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Culture and heritage

Aboriginal people knew this shore well and had cut steps down the sheer cliffs to access food.

European explorers soon realised the dangers of the coastline and gave it a wide berth. However, a number of shipwrecks still occurred giving it the title of the Shipwreck Coast.

Bass Strait was a major shipping route supplying the growing colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. There are five shipwrecks located near this park. The best known and one of the most dramatic shipwrecks was the Loch Ard, wrecked in 1878.

Built in 1873, the Loch Ard was a three-masted square-rigged ship of 1693 tons gross weight, 262 feet 7 inches long and 38 feet wide, with a depth of 23 feet. It was carrying 54 passengers and crew on a non-stop run from London to Melbourne in 1878. Three months out from London, the captain was expecting to site Cape Otway, but the ship smashed into the cliffs just outside the gorge and sank in 20 minutes.

Fifty-two lives were lost and the only two survivors, Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce, were swept into the nearby Gorge and managed to crawl up the beach to safety. Later, they were taken to Glenample Homestead to recuperate.

The rest of the Carmichael family died and are commemorated on the headstone of one of the graves along with four other victims of the wreck which were buried on the cliff top in what is now Loch Ard Cemetery.

After the Loch Ard tragedy a rocket shed and rocket-and-mortar crew were established at Port Campbell. The crew fired lines to distressed ships enabling those on board to haul themselves to safety in a breeches buoy- a lifebuoy with support in the form of short trousers or breeches.

View the collection records for Port Campbell Rocket Shed here