South Australia has over 3,OOO kilometres of coastline, deeply indented by two gulfs, Gulf St. Vincent and Spencer Gulf which are linked at their southern approaches by the waters of Investigator Strait. From the middle of last century Investigator Strait has played an important part in the trade and communications network of South Australia as a natural route for shipping.

Between 1849 and 1982, 26 vessels are known to have been wrecked in these waters, with the loss of more than 70 lives. Many of the wrecks are a haven for aquatic life and attract diving enthusiasts from around the world. Six land-based interpretive signs are located along the coastline to assist in the interpretation of the wrecks.

The shipwrecks along the trail were selected for various reasons: the strange and tragic circumstances surrounding their loss; their historical significance; or because they provide a fascinating underwater experience for beginners and advanced divers alike. A number of wrecks still await discovery.

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.

The shipwrecks included in the trail are as follows:

SS Clan Ranald (1900 – 1909) 

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 10' 03.7" South; Longitude 137° 37' 14.8" East

The Clan Ranald was a schooner rigged single screw steamer built in England in 1900, as a two deck turret ship. The turret ship was a popular design around 1900 as it was considered a seaworthy and economical design for carrying bulk grain cargoes. The sinking of the Clan Ranald is considered one of the worst maritime disasters in South Australia.

On 31 January 1909 the Clan Ranald departed Port Adelaide fully loaded, with a crew of 64. The cargo consisted of wheat, flour and coal. At 2pm the ship was south of Troubridge Island when it suddenly lurched onto its starboard side at a 45 degree angle. The crew rushed on deck, where they found the rudder out of the water and the starboard deck submerged. Within hours the Clan Ranald capsized and sank about 700 metres from the rocky cliffs. Many men were sucked under the water and drowned. Others reached shore only to be dashed against jagged rocks and cliffs. Of the 40 men who perished, 36 bodies were later recovered and are buried in Edithburgh cemetery.

The anchor of the Clan Ranald, which was discovered by local divers in 1974, is now permanently located in the street gardens opposite the local museum.

Ethel (1876 – 1904)

GPS Plot (taken from cliff top above the site): Latitude 35° 16' 11.2" South; Longitude 136° 50' 38.3" East

The barque Ethel was built in 1876 in England. On 2 January 1904 the Ethel entered Investigator Strait bound for Port Adelaide. It was intended to pass south of Althorpe Island, but due to poor visibility, the course was actually closer to Cape Spencer. The Ethel struck a reef which damaged the rudder and left the vessel at the mercy of wind and waves. In the darkness the Ethel was driven broadside onto a small beach. One of the crew, 19 year old Leonard Sterneson, bravely volunteered to swim ashore with a line but was drowned in the powerful surf.

At daylight with an ebbing tide, the crew were able to easily walk ashore. Help arrived soon after the SS Ferret, heading towards Port Adelaide, saw the stranded ship and reported the wreck to the lighthouse keeper on Troubridge Island.

A salvage attempt was made to refloat the vessel. Lines were attached to the virtually undamaged Ethel, and the vessel was dragged into deeper water. Unfortunately a south westerly blew up; the Ethel broke free and was flung onto the beach again, this time with a broken keel. It was then abandoned for good.

The remains of the wreck can still be seen on the beach in Innes National Park. Not much is visible now, but occasionally during winter storms the sand will be washed away, leaving a magnificent sight of the remaining iron frames.

The anchor of the Ethel is located on the cliffs above the beach. Stairs and a boardwalk have been constructed, allowing access to the beach.

SS Ferret (1871 – 1920) 

GPS Plot (taken from cliff top above the site): Latitude 35° 16' 13.5" South; Longitude 136° 50' 39.5" East

The history of the Ferret contains colour and coincidence. The schooner rigged steamship was built for the Scottish Coastal trade in 1871. The vessel was stolen in 1880 by confidence tricksters and arrived at Port Phillip in Victoria under the false name of SS India. It was recognised by a newly arrived Scottish policeman and seized in dramatic circumstances. Restored to its original name, the vessel eventually operated up the west coast of Yorke Peninsula, and was a familiar sight in the Spencer Gulf ports for over 30 years.

On 13th November the SS Ferret left Port Adelaide bound for Port Victoria, with a cargo of beer, wine, whiskey, timber, petrol, engines, bricks, iron and other sundries. At about 3am the next morning as the Ferret approached Althorpe Island it was enveloped in a dense fog. Althorpe Lighthouse and other surroundings were lost from view. When the fog showed no signs of lifting, the vessel changed course to pass south of the Althorpe group of islands. In the belief they had passed clear of Althorpe and Cape Spencer the course was changed to north-east. At 5.35am breakers were reported close to the starboard bow and the engines reversed, but it was too late.

The vessel ran ashore not more than 200 metres from the wreck of the Ethel. The irony of this event was that it was the SS Ferret which first saw the stranded Ethel back in 1904 and raised the alarm that led to the rescue of the crew. Attempts by the crew to attach a line to the Ethel resulted in one boat capsizing, but they eventually succeeded and all 22 crew made it safely ashore. The cargo, mostly alcohol, was washed up on the beach, much to the delight of the locals.

The partially buried boiler of the Ferret can be seen on the same beach as the Ethel.

Hougomont (1897 – 1933)

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 16' 58.4" South; Longitude 136° 56' 36.2" East

The four masted barque Hougomont was built in 1897 in Scotland. After an eventful career, having been aground on two occasions, once posted as missing, and once partially dismasted, the Hougomont was laid by for three years until 1924 when it was purchased by Captain Gustav Erikson of Finland. In 1982 the vessel was again dismasted off the Portuguese coast while bound for Melbourne.

On 20 April 1932, the Hougomont was 111 days out from London, bound for Port Lincoln. The ship was struck by a squall of terrific intensity with winds estimated to be in the vicinity of 100 km/h. Without warning the steel foremast, some three feet in diameter at deck level, snapped off just above the deck. With it came the whole of the mainmast, the mizzen topmast and top gallant, the top half of the jig topmast and two sailors, who escaped without injury. The crew managed to free the vessel of its useless spars and achieved control with a jury rig. It limped into Port Adelaide nineteen days later.

The owners of the Hougomont decided that the cost of repairs was too great, and a decision was made to scuttle it. After being stripped of all useful fittings the Hougomont was towed to Stenhouse Bay on 8 January 1933 where it was positioned south-west of the jetty and sunk with explosives to provide a breakwater for vessels loading gypsum.

SS Marion (1854 – 1862) 

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 17' 17.1" South; Longitude 136° 55' 18.4" East

The schooner rigged, single screw steamer Marion was built in 1854 in Scotland, and imported for the Hobart – Melbourne passenger trade. In 1857 it was sold to South Australian interests for the Port Adelaide – Port Lincoln trade. The SS Marion started the first regular steam shipping service from Adelaide to Yorke Peninsula, Port Augusta and Port Lincoln. In 1861 the SS Lubra was also placed into service and the SS Marion was confined to the Port Augusta and Wallaroo run.

On 11th July 1862 the SS Marion was on route from Adelaide to Wallaroo with 15 crew and 35 passengers on board. The night was clear with moonlight and smooth water. After passing Troubridge Point, the vessel travelled towards Althorpe Island. A mist developed and visibility was greatly reduced. The mate went forward to keep a look-out but could see nothing until breakers were seen ahead. The engines were put full astern but it was too late, the vessel was already in the breaking surf and the bow struck the shore at about 5am. Passengers and crew reached the shore without incident. The next morning the SS Lubra was passing and noticed the distress fire lit by the castaways. The group was rescued and taken to Port Adelaide.

The SS Marion was wrecked near Marion Bay, a circumstance that often given rise to the mistaken belief that it gave its name to the place. Marion Bay was in fact so named because some of the survivors of the wrecked immigrant ship Marion were landed there after their vessel had struck a reef near Troubridge Shoal in 1851.

SS Pareora (1896 – 1919) 

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 21' 50.3" South; Longitude 136° 51' 22.6" East

The screw steamer Pareora was built in 1896 in England, and was originally named Breeze. It was renamed Pareora in 1900 when purchased by the New Zealand Shipping Company. A few months prior to its loss the Pareora was purchased by the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia to convey zinc from Port Pirie to Hobart and return with Tasmanian timber.

The Pareora left Port Pirie on 16th September 1919 bound for Hobart. Shortly after departing, the steamer grounded and stuck fast on a sand bank for twelve hours. This did not augur well for a trouble free journey.

At around 4am on 18 September, the Pareora stuck the outlying rock off the north side of Althorpe Island, known locally as The Monument. The tremendous power of the waves quickly broke the vessel up, shearing off the stern section. The crew had difficulty freeing the life boats and with the vessel foundering the men either jumped or were washed overboard. It was a terrifying struggle for survival.

Three of the survivors washed overboard were swept toward the cutter Zephyr which was anchored safely a short distance away. They hung onto the sides of the cutter and cried out until the crew awoke. Once alerted, the cutter heroically rescued seven survivors in dangerous conditions. The master and ten other crew members were killed. A cross erected on Althorpe Island marks their graves.

SS Willyama (1897 – 1907) 

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 15" 09.7" South; Longitude 136° 58' 38.9" East

The schooner rigged, screw steamer Willyama was built in 1897 in England.

On 12 April 1907 the Willyama was on a voyage from Newcastle NSW to Port Pirie with a cargo of coal. All went well until the vessel reached Investigator Strait. The Captain left the deck in charge of the Third Officer and went for a lie down. The Third Officer was relieved by the Second Officer at midnight, and was instructed to call the Captain when the Althorpe Island light was sighted. The weather was showery and hazy, and in the gloom the crew on watch failed to notice the lighthouse. The Captain was called at 3.20am and the Second Officer pointed out Rhino Head and the Little Althorpes. As the vessel closed in on Rhino Head the Captain recognised the danger but it was too late. The vessel struck a reef and sank off Penguin Point in Marion Bay. There was no immediate danger to those on board and all were safely landed.

Yatala Reef (1948 – 1981) 

GPS Plot: Latitude 35° 07' 07.2" South; Longitude 136° 29' 22.9" East

The single screw motor vessel Yatala Reef was built in 1948 in Victoria for the RAAF. It was originally named Challenge, and was built to carry supplies to coastal landing strips in Papua New Guinea and the surrounding islands. In the design of the vessel provisions were made to carry twin Vickers machine guns on either side of one of the masts and an anti-aircraft gun behind the wheelhouse.

In the 1950's the vessel was purchased and recommissioned. It was engaged on government surveys to search the Australian coast for areas of prawn trawling potential, successfully proving many grounds. Sold again in 1963, the vessel was brought to Port Lincoln where it was engaged for many years in the tuna and prawn fishery. It was during this period that the vessel was renamed Yatala Reef.

On the evening of 21 December 1981 the Yatala Reef was moored off Port Moorowie. It was on a voyage from Port Pirie to Port Adelaide to undergo repairs to its refrigeration system. A fire started in the engine room of the vessel. Despite the efforts of the crew, it could not be brought under control, and they had to abandon ship in two life-boats. Strong winds drove the flames and three explosions were heard. The vessel sank shortly after.


Visitor Information

Yorke Peninsula Council acknowledges the Narungga (traditionally spelled Nharangga) people, the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Yorke Peninsula and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Yorke Peninsula Visitor Information
8 Elizabeth Street, Maitland, South Australia 5573
T: 1800 202 445   E:


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