The location of eleven shipwrecks that have occurred in Tasmanian
waters. For more information click on one of the vessels' names.
As an island colony and later state of the Commonwealth of Australia, Tasmania has always been fundamentally dependent on shipping services to connect it to the outside world. However, lying in the path of the winds known as the 'roaring forties', the waters around Tasmania have proved treacherous to mariners. Since the wreck of the ship Sydney Cove in 1797, around 1,000 vessels of all sizes are known to have been lost in Tasmanian waters up to the present day.
Although the locations of less than 10% of these shipwrecks are presently known these sites are an important part of our national maritime heritage, a unique gift from our past. While many shipwrecks can only be visited by suitably qualified divers material may also be seen on the sea shore or in tidal zones. Many shipwreck sites are often left unlocated or undisturbed for years and some natural processes of decay and decomposition are stopped or substantially slowed in the underwater environment. For these reasons shipwreck sites are time capsules which can open a window into history.
Managing Tasmania's Shipwrecks
Wreck of the Croyden
at the Pieman River, 1924
In Tasmania the Historic Heritage Section of the Parks and Wildlife Service is the government authority responsible for the management of the State's historic shipwrecks
and other maritime heritage sites. From its base in Hobart the Branch is actively involved in researching, locating and surveying shipwreck sites. It is also concerned with the dissemination of information through publications and actively works with organisations such as the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, on the conservation and display of artefacts. In recent years the Branch has also carried out an extensive research and excavation program on the Sydney Cove shipwreck in Bass Strait.
The Historic Heritage Section is also responsible for the administration of legislation that provides protection for a number of shipwreck sites in the State's internal and coastal waters, including sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.
Shipwrecks and the Law
Two laws protect the remains of shipwrecks in Tasmanian waters. The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 applies to Australian Commonwealth waters extending from the low water mark to the outer edge of the continental shelf. The State Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995 applies to shipwrecks that lie within the state waters of Tasmania (harbours, enclosed bays, estuaries, rivers and lakes).
Wreck of the Eden Holme
at Hebe Reef, 1907
Under both these Acts all shipwrecks and their associated artefacts which were lost over 75 years ago are automatically protected. Shipwrecks that occurred less than 75 years ago may also be individually protected under these Acts if they are considered to be significant. In special circumstances when a shipwreck is considered highly significant or vulnerable a 'Protected Zone' may be declared around the site, requiring a permit from the management authority to enter. There are currently no 'Protected Zones' in Tasmania.
In all instances members of the public are welcome to visit shipwrecks provided they do not collect artefacts or otherwise disturb or damage the sites. Underwater sites are often quite delicate and even apparently small disturbances can result in considerable long term damage. Under the current laws it is illegal to interfere with a protected shipwreck site without a permit from the managing authority.
Both laws require discoveries of a shipwreck or the possession of artefacts from protected shipwrecks to be reported. For the reporting of sites, permits, advice or information concerning Tasmania's shipwrecks and other maritime heritage places please contact:
Historic Heritage Section
Parks and Wildlife Service
134 Macquarie St
Hobart 7000 Tasmania
Ph: 03 6165 4220
email - Mike.Nash@parks.tas.gov.au
Listed below are eleven shipwrecks that have occurred in the waters surrounding Tasmania during the last two hundred years. For more information on these wrecks select one of the highlighted titles.
Scattered around the coastline of Tasmania lie the remains of many rusting metal hulks and decaying wooden vessels; watercraft that once served as the workhorses of the maritime trades. Why were these vessels abandoned? See our page on abandoned vessels.
The Tasmanian Maritime Heritage Program [PDF - 392KB]. In Nash, M (2003). The Tasmanian Maritime Heritage Program. Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 27: 43–58
The web site of the Australian Federal Department of Environment and Heritage has a wide range of information on historic shipwrecks.
Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA)
AIMA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of underwater cultural heritage, and promotion of maritme archaeology conducted in accordance with internationally accepted ethical standards.
King Island Maritime Trail
An online trail to all sites around the island, where interpretation signage tells some of the stories of the shipwrecks.
Lighthouses of Australia/Tasmania
A project undertaken to promote and coordinate the presentation of Australian lighthouses on the internet
Michael Nash (2000). Cargo for the Colony: The 1797 Wreck of the Merchant Ship Sydney Cove. Navarine Publishing: Canberra. This publication is also available as a PDF. See our page, Sydney Cove - further information