Shipwrecks of Phillip Island
Shipwrecks are quite fascinating. They tell a story from the days gone by. These wrecks can be exciting as well as poignant. When I went to Kitty Miller Bay on Phillip Island, I was overtaken by emotions. I was excited seeing the first shipwreck of my life and also sad for all those souls lost at sea when their ship capsized and sank.
Phillip Island’s Shipwrecks
I knew the waters of Bass Strait are not the safest. So, it didn’t come as a surprise to learn the Strait has had a rough maritime history. To find out more about the various wrecks, I headed out to the Phillip Island Historical Society Museum located at Cowes. This is what I found out.
More than 700 ships have perished along the Victorian coast and hundreds of souls have met a watery grave. While Phillip Island has just two major shipwrecks, there are several smaller vessels that have met their maker along the coast of Phillip Island.
Shipwreck of Sailing Ship Speke
Sailing Ship Speke was a full rigged ship (square sails on all 3 masts), about 93 metres in length. It weighed around 2,876 tonnes and was built in Wales in 1891. On the fateful day of 22 February 1906 Speke was sailing from Peru to Sydney. However, somehow the ship drifted towards the reef at Kitty Miller Bay.
Records show that one soul was lost after a lifeboat capsized. However, the rest of the crew managed to swim to the shore in choppy waters. Speke was mauled by the rough waters for many days, before it broke into two and then broke into pieces.
It is believed this accident occurred because Speke’s captain mistook a bushfire for a navigation light.
Today, you can still view the wreck of the Speke. The bow sits like a forlorn reminder of the ship’s glorious past on the rocks at the Bay; and in the shallow waters of the reef, you can still see the ship debris skirting the edges of the reef.
Speke’s bell finds a home at Uniting Church located at Chapel St., in Cowes, while the compass box and a few other items that were salvaged from the wreck are on display at the Historical Society Museum at Cowes.
Wreck of SS Alert
Just 20 km west of The Nobbies at Cape Schanck lies the wreck of SS Alert, a steamship. It was built in 1877 in Glasgow and sailed to Australia as a three-masted schooner. It was put in place of SS Despatch to sail from Gippsland to Melbourne in 1893, as the Despatch was getting refitted.
On 28 December 1893, SS Alert was caught in a gale and the rough sea foundered the schooner onto the rocks near Cape Schanck. Fifteen souls were lost as a result, but miraculously there was one survivor – Robert Ponting.
It is said Ponting clung on to part of the cabin door for 16 hours before he could make it to the beach 15 km from the place where SS Alert foundered. The following morning he was discovered by four young ladies in an unconscious state. The ladies immediately tried to protect him with their umbrellas and cloaks until help arrived. Help was in the form of a man and his St. Bernard. The dog warmed up Ponting while the man gave him first aid.
I was truly mesmerised by these moving stories, but was grateful to have had the opportunity to understand a little bit about the maritime history of Phillip Island.