Wreck Dive | Shore access
Level: Open Water and beyond.
The magnificent four masted barque, Holyhead became quite a local attraction after it wrecked on Point Lonsdale Reef in February 1890. As news of the disaster spread, huge crowds gathered at Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff to gaze at the ship with its sails flapping in the wind. As one newspaper reported:
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, but yesterday's wind blew good luck to the cabmen of Queenscliff. They are reaping great benefits as half of Queenscliff appears to be on the rocks a gazing at the wreck".
The Holyhead was built in 1889 and wrecked on its maiden voyage. It's historically and archaeologically significant as an example of an A1 classified ship from a renowned Liverpool shipyard, R. J. Evans & Co., Liverpool, England.
The wreck of the Holyhead lies to the west and seaward of Point Lonsdale Reef, near the George Roper. The wreckage extends for approximately 100 metres.
At the stern divers can see the ship's steering gear including the ships rudder and rudder post. The rudder has broken in two: an upright portion survives with the remainder of the rudder blade, post and steering gear lying on the site to the port side of the shipwreck. The is also some iron hull plating scattered around this part of the wreck site.
Along the bottom of the wreck, the ship's floors, the keelson, side keelson, frames and iron hull plating can be seen. Divers swimming between midships and the bow should find a stack of slate and railway iron, remains of some of the ship's cargo.
Towards the bow, just beyond the winch, the wreck becomes much more scattered and extends for another 36 metres with mast stumps, a mast cap, yards, windlass, hull structure and a bollard. A significant feature of the site is the windless.
On the starboard side of the wreck more slate cargo lies scattered in a hole in the reef.
The site is in an area of heavy surge. It is a highly oxygenated white water zone. There is strong surge on the site. As this site is tidal. it's best to dive between the end of the ebb and start of the flood tide.
See WillyWeather (Rip Bank) as a guide for the tide times and the height of the tide.
The Rip & Tides Warning: Always keep an eye on sea conditions throughout any shore or boat dive within "The Rip" (aka "The Heads"). This is a dangerous stretch of water, where Bass Straight meets Port Phillip, which has claimed many ships and lives. Please read the warnings on the web page diving-the-rip before diving or snorkelling this site.
Bass Strait Warning: Always keep an eye on sea conditions throughout any shore or boat dive in Bass Strait on Victoria's coastline. Please read the warnings on the web page diving-in-bass-strait before diving or snorkelling this site.
The Holyhead left Liverpool on its maiden voyage on 28 November 1889, bound for Melbourne, a new A1 classified ship intended for the India trade. It had on board a cargo valued at 60,000 pounds, with a crew of 51, under the command of Captain Thomas Williams. After a quick passage of 74 days, Cape Otway was sighted on 12 February 1890, and the vessel arrived off Port Phillip Heads the same day. The Holyhead endeavoured to signal for a pilot, but was unsuccessful.
The first mate, John Roberts, who was in charge at the time, headed in. There was no reef marked on the chart off Point Lonsdale and he thought their course was clear. The weather was very hazy, and the wind was fresh. He saw some signals hoisted on Point Lonsdale, and was just trying to make them out when the Holyhead struck the reef at about 3.30 pm on 12 February 1890. The wind at the time was blowing from the south-east, with a heavy sea running.
Within 10 minutes, 7 ft (2.13 m) of water was in the hold. The lookout station at Queenscliff summoned a lifeboat which, in heavy swell against the tide, reached the wreck at 4.45 pm. Two trips removed the crew, except for two who stayed on board.
At the subsequent Ccourt of Inquiry, the master of the Holyhead, Captain Thomas Williams, was found guilty of gross misconduct and had his master's certificate suspended for two years. The first mate, John Roberts, was also found guilty of gross misconduct and had his master's certificate suspended for a period of 18 months.
See also, Heritage Council Victoria: Holyhead,
Australian National Shipwreck Database: Holyhead,
Dive Information Sheet: Holyhead (1889-1890), and
The Lonsdale Wrecks in "Shore Dives of Victoria" by Ian Lewis, 3rd edition pages 54–55.
This vessel is one of the many historic shipwrecks included in Victoria's shipwreck-discovery-trail. Qualified divers can explore the wrecks of old wooden clippers, iron steamships and cargo and passenger vessels located along the coast and in Port Phillip. Some of these wreck dives are suitable for beginners, even snorkellers, while other wrecks require the skills and experience of advanced divers.
Heritage 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 email@example.com.
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,
Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park - Map,
Divers Guide - Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park,
Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park Identification Booklet, and
Taxonomic Toolkit for the Marine Life of Port Phillip Bay.
You are not permitted to carry a spear gun while snorkelling or scuba diving in Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park.
Traditional Owners — This dive site is in the traditional Country of the Wathaurong (Wadda-Warrung) people of the Kulin Nation. This truly ancient Country includes the coastline of Port Phillip, from the Werribee River in the north-east, the Bellarine Peninsula, and down to Cape Otway in the south-west. We wish to acknowledge the Wathaurong as Traditional Owners. We pay respect to their Ancestors and their Elders, past, present and emerging. We acknowledge Bunjil the Creator Spirit of this beautiful land, who travels as an eagle, and Waarn, who protects the waterways and travels as a crow, and thank them for continuing to watch over this Country today and beyond.
Holyhead Location Map
Latitude: 38° 17.715′ S (38.29525° S / 38° 17′ 42.9″ S)
Longitude: 144° 36.911′ E (144.615183° E / 144° 36′ 54.66″ E)
Datum: WGS84 | Google Map | Get directions
Added: 2012-07-22 09:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2022-05-14 09:57:16 GMT
Source: Book - Shipwrecks Around Port Phillip Heads GPS (verified)
Nearest Neighbour: George Roper, 31 m, bearing 332°, NNW
Four-Masted Iron Barque, 2237 ton.
Built: Liverpool, England, 1889.
Sunk: 12 February 1890.
Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park.
Depth: 6 to 10 m.
Dive only on: SWE, Ebb.
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.