Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Walter Hood monument

The Walter Hood grave site story

Grave and memorial for the bodies of those recovered from the wreck of the clipper Walter Hood, 1870

When launched, the magnificent wooden ship Walter Hood was the largest vessel ever built in Aberdeen and perhaps Scotland (Aberdeen Herald, 10 January 1852). The vessel was named in honour of its famous builder for his skill in ship design and construction. It was a contemporary of the renowned Phoenician. The Walter Hood eclipsed this vessel in both sailing and carrying qualities. Noted for its graceful hull lines, the clipper was heralded as a vessel "which might be expected to walk the waters like a thing of life" (Empire, 9 August 1853). The Walter Hood (Official Number 9953), a ship of 937 tons and 172 feet (53 metres), was built in 1852. Belonging to George Thompson's celebrated White Star line of carriers, the vessel was built expressly for the Australia-China trade.

The Walter Hood left London on 22 January 1870 carrying in addition to its general cargo, a consignment of coloured ceramic floor tiles. Folklore has it that these were intended for Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral, burnt down in 1865 (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1870). The vessel encountered a heavy storm while turning up the eastern coast of Australia. The gale stripped the vessel of sails and carried away Wilke, a seaman off Cape Howe, who was to be the first of many casualties. On Tuesday 26 April, after many days, land was finally sighted amidst mountainous seas. However, the Walter Hood, in a crippled state, did not have enough canvas to beat out to sea.

The Walter Hood struck a reef in Wreck Bay, New South Wales about 8 p.m. and immediately began to break up. An anchor was dropped causing the head to swing to sea, the vessel healing over dangerously. Captain Latto was hit by a large wave that swept him to the side of the ship, breaking some of his ribs. Latto was taken to his cabin with the rest of the crew, some of which were to survive on the stern for four terrible nights (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1870).

Early next morning (Wednesday), the cabin began to fill with incoming seas and the crew were compelled to leave the captain below and cling to the only secure part of the wreck, the raised poop deck. The remainder of the vessel was severely breaking up. The masts soon went over the side and cargo began flooding out of the shattered hull. Wednesday and Thursday witnessed pathetic scenes. Fearing certain death on the collapsing deck, passengers and members of the crew attempted to swim to the shore. Those remaining on the wreck, many of whom could not swim, watched helplessly as a number of their companions drowned in the turbulent water. Some made it to the shore, others dying from exposure on the hull. Captain Latto was washed out of his cabin and drowned amidst the wreckage of his ship (Town and Country Journal, 7 May 1870).

By Friday morning, with the seas abating, some others managed to reach the shore in an exhausted state, ten persons making the one hundred and fifty meter swim in total. The remaining thirteen 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 (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1870). A passing steamer, Illalong, was directed to the scene and arrived alongside on Saturday. The survivors were removed in what was a difficult operation in the conditions.

Of the thirty-five hands on board the Walter Hood, there were only twenty-three survivors. Spectators arrived and fought over the most costly items of wreckage. It was alleged that even the bodies of the drowned had been robbed. Casks and bottles of alcohol were stoved in and consumed, adding to the mayhem (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1870).

An inquest of the five of eleven drowned was held on the beach by Coroner Wareham. The bodies included those of Captain Latto, Haynes, Sinclair, Moyes and Jullien and the finding was, "accidentally drowned in the waters of the South Pacific Ocean" (Town and Country Journal, 14 May 1870; Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1870). Captain Latto and passenger Haynes were put into a single grave by the beach, and the common seamen into another. A slab of timber was placed over the graves and carved with the words, "Sacred to the memory of Captain A. Latto, Master of the Walter Hood of Aberdeen. Also of Mr Haynes, passenger, and James Sinclair, boatswain, Mayes, AB, John Julian, AB, wrecked 26 April 1870, half a mile North-east" (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1870). Harvey's body was later washed ashore and included with the others.

Mr Curran, one of the custom's officer's at the scene, constructed a timber fence around the site from wreckage ashore, and sowed some English grass seeds within the enclosure. The ship's agent ordered the construction of two more substantial memorial tablets to be made in Sydney. Carved in Blackbutt by Andrew Lenehan, there was one for each of the two graves, painted blue with the chiselled text in white (Mawer, 1994: 91). Views of the cemetery appeared in the Town and Country Journal, 20 January 1883, thirteen years after the wreck.

Over time, the gravesite near the beach was damaged by bushfires and by coastal erosion. A local committee was formed in 1925 to raise funds for the relocation of the remains to a more sheltered position. The new grave was excavated 44 yards (40 metres) north-north-west of the original site and a marble and a substantial granite memorial cairn built over it. The memorial and reserve was opened on 9 March 1927 in the presence of a survivor, Robert Williams. It incorporated ceramic tiles from the wreck and a marble tablet listing the names of those drowned, made in Wollongong. The memorial today is in much the same condition, but protected from vandalism by a steel mesh fence. The land is administered by the National Parks and Wildlife service.

How to get there: Walter Hood Monument Walking Trail, Monument Beach, Cudmirrah Nature Reserve, Conjola State Forrest, off Bangalay Road, Bendalong.

Can also be reached via the beach from North Bendalong or the southern side of Berrara Lagoon.

Page last updated: 31 August 2012