The French barque Adolphe is just one of many shipwrecks that litter the entrance to Newcastle Harbour, yet 110 years after the disaster, this vessel is still one of the most visible. Carol Duncan spoke with Deb Mastello of the Newcastle Maritime Centre. [ABC Radio 2014]
A walk along the 2km stretch of Stockton Breakwall known as the Shipwreck Walk will allow you to see the remains of the Adolphe – yet the remains of The Sygna wrecked in 1974 are expected to be gone within the next decade.
Having sailed from Antwerp, the Adolphe was ultimately heading for Sydney to load wheat, however in large seas the ship came to grief on Newcastle’s notorious ‘Oyster Bank’ in 1904 after colliding with the wreck of another vessel, the Colonist, whilst being manoeuvred in to port by the tugs ‘Hero’ and ‘Victoria’.
The terrible irony of the story of the Adolphe is that it shouldn’t have actually come in to Newcastle at all.
In 1904 there were competing tug companies working in the port and the company that had chartered the Adolphe used its own operators.
When the Adolphe arrived off Newcastle, the captain waited in vain for the tug operators to arrive.
Eventually, the Adolphe was readied to be brought in to port by a competing tug company and it was on the way in that the message was seen at Nobbys Signal Station from the owners of the Adolphe to NOT enter Newcastle, but to continue straight past onto Sydney.
In large seas, the Adolphe was hit by three waves – the first of which broke the rope securing the Adolphe to the Victoria; the second save pushed the Adolphe toward the Oyster Bank (already littered with wrecks); and the third wave lifted the Adolphe and deposited the ship on top of several other wrecks including the Colonist, the Wendouree and the Cawarra. The Cawarra disaster in 1866 itself remains one of the worst in Australian maritime history.
While the loss of the Adolphe was a terrible loss for the company, all 47 persons on board the ship were safely removed and indeed the Australian Consul-General for France came to Newcastle to officially recognise the work of the lifeboat crew.
The rescue of the shipâ€™s crew has gone down in local maritime history as one of the most remarkable in local waters.