Before the undersea cable connection in October 1872, it was not unusual for a ship to leave the UK on a voyage to Australia and for there to be no word of it until it returned to its home port nine or more months later.
When the Loch Maree sailed from Geelong on October 29, 1881, however, her owners would have received a cable message informing them. Being a fast ship, she was expected to arrive before the middle of January in time for the wool sales. As time passed, she was ‘listed overdue’, then ‘posted missing’, and finally – early in May 1882 – ‘presumed lost’, at which time insurance claims were paid.
Owned by the Glasgow Shipping Company (the Loch Line), the Loch Maree sailed a regular route from Glasgow to Melbourne with a mixed cargo and returned with a cargo of wool. An iron, ship-rigged vessel of 1657 tons with a length of 72m, she had been built at Glasgow in 1874. One of the fastest ships operated by the Loch Line, she had arrived in Melbourne on July 18, 1881, after a passage of 71 days. She unloaded at Williamstown and was towed to Geelong, where she loaded 8847 bales of wool for London. She was sighted by two vessels on the day after her departure, but was never seen again.
The Southern Ocean is perhaps the most dangerous of all because the prevailing westerly winds build up huge waves. It is assumed that many of the vessels ‘presumed lost’ on the passage from Melbourne to the UK were overwhelmed by such waves. Fire caused by spontaneous combustion in damp wool resulted in the loss of ships even before they left port, and it is assumed this was the cause of more ships being lost on the homeward run. The greatest danger, however, was a collision with an iceberg.
A ship that left Melbourne three weeks after the Loch Maree sighted an enormous berg with wreckage floating at its base. It will never be known for certain how the Loch Maree met her end, but this wreckage might have been all that remained of her.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society will not be meeting until further notice.