Shipwrecks in century-old photographs: A never-ending story?

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Marine Accidents and Safety, Shipping

An act of God or the acts of men. Whatever the cause of the accident, a shipwreck is always a doleful sight. The following photographs from more than a century ago evoke images of fallen soldiers on a battlefield or bones of some ancient animal in a museum. They are all reminders of the heartless power of the sea, the dangers of seafaring, and the fragility of life. For all this, the world of shipping never stops. Young men and women continue to dream of becoming sailors. And disasters at sea still unfold.

“The sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.”

— Joseph Conrad, from The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

Wreck of the SS ADOLPHE with mast of tbe SS REGENT MURRAY, Newcastle, NSW, September 1904
Courtesy of The University of Newcastle, Australia

HEREWARD wrecked on Maroubra Beach, May 1898
Courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum

“Ah Heaven!—behold her crashing ribs divide!
She loosens, parts, and spreads in ruin o’er the tide.”

— William Falconer, from Shipwreck (1762)

Sinking of the SS AUSTRAL, Neutral Bay, New South Wales, November 1882
Photo by John Paine (1833–1908)
Courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum

ENDURANCE final sinking in Antarctica, November 1915
Photo by Frank Hurley (1885–1962)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wreck of the GRATITUDE, Macquarie Island
1911 photo by Frank Hurley (1885–1962)
Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

“A rotten carcass of a boat, not rigged,
Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
Instinctively have quit it.”

— William Shakespeare, from The Tempest (1610–1611)

Wreck of ship DERRY CASTLE on Enderby Island, Auckland Islands, March 1887
Photo by David De Maus (1847–1925)
Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand

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