Loch Ard Shipwreck
The tragedy of the Loch Ard shipwreck in 1878, stands out from the multitudes of other shipwrecks in the region as a tale of luck, survival and heroism. The Loch Ard was built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1873, a magnificent three-masted square-rigged iron clipper ship, 262 feet 7 inches long and had a beam of 38 feet 3 inches.
The Loch Ard departed from England on 1st March 1878 with passengers and crew of 51 and cargo, led by Captain Gibb. The passengers and crew were in good spirits nearing their arrival on the Victorian coast, holding a celebration of their impending arrival only the night before disaster loomed. The Loch Ard had a smooth voyage for three months when disaster then struck early in the morning of the 1st June, 1878. Many days of fog and poor weather had made it difficult for Captain Gibb to calculate his exact position for the critical passage into the western entrance of Bass Strait. This entrance is known as "threading the eye of a needle" and the slightest mistake could lead to tragedy.
This miscalculation led to desperate efforts on the night of May 31, when Captain Gibb believed the Loch Ard was still several miles away from the shore. A sailor was sent aloft to watch for the Cape Otway light, and when the realisation came early in the morning of the 1st June that the treacherous cliffs were only a short distance away, the ships' crew flew into action. The crew dropped their anchors in an effort to steady the ship, and sails were set in an effort to move further from the coast. However in the rough conditions the anchors could not hold and the Loch Ard was crushed against the reef, smashing rocks from the limestone cliffs into the decks. Many of the crew and passengers were washed overboard, others trapped as the seas began to invade the ship. The Loch Ard sank within 15 minutes of the crash, with passengers having little chance of survival in the icy and treacherous waters.
The two only survivors of the Loch Ard Shipwreck were Tom Pierce, 18 and a member of the ships' crew, and Eva Carmichael, also 18, a passenger travelling to Australia to begin a new life with her family. When the Loch Ard was going down, Eva had run to the upper deck to find out what was happening, only to be met with the treacherous white cliffs that were to be the Loch Ards' fate. Captain Gibbs, himself a young newly married 29 year old, said to Eva: "if you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor". Eva was then swept off the ship by a massive wave, and that was the last Eva saw of the Captain.
Tom held for dear life to a lifeboat and was swept into the same deep gorge that now bears the name Loch Ard Gorge. Clinging to a chicken coop, Eva, who was unable to swim, was washed into a deep gorge after five hours in the icy water. Eva saw Tom on the beach and called for help, and Tom, himself also exhausted, dived back into the water and brought Eva to shore. He took Eva to a nearby cave in the gorge where she collapsed from her ordeal. Tom went for help, running to the nearby Glenample Homestead, to raise the alarm. The two survivors went on to spend much time recovering at Glenample Homestead.
After the two heroes of this tale recuperated at Glenample, they were never to see each other again. Eva returned to Ireland by ship, where she later married, and Tom went on to become a ship's captain. Visitors to the area can today see the Gorge where the disaster unfolded, the rock stack of Muttonbird Island that the Loch Ard first touched to bring upon impending doom, the Loch Ard Beach where Tom and Eva struggled ashore, and the cave in which she lay exhausted while Tom went for help. The cliff top cemetery is a monument to the Carmichael family and the other few bodies that were recovered from the shipwreck are also buried there. Glenample Homestead holds extensive displays of the Loch Ard disaster and is open to visitors. Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum screens a nightly sound and light show of the tragedy that is a must see for visitors. The other survivor of the shipwreck is a spectacular decorative porcelain peacock made by Minton Potteries in England, which was being transported from England to be on display at Melbournes' Great International Exhibition of 1880. The peacock, which apart from a small chip on it's beak, remained in pristine condition and is now on display at Flagstaff Hill, and is Australia's most valuable shipwreck relic.