Shipwrecks have played a colourful part in the history of Randwick. Lives lost and saved, cargoes salvaged or sunk, and wreckage sent to the deep - the six ships which foundered along the coast of Randwick held every story, and often became magnets for local spectators.

Diving can be a wonderful way to explore our submerged shipwrecks, but you are reminded that shipwrecks are protected under Commonwealth and NSW law, and heavy penalties apply for interfering with an historic shipwreck.  More information can be found via this link on Maritime Heritage.


The Hereward was a 1,513-ton, full-rigged iron clipper built in Glasgow in 1877. It had a length of 254 feet, beam of 39 feet, and depth of 23 feet. The Hereward was a trader to the colonies, making frequent trips from London to Sydney with general cargo.

Its fateful last trip began in the Dutch East Indies port of Surabaya, bound for Newcastle to load coal for South America. On 5 May 1898, the Hereward was battling up the New South Wales coast in appalling weather, with wind velocities recorded up to 47 miles per hour. The Hereward was flung towards the shore by the winds, and with sails torn to shreds the captain, Captain Gore, was helpless to keep the vessel from the shore. The Hereward had blown onto soft sand at the northern end of Maroubra Beach, luckily avoiding two rocky reefs. The crew of 25 was brought safely ashore, and a party of seamen made their way to the nearby Maroubra wool scouring works to raise the alarm.

The wreck of the Hereward, Maroubra Beach, 1898.

The ship was insured for 6,000 pounds, and was sold a few months after being stranded for 550 pounds to a Mr Cowlishaw, who bought the wreck for salvage. Despite several enthusiastic attempts to refloat her, the Hereward ended up once more stranded on the beach, with the waves finally managing to break her in two on 9 December 1898.

As with other wrecks on this part of the coast, thousands of sightseers made the long trek to the remote south of Sydney to view the wreck.

The wreck of the Hereward lay on Maroubra Beach for many years, and by 1937 the only visible sign was a triangular shape above the water line. In 1950, Randwick Council feared injury to surfers from the wreck and began blasting the remnants. Further blasting in 1965, and by Navy divers in 1966 and 1967, has removed all trace of the Hereward.

MV Malabar

In the early 1920s, the economic advantages of the motor ship over the steamship became obvious to shipping lines, in particular the increased cargo capacity created by the absence of coal bunkers. The Australian shipping line Burns, Philp and Co. Ltd placed an order for such a motor ship to ply the Java-Singapore run. The ship, named the MV Malabar after a small town in Java, was launched at Glasgow, Scotland on 9 July 1925.

The wreck of MV Malabar, 2 April 1931.

The MV Malabar was 350 feet long, 48 feet 6 inches wide, with a gross tonnage of 4,512 tons. It was powered by a 2,700 horsepower eight-cylinder diesel engine, giving the Malabar a top speed of 13.2 knots. The Malabar could accommodate 156 passengers, as well as having five cargo holds, and insulated holds for fruit and frozen meat, with a total cargo capacity of 202,920 cubic feet. 602 tons of oil could also be carried.

The Malabar arrived in Sydney on 17 December 1925 on its maiden voyage from England via Colombo and Singapore. The first voyage on the Singapore run commenced 2 January 1926 from Sydney, with passengers and cargo, stopping at Brisbane, Townsville, Thursday Island, Darwin, Surabaya, Smarang, and Batavia (Jakarta).

The Malabar was involved in a couple of incidents before its ultimate demise. During trials in the Firth of Clyde (Scotland), the Malabar rammed the Wemyss Bay railway pier when the steering failed. In September 1926, the Malabar attempted to tow a stranded British steamer, Rio Claro, off Scott Reef near Cairns, but failed. In fact, the Rio Claro was stranded for 39 days before being refloated.

On 31 March 1931, under relief skipper Captain George Leslie, the Malabar left Melbourne for Singapore on her 32nd trip. At 6:45 am on 2 April 1931, the Malabar was one mile abeam of Cape Banks, with hazy weather, flat seas and a noticeable swell at high tide. The vessel's course was altered, and upon entering dense fog it ran aground on the northern side of Long Bay, 14 kilometres south of Sydney Harbour.

The Malabar's engines could not get it off the rocks, and Captain Leslie ordered the evacuation of passengers and the 108 crew. Evacuation took half an hour, and included the swimming to shore of three valuable stud horses. The ship's cat was the only life lost, as it refused to leave the Malabar.

Sydney's Easter crowds came out in force to see the wreck, with newspapers estimating that 500,000 people visited the site over the Easter weekend. Goods were salvaged from the shoreline between Sydney and Newcastle. The Malabar's crew was a mixture of Chinese cooks, Indian cleaners and engine room staff, and Malay deckhands. Police suspected some of the Chinese crew of importing opium into Australia and were awaiting the arrival of the ship on the day it wrecked. Officers rushed to Long Bay, and after following some crew members to Chinatown and searching the premises, and finding quantities of opium, a number of people were arrested, including some of the Malabar's crew.

The wreck was sold for 140 pounds for salvage to Penguin Ltd on 7 April 1931. Heavy seas prevented all of the salvage taking place, and it was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s and the introduction of scuba diving  that the remaining valuable metal items were removed. Around this time, the wreck was blown up in a further attempt at salvage, and as a result of this, and the toll of heavy seas, all that remains is rusting, twisted pieces of metal.

The wreck of the Malabar was only metres from the ocean outfall of Sydney's largest water treatment plant, and this made the wreck inaccessible to divers for many years. In 1990, with the activation of the sewage plant's deep-water ocean outfall, the wreck has again become accessible to divers.

SS Goolgwai

The Castle class trawler, SS Goolgwai, was originally known as the SS Almeria when she was launched in Ontario, Canada, in 1919. She was 125.7 feet long, 23.5 feet wide, and displaced 271 tons. The ship was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine, with the steam coming from a single coal powered boiler. In 1928 the ship was sold to Red Funnel Fisheries of Sydney, and renamed the SS Goolgwai.

The wreck of the SS Goolgwai, 29 May 1955.

The Goolgwai was requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy on 13 September 1939, and subsequently fitted with a 12 pound gun, a .303 Vickers machine gun and four depth-charge launchers. The ship was also fitted with minesweeping equipment, and was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Goolgwai, minesweeper, on 6 October 1939. The HMAS Goolgwai operated initially out of Sydney Harbour and later in the Cape York/Thursday Island region, and at the conclusion of the war was returned to the owners to continue life as a fishing trawler.

The Goolgwai commenced its final voyage on 18 May 1955, heading to the NSW south coast. Following a successful 11-day trip, the Goolgwai was returning to Sydney with a haul of fish when she encountered dense fog south of Sydney. The boat's skipper, Captain Mullarkey, was unable to prevent the ship's prop from fouling on unseen rocks at Boora Point (also known as North Point), Malabar. As waves crashed over the ship, crew members jumped onto the rock platform and were helped to safety by locals and fishermen. The ship's dog, Sluggo, was lost in the wreck, but the cat was saved.

Continued pounding from heavy seas damaged the bow and hull, and on 6 June 1955 the ship broke into pieces and was washed from the rock platform into the sea. The ship, valued at 10,000 pounds, and the fish cargo worth 1,500 pounds, were both lost.

SS Minmi

The SS Minmi was built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1927. She was 75 metres long, and displaced 1,455 tons. The Minmi was a collier, carrying coal from Newcastle to Melbourne and returning empty. It was named after either the lower Hunter Valley town of Minmi, or the nearby Minmi Colliery.

On 8 May 1937, the Minmi left Melbourne for Newcastle under Captain Robert Clark Callum. The Minmi's captain for all of her ten-year service was Captain McPhall, who had brought the ship to Australia. Captain McPhall commenced two weeks' leave in the first week of May, leaving Chief Officer Callum to take over as Captain. At 10 pm they were off Botany Bay in heavy seas and dense fog, and shortly after the ship struck the outside of Cape Banks, the outer northern headland of Botany Bay.

Soldiers at the nearby Cape Banks Artillery Garrison were awoken by the sound of escaping steam, and saw the ship hard on the rocks. Frederick Boulton, the ship's cook, collapsed and died of a heart attack soon after the ship struck the rocks. The rest of the crew of more than 20 were stranded on the vessel due to the heavy seas.

The Minmi split in two at about 12:45 am, with crew members stranded on both the front and back sections. Those at the front were rescued without incident, but it was more perilous for those in the rear. A line was tied to the rear section, with the other end held by rescuers. One life, a Mr Burnside, was lost in the heavy seas, and several other members of the crew spent the night on the vessel before being rescued at daylight.

Crowds estimated at 40,000 on 15 May 1937 and 60,000 the next day made the trek to La Perouse to see the wreck. Cars were banked up for four miles along Bunnerong Road (now Anzac Parade) towards the city, and police were required to control traffic and guard the cliffs. Many sightseers crossed the NSW Golf Course to get to the wreck site, and in doing so prevented golf games from proceeding, and causing damage to the course.

The wreck was sold for 200 pounds to salvagers Penguin Ltd, and while undertaking salvage operations the men lived in caves at the scene. A marine inquiry exonerated the captain of the charge of failing to navigate the ship safely. The stern section of the Minmi is still visible on the rock platform on the inside of Cape Banks.

TSS Belbowrie

The TSS Belbowrie was built at Brisbane Water on the NSW Central Coast in 1911. It was 37 metres long and displaced 218 tons. The Belbowrie had a long list of owners and was involved in several notable incidents before it was wrecked in 1939. In 1923, in bad weather and with a load of timber, the Belbowrie ran aground on Wanda Beach. The timber was removed and the ship refloated, suffering no damage. In 1938 the Belbowrie rescued two fishermen off Norah Head on the NSW Central Coast after their boat had sunk.

On its final voyage, the Belbowrie left Balmain in Sydney Harbour at 7 pm on 16 January 1939 with a crew of ten to take on a cargo of blue metal from Shellharbour. Weather conditions were poor, with a strong southerly wind blowing. Believing he had navigated the ship safely out to sea, Captain PR Dixon went below, leaving the mate in charge.

Shortly afterwards, the Belbowrie struck rocks at the southern end of Maroubra Beach. With the engine room flooded and waves breaking over it, the Belbowrie started to break up. The crew was rescued when ropes were secured from shore to ship, and with help from the police and locals, the crew made their way hand over hand along the ropes. Crew members were treated for shock at Maroubra Ambulance Station. By the next morning the vessel was declared a total loss, valued at 6,000 pounds.

SS Tekapo

The SS Tekapo was built in Greenock, Glasgow in 1881 and was originally known as the SS Cape Clear. It was first used to transport migrants from Europe to Tasmania. She was renamed the SS Tekapo after being purchased by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand in 1884 for 36,500 pounds. The ship was an iron-hulled vessel 89 metres long, 12 metres wide, and displaced 2.439 tons. Originally built as a cargo vessel, the Tekapo was modified to also carry passengers. It had a maximum speed of 11 knots and could carry 133 passengers. The Tekapo was one of the larger ships operating in Australia at the time.

The Tekapo had a varied cargo-carrying history, including the transport in September 1888 of 250 horses from New Zealand to Calcutta for the British Army. She made trips to the subcontinent and continued the New Zealand-Australia run, as well as Launceston to Sydney, and Sydney to the South Seas. In 1889, accommodation for an additional 50 passengers was added.

The Tekapo commenced its final voyage at 2:30 am on 16 May 1899, leaving Sydney Harbour under Captain Herbert Sams to travel to Port Kembla to take on coal for the New Zealand run. Running into heavy fog just 14 kilometres out of Sydney Harbour, the Tekapo struck the southern headland of Maroubra Beach and settled on flat rocks at 3:45 am.

The fog at the time was so heavy that the Captain gave orders for the lifeboats to be launched without realising that they were already on the shore. Despite the firing of rockets and distress guns, South Head lighthouse was not aware of the incident, and it was up to residents of Randwick, Coogee, Rockdale and Cooks River to alert the authorities.

Attempts by tugs to refloat the vessel were unsuccessful, and salvage commenced. The wreck was sold to a Mr Mountenay, who intended to take it apart piece by piece. On the Queens Birthday holiday of 24 May 1899, Sydney residents came in their thousands to see the wreck. As Maroubra was not settled at the time, it was quite a journey to go by tram to Coogee, then coach, bicycle, or walk to Maroubra Beach.

At a Marine Board of Inquiry, Captain Sams was found guilty of navigating too close to the shore, and his Foreign Going Masters certificate was suspended for six months.

Last Updated: 25 October 2022
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