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The Wreck of the Hereward

By Dan Hutton with Randwick Council Archives on May 14, 2013 in Other

Photo: Randwick Council

Photo: Randwick Council

The large cyclone swells in early March did more than just keep local surfers happy. The swells, combined with sweeping ocean currents, displaced large amounts of sand on the sea floor at Maroubra and unveiled a piece of history that many people would’ve heard about, but few would’ve actually seen, as extensive portions of the wreck of the Hereward, which were once thought to be destroyed and lost forever, were suddenly exposed.

The Hereward was a 1,513-ton, full-rigged iron clipper built in Glasgow in 1877. It had a length of 254 feet (77m), beam of 39 feet (12m), and depth of 23 feet (7m). The Hereward was a British trading vessel that travelled between Britain and her colonies, making frequent trips from London to Sydney with general cargo.

Its fateful last trip began in the Dutch East Indies port of Surabaya, bound for Newcastle to load coal for South America. On May 5, 1898, the Hereward was battling up the New South Wales coast in appalling weather, with wind velocities recorded up to 47 miles per hour (76 km/h). The Hereward was flung towards the shore by the winds, and with sails torn to shreds the captain, Captain Gore, was helpless to keep the vessel from the shore.

The Hereward blew onto soft sand at the northern end of Maroubra Beach, luckily avoiding two rocky reefs. The crew of 25 was brought safely ashore, and a party of seamen made their way to the nearby Maroubra wool scouring works to raise the alarm.

The ship was insured for 6,000 pounds, and was sold a few months after being stranded for 550 pounds to a Mr Cowlishaw, an entrepreneur who bought the wreck for salvage. During one of several enthusiastic attempts to refloat her by pulling on the rope connected to the anchor 980 feet (300m) out to sea and using steam winches on board, he managed to get the ship into 14 feet (4.3 m) of water. However, as the ship was nearly free, a southerly gale blew up and pushed the Hereward back onto the beach where it was battered by high seas and eventually broke in two on December 9, 1898.

As with other wrecks on this part of the coast, thousands of sightseers made the long trek to the remote south of Sydney to view the wreck.

The wreck of the Hereward lay on Maroubra Beach for many years, and by 1937 the only visible sign was a triangular shape above the water line. In 1950, Randwick Council feared injury to surfers from the wreck and began blasting the remnants. Further blasting in 1965, and by Navy divers in 1966 and 1967, had removed all trace of the Hereward until it was recently uncovered once again.

The recent unveiling of Hereward has provided an interesting and enjoyable snorkelling experience for Maroubra locals and tourists alike. So exposed is the wreck, Maroubra lifeguards have had to erect a sign on the shore in front of the wreck stating “Danger – Submerged Object”.