Catherine Adamson | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Catherine Adamson

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The 886-ton Aberdeen ship, Catherine Adamson, foundered on North Head, Port Jackson on its third voyage to Australia.  A vessel with a favorable reputation throughout the colonies, 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.  Great despair was caused as a result of the loss of life associated with the second tragedy.   This served as the 'final straw' in the vocal actions 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 to offload survivors.  Those on board could hear the screams of the men left 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 onboard 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 victim's nine weeks earlier.  These two disasters rank among the worst ever to have occurred within the approaches to Port Jackson (Sydney) and remain to this day, household names.  Wreck site located.

photo: Mass grave at St Stephens Cemetery, Newtown.
Mass grave at St Stephens Cemetery, Newtown.
photo: A similar scene with another sailing vessel in trouble on North Head. Courtesy: State Reference Library, State Library of New South Wales.
A similar scene with another sailing vessel in trouble on North Head. Courtesy: State Reference Library, State Library of New South Wales.


Site information

Site ID: 1923
Type: Ship Construction: Wood
Primary industry: Transport Sub-industry: cargo - coastal
Gross tonnage: 886 Net tonnage: 768
Length (mtrs): 52.0 Beam (mtrs): 9.9
Draft (mtrs): 5.8 Cargo: General Cargo
Engine: NA
Country built: UNITED KINGDOM State built: Scotland
Port built: Aberdeen builder:
Port registered: Aberdeen When built: 1855
Registration number: Official number: -
Sources: Lloyd's Building Survey Report Lloyds Register SMH 26 - 29/10/1857 The Argus 31/10, 9/11, 11/11, 30/12/1856 Shipping Gazette 26/10/1857
Comments: No distinct site visible but is in about 11 metres of water.

Lost event

When lost: 1857/10/24 Where lost: Sydney Harbour, North Head, Old Man's Hat
Wrecked/Refloated: Wrecked Sinking: Driven onto rocks
From port: Falmouth To port: Sydney
Master: Capt G Stewart Owner: H Adamson
Crew: 34 Passengers: 8
Crew deaths: 17 Passenger deaths: 4
Total deaths: 21


Maximum latitude: -33.82245 Minimum latitude:
Maximum longitude: 151.28830 Minimum longitude:
Datum used:
  Datum    Latitude    Longitude    Zone    Easting    Northing


Found: Yes Inspected: Yes
Protected: NSW Heritage Act 1977 Jurisdiction: State
Protection notes:
Signage: Web address: