Lake Macquarie History

Wreck of the Catherine Hill

On Friday 21st June 1867 the ship Catherine Hill ran aground on a beach between Bird Island Point and Lake Macquarie, during a fierce gale. The beach and bay where the shipwreck occurred was later named Catherine Hill Bay in commemoration of the wreck.

The Catherine Hill was a two-masted wooden topsail schooner of 65 tons built at Wisemans Ferry in 1866. She was on her way from the Richmond River to Sydney laden with 30,000 feet of pine and cedar. There were six crew on board: Captain Hill (the owner), Captain Crowly (master), Mr Haywood (mate), James Hunter, John Doring (cook) and another seaman whose name was not listed.

photo: catherine hill bay beach

The ships log of June 21st recorded:

"At daylight the weather was fearful and sea terrific. Made the land under our lee, but being so thick we could barely make it out. On making the land set the inner Jib, stay foresail and mainsail with the view of keeping the ship off the land – the sea at this time filling the decks on every tack level with the rails. At 7.30 am the sea forced the vessel inside the Gulf Point, to the north of Moon Island. The ship at this time was struck by a heavy sea which threw her over on her beam ends. As soon as she recovered herself again we lowered down the mainsail, and while doing so she was struck by another heavy sea which split the mainsail. Seeing that every effort to save the vessel was of no avail, we kept her head for the beach in order to save life, but in the act of doing so she breached to when a heavy sea washed over her and washed overboard Thomas Haywood (mate) and John Doring (cook) with everything off the deck."

The remaining crew managed to get off the vessel and made it to the beach, but all were perfectly naked - the rough sea having ripped off their clothing. The stayed on the beach all day and all night, and without shelter or fire suffered considerably from the cold and wet. All of the men were injured with serious cuts and bruising. On Saturday 22nd the wreck was seen by James Taaffe and his son who affected the rescue. The Taaffe family were early settlers near Cams Wharf on Lake Macquarie.

Aftermath

The only remains found of the two lost men was the head of John Doring, which was found near the Lake some days after the incident and was identified by Captain Crowly. An inquest held on Sunday 7th July returned a verdict of accidental drowning.

An advertisement appeared in the Maitland Mercury of 2nd July 1867 selling 25 logs of pine and 18 logs of cedar "as they now stand on board the schooner Catherine Hill, stranded at Bird Island Point."

The wreck was sold on 16th July by auction to Mr Congdon for £26 15s, and the newspaper reported that "efforts would be made immediately to launch her from the position in which she is, and if these are successful she will be brought to Newcastle to undergo repairs." The ship was insured for £1000.

Wild Weather

The storms which caused the wreck were widely reported in the newspapers of the time and caused much damage, with many people rendered homeless, hundreds of houses swept away and great loss of life. In one incident, an extended family group of two mothers and their 10 children lost their lives, leaving only the two fathers and one small boy surviving.The Illustrated Sydney News of Tuesday 16th July reported:

"The first indications of an approaching change were visible on the 17th and on the next morning the storm set in from the south east. All that day the wind blew violently, and torrents of rain fell along the whole coast district ; and the wind and weather reports telegraphed to the head office at Sydney, showed that the pluvial visitations extended over almost every part of the colony, and continued incessantly until the 22nd." The Catherine Hill was one of 10 ships on the east coast who ran into trouble during the storm, though it was the only one which experienced loss of life.

Dangerous Waters

photo: wallarah aground at catherine hill bay

The waters off Catherine Hill Bay have claimed many vessels over the years, as the image of the coal ship Wallarah aground near Catherine Hill Bay jetty in April 1914 shows.The ship was fully laden with coal and could not be refloated. The following table lists vessels which have come to grief at this location.

Ship Type Circumstances Date
Advance Iron screw steamer tug, 181 tons Collided with the barque Inverna and sank off Catherine Hill Bay. Seven of the crew of eight drowned. 25 December, 1908.
Douglas Wooden launch Swamped off Swansea Bar and lost at Catherine Hill Bay. 19 May 1947
Erica Wooden yacht, 25 tons Was moored to a bouy at Catherine Hill Bay while experiencing engine trouble during a storm. Was lost when the cable snapped. 1 June 1929.
Illaroo Steel screw steamer, 515 tons Blown ashore at Catherine Hill Bay during a storm. Unable to be refloated. 1903.
Iverna. Barque. Collided with the tug Advance off Catherine Hill Bay. The tug sank. Seven of the crew of eight drowned. 25 December, 1908.
Lubra Iron screw steamship, collier, 467 tons After striking a sunken object was beached in Catherine Hill Bay. 19 February 1920
Oakland Steel steamship, 398 tons Collided with the iron paddle steamer Sydney off Bird Island, south of Catherine Hill Bay. The vessels were damaged but operatable; no loss of life. 24 June 1893
Paris Schooner, 87 tons Capsized in a squall off the north coast as her remains were sighted bottom up off Catherine Hill Bay. She was later beached near Lake Macquarie. 12 February 1912
Port Jackson Iron screw steamer, tug, 108 tons Broke down and drifted ashore 8 km south of Catherine Hill Bay. Unable to be refloated. 12 February 1910
Shamrock Iron screw steamer, 1301 tons Dismantled after springing a leak when leaving Catherine Hill Bay. An examination showed her bottom to be badly damaged and after several attempts to refloat her had failed, she was dismantled. 31 March 1903
Sydney Iron paddle steamer. Collided with the steamer Oakland off Bird Island, south of Catherine Hill Bay. The vessels were damaged but operatable; no loss of life. 24 June 1893
Wallarah Steel screw steamer, 633 tons Washed ashore and wrecked near the jetty in big seas while leaving Catherine Hill Bay. 16 April 1914

Reference

Bateson, Charles & Stone, Peter, 1943- & Loney, J. K. (Jack Kenneth), 1925-1995 1972, Australian shipwrecks : including vessels wrecked en route to or from Australia, and some strandings, Reed, Sydney

Loney, J. K. (Jack Kenneth) 1980, Australian shipwrecks. Volume 2. 1851-1871, Reed, Sydney

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2019). Department of the Environment and Energy. [online] Available at: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/historic-shipwrecks/australian-national-shipwreck-database [Accessed 16 Apr. 2019].