Loch Ard Gorge lies on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, not far from Port Campbell. The Twelve Apostles are the best known of the Great Ocean Road’s natural landmarks. Loch Ard Gorge, however, is known and named for a reason other than its natural beauty.
Loch Ard Gorge is the site of one of Victoria’s worst shipwrecks. The Loch Ard sailed from England on March 2nd 1878 with 54 passengers and crew aboard. It was bound for Melbourne.
At 3am on the 1st of June 1878 Captain Gibbs was expecting to see land as they should have been approaching Victoria’s coast. He was looking for the lighthouse at Cape Otway, but the ship was sailing through a heavy fog.
At 4 am when the fog lifted Captain Gibbs realised they were far too close Victoria’s sheer cliffs. The Captain tried everything including lowering the anchor and attempting to tack back out to sea, but the ship ran into a reef jutting out from Mutton Bird Island. Waves broke over the ship and masts and rigging came down, knocking passengers and crew overboard. They managed to launch a life boat but it crashed into the side of the Loch Ard and then capsized. Tom Pearce, the crew member who had launched the lifeboat, managed to cling on underneath it and was swept out to sea. When the flood tide came in he drifted back to shore and into what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge. He swam to shore and dragged himself to beach.
Loch Ard Gorge
Tom was one of only two survivors. The other was a passenger, Eva Carmichael. Eva had been making the trip to Melbourne with her family. She ran onto the deck to find out what was happening. In all the chaos Captain Gibbs grabbed her and said “if you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor.” She was then swept over the side by a wave. She saw Tom on the rocky beach and shouted and waved until her saw her. Tom swam out and dragged the exhausted Eva to the beach. They went back to the cave and opened a case of brandy that had washed ashore and huddled together to try and keep warm.
A while later Tom scaled a cliff, which was no small feat in itself, to try to find help.
The cliffs at Loch Ard Gorge
He followed hoof prints and came by chance upon some men from the nearby Glenample Station. By the time he led them back to Loch Ard it was cold and dark. Eva stayed at Glenample for six weeks recovering before returning to Ireland, this time by steamer. Tom went to Melbourne to receive a hero’s welcome. Many expected Tom and Eva to marry, as they’d spent the night unsupervised, but
they were to be disappointed when Tom and Eva went their separate ways.
It is a miracle that anyone survived. The seas on that piece of coast are known for their savagery. The video below was taken on a mildly stormy day, it is only too easy to imagine what it would have been like when the Loch Ard sank. Especially with the waves destroying the ship.
Although there were only two survivors of the Loch Ard, some of the cargo also survived, including a Minton Porcelain Peacock, one of only nine in the world, the most unlikely thing to have endured a shipwreck. It was destined for the International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1880 and must have been packed exceptionally well. It now resides in Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village in Warrnambool and was recently valued at over $4 million. It is also on the Victorian Heritage Register.
The wreck of the Loch Ard remains at the base of Mutton Bird Island. It can be dived by experienced divers.
The peacock photos are from http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2010/02/23/2827955.htm
For more information on the Loch Ard see http://www.flagstaffhill.com/history-queries/wreck-loch-ard/