About the site
The Loch Ard is one of the more famous wrecks in Victoria’s history. One of the last passenger sailing ships to travel from the UK to Australia as steamships began to take over; she made the journey in 13 weeks in 1878. Aboard the 3 masted square rigged ship were 36 crew and 18 passengers. After leaving England in March, the Loch Ard was nearing her destination in Melbourne when disaster struck in the early hours of June 1st.
Captain Gibbs was expecting to sight land when the ship encountered heavy fog. Unable to locate the Cape Otway lighthouse, he instead spotted cliffs looming out of the darkness. Despite attempts to turn the ship using sails and the anchor, the Loch Ard ran aground on Mutton Bird Island, where she was briefly perched before slipping into deeper water.
After swimming himself ashore to the beach in what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge, the ship’s apprentice Tom Pearce heard cries for help. One of the passengers, Eva Carmichael, had been washed into the Gorge entrance holding onto a spar from the wreckage. Tom swam out and brought her to shore before climbing the cliffs to seek help. Despite the public appeal of the rescue and the general opinion of the colony that they should get married, Eva returned to the UK on a steamship while Tom made a life in Victoria.
About the dive
Unlike the scuttled wrecks found in the historic dumping grounds outside the Heads of Port Phillip Bay, the wrecks along Victoria’s western coastline were not meant to sink when they did. The biggest difference as a dive site is that scuttled wrecks are cleaned out before sinking with valuables and anything that can be sold removed. Ships that have been wrecked on the other hand, rather than scuttled, can have a wide range of artefacts on them.
Diving the Loch Ard allows a good look at fascinating pieces of history such as bottles and implements from 1878. As the wreck is more than 75 years old all artefacts associated with it are protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976), but the chance to photographs 130 year old history was too good to pass up.
Despite a stinking hot day and strong off shore northerly winds on land, there was a long rolling swell coming in from the Southern Ocean as we launched the boat at the Bay of Islands boat ramp. Motoring gently out between the giant cliff faces, Gary turned the boat easterly and we powered down the coast to the wreck site.
Or arrival the swell was running up the cliffs of Mutton Bird Island, and we ran a live boat and jumped in over the wreck. The swell on top correlated to surge underneath, which was swirling across the bottom and scooping sand out from between pieces of wreckage. It quickly became evident that the sandy vis was going to lead to very spotty photos, and as with Mt Hypipamee Crater, I was looking for documentary shots rather than making art.
About the photo
Gary had just found this bottle and beckoned me over for a look. With the surge action sweeping sand out from around the bottom of the bottle, I struggled to get the camera in as close as I would have liked while keeping it under control against the waves. On the other hand, while this shot may not be a photographic highlight, it shows a bottle last touched by human hands over 130 years ago. Despite the conditions, I loved this dive – and I’d love even more to get back there on one of the few days a year when the ocean co-operates.