No trip on the Great Ocean Road is complete without a visit to the Loch Ard Gorge. Approximately ten minutes drive West of the Twelve Apostles, the Loch Ard Gorge is a breathtaking site that virtually all Great Ocean Road tours will include.
As you travel the Great Ocean Road, beautiful coastline with jagged rocks and sweeping beaches will reveal itself at every turn. But in that beauty lies danger. This area is also known as the Shipwreck Coast. Between 1830 and 1940 approximately 638 shipwrecks occurred in this area (with only 240 of the shipwreck sites being discovered). When the weather turns in this area, it is hellish.
One of the most famous of these shipwrecks is that of the Loch Ard in 1878. As the end of its three month journey from England to Melbourne neared, the Loch Ard was caught in fog. The confused ship was dangerously close to land and, realizing the peril too late, in the early morning hours of June 1st it struck the reef near Mutton Bird Island.
The crash threw limestone from surrounding cliffs onto the ship’s deck. Many of the passengers and crew were washed overboard and efforts to launch lifeboats were thwarted by the treacherous conditions. The Loch Ard sank within fifteen minutes of the crash.
However, during the chaos one Tom Pearce, a young crew member who had attempted to launch the first lifeboat, was able to hold onto the lifeboat’s overturned hull and use it for shelter and one Eva Carmichael, who was swept of the ship by a wave, found a chicken coop or a broken ship’s mast to which she clung. After drifting into the gorge, Tom managed to swim to shore and found a cave in which he could hide from the elements. He was disturbed, however, by the cries of Eva. Eva, who was unable to swim, was washed into the gorge after five hours in the water. An exhausted Tom swam to her rescue and brought the by then unconscious Eva to shore and revived her with some brandy that had washed onto the beach. Of the over fifty passengers and crew on the Loch Ard, only Tom and Eva survived.
The two eighteen year olds spent a chilly night in the cave. Tom then scaled the cliffs out of the gorge to find help and ran into individuals from Glenample Homestead.
I think it would be appropriate to take a moment to note two things at this point. First, it was really cold. I visited Loch Ard Gorge during the height of summer. And even then, it was cold. The water circulating this area is argued by the Australians as part of the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean. I took a dousing when standing on the shoreline for a photo (a wave rushed up to my waist) and I can personally attest that it was unpleasant. It is difficult to imagine surviving five hours in the water at the height of winter. Second, it was remote. At the time, there were no stairs to climb out of the gorge. And then once out of the gorge, there were no roads. Glenample Homestead was roughly six kilometers away and I suspect Tom had no idea which way to go to reach the nearest civilization. It is difficult to imagine the level of exhaustion he must have faced and to then emerge from the gorge after climbing those walls and to look around and see nothing but wilderness. It was surely a daunting prospect, to say the least.
Tom and Eva became celebrities in Australia. As a good lad of his time, Tom proposed to Eva, who had been sullied by spending the night in the cave with him. Although she thought he was a nice boy and she had spent a considerable amount of time with him during their recovery at the Glenample Homestead, she rejected his offer of marriage and returned to her extended family in Ireland. Tom returned to the sea and the two never saw each other again—much to the public’s disappointment.
Tom died at sea at the age of 49 and Eva lived until the age of 73. Eva, who had lost her family in the wreck, is said to have been haunted by the experience. She reported that shortly before being swept off the, she had encountered Captain Gibbs, a newly married 29 year old, who said, “If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor.”
Loch Ard Gorge is located in Port Campbell National Park, 190 kilometers South-West of Melbourne.