The Hunter River at Newcastle was an important destination from early in the history of Europeans in Australia. From the early 1800s the river estuary was the only access to the penal colony set up in Newcastle and the settlements developing in the Hunter Valley. Steamers entered the river and travelled to Raymond Terrace and on to Morpeth and Clarence Town. Shipping in the 1800s was dangerous and more than 118 shipwrecks along Newcastle's coast attest to that - many of these have never been found.
PS Yarra Yarra
On Sunday 15th July 1877 the Yarra Yarra was attempting to return to port after a gale forced them to abort the run to Sydney with 500 tons of coal. The ship lost steerage, turned broadside to the waves and sank just north of the harbour entrance with the loss of all 18 on board.
The wreck itself lies upright in 15 metres of water. The wreck is significant as it has the earliest know marine steam engine in NSW and is one of the most intact paddlewheel steamers in Australia. Both paddlewheels are visible with the port side intact except missing the timber paddles.
The wreck is a haven for fishlife in a vast area of sand. Populated with countless blindsharks, with its resident blue wrasse and often young mullaway.
The Yarra Yarra is only a short trip from Newcastle Harbour. It is best dived near high tide and after periods of low rainfall as the outflow from the Hunter River can affect visibility.
The Irresistible was a tugboat. Built in 1883 by Edwards & Symes in London it spent time with the Port Jackson Steam Ship Company before coming to Newcastle for J & W Brown. At the end of its useful working life it was scuttled on 27th August 1931. Irresistible until the end she drifted up Stockton Bight passed North Reef before sinking.
The wreck lies upright in 26 metres on sand. The main features of the wreck are the large boiler separated by sand from the engine and propellor shaft leading to a large propellor at the stern. The forward section can also be seen beyond the boiler.
Wobbegongs and reef fish abound on the Irresistible.
The Commodore was a paddlewheel tug built in 1878 in South Shields near Newcastle UK. It was owned by A & J Brown.
At the end of its working life it was scuttled in 36 metres off Newcastle on 8th September 1931.
The wreck has been damaged and its boiler rolled over by coal ships anchoring off Newcastle in recent years. Despite the damage it is still an extensive wreck with many recognisable parts including the remains of a paddlewheel.
Like all the wrecks off Newcastle they are oases for fishlife surrounded by sand.
Built in 1885 by Pearce Bros in Dundee the Osprey was originally named the Eagle. It was purchased by J Brown in 1922 where it was renamed the Osprey. At the end of its working life in was scuttled on 27th November 1931.
The Osprey lies upright on sand in 42 metres and is intact. In July-September each year the wreck is home to breeding port Jackson sharks. A great wreck to explore.
LVT4A (Amphibious Tank)
At 2 am on 8th March 1954 a convoy of amphibious vehicles set out on an exercise from what is now called Horseshoe Beach. These includes DUKs, tracked troop carriers - LVTs and two amphibious tanks LVT4A. At 4 am a squall hit; the convoy attempted to make it to Stockton beach. The heavy LVT4as were swamped in deep water crew went onto other craft. In the disaster that ensued 12 of the 19 vehicles sank; many in the surf zone and 100 soldiers ended up in the water with 3 drowning. Stockton Surf Lifesavers were involved in the rescue.
This LVT4A was an ex-US Army tank used from 1944 in the Pacific theatre of WWII. Nicknamed the Water Buffalo it was armed with a 75 mm howitzer and a .5 caliber machine gun.
The LVT4A lies upright in 33 metres of water. It is about halfway up Stockton Beach a long ride from Newcastle Harbour. Live ammunition can still be seen in the turret.
It is a small oasis surrounded by an underwater desert of sand. Lots of small reef fish, morays and hermit crabs call the wreck home.
Stockton Breakwall Wrecks
The Durisdeer was a 989 ton 3 masted iron barquentine built in 1864 in Glasgow. It was on a voyage from Simon's Town South Africa with a crew of 18 when it ran aground on Stockton Beach. Crew were rescued.
The wreck lies on its port side in about 5 metres of water off Stockton Beach. Moving sand varies how much of the wreck is visible but the large iron masts point out to sea. It can be done as a boat dive on remaining gas or as a shore dive.
The entrance to Newcastle Harbour was dangerous when big seas came from the south. Sailing ships would lose wind because of Nobbies Island and would be washed onto the shallows on the northern side of the channel; the Oyster Bank. Over many years the number of wrecks on the Oyster Bank increased presenting even more dangers to shipping. Two boats the Elamang and Katoomba were deliberately grounded on the bank as part of the foundations of the Stockton Breakwall.
The illustration shows the relative positions of the main diveable wrecks on the Breakwall. The oldest of the wrecks the PS Cawarra which sank on 12th July 1866 with 60 deaths still one of Australia's greatest peacetime maritime disasters. Other vessels are SS Colonist 9th September 1894, SS Wendouree 20th July 1898, SS Lindus 4th June 1899 and the French barque Adolphe 20th July 1904. Further inshore the Regent Murray 7th April 1898 lies and is visible on dives on both sides of the breakwall.
These wrecks can be dived as a shore dive after a long walk along the Breakwall or as an easy boat dive. Being close to the river mouth high tide and a period of low rainfall are best for diving.
The piled wrecks make it a confusing dive, especially with poor visibility being common. Maximum depth is about 8 metres so it is just about always easy to surface to regain your bearings.
Thank you to the Newcastle Regional Maritime Museum for permission to use the graphics from Bar Dangerous by Terry Callen in this section on Stockton Breakwall wrecks.
The Davenport was a US ship carrying munitions for the war effort. It was built in 1912 by Kruse & Banks in Oregon USA. A 911 ton, 61 metre long timber steamer. On 10th October 1943 it caught fire in Newcastle Harbour. Because of the risk caused by its cargo, it was towed out of the harbour. It drifted into Stockton Bight where it sank in 12 metres in front of Stockton Surf Club.
The evidence of the inferno produced by the fire is evident on the wreck with pipework and machinery bent and fused together. The timber structure below the waterline has survived leaving many hide holds for the marine-life on the wreck.
55 metre Crane Barge
This crane barge sank whilst under tow in 1991. The tow tugboat sped up and the barge was swamped. Several salvage attempts failed and the barge is sitting upside down in 55 metres on sand. It is a twin-hulled barge.
Definitely a technical dive it's interesting to watch as marine life takes over the wreck.
The Berbice was a British cargo ship floundered off Stockton Beach on the night of 5th June 1888 with pounding seas. The crew was rescued by the Rocket Brigade who fired a rocket carrying a rope into the ship. The crew were rescue one by one using a Breeches buoy being dragged through the surf.
After many years buried under sand the wreck has uncovered in July 2018 and was first dived by us. Like the Durisdeer it can be reached from the beach or as a short dive after a boat dive. The wreck lies in 5 metres.