Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Catherine Adamson disaster

Camperdown Cemetery - the Catherine Adamson disaster, 1857

Mass grave for victims of the 1857 shipwrecks, Dunbar and Catherine Adamson. Including private graves for Dunbar victims

The 886-ton Aberdeen ship, Catherine Adamson, foundered on North Head, Port Jackson on 24 October 1857.The Catherine Adamson's loss only nine weeks after the appalling wrecking of the clipper Dunbar on South Head, had a major impact on the still developing colony. After three voyages to Australia, the vessel had developed a favourable reputation.The despair at the great loss of life served as the 'final straw' in the vocal lobbying to have improvements made to the harbour's navigational facilities.

A passenger, Archibald Blair recounted that, "the mizzen mast was down when we got onto a nearby steamer and the other masts were also coming down". Some of the crew were seen in the topgallant forecastle and as the steamer left the scene, those on board could hear the screams of the men in the rigging of `save us, save us!'. By the time the steamer arrived back from Watsons Bay, the ship was beam ends onto the rocks, and only the forecastle and bowsprit were to be seen rising out of the surf".

All those who remained aboard were killed, either by the falling masts or the boiling sea. The bodies of the Catherine Adamson victims, as could be recovered, were interred in the mass burial set aside for the Dunbar victims nine weeks earlier. The grave of Pilot John Hawkes, who drowned while discharging his duties aboard the Catherine Adamson, can also be found in Camperdown Cemetery; also the grave belonging to Captain Creer, whose steamer went to the aid of the Catherine Adamson.

These two disasters rank among the worst ever to have occurred within the approaches to Port Jackson and remain to this day, household names.

Inscription on the mass tomb


Within this tomb were deposited by the direction of the government of New South Wales such remains as could be discovered of the passengers and crew who perished in the ships "Dunbar" and "Catherine Adamson" the former of which was driven ashore and foundered when approaching the entrance to Port Jackson on the night of 20 August 1857. The latter after entering this port on the morning of the 24th October. AD 1857

How to get there: St Stephen's Anglican Church, 189 Church Street (off King Street), Newtown. Sydney. Telephone: 02 9557 2043

Page last updated: 31 August 2012