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Wardang Island, sacred to the local Nharangga Aboriginal people and known as Waralti forms a natural breakwater against the south-westerlies which buffet the western coast of Yorke Peninsula, and provides a suitable anchorage for vessels of various size using Port Victoria. The value of Wardang Island as a breakwater was offset by the hazard it presented to shipping. As a low lying island it was difficult to see, but perhaps more hazardous were the dust storms. Early tilling of the farmland for planting combined with strong winds creating huge dust storms, which blew out into Spencer Gulf often reducing visibility to mere metres.

Port Victoria on the west coast of Yorke Peninsula, was an important trading port in the early 1900s and was one of the last Australian ports to see large square-rigged sailing vessels operate on a commercial basis. The last 'Grain Race' from Australia to Britain began from Port Victoria in 1949.

Wardang Island, eight kilometres off Port Victoria in Spencer Gulf, has at least thirteen known shipwrecks in the area, eight of which has been located within 10 miles of each other and forms the Wardang Island Maritime Heritage Trail.

Of the eight wrecks featured in this trail the Monarch, S.S. Australian, S.S. Investigator, MacIntyre and Moorara were small local schooners and coastal steamers used to carry wheat and other cargo to Port Victoria from outlying areas, and to ferry wheat from the jetty to the larger vessels at anchor. The Aagot, Notre Dame D'Arvor and Songvaar were three masted square-riggers which carried the grain overseas.

The Wardang Island Maritime Heritage Trail includes plaques adjacent to each of the eight shipwrecks and six land-based interpretive signs located at Port Victoria. The wrecks can be explored in clear shallow waters making it ideal for novice shipwreck divers.

Please dive, photograph and explore these shipwrecks if you wish, but do not interfere with them by disturbing or removing anything from them, or by anchoring into the remains.  Shipwrecks are protected under Historic Shipwrecks legislation. The Historic Shipwrecks Act aims to ensure that historic shipwrecks are protected for their heritage values and maintained for recreational, scientific and educational purposes. It also seeks to control actions which may result in damage, interference, removal or destruction of an historic shipwreck or associated relic. Divers can use wreck sites for recreational purposes but relics must not be removed from the wreck site and the physical fabric of the wreck must not be disturbed, unless a permit has been obtained.

Aagot (1882 - 1907)

The Aagot was originally known as the Firth of Clyde and was built as a three masted iron barque at Glasgow in 1882.

During the early morning of 12 October 1907 the Aagot grounded on rocks on the western side of Wardang Island. Rough seas imprisoned the crew on board until the ebb tide moderated conditions and allowed a member of the crew to swim ashore with line. After reaching the shore the crew used one of the ship's boats to cross to Port Victoria.

Monarch (1871 – 1909)

The Monarch was a three masted wooden schooner built in Queensland in 1871. It is the oldest of the vessels in this trail.

The Monarch left Port Victoria at about 5am on 1 April 1909 bound for Cowell, with a crew of six and no cargo. While trying to sail around the southern part of Wardang Island and heard northwards, the vessel failed to tack and an anchor had to be dropped to try and stop it from being swept onto the rocks. The anchor would not hold and the southerly tide and swell drove it onto the rocks where it soon became a total wreck.

Songvaar (1884 – 1912)

The Songvaar was formerly known as the Barcore and was built as a three masted iron ship in England in 1884. The Songvaar sank on the same day as the Titanic but unlike that disaster, the story was not tragic in terms of human loss.

Whilst at anchor between Point Pearce and Wardang Island the Songvaar's captain was ashore arranging clearance, leaving the vessel fully loaded. On board the chief mate saw dark clouds on the horizon and dropped a second anchor in preparation for a storm. The storm blew out, the tide dropped and the Songvaar sat onto the second anchor, which pierced the hull just behind the foremast. With decks awash and the wheat swelling, the Songvaar settled "peacefully and quietly on the bottom" (Chronicle, April 20 1912) standing fully upright. Several salvage attempts failed and the vessel remained upright for eight years until it was damaged by a storm. It was subsequently demolished with explosives as it had become a hazard to shipping.

SS Australian (1879 – 1912)

The Australian was a schooner-rigged iron screw steamer and was built in Scotland in 1879.

The Australian worked as a coaster carrying wheat from South Australian outports. On its final voyage the vessel was carrying 3,300 bags of wheat from Elliston on Eyre Peninsula to Port Victoria. During a blinding sand storm on 8 May 1912 the Australian struck the south-eastern corner of Wardang Island.

SS Investigator (1882 – 1918)

The Investigator was a three masted schooner rigged iron screw steamer built in Scotland in 1882.

On a voyage from Port Pirie to Port Victoria with a cargo of about 180 tonnes of superphosphate the vessel grounded on rocks to the south-west of Wardang Island during the early morning of 24 April 1918. A Marine Board enquiry cleared the mate of any blame, because of the inaccuracy of the chart. However his certificate was suspended for three months as he did not notify the captain when the vessel was approaching the island light. Although the sea was calm at the time of the wrecking, it later increased and prevented salvage of the vessel.

Notre Dame D'Arvor (1902 – 1920)

The Notre Dame D'Arvor was a three masted steel barque built in France in 1902.

After sailing from France in ballast to load wheat at Port Victoria the captain was looking for a suitable place to anchor as he approached Wardang Island during the evening of 20 March 1920. The vessel grounded on the rocks on the south-western corner of the island. It was claimed that this was because the Wardang Island light was inaccurately placed on the chart in use.

Attempts to tow the vessel off failed, and an accidental fire on board a few months later totally gutted it. The intact hull, masts and some yards remained upright for ten years before they broke down. Two small sections of the bow and stern of the vessel can be seen at low tide.

MacIntyre (1877 – 1927)

The MacIntyre was originally built as an iron barge at Echuca in Victoria in 1877 was used on the River Murray until 1902, when it was altered to a three masted schooner. An auxiliary engine was fitted in 1915.

The MacIntyre was outward bound from Port Victoria after having topped up its cargo of wheat which had been loaded at Port Rickaby. The vessel reportedly struck a rock on the south end of Wardang Island at midnight on 1 April 1927.

Moorara (1909 – 1975)

The Moorara was originally built in 1909 as a composite barge at Echuca in Victoria and used on the River Murray.

After its conversion into a sailing / auxiliary motor vessel, the Moorara was used as a local coaster and as a 'lighter' to ferry wheat from the Port Victoria jetty to the larger vessels waiting at the anchorage. Towards the end of its career the Moorara carried water and supplies to Wardang Island. On 25 August 1975 while at anchor off Wardang Island the vessel sank during a 'blow'.

 

Navigational buoys have been installed near the following shipwrecks. Only one vessel can be made fast at any time. Mariners are advised to anchor well away from the wrecks, and vessels should be manned by appropriate crew at all times when moored or anchored.

Songvaar (1884 - 1912) - GPS Plot: Latitude 34° 27' 34.8" South; Longitude 137° 23' 15.8" East. The mooring is 15m from the wreck on the north-west side, in water depth of 8m. The buoy can be approached from all directions. The site can be affected by strong flood and ebb tides.

SS Investigator (1882 - 1918) - GPS Plot: Latitude 34° 31' 36.5" South; Longitude 137° 20' 05.0" East. The mooring is 15m from the wreck on the north-west side, in water depth of 5m. Generally approach the buoy from the north-west. Depending on tides some sections of the wreck are elevated to just below the water surface. The site can be afected by large swells and waves breaking over the wreck and reef, as well as by strong flood and ebb tides.

SS Australian (1879 - 1912) - GPS Plot: Latitude 34° 32' 04.3" South; Longitude 137° 21' 15.9" East. The mooring is 15m from the wreck on the south-east side, in water depth of 8m. Generally approach the buoy from the south-east. Site can be affected by large swells and saves breaking over reef and rocks.

MacIntyre (1877 - 1927) - GPS Plot: Latitude 34° 32' 04.8" South; Longitude 137° 21' 59.0" East. The mooring is 10m from the wreck on the north-east side, in water depth of 8m. Generally approach the buoy from the north-east. Depending on tides the reef and bow sections of the wreck are lying in less than 2m of water. Site can be affected by large swells and saves breaking over the reef.

Moorara (1909 - 1975) - GPS Plot: Latitude 34° 28' 40.0" South; Longitude 137° 23' 03.0" East. The mooring is 10m from the wreck on the east side, in water depth of 4m. Generally approach the buoy from the east. Depending on tides some sections of the wreck are elevated to just under the water surface.

Other wrecks in the trail do not have mooring buoys - these are the Aagot (1882 - 1907), the Monarch (1871 - 1909), and the Notre Dame D'Avor (1902 - 1920).

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