Dolphin Books

Why did it happen?

On the night of August 20, 1857, the British clipper ship Dunbar was smashed to pieces at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, sending 121 of the 122 passengers and crew to their deaths just as they were preparing to land after their 89 days voyage from England. It was a foul gale-lashed night, which made it difficult to see Macquarie Light on South Head, the only light there in those days. Why did this – Sydney's worst maritime disaster – happen? The wild seas lifted the Dunbar on to the rocks almost under the lighthouse, put there to prevent such a thing happening. The tragedy shocked Sydney and brought down the government of the day.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1886, another fine ship, the SS Ly-ee-Moon, met a similar fate right under the lighthouse at Green Cape, south of Eden NSW. Again this was the only light to be seen for 20 miles. Of 86 people aboard just 15 survived. There was no gale or heavy rain. It was a clear night and the Ly-ee-Moon was driven at 12 knots straight for the reef in front of the lighthouse. The story of those who died and those who survived is one of intense drama. So, too, is the aftermath in which the ship's captain and third officer were both charged with manslaughter.

The stories, linked by the strange coincidence of the lighthouses, are told in a clear non-academic form which makes them very readable, yet everything is completely true. It all happened.