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Light of the Age

Wreck Dive Wreck Dive | Shore access Shore access

Open Water Rated Outside Port Phillip Wreck Dive Site

Three-Masted Wooden Clipper Ship | Max Depth: 6 m (20 ft)

Level: Open Water and beyond.

The Light of the Age shipwreck lies in 6 metres of water offshore from the Point Lonsdale township on the Barwon Coast.of the Bellarine Peninsula.

The Light of the Age is archaeologically significant as the wreck of an international immigrant ship with an inward bound cargo. It is historically significant for its association with both the Black Ball and White Star Lines which carried thousands of immigrants to Australia.

Diving and Snorkelling the Light of the Age Shipwreck

Subsequent to the wrecking of the Light of the Age on 16 January 1868, marine concretions and corrosion products formed a cement capping over the cargo, stabilising and protecting it. The site of the Light of the Age was found by divers in late 1960s, and soon became a popular diving site.

Location: Point Lonsdale, Victoria 3225

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.

Light of the Age Shipwreck History — Built in 1855

The Light of the Agee was initially built as the Beacon Light, a three-masted wooden clipper ship of 1,287 l-ton (1,308 t), built in 1855, by Jotham Stetson, of Boston, Massachusetts, on a length of 194.6 ft (59 m), a breath of 39.1 ft (12 m) and a depth of 34 ft (10 m). The hull was built of oak, pitch pine and hatmatack, and was yellow metalled at the time of its demise.

It was renamed the Light of the Age in 1857 by Marshall and Edridge of London, who sold it in 1862 to Thomas M. Mackay of London.

Between 1862–1866 the Light of the Age made several voyages to Australia under the Black Ball Line flag, mainly employed on the London to Queensland run carrying emigrants. During this time unsanitary conditions were reported by health officers and surgeons, who gave evidence of leaks from the galley and water closets constantly wetting some of the steerage berths, plus poor ventilation and lighting (Stammers, p. 102, 192)

Light of the Age Sinking — Wrecked 16 January 1868

On its final voyage, the Light of the Age last voyage, left Liverpool bound for Melbourne, on 13 October 1867. It was carrying a mixed general cargo worth 12,000 pounds, plus 42 passengers and a crew of 34, under the command of Captain Thomas Reid Porter. She had an inauspicious start to a disastrous trip, grounding in Blackwater Bay while being towed by steam tug shortly after leaving Liverpool.

On the 9th December 1867, while off the Cape of Good Hope, a foretopmast and royal mast were lost when the foremast backstay eyebolt broke, severely injuring one seaman and causing three seamen to be lost overboard and drowned as they were furling the royals (Argus 24/1/1868). Unfortunately the boats had been brought in from the davits due to Captain Porter's fears they would be stove in in heavy weather, so two lifebuoys were thrown overboard. Every exertion was made to get the ship to go about, but with the ship in a crippled condition the men were left to their fate.

At the later Marine Inquiry into the wreck of the Light of the Age, Captain Porter was reported drunk before the ship even left Liverpool, and confined himself to his cabin in a state of drunkenness in the week that repairs to the masts were being carried out, leaving the supervision of repairs and navigation of the ship to the chief mate. He was also alleged, by one of the lady passengers Miss McCandlish, to have had an improper relationship with the other lady passenger Miss Hampshire.

The first land sighted was the south headland of Fitzmaurice Bay, King Island which was incorrectly thought to be the north end of King Island. The later finding of the Court of Inquiry stated that "the ship was badly navigated for a day or two before making King's Island (and) was altogether out of the usual and proper track of vessels bound to Port Phillip, being much too far to the southward" (Argus 31/1/1868).

Further findings were that that the ships' position was not known by dead reckoning when it made landfall, that the captain was often drunk throughout the voyage, that the sounding lead was not used, that the captain was drunk when landfall was made, and that cross bearings to ascertain their correct position and amendments to the logbook were not made.

When proceeding to the Heads and signalling for a pilot, evidence was given that the captain was so drunk that he did not understand the pilot boat Rip's signals, though everyone else including the passengers did (Argus 23/1/1868).

On a starboard tack off Port Phillip Heads, blue lights were being burned to attract the pilots' attention, a lookout was posted for the two leading lights on Shortland Bluff, and the crew were ordered to turn in with their clothes on. The crew were turning in and after lighting their bedtime pipes "had not finished their smoke, when a seaman came down and said that all hands were wanted on deck to 'bout ship because we were heading right in to the land" (Argus 31/1/1868).

In the thick weather the Light of the Age was signalling for a pilot when suddenly the haze lifted and breakers were seen ahead. The chief mate called the captain out of bed, who immediately gave orders for the ship to go about, but it missed stays. This was attributed to the mainsail being clewed and not enough after-sail being set (Argus 24/1/1868).

At this point it was attempted to wear the ship around but at 1:30 a.m. 16 January 1868, the vessel touched ground, and the port anchor was let go. Guns and rockets were fired to attract attention, and the masts were cut away to reduce the strain on the ship's hull. The foremast destroyed one of the ships boats as it came down.

Meanwhile the outside cruising pilot vessel Rip had also been signalling with lights for about three hours while 'chasing' the Light of the Age around, when it abandoned the chase due to their situation becoming dangerous. On observing the distress signals it sailed closer to investigate, and found the Light of the Age ashore. Captain Porter asked the pilots to go for help, but Pilots Caught, Draper and Rich, after conferring, decided that it was best to remain and attempt to get off all of the passengers as the flood tide would be making until 9:00 a.m. and force them to remain at Queenscliff.

Captain Porter also gave them a document also signed by the Chief Mate Hastings handing over full authority to Pilots Draper and Rich to act on behalf of the agents of the Light of the Age, after effectively refusing Pilot Draper leave to board the ship Dover Castle just arrived off The Heads.

At daylight the pilots launched two of their boats and took off all of the passengers and some of their luggage, taking them first to Queenscliff, then to Melbourne. During this rescue operation there was a heavy sea running, the second officer was "drunk and obstructive", the cook and steward were also drunk in the cuddy, and the captain was described as "stupidly drunk" — at one stage lifted into his bed from the floor of his cabin by Pilot Rich. While not being obstructive neither was he giving any orders that would render assistance to the operation (Argus 28/1/1868).

Pilot Draper later stated that two days later the wreck was sold in Melbourne "for a few pound and in the course of a few days the Marine Board investigated the cause of the wreck and decided to cancel the Captain's certificate. We pilots were severely questioned as to where we were and what we did. The newspapers made so much of everything that we were put apparently for some time under a shade, and the saloon passenger who knelt down on the poop deck and thanked God for the mercies He had shown them in sending to their rescue two such able men as Rich and myself who had shown such decision in destroying all the grog on board thereby preventing the danger of drunken frenzy and riot seizing on many amongst them and likely ending in death - never came foreward (sic) during the enquiry and assisted us in the slightest way by repeating before the Board the able assistance we had rendered as he had acknowledged in the poop in the presence of all" (Draper n.d.).

As well as cancelling Captain Porter's certificate the Board also commented severely on the carelessness of the ship being supplied with incomplete charts and not furnished with lifeboats ( GA 31/1/1868).

The steam tugs Resolute and Titan took the crew to Melbourne and returned with lighters and a salvage crew, however by 17 January 1868, strong southerly winds had the effect anticipated on the Light of the Age, lying broadside to the waves, and it began to break up.

Rich pickings were anticipated by wreckers, who found the beach littered with wreckage and smashed cases. The wreck was sold on 20 January 1868. Salvage operations were disrupted when the ketch Phoenix was driven ashore during salvage operations but was later refloated.

A more tragic incident occurred during the final days of the salvage effort when one of the boats capsized, drowning six men including two salvage divers (Denmead).

See also, Heritage Council Victoria: Light of the Age,
Australian National Shipwreck Database: Light of the Age, and
Light Of The Age Wreck in "Shore Dives of Victoria" by Ian Lewis, 3rd edition page 49.

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 heritage.victoria@delwp.vic.gov.au.

Wathaurong (Wadda-Warrung) country
Wathaurong (Wadda-Warrung) country

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.

 

Light of the Age Location Map

Latitude: 38° 17.308′ S   (38.288467° S / 38° 17′ 18.48″ S)
Longitude: 144° 35.642′ E   (144.594033° E / 144° 35′ 38.52″ E)

Datum: WGS84 | Google Map | Get directions
Added: 2012-07-22 09:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2022-04-27 12:20:29 GMT
Source: Book - Shipwrecks Around Port Phillip Heads GPS (verified)
Nearest Neighbour: Point Lonsdale Back Beach, 886 m, bearing 94°, E
Three-Masted Wooden Clipper Ship.
Built: Boston, Massachusetts, 1855.
Sunk: 16 January 1868.
Point Lonsdale, Barwon Coast, Bellarine Peninsula.
Depth: 4 to 6 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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