Kangaroo Island forms a natural breakwater for Gulf St. Vincent which must be entered via Backstairs Passage or the Investigator Straight.
The unpredictable and rough coastline of Kangaroo Island has claimed many ships and lives during the early 1800s.
In order to protect shipping lanes and create safe passages lighthouses were built, the first being Cape Willoughby Lighthouse in 1852. This was followed by Cape Borda Lighthouse in 1858 and Point Marsden Lighthouse in 1875. Two further lighthouse were built at Cape De Coudic in 1907/09 and at Cape St. Albans in 1908/09 due to several disastrous shipwrecks which claimed many lives.
The vast number of ships that went aground during these years were sailing ships. Many were wrecked because of inadequate knowledge or charts, poor navigation skills or handling but also as a result of the unpredictable seas and weather.
Since the official settlement of Kangaroo Island in 1836, over 80 shipwrecks have been recorded. A few including the Loch Sloy, Loch Vennachar, Osmanli and You Yangs had both tragic and dramatic ends. Other wrecks like the Portland Maru offer fascinating and intriguing experiences for divers.
The largest vessel to be wrecked off the coast was the 5,800 tonne Portland Maru in 1935, which began taking water near Cape du Couedic before sinking close to Cape Torrens. One of the more notable, tragic events occurred to the Loch Vennachar which sailed into cliffs on the west coast in 1905 with the loss of all 27 crew. Only one body was found and buried, unidentified, in the sandhills of West Bay.
The Kangaroo Island Shipwreck Trail explores the history of the island from when Matthew Flinders became the first European to record it during his survey in the Investigator in 1802. In 1803 French Captain Nicolas Baudin circumnavigated and charted the whole island.
Visitors to the island can learn more about shipwrecks by following the Kangaroo Island Shipwreck Trail which recounts stories of 7 shipwrecks through a series of story panels at various sites across the island. The signs highlight the history and archaeological significance of the vessels, as well as telling the story of the region in which the vessels now lie.
Modern Exploration & Settlement
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Kangaroo Island Tourism Alliance