Tragic Night Off Dunbar Rock

Dunbar Rock South Head Sydney The Gap Front
This week, with the weather being wild and woolly, the Past Present is focussing on one of the most spectacular areas of Sydney in which to watch waves, but also one which is associated with shipwrecks. Although many know this view as ‘The Gap’ as you can see from this postcard, the area has also been known as Dunbar Rock and is associated with the shipwreck of the Dunbar.
The Dunbar was completed in 1854 and arrived in Sydney in 1856. It was built at the Sunderland Shipyard in England and was, at the time, said to be the largest ship they had ever built. The grand ship was to have a short but dramatic life.
Just a year after the Dunbar first arrived in Sydney, on the night of the 20th of August 1857, the Dunbar arrived off Sydney Heads. It had on this occasion been at sea for 81 days and was in the charge of Captain James Green. He had already made eight voyages to Sydney, including that of the Dunbar in 1856. That night though the weather was treacherous with heavy rain obscuring the view of the coast.
Nobody is entirely certain why the Dunbar was wrecked off the Gap, though there are two main theories. One is that Captain Green believed he had overshot the entrance to the harbour and tried to turn around while the other suggests that those on watch, with their vision obscured by the weather, mistook The Gap as the harbour entrance. Whatever the case, the impact of the Dunbar against the rocks shattered the ship and it began to break up very quickly. The lifeboats were destroyed in the pounding seas and the bodies of the hapless passengers and sailors were thrown against the cliffs. Just one of the 122 people on board survived, James Johnson, a crew member who survived by climbing the cliff to a relatively safe ledge. The wreck, along with the loss of the Catherine Adamson just nine weeks later, was the catalyst for the construction of another lighthouse which marked the true entrance to the harbour – the Hornby Light on the tip of South Head.

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