The Amazon would have looked like this three-masted sailing vessel when it left Melbourne bound for Mauritius on December 12, 1863.

BEACH walkers, getting their COVID-19 exercise on the Inverloch Surf Beach, have been intrigued by the progressive emergence of the remains of a shipwreck, west of the Inverloch Surf Lifesaving Club, near Wreck Creek.

Due to the on-going erosion of sand, parts of the 165-year-old barque are being seen for the first time since the commercial sailing ship was wrecked here on December 15, 1863.

And according to Secretary of the locally-based Amazon 1863 Project Inc, Karyn Bugeja, it has been in the past 48 hours that the group has been able to get a much better picture of what may lie beneath the sand.

“What we thought was the keel has now been revealed as the stem (ship’s bow). That has become more obvious today. You can see the ribs that would have been connected to the keel. And the ribs come underneath (the sand) and join up with the handrail on this side where we have three pieces of handrail (emerging from the eroded sand),” said Mrs Bugeja.

“A section of the ship is still in the water out there, but this piece here has revealed itself as the sand has been eroded away over the past two years,” said treasure of the group, Jackie Laurie.

“A couple of years ago, the wreck was less than seven metres from the sand dunes, before the erosion,” Mrs Bugeja said, indicating where the dunes had since receded back towards Bunurong Road.

“This site is protected by Heritage Victoria. You’ve got to treat it like a sacred site, a pioneer grave. You come in and the only thing you take is a photo and you walk away with your memories of it, that’s all,” Mrs Laurie said.

“And unfortunately, it has suffered from a bit of vandalism and that vandalism has been reported to the police.”

But Mrs Laurie said the hope was that the pieces removed from the site might be returned and form part of a future public display.

Excited by the re-emergence of the ship but also concerned about public interest, Amazon 1863 Project Inc was established last year to protect and preserve the shipwreck site  but at the same time work with Heritage Victoria to collect and conserve items that have become detached from the wreck, and eventually, put them on public display in a museum-like facility in town.

Mrs Bugeja said the group was presently applying for a couple of grants, from Living Heritage Victoria and the local shires to produce some interpretive material and to continue the conservation work.

The group has also reminded would be visitors that now is not the right time to be making special visits to the Inverloch Surf Beach to see the wreck.

Background

Amazon left Melbourne bound for Mauritius on December 12, 1863. The vessel cleared Port Phillip Heads at 8pm that same evening and turned to starboard to head west towards the Indian Ocean.

By 2am on the 13th of December the wind had picked up and by 4am the captain reported the gale had turned into a hurricane. At 14 miles off Cape Otway, the wind tore off some of Amazon’s sails. By the 14th of December, Amazon attempted to return to the Heads and the relative safety of Port Phillip but by noon on the 15th, the captain realised they weren’t going to make it and turned his attention to keeping his vessel away from the shore.

Amazon continued to drift east as the storm still raged through into the next day and at 6am, there were breakers off the port bow and rocks ahead. Amazon struck the beach near what is now the Inverloch Surf Beach at 10am and Captain Ogier kept the vessel on course in an effort to drive the ship as far up the beach as possible.

The crew, having been on deck for 48 hours straight were exhausted, and it wasn’t until 3pm in the afternoon that everyone made it to shore.

They set up tents on the beach the next day and searched the nearby area for signs of inhabitants. There was no sign of anyone until the 21st December when Mr Heales, who was passing close by on his way to Melbourne to visit family for Christmas, saw a distress flag flying.

He escorted Captain Ogier to Melbourne who raised the alarm. The crew were rescued by HMCS Victoria (which happened to be the first vessel of the Victorian Colonial Navy).

Victoria’s captain reported that the wreck was lying broadside onto the beach but embedded into the sand about three metres. The ship was high enough up the beach that it was dry at low tide. He also reported that 60 feet of the main keel and forefoot was broken off and lying on the beach at the high-water mark.

Amazon is historically significant as an example of a mid-19th century wooden international trading vessel that contributed to Victoria’s economy in the 1800s. Built in 1855 in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands of the United Kingdom, the ship may have historical insights into the shipbuilding tradition of that era.

Amazon is archaeologically significant as a rare example of an international wooden trading ship from the mid19th century. Amazon is historically significant for its potential to shed light on life onboard an international cargo vessel at this time and the construction practices associated with 19th century wooden meat packing and transporting practices from that time. Amazon is a representative example of mid-19th century wooden cargo carriers and while Victoria has a number of iron and steel international cargo carrying shipwrecks.

Built country United Kingdom, registration port Jersey, date lost December 15, 1863. Departure Melbourne, destination Mauritius.

Length/Breadth/Depth 131.50 feet/25.50 feet/16.20 feet. Builder Frederick Charles Clarke

Construction material: Wood hull, two decks, square stern, carvel built, wooden framed, no galleries, billet head, felt and yellow metalled in 1861 over copper fastenings. Propulsion sail.

The figurehead of the Amazon is believed to be a carving of a full-bodied Amazon woman but it is not known whether the statue remained with the wreck.

The ribs of the three-masted sailing ship, the Amazon, have started to emerge from the sand at Inverloch as a result of erosion.

Members of the Amazon 1863 Project Inc group, secretary Karyn Bugeja and treasurer Jackie Laurie, chat with passers-by inspecting the shipwreck.