Wreck DiveWreck Dive | Boat access

Inside Port Phillip Marine Park - No Fishing Open Water Rated Reef Dive Site Slack Water Wreck Dive Site

Steamer | Max Depth: 9 metres (30 feet)

Depth: 3 metres (9.84 feet) to 9 metres (30 feet)

Level: Open Water and beyond.

The SS Campbell was on a voyage from Sydney to Melbourne on 23 August 1949 when the steering failed and the vessel struck Corsair Rock attempting to enter Port Phillip. The Campbell shipwreck lies at the extreme western end of the Nepean Reef dive site, under and just to the north of Campbell Rock.

The Campbell was a steel screw steam-powered whaling vessel, 135 tons gross with the dimensions 98.3 x 19.1 x 11.4 feet (30 x 5.8 x 3.5 metres). Built in 1911 by Nylands Voerkstad of Christiana, Norway, it had a single deck, six compartments and used water ballast . The three cylinders of its triple-expansion steam-engine, also made by Nylands Voerkstad, had the measurements of 11.5, 18.5 and 31 inches with a 22-inch stroke, producing 63 nominal horsepower (indicated horsepower 370). It was owned by Kristian, Nielsen & Co. of Laurvig, managed by agents C. Monsen & Co. and was registered to the port of Tonsberg, Norway.

On her final voyage, commanded by its master Olle Olsen, and with eight crew, the Campbell had left Sydney for Albany with its sister ship the Sorrel. At night, in moderate weather but with a heavy sea, they were still in convoy when engine trouble 15 miles off the Heads made Captain Olsen decide to make for Melbourne for repairs. With no pilot, though in the correct channel, the Campbell was steaming through the Heads at 8 knots (15 kpm) when the current in the Rip set the vessel off course. It was headed for Point Nepean and, seeing white water, Captain Olsen immediately ordered full speed astern when a large wave swept the vessel on to the reef. With large waves crashing over the decks, the crew at first attempted to launch the ship's lifeboat, but this proved impossible. Launching a small dinghy known as a pram by Norwegians, five crew had embarked when a large wave crushed it against the side of the hull of the whaler, staving it in. The crew on deck watched helplessly as their shipmates were swept into the darkness by a current. The remaining four crew then attempted again to launch the lifeboat, and this time a wave assisted their efforts by washing the boat off the deck. They began searching for their crewmates, believing they were in the water after the pram had been wrecked. After three hours of searching they were unsuccessful and, at daybreak, were eventually picked up by the pilot steamer Alvina and landed at Queenscliff.

Meanwhile, the crew in the pram had taken off most of their articles of clothing to plug up the holes in the boat and had returned to the wreck to pick up their crewmates, when they saw the lifeboat swept off the deck. They tried to come in on the back beach down the coast but were unable to get ashore due to the large surf, eventually making it to the Queenscliff pier in an exhausted state. Captain Olsen was to say later that it was amazing that no one had drowned; the only death was that of his beloved terrier. He also criticised the officer at the Queenscliff fort who would not let his scantily dressed and shivering sailors in, believing as they could not speak English they were foreigners endeavouring to enter the fort surreptitiously.

See also, Australian National Shipwreck Database: SS Campbell, and
Heritage Council Victoria: SS Campbell.

Warning: Any shipwreck or shipwreck relic that is 75 years or older is protected by legislation. Other items of maritime heritage 75 years or older are also protected by legislation. Activities such as digging for bottles, coins or other artefacts that involve the disturbance of archaeological sites may be in breach of the legislation, and penalties may apply. The legislation requires the mandatory reporting to Heritage Victoria as soon as practicable of any archaeological site that is identified. See Maritime heritage. Anyone with information about looting or stolen artefacts should call Heritage Victoria on (03) 7022 6390, or send an email to

The Rip and the Tides

Vital to an understanding of Port Phillip Heads and the Rip is the fact that Port Phillip covers an area of 1950 square kilometres and has a volume of 25 cubic kilometres, 4 per cent of which volume (one cubic kilometre) is exchanged with Bass Strait on every tide. This large volume of water and the narrow entrance at the Heads results in a unique tidal phenomenon, where there can be water going out even though the tide is coming in, and vice versa.

Port Phillip Heads Tide Sequence
Port Phillip Heads Tide Sequence | Source: Heritage Victoria
As the incoming and outgoing tides are forced to squeeze in and out every six hours through the narrow three-kilometre-wide entrance guarded by Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, they give rise to a constant and strong incoming or outgoing current that can flow at a rate of between four and eight knots. The incoming tide is known as the flood tide, and the outgoing tide is known as the ebb tide. For example, as water fills up Port Phillip on an incoming tide, it will still be flooding in even as the tide in Bass Strait begins to ebb, until the sea level in Bass Strait reaches an equal height to the water in Port Phillip. When the sea level of Port Phillip and Bass Strait between high and low tides reaches equilibrium, the tidal current flow is temporarily stilled before it reverses direction. This period between changes in tidal flow is known as slack water, which usually lasts around 20 minutes, but can be more or less depending on conditions.

However, there is usually enough wind chop or groundswell from the constantly travelling cold fronts that sweep through Bass Strait to ensure that this area rarely exhibits 'millpond' conditions. Diving the slack water sites around the Heads and in the Rip usually requires patience and timing, waiting until the weather conditions are suitable.

The Rip can, at times, take on the appearance of a giant washing machine, especially when the wind and the tide are in opposition. For example, with an onshore south-westerly wind and on outgoing ebb tide, the result is a stream of steep, choppy waves with no apparent pattern or order. These waves can reach huge proportions, sometimes breaking all the way across from Point Lonsdale to Point Nepean in south-westerly gales. Viewed from the air the area of water affected by the Rip, even on a calm day, can be clearly seen as a confused choppy stream that can extend up to three kilometres out into Bass Strait. Whirlpools and eddy currents add to the confusion, and it is amazing that more sailing vessels were not wrecked as even today modern powered vessels can encounter serious difficulty in the Rip. Incidents involving recreational craft occur on a weekly basis.

The incoming flood tide tends to flow in from the west over Lonsdale Reel while the outgoing ebb tide flows out and around Point Nepean eastwards towards Cape Schanck. A typical pattern, for example, is that a vessel attempting to enter or leave Port Phillip on an ebb tide will end up in (or on) the Nepean Reef area, having been forced by the set of the current in that direction.

The Rip History

Between 1901 and 1987 the Port of Melbourne Authority (PMA), now known as the Victorian Channels Authority (VCA), undertook blasting operations to widen and deepen areas in the Rip to make the navigable entrance safer by removing pinnacles to make the channels a consistent depth.

One such pinnacle is 'Lightning Rock', which nearly claimed the famous Black Ball Line wooden clipper ship Lightning. Claimed to be fastest wooden ship ever built, on a homeward voyage to England in 1862 the Lightning struck an uncharted rock in The Rip just outside the Heads. The holds were inspected but no leaks were apparent, so the voyage was resumed. However by the time the Lightning had reached the Cape of Good Hope, it became necessary for the crew to continually operate the pumps until its arrival in Liverpool, whereupon a six foot pinnacle of rock which was beginning to work itself loose was removed from the hull. The damage was repaired but the Lightning was eventually destroyed by fire in Corio Bay, Geelong in 1869.

A concentrated effort to deepen the main 1,000 feet (305 metres) wide shipping channel to a consistent 43 feet (13 metres) depth occurred between the 1930s and 1950s using depth charges, while the use of divers to more accurately place explosive charges on targeted outcrops occurred from the 1970s onwards.

See also, Diving in Melbourne Currents.

Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park

This site lies in the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park. The park is made up of six separate marine areas around the southern end of Port Phillip: Swan Bay, Mud Islands, Point Lonsdale, Point Nepean, Popes Eye, and Portsea Hole.

Thirty-one of the 120 shipwrecks known to have occurred within a 10 nautical mile radius of Port Phillip Heads are thought to be within the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park in Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean.

Aboriginal tradition indicates that the Bellarine Peninsula side of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park is part of Country of the Wathaurung people, and the Mornington Peninsula side, including Mud Islands, is part of Country of the Boon Wurrung people.

See also, Parks Victoria: Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park,
Park Note: Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park (Adobe PDF | 460.64 KB),
Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park - Map (Adobe PDF | 1.23 MB),
Divers Guide - Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park (Adobe PDF | 7.72 MB),
Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park Identification Booklet (Adobe PDF | 16.34 MB), and
Taxonomic Toolkit for the Marine Life of Port Phillip Bay.

Port Phillip Heads Bathymetry
Port Phillip Heads Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria
Point Lonsdale Bathymetry
Point Lonsdale Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria
Point Nepean Bathymetry
Point Nepean Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria
Popes Eye Bathymetry
Popes Eye Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria
Portsea Hole Bathymetry
Portsea Hole Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria
Mud Islands Bathymetry
Mud Islands Bathymetry
Source: Parks Victoria

The GPS Marks for this dive site are known to not be accurate.


Campbell Location Map

Latitude: 38° 18.000′ S   (38.3° S / 38° 18′ S)
Longitude: 144° 38.400′ E   (144.64° E / 144° 38′ 24″ E)

Datum: WGS84 | Google Map
Added: 2020-05-17 05:28:26 GMT, Last updated: 2021-04-13 09:14:44 GMT
Source: Australian National Shipwreck Database
Nearest Neighbour: Trimix Corner, 82 m, bearing 241°, WSW
Port Phillip Heads.
Steamer, 135 ton.
Sunk: 13 June 1914.
Depth: 3 to 9 m.

DISCLAIMER: No claim is made by The Scuba Doctor as to the accuracy of the dive site coordinates listed here. Should anyone decide to use these GPS marks to locate and dive on a site, they do so entirely at their own risk. Always verify against other sources.

The marks come from numerous sources including commercial operators, independent dive clubs, reference works, and active divers. Some are known to be accurate, while others may not be. Some GPS marks may even have come from maps using the AGD66 datum, and thus may need be converted to the WGS84 datum. To distinguish between the possible accuracy of the dive site marks, we've tried to give each mark a source of GPS, Google Earth, or unknown.

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