During a severe storm characterised by a wild south-easterly gale, the barque South Australian was violently ripped from its mooring and blown into 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, which was to take cargo held aboard the South Australian. Once it had hit Black Reef, the South Australian was pushed over and into the shallow water beyond, close to the shores of what is today Victor Harbour.

Interestingly, Solway also wrecked there, and fairly close to South Australian, as did one other vessel, the Perie. 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.”

It becameSouth Australia's first known shipwreck.

Life began as the postal packet Marquis of Salisbury.

Marquis of Salisbury was built at Little Falmouth (Flushing), United Kingdom by shipbuilder Richard Symons. The keel was laid down in 1817, and the vessel was ready for service two years later. It was a vessel of 236 tons, an overall length of 87 feet (26.5 metres), beam of 25 feet (7.6 metres) and draught of 6 feet (1.8 metres). It served as a postal packet for approximately 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.

HMS Swallow 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 also breeding stock including two Devon bulls, two Devon heifers, twenty pigs, and twenty Cashmere goats.

Once it arrived in Australia, South Australian worked between Kangaroo Island and Encounter Bay, resupplying the whaling stations at Rosetta Bay on the mainland. It was, at that 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. However, 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 over 180 years. Found 2018.