Shipwrecks on the Discovery Coast


1857 - Loss of the Jenny Lind


Jenny Lind Creek at Bustard Bay takes its name from the 130 ton schooner Jenny Lind which was wrecked there on February 2, 1857. Captain Sherman tendered the following report to her Sydney owners, Messrs Mollinson and Black.


"I am under the painfull necessity of informing you of the loss of the Jenny Lind on 2nd February in Bustard Bay, it was blowing a gale at the time. I ran down to Lady Elliot Island on the 1st and hove to under the foretry sail: it being thick and raining in daylight the same at 8 a.m. saw the land distant 2 miles, it still blowing with heavy squalls. Finding the vessel driving in shore I ran her into a small creek to save the lives of the people, trusting she might go inside the bar and come safely to anchor and get her out again. The first sounding was seven fathoms. The vessel struck in four feet of water the sea making a breach all over her, as soon as she was breached to I cut away the main mastto keep her from going onto her beam ends. That night I succeeded in getting all hands ashore with a great deal of trouble for as the tide rose the sea came in frightful.


That night the vessel bear up about a quarter of a mile in the sand. We got all the spars and sails sent down and pitched out tents on shore but as soon as the vessel beat in far enough we moved on board for fear of the blacks. The wind still continued to blow a gale without cessation until February 10th when we took to the boats and started for Port Curtis which place we reached safely on February 12th.


On my arrival I called on Captain O'Connel and advised him and for the benefit of all concerned he thought I was taking a proper step in writing to you previous to our acting here. The inhabitants appear anxious for me to sell. I think she should sell as well here as in Sydney.


It is impossible to get the wreck off, and I have done all to her that could be done with safety, I think her spars, sails, anchors and rigging can be saved but it would be a great risk to say nothing of the expense, the vessel I consider to be a total loss. I trust you will inform me as early as possible what to do, you have an inventory of the vessel which is quite right, except the boats, these I have with me, which I must sell to pay expenses. There is plenty of wool here and you could get 2 pound a bale at the river here. Mr. Palmer is writing for the Burnett to come as quickly as possible.


F. A. Sherman"


The wreck of the Jenny Lind was sold to a Port Curtis resident and proved a profitable purchase as she was refloated with little difficulty in August. Arriving in Sydney the same month, she was completely refitted and again put on the trading run between Sydney and Port Curtis.


1870 Gales


The records of two ships attest to the heavy gales and high seas which prevailed during the early months of 1870.


On January 26, Captain Collin left Rockhampton for Maryborough in his schooner Enterprise and rounded Cape Capricorn at 7 a.m. on Thursday 27. The following day there were signs of dirty weather and soon a squall broke ending in a violent southerly gale with deluges of rain.


On Monday 31 he fell in with a strong gale from the south-east with the sea mountains high. The mate, Joseph Brown, was washed overboard whilst reefing the topsail and called out to Collin to throw over a lifebelt. The boat hoisted out was swamped a few times, but Brown was rescued under great difficulties after being in the water 15 minutes. During the fury of the gale that night, the main and staysail were blown to ribbons.


At 10 a.m. on February 1, the schooner was off Round Hill Head with the wind blowing a hurricane. The Captain decided to put in at Rodds Bay Harbour for shelter but missed the entrance and eventually anchored at 11 a.m. on Wednesday 2 at Sea Hill.


Captain Collin stated that the gale was so severe that birds were unable to cope with it and many fell exhausted on the schooner. At the height of the gale, two dozen birds were picked up from the deck at one time.


Captain Harley, sailing Blackbird south from Gladstone on March 16, encounted the gale he had experienced during his years on the coast. At Lady Elliot Island, he could not see the ships length in the heavy seas. The Blackbird lay off Breaksea Spit but drifted 80 miles to the south-east in the next three days to arrive at Brisbane wharf at 11 a.m. on March 20.


1870 - Wreck of the Dawn


The Dawn left Brisbane on July 3, 1870, with a cargo of supplies and Machinery for Munro's sawmill at Eurimbula Creek, Bustard Bay. Two Cornish boilers of 3-1/4 tons each, 14 feet in length and 5 or 6 feet in diameter, were secured on deck. Smaller parts of machinery and bricks for the boiler foundations were carried below.


in dirty weather on July 9, Captain Gravely anchored under Double Island Point. A gale started on July 12, and the weight of the boilers caused the Dawn to roll dangerously.


Fearing a capsize and trying to save lives and cargo, at the height of the storm on July 14, Gravely had the vessel close reefed. With the last of the ebb tide the Dawn was run up on the beach about four miles west of Double Island Point. No lives were lost and boilers and boat amidships were undamaged.


Early in the morning of July 22, Mr. Brooks, Chief Officer of the Lady Bowen was on watch and saw a black object on shore which he thought was a wreck. Captain Collier sent him ashore with a boat crew and on his return, he reported the wreck of the Dawn and that she was deserted. On entering Wide Bay, the Lady Bowen discovered the survivors on Fraser Island and took aboard the man who was to install the machinery at Eurimbula.


The first news of the wreck was recieved by telegraph in Brisbane on July 23, and the Havilah left Maryborough to rescue the rest of the crew.


An inquiry into the cause of the wreck held by the Marine Board on July 28, found that Captain Gravely had made an error of judgement in anchoring off Double Island Point but he was excused on the grounds that it was his first command and he did not hold a master's ticket.


Captain Collin returned to salvage what he could. Looters had already stolen 100 pounds worth of materials but, after a fortnights work, he had all the machinery on board on August 11, and left the Hercules attempting to tow the Dawn off. He docked at Maryborough on August 13, where the machinery was found to be in first class condition, and finaly delivered it safely to Eurimbula.


Collin bought the Dawn for 400 pound, which was 100 pound less than the insurance on the cargo and left Brisbane on the Enterprise for the wreck on August 25, having on board a shipwright, six men, screw jacks, anchors and other implements. Arriving on August 28, he found the Dawn now lying broadside on and embedded in the sand.


The wreck was lifted and just when it seemed an easy job to float it, a swell caused the jacks to sink and they were badly screwed. The Captain rigged a derrick and after considerable difficulty the Dawn was refloated at 11 a.m. on September 11, and arrived in Brisbane three days later.


1873 - Loss of the Agnes


Several wrecks in Australian waters have involved ships with the name Agnes. It is generally thought that the town of Agnes Water took its name from one of these ill-fated vessels - that which disappeared from Pancake Creek on June 15, 1873.


The 66 ton schooner Agnes, commanded by Captain Garcia took on passengers and cargo at Mackay and left for Brisbane on June 7. Her passengers were Mrs Philip, (mother of Robert Philip, later Premier of Queensland, and Sir Robert), her two year old grand daughter, Miss Ronald (daughter of F.G.C.A. Ronald of Gibbs, Bright and Co. Mr. D. Hume, and a boy named Brown.


Meeting with heavy weather a week later, she ran into Pancake Creek (Bustard Head) for shelter and ballast. Leaving there on June 15, the Agnes was never seen again.


When she became days overdue in Brisbane it was at first thought she was sheltering in Baffle Creek after putting in for a load of tallow, that port being out of telegraphic communication with Brisbane. The days passed into weeks and friends and relatives of the passengers and crew were asking, "Where is the Agnes?"


A paragraph in a local paper on June 30 warned relatives of the seriousness of the position. In reply, "An Old Sailor" in the issue of the Brisbane Courier for July 2, reported that the relatives had been unduly alarmed. It was most likely the schooner was held up by bad weather under the lee of one of the islands. Such occurrences were common on that part of the coast.


A deputation to the Queensland Premier seeking aid and asking that the coastal vessel Kate be made available to search the coast for was refused. The only satisfaction recieved by friends and relatives of those on board the Agnes was an assurance that all coastal vessel crews would be notified to keep a sharp lookout for the missing schooner.


A lengthy and indignant letter signed "Publicola" appeared in the Brisbane paper on August 5, in which the correspondent bitterly attacked the Government for its inaction.


Robert Philip spent a great deal of time and money organising voyages and search parties along the coast, but he found no wreckage or traces of survivors that could be identified with the Agnes.


The pilot schooner from Gladstone arrived back on February 14, 1874, with a spar from Bustard Bay that had been reported by the Captain of the Flintshire. it was from a schooner, had the topsail attached, and appeared to have been in the water sometime as it was growing grass and barnacles. The length between sheaves was 28 feet. As there was no distinguishing marks the spar was not positively identified but because it was at Bustard Bay where the Agnes was last seen, there were many who considered the spar was from that vessel.


Her disappearance with the 12 passengers has been written up over the years as a complete mystery, but this may not be the case.


During the 1930's Wilf Crow, who was intimate with that part of the coast, was fishing in calm weather and found an old wreck some miles north of Wreck Rock, that of an old time ship that would be much too small for the wreck of the Countess Russell. A steel ship's support and bronze spikes are embedded in the rocks, but the wreck is only uncovered during certain currents and visible only in calm water. This wreck has never been officially investigated. It lies off a rough headland and is between Wreck Rock and the Springs and might easily prove to be that of the missing Agnes as the anchor is still attached and the anchor from the Countess Russell, a much larger one was discovered further south.


1873 - Loss of the Countess Russell


Wreck Rock is named after the wreck of the Countess Russell which went aground on the sandy beach there a little before midnight on August 21, 1873, less than 10 weeks after the disappearance of the Agnes.


The Countess Russell of Quebec was a sailing ship of 965 tons, described as a fine vessel and faithfully constructed. In 1869 she was doubled outside with four inch planks and reclassified A.1 for 8 years. On March 4, 1873, she left London with 366 imigrants bound for Rockhampton.


In June passengers began taking ill, with five adults and fifteen children having died before the ship reached Keppel Bay on June 30. Another passenger died on July 1, and there were another three other cases of fever so the Health Officer at Rockhampton placed the Countess Russell into quarantine at Sea View Hill on Curtis Island. Three more adults died on July 6 and there were 11 cases of fever. A waman and her infant child died on July 14. The quarantine was lifted on July 28, when the immigrants were released and put ashore at Rockhampton.


The next voyage of the Countess Russell was scheduled for Newcastle. There was no cargo and only one saloon passenger, a Mr. Charles Owen. Ballast was taken aboard and she departed Keppel Bay at 8 a.m. on August 18.


Pilot Haynes saw the Countess Russell clear and left the ship at 7 a.m. the following morning with a good breeze from the south-east and the weather fine. Bad luck dogged the Countess Russell and failing to get out of Capricorn Channel, the Captain made for Port Curtis channel.


At 8 a.m. on August 20, Masthead Island bore N.E. by E. 5 miles. At noon Bustard Head Lighthouse bore S.W. by S. 1/2 S. distant 18 miles. At 8 a.m. August 21, No. 1 Island Bunker Group bore N.W. at 6 miles; at 9 a.m. at 5 miles. The ship was put on the port tack, the weather then being dirty and threatening with drizzling rain and the wind from the south-east.


The master, fearing a change to eastward, headed in for the land. At noon the breeze freshened; the mainsail was furled and the jib stowed. Land was sighted at 2 p.m. At 3:45 p.m. the ship was in 11 fathoms and a hill thought to be Towoong bore W. 1/2 N. distant 5 miles. Before 4 and 6 p.m. the topsails were reefed, the foresails furled and the inner jib stowed. At 8 p.m. the depth was 20 fathoms. The wind was blowing a fresh gale, with heavy squalls and the ship was put into the shore. It was pitch black with blinding rain.


The last sounding was taken at 11 p.m. all depths being more than 15 fathoms. Captain Mowatt went below to consult the charts; he considered the ship o be in a good position as no currents were marked on the charts for this part of the coast, and on account of the depth of water he considered they were sailing at a safe distance from the shore.


At 11:45 p.m. the speed was reckoned to be 2-1/2 knots and the ship's position about 10 miles south of Round Hill Head when breakers were reported ahead. Before the ship could be turned she bumped heavily and was thrown broadside on the beach where she continued to pound with the sea breaking over her.


The stays for the mainmast and mizzen topmast were cut away and the spars went overboard. An immediate breakup was expected but the ship withstood the terrific buffeting. At 2 a.m. on Friday morning, August 22, the Captain decided to attempt a landing ashore. The boatswain in charge of a party with a lantern was lowered in the gig which was immediately swept northward and into the broken water. The light dissapeared and it was feared the gid had been swamped but after a terrible suspense of about 20 minutes the crew on board were overjoyed to hear shouting from the shore. The lifeboat was lowered next and was also immediately swept into the broken water but managed to keep the light and reach the shore safely. The lifeboat was dragged back to the wreck and by 4 a.m. all personnel were safely ashore. It was still pitch black and raining. The crew was employed all day in salvaging stores.


An exceptional current had been running which the Captain thought was due to the heavy gale and resulted in the wrecking of the ship. Miraculously, the ship had missed the reef which if she had been carried on must have resulted in complete destruction with heavy loss of life to the crew.


Other Captains had experienced difficulties with the heavy gale. Captain Torrance on the Blackbird approached Breaksea Spit from seaward. He reported a dirty night with a southerly current of 4 to 4-1/2 knots outside the spit and considered he had a lucky escape from it. He had never seen such a strong current in Curtis Channel before and was very pleased when he sighted the Bustard Head Light one hour ahead of his reckoning which was due to the exceptional current.


Captain Brooks, a fine seaman with a splendid record and one of the most experienced pilots on that part of the coast, also reported it a bad night. The weather was thick and the wind blowing in heavy squalls all night. He was on the steamer Queensland bound for Rockhampton, but had sheltered in the Mary River.


Continuing his voyage north Captain Brooks sighted the wreck of the Countess Russell on Saturday August 23, and bore in for it at 1 p.m.


That morning Captain Mowatt had prepared a boat and was waiting for the surf to become passable before attempting to reach Gladstone. He determined to risk the surf and with six seamen put off in the lifeboat reaching the Queensland at 2 p.m. and taken aboard. There were remaining at the wreck 29 men all told with the ship still broadside on the sand which had accumulated from the heavy surf that the men could walk on deck at low tide.


The Queensland reached Rockhampton the following day. After Captain Mowatt reported the wreck to the agents, Captains Hunter and Rundle were appointed on behalf of the insurance company to survey the damage. They left in company with Captain Mowatt aboard the Mary for the scene of the wreck on August 25.


After an inspection it was considered possible to get the wreck afloat if proper equipment was available, but on behalf of the insurance company, it was decided to abandon the wreck.


The Mary returned to Rockhampton on August 27, with the stores and sails from the wreck and these were advertised and sold by public auction in Rockhampton on August 29.


An inquiry held for the Marine Board by the Shipping Inspector and assisted by Captain Hunter J.P. found that Captain Mowatt made an error of judgment in standing in for the land. On account of his good record his certificate was suspended for 3 months only. The first and second mates had their tickets returned to them. Captain Mowatt in his defence claimed that the currents for that part of the coast were not marked on the charts, and that if he had a pilot on board he would have returned to Gladstone.


A party returning to Rockhampton on September 19, with supplies and spars from the wreck reported that the hull was still unbroken and they still considered it possible to refloat the ship.


According to newspaper reports of the day, nautical men generally were of the opinion that Cptain Mowatt was blameless and the enquiry by the Marine Board inadequate. The Countess Russell proved an exceedingly stout vessel to stand up for so long under such a terrific buffeting and the loss of such a fine vessel to her owners and the shipping trade in general was deplorable.



The following lists, headed by the location, provide the fateful year, and the name of ships that have met with disaster in the region of the Discovery Coast.


Baffle Creek


1865 Gil Blas


Breaksea Spit and Fraser Island


1857 Sea Belle


1860 Panama


1864 Faraway


1867 Lombard


1871 Juliet


1877 Peri


1878 Ottawa


1878 Hit or Miss


1884 Chang Chow


1886 SS Heka


1890 Evelyn


1891 Tasman


1893 Daphne


1895 Sara Pile


1900 Confidence


1905 Walwera


1910 Waup


1910 Naomi


1910 Mary Ellen


1914 Mareoo


1919 Wave


1935 Maheno - remains are a tourist attraction on 75 mile beach


1937 Haiping


1943 Kowarra


1954 Leisha


1962 the Breaksea Spit light ship was sunk by the Gladstone Star


1972 Istria


1973 Cherry Venture


1992 Blue Goose


Bunker Group


1875 Leichhardt


1875 Mona


1895 Italy


Burnett Heads


1885 Wild Wave


1918 Scout


1919 Nelson


1931 Nansyth


1975 Womeen


1985 Avago


Bustard Bay


1857 Jenny Lind


1866 Lady Darling


1868 Live Yankee


1870 Jane


1873 Agnes


1881 Sarah Cooper


1887 George Thornton


Bustard Head


1928 Nautilus


1930 Laurel


1948 Edith


Capricorn Group


1878 Agnes




1862 Jenny Lind


1870 Terrigal


1940 Director II


1948 Barbora


1870 Moorah


1990 Calypso Christie


Heron Island


1868 Jane Lockhart


Hervey Bay


1887 Effie


1888 Eastminster


1889 Fleetwing


Lady Elliot Island


1851 Bolton Abbey


1866 Loda


1866 Golden City


1907 SS Ada Dent


1931 Cruiser


1942 Dolphin


1950 Maymo


1980 Apollo


1980 Thisbe


Lady Musgrave Island


1972 Kotoktu


Masthead Island


1866 Pioneer


1866 Briton's Queen


1866 Cosmopolite


1868 Willing Lass


1873 Polmaise


1879 SS Tambaroora


1883 Deutschland


1884 Water Witch


1913 Norma


North Reef


1926 Cooma


Polmaise Reef


1893 Darcy Pratt


1900 Progress


Round Hill Head


To be added


Wreck Rock

1873 Countess Russel - Her anchor was recovered to Round Hill Head as a monument. Some other items are on display in the Agnes Water Museum.