Victorian Lighthouses and Shipwrecks – Warrnambool

Most of my posts up until now have been one of the other, but in Warrnambool I get to cover both, and not just one but two lighthouses; plus fifteen shipwrecks.

Lady Bay Lighthouses

The Lady Bay Lighthouses were originally built in 1858-9 of basalt quarried on the Maribyrnong River, Melbourne. The upper tower, chartroom, cottage and privy were originally located on Middle Island, and the lower light was located on a timber tower on the beach. In 1871 the lights were moved to Flagstaff Hill as leading lights for the entry to the treacherous and shallow Warrnambool Harbour. The lower light was placed on a blue stone obelisk that had been erected there as a navigation marker in 1854. A flagstaff had been erected on the hill as early as 1853. The battery of two 80 pounder rifled, muzzle loading guns was added in 1887 as part of a general upgrade to the defences of Victoria which saw Port Phillip Bay transformed into a fortress and the nearby ports of Belfast (Port Fairy) and Portland receive a similar armament to Warrnambool. The fortifications and guns were in a derelict condition until they were restored after the complex was integrated into the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in the 1970s.

Lady Bay Shipwrecks

Although most of the shipwrecks are actually listed as not found, there is ample evidence, written, verbal and salvage of these wrecks. Many items from salvage are displayed at the Flagstaff Maritime Village and Museum. Here are just a few.

Enterprise 1847 – 1850 (not found) The New Zealand-built schooner Enterprise had sailed from Melbourne and was anchored in Lady Bay, Warrnambool when a south easterly gale swept in on 14 September 1850. The vessel began to drag its anchor, grounded, then went broadside onto the beach. A local Aborigine, Buckawall, struggled through the rough sea from the shore and secured a line to the Enterprise, allowing the crew to land safely. The vessel became a total wreck.

Golden Spring 1848 – 1863 (not found) Built in Maine, USA in 1848, the brig Golden Spring was registered in Sydney from 1858. The vessel was anchored in Lady Bay when a gale blew up, causing it to drag anchor and strike the wreck of the Maid of Julpha, located some 150 metres off shore in the bay. The Golden Spring soon broke in two. The gale was noted as the worst that had been record in Warrnambool at this time. The sloop Peveril was wrecked in the same gale.

Free Trader 1850 – 1894 The Tasmanian-built barque Free Trader parted from both its main anchors during a sudden gale at Warrnambool in July 1984; it was in ballast at the time, pending a voyage to Newcastle. The remaining anchor dragged, and the vessel drifted towards the beach, going broadside onto the piling at the swimming baths. The piling soon battered a hole through the hull, and the vessel filled with water. The crew escaped by climbing onto the piling, but the 44 year old Free Trader became a total wreck. The site is probably deeply buried under the sand in the intertidal zone south west of the Surf Life Saving Club.

Alexandra 1863 – 1882 (not found) The Alexandra was an English built brig which plied the inter-colonial waters around Australia during the nineteenth century. In 1882, while waiting in Warrnambool to load potatoes bound for Sydney, the Alexandra was struck by a south-westerly gale. The parting of an anchor cable resulted in the ship drifting, and striking sternfirst on the beach in Lady Bay. No lives were lost but the ship was a total wreck and eventually broke up in rough weather.

Edinburgh Castle 1863 – 1888 The Scottish barque Edinburgh Castle wrecked in 1888 near the mouth of the Hopkins River in Lady Bay. The ship was carrying an important cargo of cement from London for construction of the Warrnambool breakwater. Pilot error caused the ship to run aground despite the calm weather and it settled in sand, foiling efforts to refloat it. The remains of the ship were scattered in the surf and the site is now buried, but occasionally becomes exposed during rough weather.

Whaleboat unknown – 1836 (not found) In the winter of 1836 a whaleboat swamped and sank while entering the Hopkins River. One of the three whaleboat crew drowned in the incident. Further tragedy struck when another boat, captained by John Mills, overturned while trying to recover the whaleboat. The site has yet to be found or identified.

La Bella 1893-1905 The Norwegian-built barquentine La Bella was approaching Warrnambool with a cargo of timber from Kaipara, New Zealand, in heavy seas and evening mist when it ran aground on what is now known as La Bella Reef. By sunrise only seven of the 12 crew still clung to the wreck. A local fisherman, William Ferrier, rowed his small punt through heavy seas to rescue two of the crew, including the captain, whilst the volunteer lifeboat crew rescued a further three before La Bella broke in half and sank. William Ferrier was 25 years old at the time, and was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Humane Society for his daring rescue. The wreck now lies in 13m of water and is home to an abundance of marine life.

Freedom 1841 – 1853 (not found) The Freedom was a two-masted schooner built in Jersey, England. It was carrying a cargo of wheat, barley and flour bound for Sydney when it was driven ashore at Warrnambool by a south easterly gale. Although refloated, another gale drove the vessel ashore again on 11 October 1853. This time the anchors parted and the ship was blown ashore near the jetty where it became a total wreck. The site has not been located.

Yarra 1850 – 1882 (not found) The Yarra was built in Hobart, Tasmania as a two-masted brigantine. It was waiting to unload a cargo of coal from Newcastle when the anchors parted in heavy swell and the ship drifted out of control across Lady Bay. The Yarra first collided with the SS Dawn, before grounding east of the jetties, where it broke up the following day. The site was later dynamited as it was a navigation hazard, and the remains of the site have not been located.


Just more proof of how beautiful, but unpredictable and deadly our coastline can be. We saw it on a warm, clear, still summer day, with light breezes and calm seas, it was not until a few days later that we saw any evidence of it being otherwise.