Shark Bay’s treacherous coastal cliffs and shallow bays have claimed numerous ships over the years including whalers, cargo boats, fishing boats and pearl luggers.
Shipwrecks of historic significance include the Dutch merchant ship Zuytdorp wrecked in 1712; the Norwegian whaler Gudrun in 1901; and a lifeboat from the Kormoran, the German surface raider that destroyed Australian warship HMAS Sydney in November 1941.
Some shipwreck survivors’ camps have been discovered around the Shark Bay coastline. One camp is associated with the wreck of the 335-ton French whaler Persévérant. Built of oak and sheathed with copper, she dragged her anchors in a storm and was blown ashore on Dirk Hartog Island in 1841. The 25-man crew struggled to Cape Levillain on the northern tip of the island and camped there for ten weeks. Five men died of scurvy and are buried on the island but the others sailed four whale boats on a treacherous – and to some, fatal – journey to Indonesia. Archaeologists have discovered brass buttons, glass, ceramics, clay pipes and other artefacts at their camp site.
While the whereabouts of some wrecks are known, most have never been found. The approximate locations of many wrecks in Shark Bay are shown on this map.
Zuytdorp - 1712
The Zuytdorp was wrecked in 1712 on a voyage from Holland to Batavia. It was carrying a cargo of coins, lead and other goods. It is believed that the ship was driven against the coast by a strong north-westerly gale. It is probable that some of the people on board reached the shore and set up camp. Many objects from the ship have been found on land near the wreck site.
Paul Pry – 1839
The Paul Pry was lost at the commencement of George Grey’s expedition to explore the North West. While loading supplies from the beach at Bernier Island, the whale boat was rolled over in the heavy surf and broke up completely.
Perseverant – 1841
The 273 tonne French whaler, Perseverant is believed to have been driven ashore on Dirk Hartog Island during a severe gale in 1841. The crew abandoned ship and set up camp on the island. Five men died of scurvy before the survivors set sail for Java in four of the ship’s small boats. In 1851 Captain Ashley, the master of a guano ship, reported seeing fragments of wreckage soon after he came around Cape Inscription, but it is not known whether the wreckage was from the Perseverant.
Macquarie – 1878
The 127 tonne British brigantine Macquarie was wrecked on Levillian Shoal off Dirk Hartog Island in November 1878 with no lives lost. The ship struck due to poor visibility and the captain was not at fault.
Gudrun – 1901
The Gudrun was a 992 ton Norwegian whaling barque. It was wrecked on Peron Flats when sailing from Bunbury to Falmouth in England with a cargo of timber. The vessel had been deliberately scuttled by the ship’s carpenter. The ship’s figurehead was removed and eventually donated to the Fremantle Maritime Museum. After being restored it was put on display in the museum and a replica is displayed at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham. The wreck and surrounding area have been declared a marine reserve.
Two Sons – 1902
Two Sons, a 16 ton cutter, sank while sailing from Flint Cliff (Hamelin Pool) to Denham with a cargo of sandalwood. The position of the wreck is unknown.
Beagle – 1904
The 22 ton cutter was wrecked at Cape Inscription, Dirk Hartog Island.
Secret – 1904
The 19 ton Secret sank near Faure Island.
Unnamed Lighter – 1906
This 51 ton lighter was wrecked off White Point landing, Dorre Island.
Genesta – 1909
The Fisheries Department vessel Genesta was wrecked off Dorre Island.
Olive – 1916
The 43 ton cutter drifted onto a sand bank on Dorre Island and became a total loss.
Two Friends – 1925
This 15 ton fishing boat was lost with all hands near Peron Peninsula. The wreck’s location is not known.
HMAS Sydney – 1941
The HMAS Sydney sank on 19 November 1941 after a naval battle with the German raider, Kormoran. It was located in 2008 and lies in 2400m of water, 207km off Steep Point. All of the 645 crew were lost.
Kormoran – 1941
The German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran was scuttled off the coast of Shark Bay after a battle with HMAS Sydney on 20 November 1941. The ship was located in 2008 just 12 nautical miles from the Sydney. 73 of the 390 crew lost their lives.
Kormoran lifeboat - 1941
One of the lifeboats from the Kormoran was eventually purchased by the owners of Carrarang Station at Shark Bay and used to transport wool. Its remains can still be seen at Carrarang Landing.
Era – 1958
A former racing yacht, the fishing boat Era sank in South Passage near Monkey Rock. It was a total wreck.