Shark Bay's History

The Wreck of the Gudrun

The Gudrun

The Gudrun at port in southern Norway (Image courtesy Norsk Sjofartsmuseum)

Mystery and sabotage lie behind the tale of the Gudrun, one of the largest wooden shipwrecks found in Western Australia. The ship sank in 1901 after being sabotaged by the ship’s carpenter! The wreck was only rediscovered in 1989 and is rated as one of Western Australia’s best wreck dives. It is now protected by a sanctuary zone, and provides refuge for a rich array of marine life. The current can be very dangerous, however, so novice divers should only dive this site with an experienced charter operator.

See where the Gudrun lies here.

From sabotage…

The Gudrun was a three-masted wooden barque of 992 tonnes, built in Quebec, Canada, in 1880. She was sold to a Norwegian in 1890 and arrived in Western Australia in 1901 to load jarrah (a native timber) under the command of a Captain Griff. She was on her return journey to Falmouth, England when she started leaking badly. For reasons known only to himself, the ship’s 22-year-old carpenter had drilled a hole through her hull!

After repairs in Fremantle, south of Perth, the Gudrun set out again with her cargo – and with her carpenter in leg irons. But within days the ship was again taking on water. Forced north by strong winds, Griff decided to head for the nearest safe haven, Shark Bay. By the time she reached the Bay, the Gudrun had more than a metre of water in her hold.

Griff deliberately beached the ship in the shallow, sandy flats off Cape Peron in the hope that she could be repaired and refloated at a later date. But when a gale swept through Shark Bay the Gudrun began breaking up, and she was eventually abandoned.

Gudrun shipwreck fact sheet link

For more information on the Gudrun download our fact sheet.

Gudrun wreck near Cape Peron

Gudrun shipwreck off Cape Peron

(© Patrick Barker - WA Maritime Museum)

...To sanctuary

The wreck now lies in about 6 m of water, 5.3 nautical miles north of Cape Peron. A sanctuary zone extends 500 m around the wreck to protect the site and its inhabitants, which include turtles, rays, giant groper, spotted cod, many species of trevally and sweetlips. Check out the boundaries of the Gudrun Wreck Sanctuary Zone here.

Though heavily salvaged in the months following her loss (the figurehead, for example, was removed and is now in the Western Australian Maritime Museum), much still remains of the Gudrun. While the wreck’s superstructure has been flattened by the constant current and occasional cyclone, anchors, fastenings, deck knees and other fittings are all visible above the sandy sea floor.

The Gudrun is protected under Commonwealth law and it is illegal to remove artefacts from the wreck. Line fishing and spearfishing are also not permitted within the Gudrun Wreck Sanctuary Zone.

Learn more about Western Australia’s fascinating maritime history at the Western Australian Maritime Museum. You can also discover more about Shark Bay’s shipwrecks at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham.