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Published February 23rd 2016
Your chance to see a local shipwreck
It is hard to believe that the peaceful and serene waters of Horseshoe Bay could be a tragedy-in-waiting. Today it is one of the South Coast's most popular and family friendly beaches with the natural curvature of the bay always seeming to provide shelter. But it wasn't always like that.
In the late 1840's the Murray River was a significant trade route however they couldn't get the goods to / from ocean ships due to the hazardous Murray Mouth. So the solution was to build a short railway from Goolwa to Port Elliot, and for Port Elliot to become the coastal outlet for the river trade. Despite some local opposition, Port Elliot with its sheltered bay was considered as the most appropriate town on the South Coast.
Vessels started arriving from 1851 with construction materials, and the jetty, moorings and Australia's first public railway were built and optimism was running high with buoyant activity at Goolwa and Port Elliot. However in May 1853 a tragedy struck Port Elliot when the schooner Emu and its crew of four was lost during some unfavourable weather conditions.
Memories of the ill-fated Emu faded and local confidence grew with 85 vessels visiting during 1855 including the arrival of the first vessel from overseas, the brig Lady Emma. However a different story was about to unfold in 1856, commencing in February when the schooner Commodore dragged its anchor in gusty conditions and struck the rocky promontory now known as Commodore Point.
July saw Port Elliot's reputation tarnished again when the Josephine Loizeau broke from its moorings, while in September the ketch Lapwing drifted inshore during a storm. Debate was shared on the adequacy of moorings, training of the crews and the growing reputation of Horseshoe Bay as a "ship-trap".
New moorings were laid in October, but these couldn't help the fully laden brig Harry who faced the full force of a swell and rang aground and became another wreck. With four losses in a year, the Government acted quickly and determined that the use of Port Elliot should be minimised and an alternative port and rail line should be built to Port Victor.
In 1860 the schooner Flying Fish became another shipwreck while in March 1864, one week before the opening of the new railway, the brigantine Athol dragged its anchors and grounded. From 1851 to 1866 more than 500 vessels used the areas facilities as a seaport but it was the unfortunate wrecking of 7 ships that caused its eventual demise.
The Port Elliot Maritime Heritage Trail is a self-guided walk that highlights Port Elliot's role as the first seaport for the River Murray trade. The Harry, Josephine Loizeau, Lapwing and Flying Fish are often exposed within the surf zone at Horseshoe Bay and continue to interest many visitors from the walk, the beach or the nearby Harbourmaster's Walk. Mystery surrounds the exact location of the remaining shipwrecks which lie just outside Horseshoe Bay. For more information on the trail a brochure is available, five interpretive signs have been placed on the foreshore of Horseshoe Bay and a large sculpture sits alongside the Obelisk overlooking the bay that caused so much dismay.