Paradise Divers

159 Carlton Road, Dandenong North, Victoria, Australia. 3175
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Loch Ard (1873-1878)

Dive Rating : Advanced (Experienced)

Boat Dive

Launch site : Port Campbell – beach access or crane

Lat : 38  39.060 S

Long : 143  04.300 E

Dive Conditions: Diving on the Loch Ard requires calm conditions and a very low swell. The best time to dive the wreck is March, April and may.

The anchorage is in 25-30 meters of water and even on relatively calm days, the backwash from Mutton-bird Island can be quite severe. There is also a risk of changeable weather in this part of the coast. Care must be taken to avoid the wave break east of Port Campbell at the entrance to the inlet. Before diving on the Loch Ard, divers should register with the department of conservation’s Port Campbell’s office or Schomberg dive service, also at Port Campbell.

Description : A square-rigged iron sailing ship which carried cargo and passengers between Liverpool and Melbourne. The loch Ard is probably the best known shipwreck in Victoria.

History of the Loch Ard (1873-1878)

The Loch Ard Disaster is probably the best known of all Victorian shipwrecks.

The Loch Ard was bound for Melbourne loaded with passengers and cargo when it ran into a rocky reef at the base of Mutton-bird Island. Near port Campbell. Of the 54 crew and passengers on board, only two survived an apprentice, Tom Pearce and a young woman passenger, Eva Carmichael who lost all of her family in the tragedy.

The wreck of the loch Ard still lies at the base of Mutton-bird Island and much of the cargo has been salvaged. Some was washed up into loch Ard gorge following the shipwreck. Cargo and artefacts have also been illegally salvaged over the years.

One of the most likely pieces of cargo to have survived the shipwreck was a Minton porcelain Peacock – one of only nine in the world. The peacock was destined for the Sydney and Melbourne exhibitions in 1889 and1890. It was well packed which no doubt gave it good protection during the violent storm, which battered the stricken Loch Ard. Today, the original peacock from the Loch Ard can be seen at flagstaff hill maritime village.

Diving on the wreck of the Loch Ard

Loch-ard-lyt.gif (463856 bytes)The wreck of the Loch Ard lies on the south-west side of port Campbell. It covers a wide area, and has a length of 80 meters.

The site extends from 10 – 25 meters depth. At 10 meters a large section of the hull lies concreted to a collection of railway irons. At 15 meters, Lead and zinc sheet rolls, copper plating, marble, ceramics, pewter mugs and inkwells can be seen.

Extensive hull plating is strewn over the site. The bow is relatively intact with its bowsprit jammed under a rock. Nearby, lie the Loch Ard’s anchors. On the port side of the bow, divers can see a section of the hull with deadeyes (used to secure rigging). The port side of the hull has actually collapsed down the side of Mutton-bird Island spilling its contents.

The sip’s frames extend back to a section of the starboard side of the hull. In part of the wreck, the hull leans against the island to form a cave.

The stern of the ship has not been found and has possibly broken up overtime.

Back at port Campbell, the submerged wreck of the steamship Napier, associated with the wreck of the Loch Ard, can be seen near the pier.

Ship Construction

Lochard.gif (264349 bytes)The Loch Ard belonged to he famous loch line, which sailed many ships from England to Australia. In 1867 it was not possible to visit the waterfront in the Port of Melbourne without seeing one or more of the Loch Line vessels.

Built in Glasgow, by Barclay, Curdle and Co. In 1873, the loch Ard was a three masted square-rigged iron sailing ship.

The ship measured 262ft 7" (79.87m) in length, 38ft (11.58m) in width, 23ft (7m) in depth and had a gross tonnage of 1693 tons. The Loch Ard’s main mast measured a massive 150ft in height.

The Loch Ard was built at a time when steamships were starting to make the journey from England to the colonies. Shipbuilders were forced to make their vessels as fast and comfortable as possible to attract more passengers.

The loch Ard made three trips to Australia and one trip to Calcutta before its final voyage, which ended in tragedy near Port Campbell.

The Final Voyage of the Loch Ard

The loch Ard left England on 2nd March 1878 under the command of Captain Gibbs, a young, newly married man of 29 years old.

The ship carried a general cargo, which reflected the affluence of Melbourne at the time. On board were straw hats, umbrellas, perfumes, clay pipes, piano’s, clocks, confectionary, linen, candles as well as a heavier load of railway irons, cement, lead and copper. The loch Ard also had a crew of 37, and 16 passengers.

The voyage to port Phillip was long but uneventful. At 3am on the 1st of June 1878, Captain Gibbs was expecting to see land and the passengers were becoming exited as they prepared to view their new homeland in the early morning. But the Loch Ard was running into a fog, which greatly reduced visibility. Captain Gibbs was becoming anxious, as there was no sign of land or the Cape Ottway lighthouse.

At 4am the fog lifted. A man a loft announced that he could see breakers. The shear cliffs of the Victoria’s West Coast came into view, and Captain Gibbs realised that the ship was much closer to them than he expected. He ordered as much sail to be set, as time would permit and then to steer the boat out to sea.

On coming head on into the wind, the ship lost momentum, the sails fell limp and the Loch Ard’s bow swung back. Gibbs then ordered the anchors to be released. The anchors sank some 50 fathoms – but did not hold. By this time the Loch Ard was among the breakers, And the tall cliffs of mutton-bird island rose behind the ship.

Just half a mile from the coast, the ships bow was suddenly pulled around by the anchor. The captain tried to tack out to sea, but the ship struck a reef running out from Mutton-bird Island.

Waves broke over the ship and the top deck was loosened from the hull. The masts and rigging came crashing down knocking passengers and crew overboard. It took time to free the lifeboats and when one was finally launched, it crashed into the side of the Loch Ard and capsized. Tom Pearce, who had launched the boat, managed to cling to its overturned hull and shelter beneath it. It drifted out to sea and then on the flood tide came into what is now known as Loch Ard gorge. He swam to shore, bruised and dazed and found a cave to shelter.

Some of the crew stayed below deck to shelter from the falling rigging but drowned when the ship slipped of the reef into deeper water.

Eva Carmichael had raced onto deck to find out about what was happening only to be confronted by towering cliffs looming above the stricken ship. In all the chaos, Captain Gibbs grabbed Eva and said, "If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died a sailor".

That was the last Eva Carmichael saw of the captain. She was swept off the ship by a huge wave. Clinging to a spar, the Young woman spent five hours in the water until she too was swept into Loch Ard Gorge. She saw Tom Pearce on a small rocky beach and yelled to attract his attention. He dived in and swam to the exhausted woman and dragged her to shore. He took her to the cave and broke open a case of brandy, which had washed up, on the beach. He opened a bottle to revive the unconscious woman.

A few hours later Tom scaled a cliff in search of help. He followed hoof prints and came by chance, upon two men from nearby Glen ample Station three and a half miles away. In a state of exhaustion, he told the men of the tragedy, Tom returned to the gorge while the two men rode back to the station to get help. By the time they reached Loch Ard Gorge, it was cold and dark.

The two shipwreck survivors were taken to Glen ample Station to recover. Eva stayed at the station for six weeks before returning to Ireland, by steamship.

In Melbourne, Tom Pearce received a hero’s welcome, He was presented with the first gold medal of the Royal Humane Society of Victoria and a £1,000 cheque from the Victorian government. Concerts were performed to honour the young man’s bravery and to raise money for those who lost family in the Loch Ard disaster. Everyone followed the story of Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael with great interest and was disappointed when the two went their separate ways.

Ten day’s after the loch Ard tragedy, salvage rights to the wreck were sold at auction for £2,120. Cargo valued at £3,000 was salvaged and placed on the beach, but most was washed back into the sea.