Thursday, December 28, 2006


Scenery and history combine on Shipwreck Coast


The Sydney Morning Herald
December 27, 2006

The Great Ocean Road southwest of Melbourne is rated one of the world's most scenic drives but sagas of the sea abound also on a 180km-long shore sector called the Shipwreck Coast.

The rugged coastline between Cape Otway and Port Fairy, a three-hour drive from Melbourne, has claimed more than 180 ships over the centuries.

Tourists can follow a Shipwreck Trail, with signs and plaques commemorating the wrecks and their resting places.

For more detail, visit the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warrnambool, the region's largest town (population about 30,000).

It's a recreated seaport village from 120 years ago - when Warrnambool was an important centre for international trade in the colony of Victoria.

Built around an original 1859 lighthouse, the museum's interpretive centre tells graphic stories of the hardships endured by men who sailed the high seas.

Tourism authorities say the Shipwreck Coast offers spectacular coastal scenery, first-class dining and accommodation to suit all budgets, along with many natural and man-made attractions.

Visitors bargain for antiques in the markets and shops, enjoy golf, bowls, tennis, fishing, the beach and bush walks; there's whale-watching in season and various festivals during the year.

At night at the museum there's a sound and laser show titled "Shipwrecked!" describing the tragedy of one particular wreck, that of the Loch Ard, a three-masted square-rigged iron sailing ship.

The 1,693-ton Loch Ard sailed from England for Melbourne in 1878 with 37 crew and 17 passengers, many of them from a family named Carmichael emigrating to the colonies.

After 13 weeks, on June 1, the ship was within days of arriving in Melbourne then ran into thick fog; when it lifted at 4am, Loch Ard was well off course and heading for jagged cliffs 2km away.

Despite the efforts of her 29-year-old captain, the ship struck a reef running out from Mutton Bird Island and sank in 15 minutes.

Eighteen-year-old passenger Eva Carmichael rushed out on deck and found Captain Gibbs who told her: "If you are saved, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor." He went down with his ship.

Eva was swept overboard by a huge wave and spent five hours clinging to wreckage before she saw ship's apprentice Tom Pearce on a small rocky beach - what was later named Loc Ard Gorge.

She yelled to attract his attention and Pearce swam to her and dragged her to shore, then breaking open a case of brandy to help revive the unconscious girl.

After the sun rose, Pearce scaled a cliff and, following hoofprints, came across two men from a farm 5.5km away and raised the alarm.

As they recovered later at the farm, it was realised that they were the only survivors of the 52 people aboard Loch Ard.

Tom Pearce was hailed as a hero and received the first gold medal of the Royal Humane Society and a cheque for 1,000 pounds from the Victorian government.

People through the colony saw the situation as romantic and wanted Tom and Eva to fall in love and be married, saying that God had brought them together for a reason.

But the couple didn't feel the same way, and after three months, Eva went back to Ireland, to be with the only surviving member of her family, a brother named William.

Years later Tom married a woman related to a man who died in the shipwreck, and started a family.

Today, if you drive down the Great Ocean Road to Loch Ard Gorge, you can see the place where Tom rescued Eva and see the graves where some victims were buried.

Ten days after the tragedy, salvage rights to the wreck were auctioned off for 2,120 pounds.

One unlikely piece of cargo to survive was a (well-packed) Minton porcelain peacock, one of only nine in the world, being shipped for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880.

Today, it's on view at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum.


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