During a severe storm characterised by a wild south-easterly gale, the barque South Australian was violently ripped from its mooring and blown on to Black Reef, Encounter Bay, which it struck stern first.

The barque, a South Australian Company vessel, had been at anchor awaiting the arrival of another of the company’s ships, Solway. Once it had hit Black Reef, the South Australian was pushed over into the shallow water beyond, close to the shores of what today is Victor Harbour.

Interestingly, Solway wrecked close to South Australian two weeks later. Colonel William Light briefly surveyed the location, which at the time was a small community primarily involved in the whaling industry, and remarked on his chart that:

“This anchorage, I think is not fit for anything.”

South Australia's first known shipwreck.

Life began as a postal packet.

Marquis of Salisbury was laid down in 1817 at Little Falmouth (Flushing), United Kingdom by shipbuilder Richard Symons and the vessel was ready two years later. 236 tons, overall length 26.5m, beam 7.6m and draught of 1.8m. It served as a postal packet for 6 years. In 1824, it was bought by the Royal Navy, converted and renamed HMS Swallow which it remained until 1836 when it was sold to the South Australian Company.

It was once more refitted and renamed South Australian – now a colonisation vessel destined to assist in building the new settlement of South Australia. On its international voyage it carried skilled labourers and breeding stock including bulls, heifers, pigs, and goats.

Once it arrived in Australia, South Australian worked between Kangaroo Island and Rosetta Bay, resupplying the whaling stations there. It was, for a time, refitted as a ‘cutting in’ vessel, essentially an offshore whale oil processing platform but did go on to make one more return trip to Kangaroo Island before its wrecking.

Immediately after the wrecking event, the vessel was salvaged but the lower hold was flooded and nothing could be saved from it. The South Australian was then abandoned and left to the mercy of the sea.

As time passed, memory faded and the wreck was completely engulfed by the waters. The exact location was slowly forgotten. Some attempts were made in the 1990s to locate the wreck site, however they did not prove fruitful. In 2018, a collaborative venture between the Silentworld Foundation, South Australian Maritime Museum, South Australian Department for Environment and Water, Australian National Maritime Museum, MaP Fund and Flinders University, set out to locate the site. Armed with archival information as well as data from previous searches, a magnetometer and several metal detectors, the team walked, snorkeled and dived the assigned area. The shipwreck was located on the fifth day of fieldwork.

For the larger story on the life and times of the South Australian, visit the SA History Hub.

Lost for 180 years. Found 2018.