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Litherland

History

Litherland trypot

Trypot from the Litherland

The Litherland was built at North Birkenhead, England, in 1834. The vessel was originally rigged as a three masted, square rigged ship of 305 and 26/94th tons net (old measurement) and measuring 101'8" long by 25'10" wide with a 16'10"depth of hold.

Following a career in the West Indies and far eastern trade the Litherland was purchased in 1849 by Mr Charles Seal of Hobart while he was in the United Kingdom seeking vessels to add to his whaling fleet. The Litherland sailed from Plymouth for Hobart on 8 February 1849, carrying a general cargo. The vessel arrived at Hobart on 21 May and was subsequently re-equipped for a whaling career and its register transferred to Hobart with Charles Seal as the sole owner.

Between August 1849 and December 1852 the Litherland made four whaling voyages out of Hobart to the south seas and the Bering Straits. Shortly before the return of the Litherland to Hobart on it's final whaling voyage, owner Charles Seal died and subsequently the vessel was put up for auction on 31 December. On 17 February 1853 the Litherland was re-registered at Hobart in the name of Robert Gardiner, John McArthur, James Smith and Phillis Seal, the widow of Charles Seal. James Smith was appointed as the new master of the vessel.

Although the Litherland had operated in the Hobart whaling fleet since 1849 the vessel was carrying coal and other cargo at the time of its loss. A decrease in the price of whale oil since 1850 had led to a sharp decline in the number of whaling voyages carried out by the Hobart fleet. At the same time increased merchant shipping opportunities, prompted by the gold rushes in Victoria and California, gave whale ship owners a means of placing their vessels in more profitable enterprises. In 1853 at least 14 of the Hobart whaling ships including the Litherland were employed in this manner.

The Loss of the Litherland

The Litherland had been undergoing repairs at Hobart until the end of March 1853. On 4 April the vessel cleared out from Hobart in ballast and arrived on the 17th at Newcastle, New South Wales. The Litherland left Newcastle for Hobart on 18 June, loaded with 420 tons of coal, 666 dozen oranges and 750 pounds of bacon. On the evening of the 23rd the Litherland was bearing up for shelter in the lee of Clarke Island in Bass Strait when it struck a rock close to shore and quickly sank. All on board reached shore and were later taken on to Hobart by the Scotia. Captain Smith of the Litherland provided the following account of the loss to the Hobart newspapers:

At 8 o'clock on the 23rd the wind was variable from S. to S.E., ship heading S.W., Clarke Is. bearing west, distance about 30 miles, at 11 a.m. bore up for ClarkeÕs Island, the wind at S.E. blowing hard with thick hazy weather. At 4 p.m. got up 60 fathoms of chain on the larboard anchor, and 35 fathoms of chain cable on the starboard anchor, and got both anchors ready to be let go. At 5 p.m. shortened sail, Clarke's Island bearing north, distance about five miles. At half past 5 p.m. rounded the west point of Clarke's Island, ship close to the wind, under both fore and main topsails and foresail, thinking to bring up in the right harbour, but found the ship surrounded with rocks, there not being room to wear or stay, let go the anchor. A few seconds after the anchor was gone the vessel struck a sunken rock, the ship payed off the rock, and commenced going down head foremost. I ordered the boat to be cut away and all hands to get into her. One minute after we got into the boat she sank. We all left the ship as we stood upright for we could save nothing. We all proceeded ashore in the boat and hauled her up, all landing safe, the weather being thick and hazy at the time and heavy showers of rain. The vessel went down so suddenly that the captainÕs wife, who was on board, had no time to secure a bonnet for herself or her child of 4 years old which was with her. Nothing was saved. There were ten seamen on board, and when down the gallant-yard was just perceptible above water. Captain James of the Scotia, when five days out from Geelong, humanely hove his vessel to and took the captain and crew from the island, and, kindly administering to their wants, has brought them on to this port.

(Hobart Town Courier, 30 June 1853)

The Site

The wreck of the Litherland was rediscovered in 1983 by local divers on the western side of Clarke Island, slightly south east of Spike Island in an area known as Deadmans Gulch. The visible remains consisted of three trypots, two anchors, a windlass, scattered timbers and concreted iron work. The wreckage is spread over an area approximately 50 metre by 15 metres and lies at a depth of between 10 and 13 metres. The position of the anchors and associated chain on the wreck site confirm that the Litherland struck a granite pillar, which rises to less than two metres below the surface, before swinging in towards shore and sinking within a sand gully surrounded by rocks on three sides.

The site was surveyed and a series of three test excavations was carried out during January 1990. The work showed the survival of material had been severely limited by the shallow depth of the sediments and the exposed nature of the site. While a number of the ships timbers and other elements including the trypots and anchors was located it appears that the hull has broken up completely.

Although the wreck of the Litherland is poorly preserved it is significant as the only located site of a Hobart whaling vessel. The Litherland was gazetted as a protected wreck in 1985 under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

Further Reading

Nash, M. 1990. "Survey of the Historic Ship Litherland (1834-1853)" Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 14(1): 13-20.

Nash, M. 1996. Shipwrecks of the Furneaux Group, Occasional Paper No. 37, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Hobart.