On 8 August 1895, the steamship SS Catterthun struck Seal Rock, New South Wales, and foundered, killing fifty-five people.
The Catterthun disaster remains one of the worst shipping tragedies to have occurred on the New South Wales coast.
The steamer left the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company’s wharf in Sydney during the afternoon of 7th August, 1895, en route to Singapore. By 2.25 the next morning, the steamer had sunk with the loss of fifty-five lives.
The Catterthun struck the smaller Seal Rock near Forster. Damaged but still underway, heavy seas continued to break over the vessel.
Officers and crew attempted to swing the lifeboats out, when a wave removed the port boat, taking some of the crew members with it. Waves carried away the cutter and all aboard it as well as part of the bridge with Captain Shannon and the First and Second Officers.
Number one lifeboat was successfully launched but other passengers, including fifteen Chinese passengers returning from the goldfields, remained on board. The Catterthun’s surgeon and the Chief Steward remained with them as the steamer sank in the stormy sea.
Those in the water struggled against mountainous seas. The number one lifeboat stayed in the vicinity and picked up survivors. In total, twenty-six persons were saved.
Along with many lives, the Catterthun’s precious cargo of 9000 gold sovereigns was also lost, though most were successfully recovered in a record breaking salvage in 1896 by divers Briggs. The wreck site has been located.