Wreck Dive | Boat access
Level: Open Water and beyond.
The American steamer Monumental City (aka SS Monumental City) was one of the first screw steamers to cross the Pacific, attracted by the Victorian gold rush. (The first was the SS Conside, wrecked at Port Phillip Heads.) It had previously been involved in the Californian gold rush carrying passengers from Nicaragua to San Francisco as they crossed the American continent from Europe and the east coast of America.
The surviving engine parts and propeller are significant as they represent a transition phase from wooden hulled steamships to iron screw steamships, and a phase of rapid development in marine steam engine technology. It is also rare as at the time most American steamships were paddle steamers.
The Monumental City was a wooden, screw steamer of 768 l-ton (780 t), built in 1850, on the dimensions of 174.1 ft (53 m) in length, a breadth of 29.9 ft (9.11 m), and the depth of 15 ft (4.57 m). It was constructed by Murray and Hazlehurst Ltd of Baltimore, USA. It was used, in its early years, on the American shipping scene.
The Monumental City was initially built for the Hawaiian trade, however, following the discovery of gold in California, it was transferred to the Panama run, steaming between Panama and San Francisco. In 1853, it was advertised in the local American newspapers that the Monumental City was departing for Australia. On 17 February 1853, the vessel sailed for Sydney with 90 passengers. It had a rapid voyage of only 65 days and was welcomed in Sydney on 23 April 1853 with much interest.
With the Victorian gold rush in full swing, it was hoped that the Monumental City would prove an asset on the Sydney to Melbourne run. So, on Thursday 4 May 1853, it left Sydney for Melbourne on its first intercolonial voyage with 166 passengers, under the command of Captain Adams, and arrived in Melbourne safely.
The owner's plans were somewhat handicapped when many of the crew deserted to the goldfields and it was found that traffic between Sydney and Melbourne was mainly one way, with few passengers wishing to go to Sydney. However, the Monumental City still managed to begin the return voyage from Melbourne to Sydney at 11 a.m. on Friday 13 May 1853, with a crew of 45 under the command of Captain William Henry Adams. There were 11 cabin passengers, of which three were ladies, and 30 steerage passengers. Everything appeared to go well, passing all the major landmarks as expected.
Captain Whyte, a passenger aboard the Monumental City, warned Captain Adams on a number of occassions that the ship was running too close to land and advised him to keep farther from the shore. His concerns were ignored.
At about 3:45 a.m. on the morning of Sunday 15 May 1853, before daylight, the vessel ran ashore on the south-west tip of Tullaberga Island, about 3 miles west of Gabo Island. The engines were reversed, but it was stuck fast on a rocky bottom. The captain decided that the ship was holding together well, and that it would be safer to land all on board after daylight. However, the light breeze veered to the south-east and quickly freshened, with the situation changing for the worse as the vessel began to bump heavily and break up.
The boats were quickly lowered into the raging waters, but were soon overturned or smashed to pieces. As dawn broke things on board were getting desperate, so one seaman Charles Plumber, volunteered to swim ashore 150 yards with the line, and after a huge struggle during which he was forced to let go his hold on the line, he managed to wade ashore.
Many plans were then proposed to get another line on shore, one proposing that somebody should swim, another that a large Newfoundland dog, which happened to be on board, should be thrown over with a line attached to him. At length a small piece or wood, with some spunyarn, was thrown overboard, which fortunately drifted to the rock, and a hawser having been made fast and pulled ashore, and the line was secured to a rock.
The captain urged all on board to make their way ashore using the line, however, few of the passengers were willing to try and met their deaths in the raging sea as the vessel broke up underneath them. Out of 86 souls who sailed from Melbourne, 53 had reached the land, 42 being crew and only a handful were passengers (no women or children surviving). In all, 33 had been drowned, including four women, three children, and the owner Peter Stroebed. Mr. Galvin M'Karrow was the only surviving cabin passenger.
In the morning, about twenty bodies were found, which were interred in the best manner possible, and before the survivors left the island twenty-eight had been recovered, leaving five missing.
On Tuesday, the 17th, the captain and eighteen men took the boat and made the mainland, where they remained for the night. On attempting to bring the boat back to the island on Wednesday morning, they found it impossible to do so, on account of the surf upon the beach. They therefore hauled her out of the reach of the tide, and proceeded to Twofold Bay for assistance.
The weather on Thursday became fine. On Friday six seaman made a raft from the wreck and reached the mainland, when they brought off the boat and landed the whole. They took with them some provisions and proceeded to Twofold Bay, which was reached late on Sunday evening. The Captain and his party had safely arrived, and through the kindness of Mr. Moule, Sub Collector of Customs, everyone soon found themselves in comfortable quarters. Mr. Allen, of Twofold Bay, provided many of the survivors with provisions and took some of them to his house, and entertained them for the night.
This disaster led to the building of the Gabo Island lighthouse.
Over the following years, the wreck has been visited by salvagers in an attempt to raise some of the gold said to have gone down with the ship. In 1919, a syndicate was formed with the object of examining tho wreck to ascertain the chance of salvage. Tho diver of the expedition (Mr. Beckett) reported that the wreck had been located after much searching, and progress was being made in clearing away the marine growths from the hold entrance. They recovered a large brass sea valve weighing about 1 cwt, two brass gratings, one oil valve, a brass stanchion and a brass signal cannon, weighing about 5 cwt. Abalone divers are known to have recovered some gold coins from the wreck site.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Traditional Owners — This dive site does not lie in the acknowledged traditional Country of any first peoples of Australia.
Monumental City Location Map
Latitude: 37° 33.500′ S (37.558333° S / 37° 33′ 30″ S)
Longitude: 149° 50.700′ E (149.845° E / 149° 50′ 42″ E)
Datum: WGS84 | Google Map
Added: 2012-07-22 09:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2022-05-02 13:00:13 GMT
Nearest Neighbour: Schah, 16,458 m, bearing 230°, SW
Wooden Screw Steamer.
Sunk: 15 May 1853.
Tullaberga Island, East Gippsland.
Depth: 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.