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Loch Ard Gorge | Autopia Tours

The captain said to a young woman his last words and wishes before the ship sank. He remained proud of his profession as a sailor. He perished in the sea with fifty-one others off the shores of Port Campbell. She survived the ordeal with the help of another survivor. Only two of them had reached land.
 
It could have been a material to a feel-good story about love, relationships, and tragedy. Except that it was a real story, and that there was neither love nor a romantic angle of it. There’s only a sea mishap, deaths, and survival. Heroism was a consequence of our desire to live despite a difficult circumstance.
 
When somebody cries for help, it is an instinct to extend our hand. But most spectators want something out of a tragic incident. They want a story. And when there’s a story there must be a hero, or it would not be a story at all.
 
It had been the case of the fate of Loch Ard, a clipper from England bound for Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne. The cargo ship ran aground on a shallow reef near Mutton Bird Island on 1 June 1878.
 
The 29-year old Captain George Gibb with his 36-member crew and 18 passengers left England aboard Loch Ard on 2 March 1878. One member of the crew was the 19-year old apprentice Tom Pearce.
 
Carrying a large cargo, the clipper sailed for Australia on a 3-month voyage. As Loch Ard approached Cape Otway, it was hazy. Visibility was poor. The captain noticed very late the ship was on a collision course with a rock.
 
The shipwreck left only two survivors in Mr Pearce and Ms Evaline Carmichael, a 19-year old Irishwoman who was on a trip to Melbourne with her family. All 52 passengers of Loch Ard perished in the cold waters including the ship’s captain and Ms. Carmichael’s family.
 
When Mr Pearce reached the shore, he heard a woman’s cry for help. He jumped into the water again to rescue Ms Carmichael. She was unconscious when they reached land. He revived her with the help of brandy that was washed ashore.
 
The young sailor raised the alarm to local pastoralists. Two men from Glenample Station came out and helped them. Rescue efforts were carried out to save the ship’s passengers but no other else made it to the shore. All the victims of the Loch Ard tragedy were buried at the foot of the gorge named after the unlucky ship.
 
In Melbourne, Mr Pearce received a hero’s welcome. News of his heroism spread throughout Australia, India, and England.
 
The story would have been a fairy tale if it had a romantic twist. The young lady married the heroic young man who saved her. But that was not the case of Ms Carmichael who was only being true to herself. She married a European aristocrat. Mr Pearce was a sailor and continued to be so until his death twenty years later in Southampton.
 
The ill-fated clipper made its maiden voyage in 1873, survived a stormy journey on the Indian Ocean in 1874, and ended up shipwrecked in 1878.
 
There had been approximately 800 reported shipwrecks off the Bass Strait since 1797, but only a little more than a hundred were discovered.
 
Tragedies expose human vulnerability. The fate of Loch Ard is a poignant reminder that we are frail and fragile.
 
Today, two pillars named after Tom and Eva stand near Loch Ard Gorge.