The Otway Coast was a treacherous stretch for ships in the 19th century, and several met a grim end on local rocks. Of the 700 ships wrecked along the Victorian coast, a good share were wrecked along what is now the Great Ocean Road.
S.S. Casino and a merry shipwreck, Kennett River
In October 1924 the S.S. Casino, which had been trading between Melbourne and Apollo Bay for 43 years, ran aground at Kennett River with a huge cargo of Christmas provisions for Warrnambool and Portland. In order to refloat the boat from the reef the rescuers had to jettison over 150 tons of bottled and kegged beer, Christmas puddings and tobacco. History has it that 50 or so men working on the construction of the Great Ocean Road had a good time on the secluded beach for over a week before struggling back to their roadwork.
The Speculant and the guilty Captain, Cape Patton
The Speculant was built in 1895 and in her early years was the largest barquentine trading in Victorian waters. She was wrecked on a jagged section of Cape Patten cliffs in February 1911. Luckily all aboard survived and were found trying to reach Lorne in their underwear the next day. The ship was gradually destroyed over the next weeks by heavy waves but today at low tide there are still remains to be seen. The Captain of the Speculant was later found guilty of ‘careless navigation’.
The Mary Cummings. They saved the gin and the lost biscuits, Cape Patton
The Schooner Mary Cummings was built in 1861. In November 1872 she was off Cape Patton when heavy seas forced her to anchor. The six crew took the lifeboat loaded with gin and biscuits and headed for shore. They eventually landed in the surf at Barwon Heads where the seas were so rough the biscuits were ruined. Meanwhile the Mary Cummings broke her anchor and was driven onto the rocks at Cape Patton.
One of the most accessible shipwrecks for visitors to see on the Otway Coast is at the spot known as The Lonely Grave, 5 km north of Wye River. This historic site shows where in 1891, the barque ‘WB Godfrey’ was wrecked. There were no casualties form the wreck iteslf, but a number of men lost their lives during the three salvage attempts!
The present ‘grave’ does not contain any bodies but was erected by the country Roads Board to commemorate the grave they found in their way when surveying for the Ocean Road. The road gang had trouble reading the very worn wooden marker and thus the inscription on the headstone is incorrect. Only two salvage workers are buried under what became the present road.
In a twist of coincidence, the ship was called WB Godfrey, one salvage member who was killed and buried here was a Godfrey and the land was owned by the Godfrey family – no relationship to each other!
At low tide wreckage from this ship, including the capstan winch, anchor and, at very low tide, the iron frame are clearly visible straight out to sea from the grave site. For more information – drop in to the Lorne and Apollo Bay Historical Societies.
(Some of the above information is sourced from J.K. Loney’s “Wrecks of the Great Ocean Road”, 1974.)
The name Wreck Beach derives from the anchors of two ships wrecked on the beach, the Marie Gabrielle in 1880 and the Fiji in 1891. The Marie Gabrielle was on route from China with a load of tea when it hit the reef in strong winds.
Wreck Beach is a 2 hr drive from Otway Coast but worth the visit if you have the time.