Frederick Horatio Bruford
THE SCENE OF THE
WRECK OF THE LOCK ARD, c.
The scene depicted here is an artist's eyewitness account of the salvage of what little remained of the clipper, 'Loch Ard' and her cargo.
The gorge in which the salvage is taking place, we now call the 'Loch Ard Gorge', and this is situated approximately six kilometres along the coast, east of the township of Port Campbell, and falls within the 1750 hectare Port Campbell National Park.
Port Campbell is a coastal township north west of Cape Otway and south east of Warrnambool, 249 kilometres south west of Melbourne. It was first called Campbell's Creek after Captain Alexander Campbell, who was known as, 'the last of the buccaneers'. Campbell commanded the Port Fairy Whaling Station in the 1830's, and eventually settled in Port Campbell, and traded out of the port with his ship, 'Condor'.
During coastal expeditions in 1845-1846, Governor La Trobe recorded in his diary, somewhat cautiously: 'I think a boat might possibly land at Port Campbell in most weathers', it being the only likely safe spot he had seen between Warrnambool and Cape Otway.
The 'Loch Ard' was an iron clipper ship, which was built in the Clyde by Barklay, Curle and Company in 1873. Her official log book number was 68061. She was described as being 1693 tons gross weight, and was 263 feet 7 inches long, 38 feet 3 inches wide (beam) and 23 feet depth. Her masts were almost 150 high, and she was launched on 8 November 1873.
The 'Loch Ard' had a short but eventful life. She was twice dismasted on her maiden voyage and narrowly escaped being driven ashore at Sorrento, Victoria on 24 May 1874.
Nearly four years later, on 1 March 1878, the 'Loch Ard' left Gravesend, England for Melbourne. The voyage out was uneventful, until the night of 31 May 1878. On that night, her master, Captain George Gibb, believed her to be many miles off the Victorian coast, and sent a man aloft to watch for the Cape Otway light. However, the ship was actually close inshore near the mouth of Sherbrooke Creek, and in the early hours of the morning of 1 June 1878, the coastal haze lifted and revealed rugged cliffs only a short distance away.
J. K. Loney in his Wrecks along the Great Ocean Road, published in 1973, records the story of what happened next. 'More sail was set in a desperate effort to clear the shore, but before the vessel could respond she was in breakers. Anchors were let go but they dragged on the sandy bottom so an attempt was made to place her on the port tack. The anchors were slipped, and just when it seemed she would clear the perpendicular cliffs of an island, she struck a ledge on her starboard quarter and began to sink.'
It is recorded that she sank quickly in deep water. Loney further noted that, 'as she rolled her yards struck high on the cliff, dislodging rocks and showering the passengers and crew with spars and rigging. An attempt was made to launch the port lifeboat but the six men it contained were thrown into the sea when a huge wave capsized it. One of these, an apprentice named Tom Pearce, was trapped under the boat for some time. After diving out from beneath it, he clung to its side for nearly three hours before it was eventually washed into a forbidding looking gorge about 100 yards from where the ship had sunk. Leaving the boat, Pearce swam through the surf to a small sandy beach and was resting there when he heard a weak cry and saw a woman drifting towards shore on a spar.'
In some records there were 50 people listed as on board the 'Loch Ard' and in others 51. This included a crew of 36, or 37 if you include the ship's doctor, Dr Emory Carmichael. The doctor was on board with his wife, four daughters and two sons, and when the ship sunk, one daughter, Eva, seized a floating hen coop and was joined by a Mr Jones and a Mr Mitchell. Later when all three attempted to swim to a nearby spar, Eva reached it, but the two men disappeared. Eva was then carried into the gorge where her weak cries attracted Pearce, who swam out and brought her ashore.
Pearce was reasonably well attired, however Miss Carmichael was clad only in a nightdress. By the time she was rescued by Pearce, she was semi-conscious and suffering from hypothermia. Records note that Pearce helped her to a cave at the western end of the gorge, and then returned to the beach to search for more survivors, but found no one. Among the wreckage he discovered a case of brandy, and breaking open the top, took a long drink before returning to Miss Carmichael, who drank the remainder.
After a short sleep, Pearce left Miss Carmichael in the cave and climbed the perpendicular cliff. Following a track, he met by chance, G. Ford and W. Till, employees of Messrs Gibson and McArthur of Glenample Station, who were mustering sheep. After gasping out his story, Pearce returned to the gorge while the two men rode to the station for assistance. When they returned it was getting dark and Miss Carmichael had disappeared, but after a long search she was found crouching under some bushes, shivering with cold and fear, believing their calls to be those of Aborigines.' Carefully she was raised to the top of the cliff and taken to the Glenample Homestead, where she remained to recuperate for some time before going on to Melbourne.
All on board the 'Loch Ard' were lost at sea, except for Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, and only five bodies were recovered from the wreck. Two of these recovered bodies, were Eva Carmichael's mother and one of her sisters. Four of the bodies were buried on top of the cliff and the fifth was buried in the sand on High Cliff Beach where it was discovered. In Melbourne, Pearce was hailed as a hero, and the Governor, Sir George Bowen, presented him with an inscribed gold watch and chain, and also a locket on behalf of the Government of Victoria. He also received the first gold medal struck by the Royal Humane Society of Victoria.
Pearce resumed his apprenticeship aboard the 'Loch Sunart', in which he was shipwrecked off the coast of Ireland in 1879. Previous to the 'Loch Ard' sinking, Pearce had served on the 'Eliza Ramsden' when she sank in Port Phillip Bay in 1875.
In 1982, the 'Loch Ard' was declared an historic wreck under the Commonwealth Government Historic Shipwrecks Act. At the time of the sinking, much of the cargo aboard the 'Loch Ard', which was estimated to be worth more than 53000 pounds, was destroyed as it was swept into the gorge. However, it is interesting to note that two days after the disaster, a wooden packing case was washed ashore containing a life-size Minton earthenware peacock. The 'Loch Ard Peacock', as it became known, was practically undamaged and is now on show in the Public Hall of the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warrnambool.
It was very fortunate at the time of the disaster that the artist Frederick Bruford was also the Customs Officer stationed at nearby Warrnambool, who was sent to investigate the wreck. This provided Bruford with the rare opportunity to depict the scene as it was, rather than (what often happened) from later secondary reports. Bruford, (28.1.1846- 10.12.1920), was known for his paintings in oils of historical subjects, and he later produced another maritime work 'Wreck of the Sierra Nevada off the Back Beach, Sorrento, May 1900'.
Bruford exhibited with the Victorian Academy of the Arts, and was an exhibitor, Council Member and President (1910-1911) of the Victorian Artists' Society.
Another view of 'Loch Ard Gorge' was painted by Arthur Streeton around 1930, and was offered for auction through Christie's Australia. Australian and International Paintings, Sydney 28 & 29 August 2001, Lot 49.
The 'Loch Ard' was but one of many ships that after a battering in the Southern Ocean ran aground on what we now refer to as the 'Shipwreck Coast'. The 'Shipwreck Coast' today is host to many thousands of annual visitors from around the World. They come to see and photograph not only the 'Loch Ard Gorge', but also the rugged beauty of this coastline and its spectacular geological formations that have been shaped by the strong winds and the wild seas in this region.
Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890