The clipper ship Walter Hood (1852-1870)
When launched, the magnificent wooden clipper ship Walter Hood was the largest sailing vessel ever built in Aberdeen. The vessel was named in honour of its famous builder, Walter Hood for his skill in ship design and construction. Sister ship of the renowned Phoenicean, the Walter Hood eclipsed that vessel in both sailing and carrying qualities and was noted for its graceful hull lines.
The Walter Hood, a ship of 937 tons and 172 feet (52.43m), was built in Aberdeen in 1852. The vessel belonged to George Thompson's celebrated White Star Line and was built expressly for the Australian-China trade. The Walter Hood had provision for limited first class passenger accommodation and occasionally carried up to 50 passengers in steerage.
The vessel's maiden voyage to Sydney in 1853 immediately realised everyone's expectations. The record 80 days from London was matched by the fastest return passage from Sydney. The name of the Aberdeen clipper became familiar to nearly every colonist, the vessel being one of the favourite and most regular traders between London and Sydney during its 17 year association with the colony. The Walter Hood had the honour of forwarding the first edition of the Illustrated Sydney News to London.
Drawing by: Tim Smith
The Walter Hood left London on 22 January 1870 carrying beer, iron bars, railway irons, cork, cement, wine, salt and theatrical costumes and a large quantity of tiles. It has been suggested that these were replacement tiles for Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral, burnt down in 1865 though there has been no confirmation of this connection to date.
The vessel encountered a heavy storm when turning up the eastern coast of Australia. The gale stripped the vessel of sails and carried away Wilkie, a seaman who was to be the first of many casualties. On Tuesday 26 April, land was sighted amidst mountainous seas. The Walter Hood, in a crippled state, did not have enough canvas left to beat out to sea.
The Walter Hood struck a reef in Wreck Bay and immediately began to break up. Captain Latto was hit by a large wave which swept him to the side of the ship breaking some of his ribs. The Captain was taken to his cabin with the rest of the crew to weather the first of four terrible nights.
Early next morning, the cabin began to fill with incoming seas and the crew were compelled to leave the Captain below and cling to the raised poop deck. The masts soon went over the side as cargo began flooding out of the shattered hull. Fearing certain death on the collapsing deck, members of the crew attempted to swim to the shore. Those remaining on the wreck, many of whom could not swim, watched helplessly as their companions drowned. While some eventually made it to the shore, others died from exposure on the hull. Captain Latto was washed out of his cabin and drowned amidst the wreckage of his ship.
On Friday morning, with the seas abating, some others managed to reach the shore in an exhausted state. The thirteen remaining on the exposed stern had now been without food for three days and nights. In desperation they killed a small dog belonging to their dead Captain, ate its flesh raw and drank the blood.
The passing steamer Illalong was directed to the scene and arrived alongside on Saturday. The 13 survivors were recovered in a desperate state. The bodies of those drowned washed ashore and were buried in a suitably marked spot in the bush. Spectators arrived and fought over the most costly articles of wreckage. It was alleged that the bodies of the drowned were robbed. Casks and bottles of alcohol were stoved in and consumed, adding to the mayhem. Of the 35 hands on board the Walter Hood there were 23 survivors.
Drawing by: Tim Smith
The memorial to those who perished in the shipwreck lies in nearby bushland. Photo by: David Nutley
The wreckage lies to the north of Red Point on the western shore of Wreck Bay, just south of Jervis Bay. Shallow water at a depth of 3-5 meters and covers an area of approximately 32m by 10-20m. The remains of the ship lie approximately 120 meters from the shore against the north face of a low reef. The site is subject to extreme wave and surge action especially from the south east aspect.
Wreck site condition
Wire coils and other wreckage from the Walter Hood. Photo by: David Nutley
The principle remains comprise heavy cargo which suggests the general outline of the vessel. The eastern part of the site consists of iron staple knees embedded in the sand. These remain in their original orientation, suggesting that part of the hold deck settled, then deteriorated in this area. A substantial mound of concreted coils of wire or barrel hoops lie adjacent to the knees. Bundles of railway tracks, miscellaneous ironmongery and concreted barrels of cement, remain, as stowed, longitudinally within the vessel. Several pieces of heavy, unidentified machinery, probably cargo, are also present. The remains of bottles, ceramics and tiles can also be observed. An Admiralty style anchor lies some 200 meters north east of the main wreckage.
The archaeological potential of the site has been reduced by the destructive nature of the local sea conditions and souvenir hunting.
The importance of the Walter Hood
The Walter Hood, through its trading and passenger connections with New South Wales, played an important part in the development of Australia in the mid Nineteenth Century. The archaeological remains, including surviving hull structure and imported cargo, form a significant cultural resource. The remains have the potential for interpretation through public education programs, highlighting the vessels popular acclaim and tragic loss.
The Walter Hood is a gazetted Historic Shipwreck, under Section 5 of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The listing applies to the shipwreck and all relics associated with the shipwreck.
- Heritage Office, NSW Shipwreck database, accessable through the Australian National Shipwreck Database
- Nutley, D & Smith, T, 1991, Walter Hood (1852-1870): Wreck Inspection Report, Heritage Branch, Department of Planning, Sydney, NSW, Australia
- Illustrated Sydney News, 8 October 1853
- Illustrated Sydney News, 11 May 1870
- Sydney Morning Herald, 2 and 7 May 1870
- Sydney Mail, 7 May 1870
- Town and Country Journal, 7 May 1870
- Lloyds Building Survey. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Page last updated: 31 August 2012