Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Identify the causes of shipwreck

Why have nearly 2000 shipwrecks occurred in NSW waters?

In the early years of colonisation, the coastal waters were poorly surveyed and the entrances to the river mouths on the north coast were simply treacherous. Other coastal harbours were only protected from some wind directions. In addition, the ships were small fragile sailing vessels that often found themselves literally ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

In the early days of ships powered by steam engines, the new technology was still not fully developed and the vessels were often underpowered.

In addition, there were mistakes in navigation, careless attention to duty, equipment failures and natural forces that were, at times, simply overpowering.

Despite this, the number of ships lost was always a relatively small number in comparison to the numbers of ships operating in and out of our ports and along our other waterways.

To gain a picture of shipwreck losses, search the shipwreck database on this web site for :

  • vessels lost during certain years or decades
  • to see if there is a greater representation in some industries than in others
  • to see if there is a difference among different types of vessels such as cutters and barques
  • try to find out how many were lost in gales or a structural fault such as 'Sprang a leak'.
Page last updated: 31 August 2012