10 Harrowing 19th-Century Maritime Disasters

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8. Cataraqui

On August 4, 1845, the West Coast of King Island became the scene of Australia’s worst civil disaster, with the wreck of the Cataraqui claiming 400 lives. In the early morning hours, the Cataraqui crashed on jagged rocks 137 meters (450 ft) offshore, causing an immediate flood in the lower cabins. As ferocious waves pummeled the decks, scores of passengers were washed overboard to their deaths. Those who didn’t drown found themselves on the jagged rocks, where they were battered to death by the vigorous waves. The few lifeboats that were able to launch were immediately capsized by the surf, drowning all occupants aboard. Throughout the day, the ship gradually collapsed until it fully disintegrated, casting those who desperately clung to the wreckage into the cold waters and their doom.

Surprisingly, 30 passengers remained the following day, clinging to lines that were strung along from the wreck. In a last attempt at survival, they struggled to swim to shore, but only nine made it. Coincidentally, the survivors were greeted by David Howie, a man who had been stranded on King Island following his own boat’s wreck. As time passed, the castaways buried the 342 bodies that washed ashore. Five weeks later, they were rescued and taken to Melbourne.

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