Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Sepia (1898/12/29)

2.9 Km offshore between Carnac and Garden Island

Sepia, a three-masted barque, was built by
Denton, Grey and Company of Hartlepool
and was owned by Bethell, Gwyn and
Company, London. The vessel, well known
as a trader on the Fremantle run, left
London on 14 September 1898. Aboard
were twelve crew and a mixed cargo of
1 200 tons valued at between £1 200 and
£1 400.
Travelling at ten knots on the evening
of 28 December, the Sepia ran before a
strong southerly wind under the main and
topgallant sails. Shipping was seen ahead of the vessel and this was presumed to be
activity at the port of Fremantle. Captain Hugh Thomas was not new to navigation
along this coast. Although no danger was anticipated, as the order was given to
haul up, the barque struck a submerged rock without warning at the edge of Five
Fathom Bank. The vessel sank in less than ten minutes. The speed at which the
Sepia sank made the task of rescuing the crew difficult. Heavy seas were breaking
over the vessel and the cargo had begun to burst through the hatches. The loss of
the vessel was said to have caused ‘a considerable amount of inconvenience to the
firms mentioned, they are depending in great measure upon her for their regular
This site is considered the most complete iron-hulled vessel in the area containing
a well-preserved cargo. The Sepia is representative of the vessels visiting Fremantle,
and the types of cargo imported, in the late 19th century. The Sepia, built in 1864,
is a relatively small vessel compared with contemporary sailers shipping to other
interstate and overseas ports. Yet, as a regular visitor to Fremantle, it is typical of a
late 19th century cargo ship, and analysis of its cargo is expected to provide new
insight into the nature of colonial trade to Western Australia.
Both MAAWA and the Department have conducted work on the wreck. A survey
of a section of the cargo stowage area of the Sepia has been undertaken to identify
and determine the context of a fuller range of late 19th century commodities. It is
anticipated that the position of objects found in situ may be related to those already
in the Department’s collection. In order to interpret the attributes of the wreck
site in a manner consistent with modern archaeological practice, the processes
that led to the deposition of material also need to be understood. In response to
this, site formation analyses have been undertaken to monitor the physical effects
of seasonal change and human impact on the wreck site. There is also a workrelated
programme of wreck inspections of similar sites in the metropolitan area.
Comparison of the cultural assemblages from other contemporary sailing barques
with that of the Sepia will be made to provide a broader view of importations into
the Colony. Site inspections are being made of these wrecks to compare artefact
types and their distribution on site. Literature on this subject includes site plans,
photographs and historical data.


Ship Built

Owner Bethell, Gwyn and Company of London

Master Captain Hugh Thomas

Builder Denton, Grey and Company of Hartlepool

Country Built UK

Port Built Hartlepool

Port Registered London

When Built 1864

Ship Lost

Gouped Region Metro

Sinking Struck rock

Crew 12

When Lost 1898/12/29

Where Lost 2.9 Km offshore between Carnac and Garden Island

Latitude -32.1335833333

Longitude 115.6418666667

Position Information DGPS

Port From London

Port To Fremantle

Cargo Mixed general

Ship Details

Engine N

Length 53.90

Beam 8.80

TONA 725.00

TONB 659.00

Draft 5.80

Museum Reference

Official Number 48814

Unique Number 488

Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk

File Number 2009/0196/SG _MA-447/71

Chart Number AUS 116

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 2002/12

Confidential NO