The Kangaroo Island Shipwreck Trail explores the history of the island from when Matthew Flinders became the first European to record it during his survey in the Investigator in 1802. In 1803 French Captain Nicolas Baudin circumnavigated and charted the whole island.
From 1803 till 1836, Kangaroo Island was home for sealers, whalers and outcasts. Some of the men were notorious for their crimes and cruelties and one visitor described the island as the most vicious place in the British Empire at the time.
More than 80 shipwrecks have been recorded on Kangaroo Island following colonisation in 1836. Some like Loch Sloy, Loch Vennachar, Osmanli and You Yangs were both dramatic and tragic. Many, such as Portland Maru, offer fascinating and rewarding experiences for divers.
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Location: Antechamber Bay, Kangaroo Island (-35.807023 °S 138.140248 °E)
Vessel type: 4-masted wooden schooner
Kona was built in Alamedo, California, in 1901. On 3 February 1917 during a passage from San Francisco to Port Adelaide, Kona ran aground on a reef known as The Scrapers in Antechamber Bay, Kangaroo Island. The crew landed safely in the bay, but about five minutes after it was abandoned, the schooner was thrown onto its beam ends. The remains were washed onto the north shore the bay, but part of the vessel drifted off the reef and out into Backstairs Passage. This part, the forecastle and bows, was towed away from the shipping channels to the eastern side of Sandy Point and left in one fathom of water.
Location: D’Estrees Bay, 35 km SW of American River, Kangaroo Island (-35.966198 °S 137.635283 °E)
Vessel type: iron-hulled screw steamer
Osmanli was built in Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1846. Osmanli left Melbourne on 23 November 1853 bound for Port Adelaide. The vessel was carrying 35 crew and 47 passengers, as well as coal, pig iron, and mail from Sydney and Melbourne. On 25 November, before sunset, land was sighted off both bows, which was assumed to be Kangaroo Island and the mainland. After dark the sighting of the land became hazy and indefinite. The captain expected to make the Cape Willoughby lighthouse at about 9pm. When the time arrived, and the lighthouse was not in sight, he put the vessel off course and stood out to sea, then stopped the engines and lay-to. After about half an hour the engines were started and the vessel proceeded. At 5 minutes before midnight the vessel struck violently amidships. The instant the ship struck the propeller broke and the engines ‘flew round with great violence’. The vessel had struck Tinline Reef in D’Estrees Bay on the southeast end of Kangaroo Island.
You Yangs (1856-1890)
Location: Pelorous Rocks, near Cape Gantheaume, Kangaroo Island (-36.070916 °S 137.456957 °E)
Vessel type: iron-hulled barque-rigged screw steamer
You Yangs was built in Millwall, London, in 1856. Prior to departing Port Pirie with a large cargo of railway iron for Newcastle, New South Wales, You Yangs’ Captain Veitch expressed concern about the possible effects of the iron on his compass. On 13 June 1890 the steamer passed through Backstairs Passage in rough weather and proceeded out to sea. At about 1am, the iron cargo broke loose and was bumping dangerously against the hull sides. The captain reversed course, making for the shelter of Backstairs Passage, but the iron had deranged the compass, and the vessel struck Pelorous Rocks.
Loch Sloy (1877-1899)
Location: Vicinity of Maupertius Bay, Kangaroo Island (-36.006786°S 136.686102°E)
Vessel type: 3-masted iron barque
Loch Sloy was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1877. Loch Sloy left Glasgow on the 5 January 1899 bound for Port Adelaide. At 4am on 24 April 1899 land was sighted about 3km away. With the vessel travelling at about 10 or 11 knots, the watch was called on deck to brace up on the starboard tack, with the evident intention of clawing off the land. On finding that on this tack it would not clear a projecting headland, orders were given by the master to go about. Although these orders were promptly executed, the ship was struck broadside by a heavy sea. The vessel fell off into the breakers, and went on the rocks 6km northwest of Cape Couedic. In about 20 minutes Loch Sloy became a total wreck. Of the 34 passengers and crew aboard, only four survived.
Loch Vennachar (1875-1905)
Location: Vennachar Point, West Bay, Kangaroo Island (-35.883433°S 136.534737°E)
Vessel type: 3-masted iron ship
Loch Vennachar was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1875. On its last voyage, with six foremast hands short, on the 6 September 1905 it was 86 days from Glasgow on its way to Port Adelaide when it signalled ‘all well’ to the passing S.S. Yongala. Loch Vennachar never arrived in Port Adelaide. Wreckage started coming ashore in large quantities along the south and south-eastern coasts of Kangaroo Island. On 26 November, wreckage was found in West Bay and a partially decomposed body was found on the beach. The nature of the flotsam, big timbers with metal fittings, splintered decking, spars, and the stern of the lifeboat marked ‘Loch Vennachar’, suggested it was near the site of the wreck. The controversy over the location of the wreck continued for many years until 1976 when the wreck was located.
Portland Maru (1919-1935)
Location: Cape Torrens, 11 km east of Cape Borda, Kangaroo Island (-35.72919°S 136.70834°E)
Vessel type: steel-hulled screw steamer
Portland Maru was built in Kobe, Japan, in 1919. Portland Maru departed Port Lincoln on 19 March 1935 loaded with a cargo of wheat bound for Moji, Japan. The next day at 11.20 am, while south of Cape de Couedic on Kangaroo Island, the crew felt a severe bump and the vessel started taking water in the two forward holds. By 2.50pm, as the vessel passed Cape Borda on its way back to Port Adelaide for repairs, the two forward holds and ballast tanks were full and the steamer was steadily sinking. At 4.15 pm, the vessel was run aground on a shingle beach off Cape Torrens. Today, the wreck lies 200m off a smooth pebble beach in 15m of water on the edge of a large sand patch. Two boilers and the engine still stand surrounded by schools of fish. The propeller shaft and four steam winches are still evident.
Location: 0.5 km west of Snug Cove, Kangaroo Island (-35.695324 °S 136.837539 °E)
Vessel type: 3-masted wooden barque
Fides was built in 1857 by Anders Granskog in Christianstadt, Finland. On 21 May 1860 Fides was on the final leg of a voyage from Finland to Adelaide, via London, when the crew sighted Cape Borda on the northwest coast of Kangaroo Island. At 1.30am the next morning, the vessel attempted to tack in light and variable winds, but the vessel would not answer its helm. An hour later a strong current pushed the vessel onto the rocks near Snug Cove. The vessel soon broke up – by 5.30am the vessel was in fragments. Six lives were lost during the incident, including Captain Asplund, but five crew made it to shore. The remains of Fides are directly against a cliff in an underwater gully. The wreckage consists of cargo but no intact ship structure is visible. The main part of the wreck has been reported as being in deeper water out from the cliff.