Tasmania’s treacherous waters are unforgiving and unknowable.
Beyond the infamous Bass Strait and its notoriously rough 500 kilometre stretch are the perilous reefs and jagged rocks that sit beneath the ocean’s surface.
It’s estimated that Tasmania’s coastline has claimed about 1000 vessels as its own.
The two most well-known wrecks are separated by almost 200 years.
The Sydney Cove was travelling to Port Jackson, from Calcutta, when it found its end at Preservation Island, in the Furneaux Group.
It was 1797. Damaged and leaking from rough seas, shipmaster Captain Guy Hamilton purposefully ran her aground.
Salvage attempts (some ill fated) to rescue the crew and cargo followed, and it took almost a year for all to be taken from the Sydney Cove, and finally delivered to their destination.
Left behind, the vessel lay undiscovered until 1977.
Almost two hundred years after the Sydney Cove met its end, in 1995 the Iron Baron found the Hebe Reef, about five kilometres off shore, as it attempted to navigate its way into the Tamar River.
When it hit the reef, more than 300 tonnes of fuel oil spilled out of the vessel, creating a massive oil spill that went on to affect Northern Tasmania’s coastline.
Between the Sydney Cove and the Iron Baron are many more wrecks and shipping disasters.
Parks and Wildlife Tasmania maritime archaeologist Mike Nash has spent decades researching, exploring, and documenting the stories of vessels that have found their final resting spots in Tasmania.
Mr Nash said Tasmanians tended to have a keener interest in shipwrecks than their mainland counterparts, and that interest peaked in earlier this year.
Storms that rocked the state in June washed away sand to reveal the wreck of Viola, at Friendly Beaches in the Freycinet National Park.
The brig ran aground in 1857, and had not been seen for about 40 years.
“When the wrecks on the East Coast came up, we had more hits on our website on that story than any other, ever,” Mr Nash said.
Most of Tasmania’s most prominent wrecks occurred around its islands – King, Flinders, and the Furneaux Group.
Northern Tasmania’s claim to “fame” is Hebe Reef, a reef of sharp, unseen rocks that sits in the middle of the channel that leads into the Tamar River.
“It’s a bit of a dog leg getting through there, certainly before the (She Oak Point lighthouse) was built,” Mr Nash said.
The reef got its name from its first victim, the Hebe, in 1808, Mr Nash said.
“It was an Indian trades vessel,” he said.
“In the early days of the colony there was a lot of cargo coming from India.
“I think the Hebe was the first to try and go into that neck of the woods.
“It crashed on the reef, and ended up in a heap of pieces a bit further away.”
There was one death, and most of the cargo and fittings were salvaged.
It is thought that about eight boats wrecked on the reef.
Northern Tasmania’s claim to “fame” is Hebe Reef, a reef of sharp and jagged rocks that sits in the middle of the channel that leads into the Tamar River.
The 1906 demise of Eden Holme is another notable tale. The sailing ship was part of the wool trade between Tasmania, and England.
A court case followed the wreckage, and it was found that the boat’s pilot was at fault.
The Asterope also fell foul of Hebe Reef, in 1883.
Diving expeditions in the 1970s unearthed long-forgotten goods from the vessel, which are now on display at the Low Head Pilot Station, and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston.
The QVMAG is also home to salvaged items from the Sydney Cove.
Mr Nash said the big news to come out of the Cove this year was extracting yeast from perfectly preserved bottled beer, found on the Cove, to recreate centuries-old ale.
Of all Tasmania’s shipwrecks, only the exaction locations of about 80 are known.
Some, like the Viola, and The Zephyr, at Bream Creek, only make an appearance when severe weather events intervene.
Mr Nash said the department was always excited to hear from people who might have stumbled upon a wreck.
“We’re always interested to hear from people who might have material passed down to them, or had a family member on a boat,” he said.
However, wrecks and their materials older than 75 years are protected by two acts.
To report a wreck, or for more information, contact Mr Nash on firstname.lastname@example.org