SHIPWRECKS along the coast of the Torquay region

Swift clippers brought migrants to the new frontier previously only known to explorers and whalers. They travelled through treacherous waters evidenced by the many shipwrecks around the Australian coastline – many in Bass Strait along the Surf Coast as they approached or left ‘the heads’. Being shipwrecked didn’t deter the new arrivals seeking their fortunes, nor did the 3 month journey which was uncomfortable as well as dangerous.

The three-mile stretch between Point Danger at Torquay and Barwon Heads is fronted by shallow rocky reefs and ledges that extend up to a mile offshore and break heavily. This reef, known as the Torquay Offshore Reef has a variety of diving spots including Sixty Foot reef, Mushroom Rock, Eighty Foot reef and Little Reef. Point Danger has been historically referred to as Angel Point and was declared as Point Danger Marine Sanctuary in 2002. Victoria Reef is one and a quarter miles east-north-east of Point Danger has a depth of 4.6m.     Anderson and Cahir (2003), Surf Coast Wrecks, Heritage Victoria

Any wreck 75 years or older is automatically protected under Commonwealth law by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. At the time a world first, this act recognises the cultural significance historic shipwrecks have and protects them against commercial salvage. This law also protects historic shipwreck relics and artefacts in various public and private collections.

Among the many ships to come to grief along the Surf Coast, seven events are noted in the more protected waters of the Torquay region.







Site located

Lucy Lee


1868, Westernport, VicWooden cutter



MelbourneApollo BayStores and 2 passengers (splitters)Breamlea


Victoria Tower


1869, LiverpoolIron ship



LiverpoolMelbourne34 passengers and general cargo worth £25,000Point Impossible




1877, TasmaniaWooden ketch



LorneMelbourneBallastNear Breamlea




 Wooden cutter 


MelbourneAdelaideUnknownPoint Addis 

Joseph H. Scammell


1884, Ontario, CanadaWooden ship



New YorkMelbourneGeneral cargo worth £60,000Point Danger




       Zeally Bay 

SS Bancoora


1880, Dumbarton, ScotlandSteamship



AdelaideMelbourneZoo animalsBreamlea



The wooden cutter Lucy Lee came to grief on 11 October 1868 when she was only six months old. She left Melbourne for Apollo Bay as westerly gales were sweeping across the bay. Lucy Lee found heavy seas outside the Heads causing damage to her head sails. The vessel hove to and drifted 25 miles to the south east of Cape Otway overnight. After repairing the sails, the best they could, Captain James Webb set the vessel back on her voyage. When she was about four miles off Cape Patten, Robert Lacey, one of the timber splitters being carried as a passenger, was assisting with the main sail when he was knocked overboard. The rough sea prevented them from saving him. A south-westerly gale appeared and Captain Webb thought it best to return to Melbourne to be refitted with better sails. They made the Point Lonsdale light when the weather turned more nasty, the vessel drifted toward the coast and before long they were in about 5 meters of water. The Captain couldn’t see the land; he could only hear the breakers so he dropped anchor. The next day the wind became stronger in the afternoon and the vessel separated from the anchor. With no sails the captain had to beach the vessel.

An inquiry into the death of Robert Lacey found that with the weather conditions at the time it was impossible to save his life, however the Steam Navigation Board found that the vessel was lost due to deficient equipment and that the Captain was highly culpable for going to sea knowing the vessel was undermanned, had poor quality sails, anchors and chains. The Board suspended the Captain for 12 months.

Sources –
Looney Jack, Australian Shipwrecks  vol 2 1851 to 1871, 1980. AH & AW Reed, Sydney
Geelong Advertiser 13 October 1868
Anderson R & Cahir A, Surf Coast Shipwrecks, 2003, Heritage Victoria


websiteState Library Victoria
State Library Victoria

The iron clipper Victoria Tower was named after one of the two towers of the British Houses of Parliament. While approaching Port Phillip Heads in 1869 on its maiden voyage, the Victoria Tower which had been built in Liverpool for the Australian trade, was wrecked. Its cargo included slate, iron pipes, Guinness Extra Stout and various items of hardware. The ship also carried 40 passengers and a crew of 36.

The Victoria Tower made landfall after a voyage of 85 days from Liverpool, and headed towards the Port Phillip Heads pilot boarding ground. The weather was stormy and a thick fog blanketed the coast sightings of land were difficult to make. Even though the compasses were not working the Captain was confident of the ship’s position and believing he was at the pilot ground Captain Kerr fired rockets and burned blue lights to attract attention, but met with no response. Sighting the Cape Schanck lighthouse and confident of a safe course, he sailed towards it. However treacherous currents in the area were pulling Victoria Tower off its set course. This was not noticed until, at 1am, the ship crashed into rocks between Bream Creek and Spring Creek. The ship hit with such force that the main mast was driven through the keel. Anchors were immediately let go to hold the ship, but it was driven broadside onto the sea, some 400 yards from shore.

The five crew entered lifeboats and went ashore for assistance. Walking through swamps they found a fence and eventually made their way to Mr. Stoke’s. Word was sent to Mr. Noble who went to the beach and with the assistance of fisherman Pierce and his partner they sent a whale boat back to the ship. Local and Geelong residents, upon hearing the news hurried to the wreck with food and supplies including bread and alcohol.

With the Victoria Tower lost, the £25,000 hull and cargo were sold at auction for £6500. Nearly four years later large quantities of slates and iron pipes were still being recovered as the action of the sea gradually removed obstacles that had previously hindered salvage divers’ attempts to reach inaccessible parts of the wreck. In the 1960s some of the slate roofing tiles were used for roofing on the Peninsula Hotel, Moolap. The Anchor was also salvaged.

Images – site plan of Victoria Tower, Clay pipes from Victoria Tower, door/surfboard – Surfworld collection1  Anderson and Cahir

Torquay’s first ‘Surfed board’? A crewman is said to have floated into the beach on this ship’s deckhouse door.

Geelong Advertiser 18 October 1869
Anderson R & Cahir A, Surf Coast Shipwrecks, 2003, Heritage Victoria

c. Victoria Heritages

Underwater photos courtesy Peter Fullers Dive Blog


The Foam was a little vessel which had been trading between Melbourne and Louttit Bay (Lorne) for some time. It was owned by the Anderson family of Lorne, and went missing without a trace in an easterly gale in Bass Strait while on a voyage to Melbourne.

It was intended to carry timber outwards and general cargo inwards between Port Phillip and Lorne. Richard Anderson was a brickmaker by trade, and had made the bricks at brickworks in the hills behind Lorne for the construction of the Grand Pacific Hotel at Lorne. William Anderson, the master, was the eldest son.

The Foam left Lorne on 30 January 1880 with a crew of three men and a boy, the same day an easterly gale that was to last three days blew up. The trip to Melbourne normally took two to three days but as the boat had not been heard of since its departure, a search party was sent out.

Two miles east of Puebla Point, some distance from the creek, the men found a dinghy lying on the shore which they identified as belonging to the Foam. They also found three empty cases, a small memorandum book, a life buoy, two large oars and a paddle belonging to a small boat. The next day Mounted-Constable Hamilton searched the shore from where the dinghy was discovered to the Barwon Heads but did not find any trace of the vessel or the crew. Richard Anderson himself walked from Lorne to Breamlea in search of any further wreckage or signs of the crew. The vessel was valued at £400. The bodies and vessel were never recovered.

Source: Geelong Advertiser 9/2/1880


On 30 June 1881 the Naiad was on a voyage to Adelaide when it struck rough weather. It had rounded Cape Otway when the full force of the gale was felt and several sails were blown away. With no signs of the storm abating the captain turned the vessel around but sprang a leak before reaching the heads. To save their lives it was decided to beach the yacht at Point Addis where it broke up a few hours later. The two crew, Smales (captain) and Hill (crewman) were found wandering along the shore by the manager of Mr Murchison’s property at Jan Juc, and were cared for overnight. They went to Geelong the next day and, on application to the police, received free passes for the last train to Melbourne.

Source:  Geelong Advertiser  4 July 1881


The Joseph H. Scammell was built for the Eastern trade including India, Hong Kong and the Australian colonies by its St Johns, New Brunswick owners and brothers John Walter Scammell, Frederick Ernest Scammell and Joseph H. Scammell. Noted for its speed it had successfully traded in this Eastern trade for five years. Bound for Melbourne from New York with a general cargo, 21 mostly negro crew, and Captain John Albert Chapman’s wife and six year old daughter Hattie, the Joseph H. Scammell had a voyage baffled by light winds and calms until it reached the Cape of Good Hope. It also suffered from a constant list to port due to a badly packed cargo, and these handicaps resulted in a slow voyage of 114 days from New York to its first sighting of the Cape Otway light.

From Cape Otway the Joseph H. Scammell encountered squally weather, which cleared enough for the crew to see the new lighthouse under construction at Split Point. However, the weather came in thick again before nightfall and they tacked offshore, signalling for a pilot. During the course of the evening the weather cleared again, the captain and officers conferred on their position believing that they had sighted the Queenscliff, Arthur’s Seat and Cape Schanck lights, and were confident they were sailing six to eight miles off Point Danger. It was just after 10pm at night and the Joseph H. Scammell was on a west by north-west course with a moderate swell and south-westerly breeze, the lookout yelled out ‘breakers ahead’ after confusing the headland of Pt. Danger with a black cloud. The wind died away and he ship became caught in the surf and setting the ship onto the reef with water coming in the crew burnt blue lights which was answered by Flex Rosser, Charles Allman and Niel Neilson by creating a fire on the shore. The fisherman couldn’t do anything more because of the heavy seas and darkness. The next morning, the passengers and crew made their way to the lifeboats despite the heavy seas. Just after leaving the stricken vessel the masts came down with the hull breaking up

websitec State Library Victoria
c State Library Victoria

over the rest of the day. Zeally Bay was strewn with parts of the ship and its cargo. The valuable wreckage sparked off the largest wave of illegal looting, pilfering and smuggling in the Geelong area history as up to 2000 people would visit the wreck site in one day. All sorts of techniques including the wearing of large overcoats and burying wreckage in holes for later recovery were used to evade the hopelessly outnumbered twelve Customs and Police officers stationed to guard the wreckage. Customs detectives and plain clothes police followed up reports of smuggling for months after the wreck while storms continued to wash up wreckage and cargo. The hull, stores and gear of the Joseph H. Scammell were sold at auction for the paltry sum of 85 pounds, while at an auction on the beach at Spring Creek the cargo realised £1314. Included in this auction was the purchase of the deckhouse by William Pride – he later turned it into a holiday house for his family. The estimated loss of the vessel and cargo was £80,000. One of the Spring Creek fishermen who first sighted the wreck, Felix Rosser, was subsequently prosecuted and fined £25 for smuggling, however the fine was remitted based on the services he provided on the night of the wreck. While his wife was charged with illegally selling alcohol to a plain clothes detective who she had assumed was a worn out, thirsty traveller.

Nayler, Geoff    Wreck of the Joseph H. Scammell.
Argus, 9 May 1891
Age, 15 July 1891
Leader, 13 June 1891
Loney, Jack (1980) Australian Shipwrecks
Cecil & Carr, (1992) Along the Great Ocean Road: Wrecks and some near misses 2nd Ed. Anglesea and District Historical Society

The Scammell today….


source Geelong Heritage Centre

The British India Company’s steamer Bancoora was driven ashore at Bream Creek by heavy seas on 14 July 1891. She left Calcutta on 9 June with a general cargo consisting chiefly of tea, rice, tapioca, sugar and jute bags. As well as the unusual cargo of Zoo animals. She delivered some cargo in Adelaide before resuming her voyage to Melbourne. As they rounded Cape Otway the weather became hostile and at 2 am the Captain miscalculated their location. No lights were visible at the time the sound of the surf on the beach could be heard. Engines were reversed in the hope that they might get away safely but it was too late and the vessel swung on the beach, stern on, and all efforts to get her off were fruitless. The waves moved her frequently until she finally settled down in the sand about 45 meters from the reef and about 800m out at sea. The waves were very rough and frequently broke right over the vessel. Signals of distress were sent out without eliciting any response from the shore and those on board waited patiently until morning to have a clearer understanding of their situation. Unbeknown to the crew a local farmer, Mr. Milne, had heard the calls for distress but he was unable to cross the flooded creek to reach the beach so he rode his horse into Geelong to raise the alarm. Shortly after daylight a boat put ashore and a line was passed on the beach to facilitate the landing of the passengers and crew. Local fishermen who saw the stranded vessel helped in getting the passengers ashore.

The Bancoora stayed stranded until 28 August 1891. During that time a salvagers camp was set up in the dunes. Two anchors believed to be related to the salvage attempt still lie off Bancoorra Beach. The stranding generated much public interest with part of the cargo destined (and successfully salvaged) for the Melbourne Zoo, which included a young elephant, a rhinoceros, monkeys and parrots. All were landed safely and taken by lorry to Geelong, although the rhinoceros unfortunately only survived for two days.

websitec State Library Victoria
c State Library Victoria
websitec State Library Victoria
c State Library Victoria

The Age 14 July 1891
The Argus 14 July 1891
Mount Alexander Mail 15 July 1891
Cecil & Carr, (1992) Along the Great Ocean Road: Wrecks and some near misses 2nd Ed. Anglesea and District Historical Society


A small sailing skiff was reported wrecked in Zeally Bay, Torquay in July 1891:

The little skiff was one in which three plucky fishermen made their way, in the open sea, from Warrnambool to Spring Creek during some rough weather a few weeks since, and regarding whose fate some considerable anxiety was felt until their arrival at their destination was chronicled. The boat was anchored in Zeely Bay (sic) but was overturned and sunk by a huge wave, after which it was dashed ashore amongst the breakers and smashed to splinters.  Geelong Advertiser, 14 July 1891