Local Wrecks – Inshore waters between Hinchinbrook Island and Cape Cleveland contain a surprisingly large number of wrecked ships and aircraft. These wrecks can be categorised by how they came to be in their final locations. For example; loss through storm action, navigational error, on-board fire, or just scuttled for a particular reason. This last category accounts for several wrecks around Magnetic Island. As Townsville expanded after European settlement, decommissioned vessels appear to have been scuttled close to private jetties by land holders attempting to protect their structures from the prevailing seas.
The Halifax and Cleveland Bay areas were also used as staging and training grounds during WWII by Australian and U.S. forces. Lost and discarded war-era aircraft forms another category of wreck within the Townsville region.
The following index provides an overview of these local wrecks.
The idea for an index was formed during a visit to the Magnetic Museum, located on Magnetic Island in the heritage-listed former Picnic Bay School. Magnetic Museum is managed and operated by local volunteers, who provide a very informative service to visitors. I thank them for their efforts in supplying reference material during the development of this index. The museum is located at 11-15 Granite Street, Picnic Bay, and is open from 10am to 2pm each day (except Tuesdays), from Easter to Australia Day (closed 26th January to 2nd April). Find it at; what’s on magnetic island.com.au.
Magnetic Museum has a reading and reference room where I was shown the small paperback book; A Guide to Magnetic Island’s Coastline and Reef, by Chris Hughes and Scott Lomax. The guide was written as a pocket reference for visitors with an interest in the island’s water-based pursuits such as; snorkelling, diving, line fishing, spear fishing, and boating. When released in 1989, this book probably led the field in terms of supplying divers and fishermen with a ‘pocket guide’ for the area. Today much of the guide’s information is still very relevant and highly useful, and it helped us establish which wrecks to list in early versions of our index. This initial information was validated using the Australian National Shipwreck Database (ANSD), and then supplemented with knowledge from local divers (where possible). Where we found information on a wreck to be inconsistent or contradictory, then ANSD data was adopted in preference to all others.
We anticipate the index will undergo continual improvement as existing wreck data is refined, and new wreck data is gathered. If you have content you think would be suitable for inclusion, please write to us using the NQUEC Contact Tool.
Argonaut II – Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1947, wreck event; fire, 1978, depth; 6m.
Notes: A double-masted auxiliary ketch of 178t mass, and 32m length, intended for use as a floating restaurant. Located around 300m due west of the first inlet above the eastern end of the Horseshoe Bay beach.
Balmunda – Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, built; unknown, wreck event; fire, 1981, depth; 3m to 6m.
Notes: A 12m commercial prawn trawler, which caught fire and sank whilst moored. Exact location is un-confirmed, but estimated to be 500m offshore from the midpoint of Horseshoe Bay beach.
Bee – Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1884, wreck event; stranded, 1901, depth; 0m to 2m.
Notes: A single screw steamer of 17t mass, and 21.4m length, used as a Magnetic Island ferry. It stranded due to steering malfunction after casting off from the Picnic Bay Jetty. It’s wreckage remains mostly covered by sand just off the southern end of the Picnic Bay beach.
Burdekin – Young Bay, Magnetic Island, built; unknown, wreck event; holed, date unknown, depth; 0m to 2m.
Notes: A sugar transport, beached after striking Burdekin Rock, although the damage was later deemed unrepairable. It’s wreckage remains in Young Bay, just offshore from the southern end of the beach.
City of Adelaide – Off Cockle Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1864, wreck event; ran aground under tow, 1915, 0m to 2m.
Notes: An iron three-masted single-screw passenger steamer of 843t mass, and 77m length. It had a long service life including international passenger movement. The wreck supports mangrove vegetation, and was once used by locals as a tidal swimming pool.
George Rennie – Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1885, wreck event; scuttled, 1902, depth; 0m to 2m.
Notes: Originally built as a 151 ton paddle steamer, and later converted and used as a coal transport. It’s wreckage can been seen from Picnic Bay beach at low tide in the lee of Hawkings Point.
Lallah Rokh – Bremner Point, Magnetic Island, built; unknown, wreck event; assumed ran aground, 1896, depth; 5m to 7m.
Notes: A ketch employed at the time as a timber transport. It’s wreckage is rarely visited and reported on, but divers can access it by boat, or by sub-surface swim from Alma Bay.
Lavinia – Nelly Bay close to Hawkings Point, Magnetic Island, built; unknown, wreck event; storm action, 1896, depth; unconfirmed, assumed to be 5m to 8m.
Notes: A timber brigantine of 119t mass, and 30m length, used to ferry timber and sugar. Lost with one life when it was driven into rocks during Cyclone Sigma.
Magnet – Florence Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1906, wreck event; stranded, 1917, depth; 9m.
Notes: A motor vessel of 15t mass, and 15m length, used as a Magnetic Island ferry. It was initially damaged after striking a reef within Florence Bay. It was then anchored in the bay overnight, but dragged anchor and was completely destroyed against rocks. It’s wreckage is located in the exact dead centre of the bay.
Moltke – Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1870, wreck event; scuttled, 1911, depth; 2m to 6m.
Notes: An iron three-masted barque of 828t mass, and 59m length. It is perhaps Magnetic Island’s best known and most frequently dived wreck. It was scuttled as a break-water (out of position), and was used for target practice by allied pilots in WWII. During the war, a military aircraft is rumoured to have crashed at the site after colliding with the wreck’s (then exposed) masts.
Morning Light – Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, built; 1873, wreck event; unknown, 1913, depth; 0m to 2m.
Notes: A schooner of 53t mass, and 21.3m length. It was later converted to a lighter, and appears to have been used at one point to transport indentured labour. It’s wreckage is located 40m out from the mouth of the creek towards the western end of Horseshoe Bay beach.
Octopus – Desolation Point (between Gowrie and Radical Bays), Magnetic Island, built; 1882, wreck event; scuttled, 1928, depth; un-confirmed, assumed to be 8m to 10m.
Notes: A bucket dredge of 300t mass, and 50m length. It was scuttled 6 years after being beached in Nelly Bay for reasons unknown. Local advice suggests the wreckage is located 70m north-east from the point, and remains a popular fishing spot as it lies at the junction of two opposing currents.
Platypus – Arthur Bay, Magnetic Island, built; unknown, wreck event; scuttled, date unknown, depth; 3m to 7m.
Notes: Used as Townsville’s first channel dredge. It is largely broken up, although the steam boilers remain. It lies in the last rocky cove before the point at the northern end of Arthur Bay.
Mystery of the Magnet
Florence Bay is a picturesque and highly-visited Magnetic Island locale, which is also home to a wreck with an interesting and somewhat disputed history. The Magnet was a 15 ton 46 foot timber-hulled motor launch, built by Robert Hayles in 1906 at the family’s Picnic Bay boat building facility. After extensive service as the third Hayles Magnetic Island ferry, it was sold to Alf Leon who continued to use it as a tourist vessel, until it was wrecked on the 25th of March 1917. On that day, the Magnet was carrying a picnic party from Florence Bay when it collided with a shallow reef that damaged the vessel’s propeller shaft. The collision immobilised the vessel, so passengers and crew were offloaded. The Magnet was then left at anchor, with plans made to return the next morning to attempt repairs. Unfortunately, it dragged anchor that night and was completely wrecked against rocks.
However, some sources claim the vessel was wrecked in 1919 rather than 1917, and not within Florence Bay; instead, suggesting is was lost during a cyclone which drove it ashore outside the bay. This account is at odds with the Australian National Shipwreck Database (ANSD), which lists it as wrecked in 1917, and in the centre of the bay rather than outside the bay. In the 1989 book ‘A guide to Magnetic Island’s Coastline and Reef’ by Hughes and Lomax, the authors suggest the Magnet was scuttled in about 8m of water at low tide “somewhere out in the mouth of the bay” (page 25). This assertion is plausible, considering that authorities would likely have wanted the owner to at-least remove the remains from the shoreline to deeper water where it wouldn’t pose a hazard.
In 1998, the James Cook University School of Maritime Archaeology conducted a study of Magnetic Island waters, and several attempts were made to locate the wreck of the Magnet. The group’s efforts were publicised in the July/August edition of the local newspaper; the Magnetic Times. The group conducted searches inside and outside Florence Bay using side-scan sonar and a magnetometer, and found a large object of interest near the mouth of Florence Bay, which they assessed was man-made. However, their find came towards the end of the study, and they were not able to verify it with divers.
Most divers looking for sites within Florence Bay (author included) are naturally attracted to the northern end of the bay, where the bottom supports the most amount of coral growth. Hopefully this story gives readers motivation to conduct their own exploratory diving in and around Florence Bay, to once-and-for-all solve the mystery of the Magnet.
NQUEC would like to acknowledge and thank the curator and the volunteer staff of the Townsville Maritime Museum, for supplying reference material used in the development of this content.