Lake Macquarie History

Historic Shipwrecks of Lake Macquarie

The City Council of Lake Macquarie acknowledge the Aboriginal people known today as the Awabakal, as the traditional Custodians of the land, respecting Aboriginal Elders past, present and future. Lake Macquarie City Council recognise the local Aboriginal community today in all of their diversity, who came forward to share their experiences, knowledge, images and memories.

In 1992, the NSW Department of Planning published a folio identifying the location of historic shipwreck sites around the state. At least six of these are near Lake Macquarie. The actual number of maritime accidents recorded in the region since the 19th century is much higher, but most of the vessels were salvageable.

photo: historic shipwreck sites, lake macquarie

Never the less, boats have foundered in local waters, occasionally with tragic consequences. Perhaps the most notorious of all of these incidents occurred during the evening of 10 March 1879. It was just before 8pm when two steamships collided approximately 5km off the coast at Caves Beach.

The SS Bonnie Dundee

The Scottish built SS Bonnie Dundee was on a northbound course to the Manning River when it crashed into the much larger, Melbourne-bound SS Barrabool. Digitised newspaper reports collated at the Trove website suggest a signalling error may have contributed to the accident.

Damage to the 948-ton Barrabool was relatively contained but the consequences for the 121-ton Bonnie Dundee were catastrophic.

Torn virtually in half by the impact, the smaller ship sank within minutes, killing five. Adding to the notoriety of the incident was that of the dead, four were female passengers.

Subsequent accusations were damning, including that male passengers and staff had neglected the plight of the women in favour of self-preservation. Of the survivors, most had jumped to safety, leaping between the decks of the sinking vessel and the sanctuary of the Barrabool.

The Bonnie Dundee's teenaged cabin boy, George Pardell, was not so fortunate. In attempting the same jump, he fell backwards, critically injuring himself in the process. Seemingly paralysed, he was then unable to save himself and his body was presumably lost at sea.

However, there is a grisly postscript. Several weeks later, a shark caught off Sydney's northern beaches contained human remains. The Bonnie Dundee's Captain Stuart reportedly recognised clothing on the body and came to identify the remains as being those of his former cabin boy!

To this day, the wreckage of the 130-foot long single screw ship is accessible to experienced recreational scuba divers. Resting in two distinct sections on the ocean floor at a depth of about 35 metres, Michael McFayden's diving website indicates it is located 4.4 km from the mouth of Swansea Channel, on a course 115 degrees south of Moon Island.

photo: wallarah aground at catherine hill bay, 1913

The Advance

Sadly, this was not the only collision between ships resulting in localised fatalities. On Christmas night 1909, a tugboat named Advance sank south of Catherine Hill Bay after coming together with a barque called the Iverna.

The tug capsized prior to sinking, trapping seven of the eight-man crew. The ship's mate, a man named Willis, was the sole survivor, washing ashore on Dudley Beach some 12 hours after the disaster.

According to Willis, the tug had approached the Iverna in heavy seas with the intention of offering assistance, but the trying conditions instead pushed her directly into the path of the Melbourne bound barque.

As of today, the FDPC scuba-oriented website states that the wreck of the Advance sits on an even keel in 48 metres of water several kilometres east of the former Catherine Hill Bay coal-loading jetty. At this depth, the wreck is accessible by divers with advanced skills.

Miscellaneous wrecks

A number of other coal ships also met a perilous fate in the waters surrounding Catherine Hill Bay and Redhead over time. Fortunately, most of these events did not involve loss of life. The first of these incidences involved The SS Byron in 1896. Having not long departed Newcastle for Sydney, she sprang a leak off Redhead. The crew made the decision to abandon ship, and did so safely before she sank to a depth of about 40 metres. The FPDC site states that the 30-metre long wreck now attracts a large school of Fortescue fish, and has become shrouded in old fishing nets.

Meanwhile at Catherine Hill Bay on 1 April 1903, the interstate steam collier Shamrock had just taken possession of 2,000 tonnes worth of Wallarah coal when she struck rocks on her departure. Irreparably damaged, she eventually beached just 100 metres from shore.

The Wallarah Coal Company's own eponymously named ship also wrecked in the inlet on 16 April 1914, strong winds having forced her onto a reef.

In an eerie parallel, rough seas nearly caused another coal ship also named the Wallarah to founder by the jetty in June of 1958. On this occasion, the 1400-ton ship rode out the conditions over several days, before managing to depart.

Ironically, an earlier shipwreck in Catherine Hill Bay eventually caused the ruin of another vessel in the last major sinking recorded in the region. The 467-ton SS Lubra had just left the coal loader at about 9pm on the night of 19 February 1920 when she struck the remains of a sunken ship. The impact tore a hole in the underside of the unfortunate boat, and she foundered at a distance of about 1 km from the jetty.

photo: man and woman standing on boat wreck. boat name illalong


New South Wales. Dept. of Planning 1992, Shipwrecks of New South Wales. historic shipwreck series. set 1, Department of Planning NSW, Sydney

1879 'LATER PARTICULARS.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 12 March, p. 2. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1879 'COLLISION BETWEEN THE S.S. BARRABOOL AND THE S. S. BONNIE DUNDEE.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 12 March, p. 2. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1879 'The Late Collision between the Bonnie Dundee and Barrabool.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 22 March, p. 4. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1879 'The Loss of the (s.s.) "Bonnie Dundee" from Collision with the Steamship "Barrabool."', Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 - 1881), 22 March, p. 4. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1879 'LATEST METROPOLITAN NEWS', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 19 May, p. 3. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1908 'MARINE DISASTER.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 26 December, p. 6. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1908 'HOW THE DISASTER OCCURRED', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 26 December, p. 6. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1908 'TERRIBLE SHIPPING DISASTER', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), 28 December, p. 7. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,

1909 'LOSS OF THE ADVANCE.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 4 February, p. 4. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,,. 'Michael Mcfadyen's Scuba Diving Web Site'. N.p., 2015. Web. 2 July 2015.,. 'Swansea'. N.p., 2013. Web. 2 July 2015.