This week, with the weather so unpredictable and so many storms about in recent days and weeks, it seemed the ideal time to share this image of Dunbar Rock in South Head. Sydney, and Australia more generally, with its abundance of coastline, also has an abundant and tragic history of shipwreck and loss.
The loss of the Dunbar, which happened off the coast of what is now known as Dunbar Rock at The Gap, remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. The Dunbar was, at the time of its launch, the largest timber ship to have been constructed at the Sunderland dockyards, and was constructed as a response to the demand for passage to Australia and the booming gold fields. Yet it was not until 1856 that the ship began to ply the route to Australia, as before then The Dunbar was deployed as a Crimean War troopship.
The wreck of The Dunbar happened within a year of this, occurring on the night of the 20th of August, 1857. The ship, which was on just its second trip to Australia, was approaching the entrance to Port Jackson in the midst of a violent storm. The Dunbar was driven by the storm into the cliffs of South Head, just near Dunbar Rock, and rapidly broke apart. Of 122 passengers and crew aboard, only one survived, Able Seaman James Johnson. The disaster was later blamed on insufficient navigational aids, and in response the Hornby Light at South Head was constructed.
Yet the Hornby Light is not the only reminder of this tragic shipwreck. On Dunbar Rock itself, there is an anchor which is believed to come from the wreck of the Dunbar, and was retrieved in 1910. There is also a rock cut inscription which commemorates the terrible wreck, and which is actually believed to have been first carved by an onlooker watching the tragedy unfolding. This inscription was later recut, probably on an anniversary of the shipwreck.