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Light of the Age

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Depth: 6m, Difficulty: OW
GPS: -38.288467 144.594033 ( 38°17.308'S 144°35.642'E )
Last Edited: 12/24/2022, 4:54:07 PM


On the 9th December 1867, while off the Cape of Good Hope, a foretopmast and royal mast were lost when the foremast backstay eyebolt broke, severely injuring one seaman and causing three seamen to be lost overboard and drowned as they were furling the royals (Argus 24/1/1868). Unfortunately the boats had been brought in from the davits due to Captain Porter's fears they would be stove in in heavy weather, so two lifebuoys were thrown overboard. Every exertion was made to get the ship to go about, but with the ship in a crippled condition the men were left to their fate.

The first land sighted was the south headland of Fitzmaurice Bay, King Island which was incorrectly thought to be the north end of King Island. The later finding of the Court of Inquiry stated that "the ship was badly navigated for a day or two before making King's Island (and) was altogether out of the usual and proper track of vessels bound to Port Phillip, being much too far to the southward" (Argus 31/1/1868).

Further findings were that that the ships' position was not known by dead reckoning when it made landfall, that the captain was often drunk throughout the voyage, that the sounding lead was not used, that the captain was drunk when landfall was made, and that cross bearings to ascertain their correct position and amendments to the logbook were not made.

On a starboard tack off Port Phillip Heads, blue lights were being burned to attract the pilots' attention, a lookout was posted for the two leading lights on Shortland Bluff, and the crew were ordered to turn in with their clothes on. The crew were turning in and after lighting their bedtime pipes "had not finished their smoke, when a seaman came down and said that all hands were wanted on deck to 'bout ship because we were heading right in to the land" (Argus 31/1/1868).

At this point it was attempted to wear the ship around but at 1:30 a.m. 16 January 1868, the vessel touched ground, and the port anchor was let go. Guns and rockets were fired to attract attention, and the masts were cut away to reduce the strain on the ship's hull. The foremast destroyed one of the ships boats as it came down.

At daylight the pilots launched two of their boats and took off all of the passengers and some of their luggage, taking them first to Queenscliff, then to Melbourne. During this rescue operation there was a heavy sea running, the second officer was "drunk and obstructive", the cook and steward were also drunk in the cuddy, and the captain was described as "stupidly drunk" — at one stage lifted into his bed from the floor of his cabin by Pilot Rich. While not being obstructive neither was he giving any orders that would render assistance to the operation (Argus 28/1/1868).

Pilot Draper later stated that two days later the wreck was sold in Melbourne "for a few pound and in the course of a few days the Marine Board investigated the cause of the wreck and decided to cancel the Captain's certificate. We pilots were severely questioned as to where we were and what we did. The newspapers made so much of everything that we were put apparently for some time under a shade, and the saloon passenger who knelt down on the poop deck and thanked God for the mercies He had shown them in sending to their rescue two such able men as Rich and myself who had shown such decision in destroying all the grog on board thereby preventing the danger of drunken frenzy and riot seizing on many amongst them and likely ending in death - never came foreward (sic) during the enquiry and assisted us in the slightest way by repeating before the Board the able assistance we had rendered as he had acknowledged in the poop in the presence of all" (Draper n.d.).

As well as cancelling Captain Porter's certificate the Board also commented severely on the carelessness of the ship being supplied with incomplete charts and not furnished with lifeboats ( GA 31/1/1868).

A more tragic incident occurred during the final days of the salvage effort when one of the boats capsized, drowning six men including two salvage divers (Denmead).

Dive Type: Wreck Dive

Imported from The Scuba Doctor


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