What are the stories behind Fraser Island’s Shipwrecks

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 01/28/2019

Reading time: 3 mins

Discover the vast history of Fraser Island and the many ships sunk nearby!

An island just off the coast of Queensland is a paradise teeming with unspoilt greenery, pristine swimming spots, and golden sand. Listed as the world’s largest sand island, it is the only island where the lush rainforest grows out of the sand.

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992 due to this incredible natural marvel. It is an ancient sight, estimating to have formed over 800, 000 years ago. Divided by ownership, the north side comprises the Great Sandy National Park, while the remaining land consists of state forest and private land.

The island holds many charms, including a colourful history with humans. The island is famous for the large, rusting ship that sits along the beachfront. Creating an iconic contrast from its natural surrounds. But this isn’t the only ship that Fraser Island has claimed, with twenty-three wrecks recorded between 1856 and 1935. Here are the top shipwreck disasters in Fraser Island’s waters.

  • The Maheno Shipwreck

    The Maheno shipwreck has become a landmark attraction to the island. Sitting on the sandy beach, its rusting structure decaying slowly from the continuous waves and weather. But it was not always the rusting heap we see today, built in 1905, the SS Maheno was one of the very first turbine-driven steamers. After her prime time, she was sold to Japan in 1935 for scrap. As it was being towed to Japan a cyclone hit, snapping the tow chain, and leaving Maheno to drift helplessly into the shallow shores of Fraser.

  • The Seabelle Shipwreck

    Listed as one of the first shipwrecks at Fraser Island in 1857. This 158-ton schooner ship set off from Rockhampton but faced tragedy at Breaksea Spit, near the tip of the island. The true misfortune of this story are the following events that occurred. Rumours about survivors of the Seabelle surfaced, with spottings of a white woman and two white girls seen living with the local aboriginal tribe. Authorities went to investigate and brought back the two young girls to Sydney. These girls were in fact not survivors of the shipwreck but albino aboriginals. They were never returned to their parents and soon died in an institution.

  • The Sterling Castle Shipwreck

    The Sterling Castle was headed to London when it struck a coral reef north of Fraser Island in 1836. Many survivors escaped onto the island, including Captain James Fraser. Swimming up to the beachfront only to come face to face with the local indigenous community. Sadly, Captain Fraser never made it off the island, with two retellings of his death. The captain’s wife, Eliza Fraser, accused the Aboriginal people of murdering him. While other surviving crew members stated that the captain’s death was from natural causes. To this day, his death is still a mystery, but the island’s name was changed to Fraser Island after this event to commemorate the late captain.

  • The Panama Shipwreck

    Panama was a 2-masted brig which was beached at Rooney’s Point in 1864. Once beached, the crew faced a skirmish with the local aboriginals but escaped by lifeboat to be picked up near Woody

Related article: The Mysterious Past of the Maheno Ship Wreck

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.