‘gripping, engaging popular history’ Sydney Morning Herald
The Dunbar was one of the most advanced and celebrated sailing ships of the mid-19th century. Built to carry passengers in speed and luxury on the long route from Britain to Australia, it was the Titanic of its day.
Late at night on 20 August 1857, after an 81-day voyage from Plymouth, the Dunbar was caught by massive waves and storm-force winds near the cliffs of The Gap at Sydney’s South Head and smashed to pieces on the rocks. All but one of the 123 passengers and crew perished: drowned, broken on the cliff face or mauled by sharks.
The catastrophe was one of the worst in Australia’s history, and happened on the doorstep of the young city of Sydney. Bodies and wreckage swept through the Heads and washed up on the harbour’s beaches for days. It demonstrated the precariousness of the colony’s link to the mother country and devastated the city. Its aftermath saw enormous changes to navigation and maritime safety, including the building of the lighthouse that still stands overlooking the Heads.
The Shipwreck is the masterfully told story of the Dunbar. Using the wealth of contemporaneous sources that exist, it follows the personal stories of its crew, the passengers and the sole survivor, James Johnson, to bring to life the world of sail and the tragedy that changed the colony forever.
‘A staggering true story that haunts, wonderfully well told.’
‘A brilliant true story from our maritime colonial past. I honestly felt I was on the pitching deck of that doomed vessel. This is what modern history writing should be like. I wish I’d written it myself!’
Michael Veitch, author of Hell Ship