Immigration Shipwrecks

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For those with an interest in 19th century shipping and the movement of people around Australia and throughout the world, the subject can be both fascinating and never-ending.

Over several decades Public Record Office Victoria volunteers have worked to index Passenger Lists. Sadly, a number of ships so familiar to the volunteers, such as the Gothenburg and Tararua, were destined to be wrecked with major loss of life. It is inevitable that volunteers have transcribed many of those unfortunate passengers’ names on their initial embarkation from Melbourne.

Here are the stories of some of the passenger ships that sailed during the late 1860s to the 1880s. Links are provided to more extensive information.


368 ton steamship, 1863/65, Clyde built to order for the fledging Launceston and Melbourne Steam Navigation Company.

Her early role in colonial steam shipping was as the forerunner of the modern Bass Straight ferry service, between Victoria and Tasmania. For two years, and almost without incident, the CITY OF LAUNCESTON accommodated up to one hundred and eighty eight passengers, and ferried the Royal Mail and cargo across Bass Strait.

On 10 November 1865, the vessel was under the command of Captain Thom. Within two hours of its 7.20 departure from Melbourne she was involved with the inbound PENOLA from Adelaide. The twenty five passengers and twenty four crew were rescued by the PENOLA before the CITY OF LAUNCESTON sank, stern first.

The CITY OF LAUNCESTON was the first wreck to be listed and protected under the Victorian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981. She has tremendous archaeological and scientific significance.

Many pictures of the artefacts from the ship can be viewed at:


Iron steamship of 2342 tons, built in 1867, Thames. In 1881 her name changed to PRINCE EDWARD.

On 28 October 1873, she departed Melbourne for England, met heavy weather off Cape Horn and partially dismasted. Two crew were lost overboard, several others were injured, one later dying. Ship repaired Valparaiso and continued onto England.


In 1871, the ship was involved in rescuing the crew from the schooner HECTOR when she sank not far from Queenscliff.

Captain Rouse was lost overboard in storm on 4 October 1873.

In 1879, she was in a major collision with EDEN in Victorian waters.


SS GOTHENBURG Wrecked at Old Reef, Queensland. 24 February, 1875
One of the worst maritime disasters on the east coast of Australia. Among the One hundred passengers and thirty four crew (surviving records vary) were government officials, circuit court judges and miners. The French vice consul was aboard, as were prisoners bound for the Adelaide jail. In the captain’s cabin were almost 3,000 ounces of gold, valued at that time at about ₤40,000.

The cyclonic conditions made launching life boats almost impossible. One hundred and twelve people drowned, with only twenty two rescued. Many people had no chance as they were wearing their money belts, which were full of gold.

As a result of this tragedy, gold was no longer shipped by sea from Darwin. It remained in the bank vaults with checks being sent instead.
See at

SS TARARUA, wrecked in Foveaux Strait, 29 April 1881
This has been described as the worst shipping disaster in New Zealand history. The ship was en route from Port Chalmers to Bluff, Hobart and Melbourne (her regular run) when she ran aground. Her cargo included ₤4,000 in silver coins.

There were one hundred and eleven passengers and forty crew on board, but only twenty managed to swim ashore. Twelve women and fourteen children died. Fifty-five bodies were buried in the “Tararua Acre” at Otara, opposite the wreck site.

The captain was found culpable due to errors in navigation and failing to keep a proper lookout. A lighthouse was built on the site in 1884.

All details at:

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