Report of the Marine Board of Queensland upon the circumstances attending the wreck of the SS “Gothenburg” on the 23 rd. February, 1875, on a detached reef off the entrance to Flinders Channel.

An enquiry having been held by G. F. Sandrock, Esq., J.P., Shipping Inspector at Port Denison, into the circumstances attending the loss of the steamer “Gothenburg”, the evidence taken and the Inspector’s report have been forwarded to the board for their consideration.

It appears that the “Gothenburg”, a screw steamer of 458 tons, belonging to Melbourne, on her voyage from Port Darwin to Melbourne via Newcastle, anchored in Albany Pass on the 19 th. February. The following day, while taking in ballast, she parted her two chains, and lost both her lower anchors. She then steamed out seven miles and brought up for the night, sailing the following morning southwards through the Inner Route.

About midday of the 23 rd. February, high land, probably Cape Cleveland, was abeam, at the estimated distance of 10 or 12 miles. The wind was then fresh from the North-West, with squally and threatening weather, the engines going full speed, with foresail, topsail, and maintrysail set, the vessel making about 10 or 11 knots. Shortly before 6.30 p.m. the sea, which had been gradually getting heavier, was observed to be getting comparatively smooth, and in a few minutes afterwards the vessel ran upon the Southern edge of the detached reef off the entrance to Flinders Channel. At this time it was about low water. The engines were kept going astern until one o’clock the following morning, the water casks were got up out of the forehold and brought on the quarter deck, and the passengers sent aft, but all efforts to back her off were unsuccessful, though there were 5 ½ fathoms under the stern. During the night the wind and sea increased, the former blowing at times in furious squalls.

No anxiety for the safety of the vessel was however felt until about 1 a.m., when she began to bump heavily, and swung round broadside on the reef, gradually heeling over to port as the tide fell and exposing the deck to the action of the sea, which swept numbers of persons from the wreck. Previously to this the boats had been lowered to the gunwale and provisioned. The two port boats had been lowered, and while being passed astern accidentally got adrift, and were unable from the heavy sea and wind. And want of sufficient oars, to regain the ship. The starboard life boat, full of passengers, was capsized in lowering and damaged, eventually drifting away over the reef, some half dozen men righting her in the water: but she was without oars, her bow split down, and the men in her without food or water and almost naked. This boat has not been heard of since. The remaining boat was also capsized, but still held on by her painter. The rest of the survivors took to the fore and main rigging, and on the weather moderating they succeeded in getting hold of and righting the fourth boat, and thus got to Holborn Island, where they found those who had been drifted away in the second boat, and these nineteen were all eventually picked up and safely landed at Bowen. The first boat, with four hands was picked up by the “Leichhardt” steamer at an island at the entrance to Whitsunday Passage. The steamer returned with them to Bowen, and from thence went at once to the wreck, but nothing but a portion of her masts could be seen above the water.

Altogether some one hundred and six lives were lost, including all the women and children, numbering together twenty-five, and all the officers; while, on the other hand, the total number saved by the three boats was twenty-two.

It was supposed that the course being steered would have taken the “Gothenburg” some five or six miles inside this detached reef, no land, however, from which a departure could have been obtained, had been seen since midday.

The Board are of the opinion that the loss of the “Gothenburg” may in a great measure be attributed to an unexpected offset seawards, caused by heavy floods in the Burdekin and other rivers discharging themselves into the sea at that portion of the coast; at the same time they do not consider that due caution was observed in the navigation of the vessel, as they are of the opinion that some attempt should have been made to sight Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse, or Cape Upstart, and, failing that, that the lead should have been used, which, on this part of the coast, is a sufficient guide for keeping clear of the Barrier; a vessel carrying a depth not exceeding 15 or 16 fathoms being well clear of that danger, while a less depth would show an approach to the shore of the mainland.

In conclusion, the Board feel that they cannot too strongly impress upon masters of vessels navigating this portion of the coast, the advisability of keeping the mainland on board, and at the same time, the useless risk that is run by attempting to borrow upon the Barrier, of the approach to which often no warning is given, and where a casualty must be attended with a maximum amount of danger both to life and property.


Commander R. N.,


Main Page

Contact Gary Standen