It sits encrusted in marine life, as a stark reminder of the lives lost at sea in one of Australia's greatest maritime disaster. The wreck of the Keilawarra near North Solitary Island.

UNCOVERED: Shipwrecks of the Coffs Coast

2nd May 2018 5:00 AM
UPDATED 14th June 3:00 AM
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HISTORIC shipwrecks sites litter the coast and rivers of the North Coast, with the rugged shore, reefs, islands and river mouths of NSW the resting place of an estimated 2,000 shipping losses.

The Coffs Coast is famed as the site of NSW's worst peacetime maritime disaster, the sinking of the SS Keilawarra off North Solitary Island, 131 years ago.

The doomed 784-ton steamer today rests in 75 metres of water, fated to the ocean floor after it collided with a smaller steamer the Mary Nicholl on the nighty of December 8, 1886.

That night at least 40 people lost their lives with many bodies washing ashore on local beaches. One victim of the wreck, a unknown man, is notably buried in a marked grave on the Emerald Beach headland.


As the years passed interest grew in the disaster.

Before the wreck was officially confirmed as the Keilawarra by a dive team led by John Riley and Kevin Denlay on September 18, 2000.

A local professional fisherman Darcey Wright helped to pin point its resting place having long suspected one of his favourite fishing points was a shipwreck.

As The Advocate reported in 2010, divers inspecting the condition of the wreck noted the shipwreck's safe had been plundered in a modern-day act of piracy.


The valuable artefacts contained in that safe, such as the passenger log and their valuables, will never be known.

Site of the Coffs Coast's most spectacular shipwreck site, the Keilawarra is just one of the wrecks of the Solitary Islands, which were first plotted by Captain James Cook on his voyage north in 1770.

As the first point of colonisation the shipping industry was integral to the growth of the state both economically and demographically.

But the rugged natures of the coast saw thousands of vessels meet their end.

The Keilawarra Shipwreck: The SS. Keilawarra lays wrecked in 75 metres of water near North Solitary Island.
The Keilawarra Shipwreck: The SS. Keilawarra lays wrecked in 75 metres of water near North Solitary Island.

With the growth of trade between states commercial vessels were a frequent sight on the horizon and with more people using vessels as a means of transport for longer journey's it seems inevitable that a number of these journeys would end in tragedy.

The impact of numerous wrecks was such that many local areas named the area in honour of the vessel and its tragic end.

For many communities the wrecks are permanent reminders of the power of the sea, for others it is a memorial to those who perished.