
September 1827

Nine passengers on The Charlotte were killed when the ship wrecked on Stockton Beach.
March 1833

Two deaths were recorded when a second Charlotte was lost off the coast of Newcastle.
 January 1838

All the souls aboard were lost when the sloop Elizabeth Gibbs disappeared between Newcastle and Sydney.
 November 1856

After leaving Newcastle with a load of cargo, the Maria Theresa disappeared. No wreckage or passengers were ever recovered.
19 March 1864

Wrecked off Stockton Beach, the attempt to rescue passengers from the schooner Zone failed when its lifeboat overturned. Four lives were lost and four saved. The bodies of the Zone's captain and first mate were washed up on Stockton Beach the next say, still wearing their lifejackets, but two crewmen were never seen again.
 2 June 1864

Seven lives were lost when The Waratah disappeared between Newcastle and Sydney.
12 July 1866

The Cawarra sank on the Oyster Bank during a storm period that claimed 14 other ships and 77 lives between Port Stephens and Sydney.

The Cawarra was the most tragic shipwreck, with 60 souls aboard, within meters of Stockton Beach the sea was so rough that only one passenger managed to stay above the water, a man name Frederick Hedges 31.

He told the inquiry into the shipwreck that, "Rounding Nobbys about 2pm, seas smashed the skylight and flooded the forcabin. The ship drifted over towards the Oyster Bank, her head pointing seaward. As she settled by the head, Captain Chatfield, passengers and crew were driven from the bridge to the poop. There was no panic.

A wave broke over the ship and she sank soon afterward. She did not first strike ground but foundered. Captain Chatfield had given an order to clear the boats. The first boat with eight or nine women soon capsized. The next boat fell straight into the water and all of its occupants were washed out. I was washed away and picked up at dusk" (Callen T. Bar Dangerous 1986:122).

The lifeboat deployed to save the Cawarra was in as much danger as the ship itself and had to return to dry land. The wreck of the Cawarra was salvaged, and 230 bags of flour, three hogshead of rum, 22 casks of wine and spirits, packets of tea, brass railings, parts if a winch and the anchor were recovered.

The ship broke into two sections and a section of the wreck was sold at action for 125 pounds. Remains of the Cawarra are still in Newcastle Harbour, underneath the wreck of Adolphe.
13 July 1866

Five people were lost when their boat Seagull, sunk off Nobbys. At 1am blue flares were seen out at sea and during the morning the stern section with the ships name visible, washed ashore on Stockton Beach.
9 May 1869

Six lost when Nancy sunk off Newcastle. On the same day the schooner Oriti and its crew disappeared off Stockton Beach.
12 December 1876

Nine lives lost when the Urainia sinks off Newcastle.
15 July 1877

The steamship Yarra Yarra killed 18 people when it was dashed onto the Oyster Bank. It was alleged that the ship was overloaded with coal, and that the Newcastle lifeboat was too confused to rescue her and that the rescue ship wasnt able to bear the rough sea.

A wave broke off the paddle steamers funnel and foremast, and extinguished its boiler fire. When the paddles stopped turning she was helpless as waves carried the Yarra Yarra onto the Oyster Bank.
10 March 1879

SS Barabool collided with the Bonnie Dundee off Redhead beach and four people lost their lives including a cabin boy.
28 September 1880

En route to Yokohama, Japan, the Susan Goddefroy battled against a gale off Newcastle. The ship hoisted distress signals but was ignored by lifeboats that were confused about who was in charge. Seven people drowned when it sunk off Stockton Beach. It was alleged that the ship was to old to be making such a dangerous journey.
4 July 1884

The American ship The Susan Gilmore approached the mouth of the Hunter River after a long journey, carrying coal to a port on the West Coast of either North or South America.

Unfortunately, on that cold and blustery night, the ship ran aground on the beach, which now bears its name. The surrounding hills hid the ship from the area, and the crew and passengers were forced to seek aid themselves. After one of the vessels lifeboats reached the shore and alerted authorities every person on board was rescued. Within a fortnight the ship was dashed to pieces by the rough waves.
July 1898

Ellen is abandoned after leaving Newcastle for Noumea where it was to be hulked. It was an old ship and leaked continuously, pumping was required every 2 hours. The fine weather the ship left Newcastle in did not last and Ellen could not handle rough conditions. The pump failed and the crew were forced to abandon ship.

The ship's captain, first mate and one crew remained aboard. The captain and mate were injured and ill and died soon after the departure of the crew. The third man on board was the only survivor when he reached Seal Rocks ten days later. Two crewmen died from exposure and five from being washed overboard the lifeboat.
September 1892

The Minnie Young and its eight passengers and crew disappeared off Newcastle.
6 May 1898

Merksworth founders off Redhead and after bailing for three days the crew abandon ship. When the lifeboat reached Stockton Beach only three out of twelve crewmen were still alive.
December 1898

Little Nell sinks off Redhead. Two crewmen were trapped on board and died.
30 September 1904

The Adolphe had been travelling for 86 days when the sailing ship reached Newcastle. The rough conditions it met here required two tugboats to bring it into the Harbour. In the heavy seas the line between one tug The Victoria and The Adolphe snapped and the other tug Hero could not manage its massive bulk.

Lashed by waves it was driven toward the Oyster Bank. The Victoria saved 33 men and another tug The Aggie carried all the personal effects of passengers and crew. The Stockton breakwater incorporated the wreck when it was constructed in 1912.
31 August 1905

Jones Brothers was swept onto the wreck of the Adolphe. Seven people lost their lives.
25 December 1908

A collision between the Advance and Inverna kills seven people. The wreck occurred 27 kilometres south west of Nobbys. There was only one survivor.
14 June 1928

White Bay swamped while trying to enter Newcastle Harbour. Five lives were lost.
9 August 1934

The Stockton ferry, Bluebell, sinks after a collision in Newcastle Harbour. It collided with the coaster Waraneen. According to Callen "The hull of the Bluebell opened up like a book and the harbour waters flooded in. She sank in minutes. Passengers on the upper deck were lucky, they clambered aboard the Waraneen. Not so the cabin passengers. They were trapped. Most fought their way out and rose to the surface. Three drowned" (Callen T. Bar Dangerous 1986:152).
4 October 1943

The Davenport was stationed in Newcastle en route to New Guinea where it was to be used as a transporter of US Troops. It was due to sail on the 6th October, but in the afternoon of the 4th it caught fire.

The smoking ship was towed out of Newcastle Harbour by The Champion to a position two miles off Nobbys with two crewmen on board. These two were left by The Champion to drop the Davenport's anchor and jump overboard while it burnt itself out.

A crewman from the Davenport, Keith Oliver describes the experience, "We succeeded in dropping two anchors and shortly afterwards had to leave the ship. Later I saw the Master floating face down and assumed he had drowned. I didn't see the other seamen. I stayed within 100 feet from the ship, sometimes wondering whether the sharks would get me or the ship would explode and kill me. Suddenly I head a voice calling out when I attempted to call back I seemed to have no voice. A light then located me and I was hauled aboard what turned out to be the Pilot cutter."

The fuel tank of the ship washed ashore and may be seen to this day, during low tide.
26 May 1974

The Sygna washed onto Stockton Beach during a gale at 2.15am on 26 May. The Norwegian ship was waiting for a load of coal when the storm struck. Winds up to 70 miles per hour were recorded.

The Sygna suffered a fractured hull and leaked oil. Locals helped pull the ship as far in as it could be, but it was still a vast distance from shore. The Water Police patrolled the area but the vessel was too large for the police to carry out a rescue operation.

A military helicopter from Williamtown was enlisted to winch the crew to safety amid the huge waves still breaking onto the Sygna. The helicopter could only carry three at a time and the 30 crew patiently waited to be rescued.

There were no injuries or casualties. In August 1974 a Japanese company attempted to salvage the ship but met with many difficulties. When the ship was refloated on 6 September it broke in half. The bow was towed to Port Stephens and taken to Taiwan to be recycled. The stern remains on Stockton Beach.


Shipwrecks around Flinders Island

The first and one of the most well known wrecks around the Furneaux Group is the Sydney Cove, wrecked in 1797. This was the first ship to be wrecked on the east coast of Australia, on rescuing the survivors the vast herds of seal were discovered around the Furneaux Islands, starting the sealing industry.

Since that time the rocks, reefs, sandbars and gales have taken their toll on the unwary ships captains. Compared to today the waters around the Furneaux Group would have been hazardous for sailing ships with many uncharted rocks, reefs and with no modern navigational aids, lighthouses or charts of the area. Even today one should not get to complacent when sailing these sometimes treacherous waters.

Today one can dive on many of the wrecks around the islands or view some of the wrecks that have grounded on the islands, one of the more famous is the Farsund, stranded on the south eastern end of Vansittart Island. You can also view one of the anchors from the G.W. Wolf outside the library in Whitemark.

Sydney Cove - 1797

Bound from India to Port Jackson the ship leaked badly and was eventually beached on the small island known as Preservation Island on the 8th of February. While her cargo was being unloaded, five Europeans and twelve Lascars set out for Port Jackson to secure help. They were wrecked on Victoria’s Ninety Mile Beach and eventually only three reached their destination.

Divers discovered the remains of the Sydney Cove in January 1977, and it is now protected as an historic shipwreck.

L’Enterprise - 1802

The French schooner L’Enterprise, 90 tons, was wrecked on the Outer Sisters Island late in 1802 or early 1803 while sealing out of Sydney, drowning the master and several of the crew.

Governor Sorrell - 1819

Wreckage recovered on Vansittart Island was though to have come from the sloop Governor Sorrell, 33 tons which disappeared while returning to Hobart after salvaging cargo from the vessels Daphne and John Palmer which had both been lost on the Kent Group north of Flinders Island.

Courier and Defiance - 1833

On the night of 4th July the brig Courier, 184 tons struck Gull Island and was lost. Most of her cargo was recovered but after it had been loaded on board the schooner Defiance, 74 tons, her anchors parted in a heavy sea and she was also wrecked on the island.

Britomart - 1839

The barque Britomart, 243 tons left Melbourne for Hobart on 15th December and after several weeks without word the Government cutter Vansittart was sent to search for her. Wreckage indicated she foundered near Clarke Island and there are rumours that she may have been lured ashore by false lights and plundered.

City of Edinburgh - 1840

From London to Sydney, the 367 ton barque City of Edinburgh was forced ashore on Rabbit Island by a gale in July, without loss of life. Some say she was salvaged, but divers have visited the site in recent years and recovered many relics and some of these are displayed in the museum at Emita.

Isabella - 1844

While anchored under Chappell Island during a voyage from Melbourne to London, the ship Isabella, 221 tons, dragged her anchors and went ashore.

Amity - 1845

On 18th June, the brig Amity, 149 tons, was wrecked on a sandbank off the south eastern end of Flinders Island, while bound from Hobart to Port Albert.

Governor Phillip - 1848

One of the worst wrecks in the Furneaux Group occurred in the early hours of 27th October when the brig Governor Phillip, from Norfolk Island going to Hobart with a complement of 74, struck a reef off Gull Island and soon broke up. A total of sixteen lives were lost.

Antares and Litherland - 1853

The brigantine Antares, 131 tons, struck a reef near Little Chalky Island on the night of 19th February drowning 3 of her crew including the master.

While carrying about 400 tons of coal from Newcastle to Hobart, the barque Litherland, 306 tons, struck rocks off the west point of Clarke Island on 23rd of June and sank before anything could be saved.

Berwick Castle and Lioness - 1854

Late in February, the barque Berwick Castle, 342 tons, sailing from Hobart to Melbourne loaded with timber struck near Clarke Island and foundered. All hands left safely in the long boat.

The schooner Lioness was also lost on Clarke Island on the 21st of May. The mate, a seaman and a passenger were drowned but the captain, his wife and four crew reached safety.

Apparition, Belle Creole and Red Rover - 1855

On 31st of December the schooner Apparition ran onto the Pot Boil Shoals and was abandoned by her crew who eventually landed at Port Albert.

Two vessels Belle Creole, 269 tons, and the schooner Red Rover, 80 tons, were lost in fog and were grounded within 24 hours at Cape Barren.

Catherine - 1856

After springing a leak 35 miles off Goose Island, the schooner Catherine, 189 tons, was abandoned. It was later reported high and dry on Waterhouse Island where it remained until it broke up.

Sir William Wallace, Euphemia and Williamstown - 1858

Moriarty Shoals near Clarke Island claimed the brig Sir William Wallace, 225 tons, during fog on 18th March, while on a voyage from Melbourne to Hobart.

On 19th of July, the schooner Euphemia, 250 tons, ran onto one of the Sisters Islands during a voyage from Newcastle to Melbourne loaded with coal.

While on a voyage from Newcastle to Melbourne loaded with coal the brig Williamstown, 155 tons, struck heavy weather off the Kent Group. The ship was abandoned near Babel Island after leaking badly.

Burra Burra and Boundary - 1859

The schooner Burra Burra, 112 tons, was another victim of the Sisters Islands. She was loaded with coal for Melbourne and was lost on the 17th of June. The crew existed on shell fish for eleven days until the weather moderated enough for them to sail to Melbourne.

The brig Boundary, 188 tons, struck Goose Island on the 10th of June. Her master Captain Hempseed, his wife and four crew lost their lives.

Jane Helen - 1860

The guano schooner Jane Helen, 35 tons, was forced on to Babel Island during a storm on 22nd April and was soon a total loss.

Wanderer - 1861

Travelling from Newcastle to Adelaide, the schooner Wanderer, 35 tons, was forced south by heavy weather and wrecked on Gull Island. All hands reached the shore where they remained for five days before being rescued.

George Marshall - 1862

The ship George Marshall, 1208 tons, left London with 60 passengers and cargo for Sydney, but struck a rock and was run ashore next morning on Flinders Island, north of Settlement Point. All landed safely and most of the cargo was salvaged. Today, divers find very little of interest as the wreck is almost completely buried in sand. A few relics have been recovered from the site of the camp set up by the crew on the beach.

Rebecca - 1863

The barque Rebecca, 261 tons, with eleven passengers and 71 head of cattle struck the south west point of Clarke Island on 17th February and was soon a total wreck. The passengers and crew landed safely but most of the cattle were lost.

Foam - 1864

The brig Foam went ashore on the south west side of Clarke Island on 27th of September. A gale was blowing and in poor visibility she was amongst the rocks before the crew realised the danger, but all reached the shore along a line.

Laurence and Gaurdelette - 1865

Loaded with coal, the barque Laurence, 309 tons, ran onto the Pot Boil Shoals on 29th July. The crew spent two days shovelling coal overboard to lighten her and managed to float free twice, only to have the current carry their vessel aground again. Finally, she leaked so badly she was abandoned.

In poor weather the barque Gaurdelette, 277 tons, loaded with coal struck rocks near Cape Barren Island and was abandoned as she filled and broke up.

Ann - 1868

In July the schooner Ann, 135 tons, struck a reef off Prime Seal Island and was beached on Flinders Island.

Isabella - 1869

The barque Isabella, 195 tons, struck a reef near Cape Barren Island on the night of December 1st. The crew reached safety.

Speck - 1870

While taking shelter from a gale under Preservation Island, the brig Speck, 258 tons, struck a reef and was badly damaged. She was beached on Clarke Island but eventually broke up.

Golden Age - 1871

The 581 ton barque Golden Age was abandoned after striking Pot boil Shoals and losing her rudder.

Sarah Ann Blanche, Bella Vista and Koh-i-noor - 1872

The schooner Sarah Ann Blanche, 16 tons, called at Chappell Island to load mutton bird oil, but on 5th April, while preparing to return to Launceston she dragged anchors in a gale and was driven out to sea, then forced ashore and lost on Flinders Island.

The wooden barque Bella Vista, 166 tons, was wrecked on the north east end of Prime Seal Island on the 9th of June. The crew landed safely then returned to the ship the next day to recover sails and rigging to make tents.

The Koh-i-noor struck the same reef a few days later and was beached on Flinders Island. Later she was refloated and taken to Launceston and repaired.

Alice Maud - 1874

Travelling from New Zealand to Launceston the barque Alice Maud, 205 tons, struck a reef near Cape Barren Island on the night of 4th September. Some of the passengers and crew were taken off while fishermen sailed out from the island and helped refloat her, only to see her sink about a kilometre from where she struck.

Cambridgeshire - 1875

The iron ship Cambridgeshire, 1691 tons, struck Night Island on 6th September and soon became a total wreck. Soon after she struck, severe westerly gales forced the main and mizzen masts over the side then the hull broke in two and disappeared in deep water. Fortunately there was no loss of life and salvagers spent many months recovering her cargo. In recent years relics recovered from this wreck include, china plates, dead eyes and sundry fittings but her remote and often dangerous location makes her a difficult dive.

Essie Black - 1876

The Essie Black was wrecked on the Outer Sisters Island with all hands lost.

City of Foo Chow, Planter and Francis Gertrude - 1877

In hazy conditions, the ship City of Foo Chow, 1034 tons, ran ashore on a sandy beach at the north eastern side of Flinders Island on 17th of March. When attempts to free her failed all her gear was removed as she settled in the sand. Visitors to this remote location use to see one of her masts standing out from the sea a few metres off shore.

On the 15th June while battling a gale, the barque Planter, 263 tons, struck the Pot Boil Shoals and began to leak badly. After a long battle she was beached on Babel Island and the crew reached safety.

The schooner Francis Gertrude, 98 tons, a regular trader between Tasmania and New Zealand took shelter under Preservation Island in October to repair storm damage. She left on the 20th and in response to distress signals called at Goose Island lighthouse where the Head Keeper had died, and agreed to take the body to Melbourne. While leaving, a wind shift forced her on to rocks where she was lost.

Cito - 1879

The barque Cito, 226 tons, commenced to leak and became unmanageable while passing through Bass Strait, eventually being swept ashore near Cape St John on Cape Barren Island on the 30th of April, without loss of life.

Zephyr - 1882

Battered by heavy weather when off the Furneaux Group, the brigantine Zephyr, 90 tons, was driven on to Beagle Rock off Craggy Island on the 14th of July and lost. The crew got clear in the boat and succeeded in reaching the Kent Group, sheltering at the lighthouse until being taken to Launceston.

Robin Hood - 1884

The brig Robin Hood, 297 tons, struck a rock while taking shelter under the eastern side of Prime Seal Island on 27 December, broke her back and filled quickly.

Gold - 1887

The three masted schooner Gold, 312 tons, sprang a leak on the 2nd of April and foundered off the Sisters Islands after the pumps failed to hold back the water.

Mary - 1890

On 26th of June the ketch Mary, 26 tons, originally built as a steamer dragged her anchors and went ashore at Blyth Point on Flinders Island. The captain his wife and crew all reached safety.

Tasman - 1891

In March the cutter Tasman, 12 tons, when under tow crossing the Pot Boil Shoals was capsized but no lives were lost.

Grace Victoria Holyman - 1895

The ketch Grace Victoria Holyman, known as the GVH, a vessel of 14 tons, traded between Launceston and the Furneaux Islands. She capsized off Cape Barren Island in October with the loss of five lives.

C.C. Funk - 1898

On the night the brigantine C.C. Funk, 315 tons, ran aground on the eastern side of Flinders Island in a storm. All on board including the captains wife and their two children took refuge in the rigging, but when the masts collapsed only two out of the 13 on board reached shore. The remains of the wreck can be seen on the beach south of Camerons Inlet.

Orion - 1908

The well known wooden steam ship Orion, 214 tons, was employed in Tasmanian waters until her disappearance between Smithton and Melbourne with the loss of 27 lives. In a storm she was apparently driven far to the east of her coarse, a resident on Flinders Island reported seeing rockets to the west about the time of her disappearance. Wreckage from her was eventually recovered from Long Island.

Farsund and G.W. Wolfe - 1912

The barque Farsund, 1490 tons, was 59 days out of Buenos Aires when she was driven on to the Vansittart Shoals by a gale on the 10th of March. After resisting several attempts to tow her free she remains there as a prominent landmark.

The barque G.W. Wolfe, 1663 tons, was lost on Prime Seal Island on the 8th of August after being driven bow first on to the rocks. All the crew, except the master reached safety. Pieces of the bow and other scattered wreckage remain today marking the wreck site. The anchors were removed by Chinook helicopters and one can be seen outside the library in Whitemark.

Jane Moorhead - 1914

In January the fishing schooner Jane Moorhead, 49 tons, was lost on Lion Reef, Cape Barren Island

Toroa - 1916

While carrying passengers and cargo which included sheep and horses from Launceston to Flinders Island, S.S. Toroa, 388 tons, struck a reef off the west coast of Rabbit Island on the 12th of April and soon became a total wreck.

H.J. Holyman - 1917

On the 16th of June the ketch H.J. Holyman, 49 tons, dragged her anchors and went ashore on Badger Island and became a total wreck.

Joseph Sims - 1930

The two masted topsail schooner Joseph Sims, 105 tons, struck Passage Island on the 1st of June and was lost. She is one of the few wrecks that are easily found by divers but there is very little of interest to be seen.

Quest - 1950

The twin screwed 80 foot motor cruiser Quest was lost on Gull Island on the 13 of July.

Merilyn - 1958

The trading ketch Merilyn, 239 tons, was carrying general cargo from Altona to Hobart when she struck the north east of Goose Island. Her crew of 10 reached safety, then under the direction of the Mines Department she was blown up.

Leederry - 1968

The auxiliary ketch Leederry, 124 tons, was wrecked on Clarke Island. Parts of the wreck remain but there is little of interest or value.