Empress of the Sea

Wreck DiveWreck Dive | Boat access

Inside Port Phillip Open Water Rated Wreck Dive Site

Three Masted, Square Rigged, Wooden Sailing Clipper | Max Depth: 7 metres (23 feet)

The Empress of the Sea was a magnificent three masted, square rigged, wooden sailing clipper ship built in Boston, USA. The Empress of the Sea is historically and archaeologically significant as it was one of Donald Mackay's famous wooden clipper ships, i.e. representative of a particular design or type. It was also associated with both the Black Ball and White Star Lines of Australian Packets, which carried thousands of immigrants from Britain to Australia.

Diving the Empress of the Sea

The remains of the 130 year olf wreck of the Empress of the Sea are very fragile. Despite the nature of the site with its large timbers, massive tanks, chains and anchors, the wreck can be easily damaged particularly by boats fropping anchor directly on the wreck and divers carelessly pulling at timber and relics


The Empress of the Sea lies in 5 metres (16 feet) to 7 metres (23 feet) of water, 700 metres (2,297 feet) offshore from Nepean Bay, Port Phillop. The site covers an area 150 metres (492 feet) long and 50 metres (164 feet) wide. The bow lies towards the south-west.

Two large mounds of bluestone ballast rock (rounded river rock) lie to the north and south of the site. Protruding from these mounds are paired hull frames, remains of outer hull planking and the protective copper sheathing of the ship's hull.

Near the middle of the site, divers can see three large rectangular iron tanks and the ship's keel. Approsimately thirty-five metres forward of the tanks divers can see a large chain mound, another iron tank and an a nchor marking the bow of the ship. There are also a few iron buckets at the bow.

An information plinth put on the site by the Maritime Archaeology Unit can be found on the starboard side of the wreck adjacent to the three water tanks.

Empress of the Sea Dive Site Map
Empress of the Sea Dive Site Map | © Victorian Archaeological Survey

The site can be subject to strong tidal flow and divers should consult a tide book for Port Phillip before diving. As the wreck site is large and spread out, a good way of exploring the wreck is on a drift dive, however care must be taken because of the site's proximity to the Heads.

Empress of the Sea History

The Empress of the Sea caught fire at Queenscliff at 4 am on 19 December 1861. When the officer of the watch attempted to extinguish the fire they found fire pump handles missing and buckets ineffective. Fire became out of control and the ship was sailed from anchorage and ran ashore at Point Nepean. Ship rolled over onto starbouar side by force of the tide and the shifting ballast. The port side was burnt to the copper.

See also, Australian National Shipwreck Database: Empress of the Sea,
Heritage Council Victoria: Empress of the Sea, and
Dive Information Sheet: Empress of the Sea (1853-1861) (Adobe PDF | 621.06 KB).

Latitude: 38° 18.050′ S   (38.300833° S / 38° 18′ 3″ S)
Longitude: 144° 39.613′ E   (144.660217° E / 144° 39′ 36.78″ E)

Datum: WGS84 | Google Map
Added: 2012-07-22 01:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2020-05-17 04:55:10 GMT
Source: Book - Shipwrecks Around Port Phillip Heads GPS (verified)
Nearest Neighbour: Nepean Reef, 30 m, bearing 308°, NW
Three masted square rigged wooden clipper, 2200 ton.
Built: Boston, Massachusetts, 1853.
Sunk: 19 December 1861.
Depth: 5 to 7 m.
Dive only on: SWF, SWE, Flood.

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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