The fast, sleek clipper, Hurricane was built in 1853 to transport cargo and take passengers between Liverpool and Melbourne. It was considered a safe, modern ship for its time.
A newspaper item published just after the ship was built described Hurricane as, “well calculated for sailing, stability and stowage and altogether a finer specimen of iron ship was never launched”.
Cargo and pasengers
Hurricane carried cargo to supply the growing settlements of Port Phillip and country Victoria. On its final voyage its cargo included canary seed, whiskey, malt, bottled beer, glassware, caustic soda, saddlery, wire, nails, leather and blankets. On its return voyages, it usually took a cargo of wool, wheat, gold, mutton and beef and passengers retuning to England.
Accommodation on board the Hurricane for paying passengers was supposedly quite luxurious and was said to be "unsurpassed by any ship in harbour". Intending passengers were invites to inspect the facilities.
The final voyage of Hurricane
Hurricane left Liverpool on the January 12, 1869, under the command of Captain Johnston. It carried a hefty load of over 2000 tons of cargo as well as three first class passengers, 16 steerage passengers and 28 crew members. The ship arrived off Port Phillip Heads on the April 21, 1869, where a pilot came on board to steer the vessel through the rip.
As Hurricane sailed passed Point Lonsdale, it appeared to graze some rocks but as the ship was in the designated shipping lane, there was no cause for concern. As a precaution, the pumps were operated in the hold, but it was found to be dry.
The pilot steered Hurricane into the South Channel and headed toward Melbourne. One of the crew reported that water was entering the hawse pipes (holes for anchor ropes in the sides of the bow, connected to the deck). Captain Johnston again ordered his crew to the pumps, however this time, they found over two metres of water in the main hold.
The anchors were released and Hurricane changed course for Capel Bay but it was too late. Before pumping could begin, Hurricane began to sink. Passengers and crew were ordered to lifeboats as the ship sank in seven metres of water. Fortunately, no lives were lost and the majority of the ship’s cargo, anchors, and fittings were recovered by divers and later sold at auction.
In the 1870s, a green wreck buoy warned sailors of the wreck’s presence. In the 1960s, the wreck was considered a hazard to shipping and blasted with explosives.
Built in Keivanhaugh, Scotland, Hurricane was an example of iron ship building at the height of fast record-breaking clipper technology. In fact the ship could make the journey between Liverpool and Melbourne in just 60 days. At the time, this was considered quite a feat.
Hurricane had three iron masts and was designed with watertight compartments cemented throughout the ship. The ship was built with high bulwarks – the high wooden planking along the sides of a ship to prevent seas washing the deck and crew and passengers from falling or being washed overboard. Hurricane was also built with spar decking – raised decks, like narrow corridors above the upper decking. This enabled the crew to move across the ship during heavy seas to handle the rigging without the risk of being washed overboard.
Hurricane had a gross tonnage of 1198 tons. It measured 214.9ft (65.4m) in length, 30.7ft (9.35m) in breadth, and had a depth of 20ft (6m).
Relics from the wreck of Hurricane
There are no relics from the wreck of Hurricane on public display in Victoria, however a visit to the Melbourne Maritime Museum, home of the Polly Woodside gives an excellent impression of an iron sailing ship like the Hurricane.
Diving on the wreck of Hurricane
Hurricane is one of the many historic shipwrecks included in Victoria's Underwater Shipwreck Discovery Trail. Qualified divers can explore the wrecks of old wooden clippers, iron steamships and cargo and passenger vessels located along the coast and in Port Phillip Bay. Some of these wreck dives are suitable for beginners while other wrecks require the skills and experience of advanced divers.
Victoria's historic shipwrecks
Despite Victoria being such a busy shipping region and although Bass Strait and the entrance to Port Phillip Bay presented many hazards to the unwary sailor, only 800 shipwrecks have occurred along the Victorian coast since 1797. Fewer than 200 of these wrecks have actually been found. All Australian shipwrecks over 75 years old are protected by state and Commonwealth historic shipwreck laws. Some younger wrecks may also be especially declared to be historic eg; World War II wrecks.
Hurricane was protected as a Historic Shipwreck on October 25, 1989, under the Victorian Historic Shipwrecks Act (1981). It is in a Protected Zone that prevents commercial fishing, however divers and recreational fishers can access the site without a permit. Any deliberate damage or interference to the Hurricane is an offence under the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and offenders face tough penalties.
Dive information sheet (PDF 539 kb)