The South Australian was a composite-hull clipper ship that voyaged annually between London to South Australia for about 20 years. It was built at North Sands, Sunderland, 1868 and sank on 14th February 1889 while on a new passage from Cardiff to Rosario, Argentina, loaded with railway track and rail fishplates.
Reasons for Designation
The South Australian, located in the Bristol Channel, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Period: The South Australian is highly representative of the short period of composite clipper ship building between 1860 to 1880; before competition from steam ships became too intense;
* Historic interest: Of interest for its composite construction with timber planking on a wrought-iron frame. This innovative method of construction gave the South Australian the structural strength of an iron ship but with good insulation and allowed it to successfully deliver very significant cargos to Australia, such as the Victoria Bridge;
* Rarity: The South Australian is the only clipper ship wrecked in English waters that was built during the first decade of clipper ship construction. The South Australian is a year older than the Cutty Sark;
* Potential: As much as 1.9m of hull remains buried offering the potential for preserved cargo (comprising British-manufactured munitions), machinery and structure, and;
* Group value: The South Australian has group value with other protected wrecks on the eastward side of Lundy and within the Lundy Special Area of Conservation (SAC); including Gull Rock (NHLE 1000053) and Iona II (NHLE 1000051).
The South Australian was a composite-hull clipper ship that voyaged annually between London to South Australia for about 20 years. It was built at North Sands, Sunderland, 1868 by William Pile for Devitt & Moore's ‘Adelaide Line’ of packet ships and was a successor to the famous City of Adelaide ship – a former A-listed structure in Scotland and part of the UK’s National Historic Fleet.
The South Australian was a notable carrier of dead weight (an amount of heavy cargo), and amongst the numerous ‘specialties in her freightage’ for Australia, the ship is known to have delivered the Victoria Bridge, which spanned the River Torrens; the most significant river of the Adelaide Plains.
On 13th February 1889 while on a new passage from Cardiff to Rosario, Argentina, loaded with railway track and rail fishplates, the South Australian ran into a gale off Lundy Island and the captain decided to run before the wind. As the ship rolled in the tremendous seas the cargo began moving about in the hold as a solid mass and in the early hours of the 14th February broke through the hull.
As the ship began to sink a lifeboat was deployed under difficult conditions and all but one of the crew was saved, being picked up by the schooner Spray.
The South Australian is of composite construction with timber planking on a wrought-iron frame. This innovative method of construction provides the structural strength of an iron ship combined with the insulation of a timber hull. Such construction spans the period between fully rigged wooden ships and later steamship technology. However, unlike iron ships, where a copper bottom would cause corrosion in contact with the iron, the timber bottoms of composite ships could be sheathed with metal, usually muntz, to prevent fouling. The iron frames meant that composite ships could carry large amounts of canvas sail and were therefore some of the fastest ships afloat. Such ships were built in the relatively short period from about 1860 to 1880 (and include the clipper Cutty Sark – launched 1869 and now Grade I listed), before competition from steamships became too intense. For example, when the Cutty Sark was deemed unprofitable in 1892, it was sold to a Portuguese shipping company.
The cargo of iron was discovered in 1986 at a depth of 42 metres in the Bristol Channel by members of the Ilfracombe & North Devon Sub-Aqua Club. Identification of the South Australian was confirmed in 2005.
Geophysical survey in July 2015 recorded that the most obvious feature of the wreck was the large stack of rails, extending some 3.8m above the seabed. Full details of how the rails and fish plates were stowed within the vessel are given in the Board of Trade wreck report (1889).
The majority of the cargo was stowed in the lower hold with the remaining items stowed in the overlying between decks. The rails were not all stowed lying parallel to each other along the length of the ship as some layers were arranged in diamond and chequered fashion within the lower hold. In the between decks the rails do all appear to have been aligned fore and aft. The fish plates were fitted in around the stacked rails. The appearance of the rails in the sidescan sonar data matches the description of how they were stowed, with the majority of the rails appearing parallel to each other as they were arranged in the upper hold. Buried deposits, containing small finds, appear to lie to the south and west of the rail stack.
Though built in 1868 during a period of extensive composite ship building in the UK, the South Australian is the only clipper ship wrecked in English waters that was built during the first decade of clipper ship construction. Two other clippers are known; the wreck sites Smyrna (built 1876, wrecked 1888) and the Polynesia (built 1874, wrecked 1890).
An area of 75m within 51.21343, -4.60267 forms the protected area.