· Constructed 1883 in London, United Kingdom, originally named the Woodburn.
· Twin screw steamer, steel construction, compound engine.
· Tonnage 295.67 (metric), length 14.4 meters, width 2.35 meters, draft 0.99 meters.
· Wrecked 11 October 1911 off Port Stephens, on a voyage from Newcastle to the Northern Rivers.
The Macleay rests on a sandy bottom surrounded by low rock reef, scattered bombora, and kelp beds. The Macleay is best done as a technical decompression dive, although it is still an exciting site for recreational divers.
There is a large prominent bombora nearby which is often is often mistaken for the wreck on fish finders and bottom sonars, leading many divers operating off private boats to complete a dive on the "Mc-Rock". It is considered something of a local rite of passage.
Descending the mooring line will take you directly to the propeller shaft. A short distance away is the boiler, which is unusually large for a vessel this size, and the engine. The area is littered with the shattered remains of decks, bulkheads and hull. Digging around in the rubble can uncover all sorts of interesting artefacts.
Heading towards the bow you will see cargo hatches and deck winches, and eventually reach the large admiralty anchors resting in the sand.
Back past the mooring line and the stern is relatively intact but somewhat separated from the rest of the rubble. The propeller has been removed.
The Macleay is somewhat exposed to easterly wind and swell, including back surge from the nearby Little Island.
Water temperature varies from 16 to 24 degrees.
Visibility can vary greatly over the Macleay at different times and depths from 0 to 35 meters. The site is close enough to the entrance to Nelson Bay to be effected by runoff from the bay so the best visibility is on an incoming tide.
The most common dive conditions are 20 meters visibility and 20 degrees water temperature in the water column, dropping to 5 meters visibility and 16 degrees in the last 5 meters depth over the wreck. The shock of the change in conditions tends to exaggerate the narcotic effects of the depth.
On her final voyage, the Macleay left Newcastle at 4:00 pm on 11 October 1911, bound for the Clarence River. The Macleay had a crew of seventeen, under the command of Captain Keith Donald. The Macleay carried a main cargo of coal, three horses, and some general cargo.
The Macleay passed the southern headland of Port Stephens on a heading of North-North-East. Captain Donald left the first officer, Henry Goldsmith in command and went down to his cabin. For reasons that were never fully explained to the Court of Marine Enquiry by, Charles Petterson, the only survivor who was present on the bridge, the first officer then apparently changed course to North-East.
The new course took the Macleay directly on the reef at the South East corner of Boondelbah Island.
The Macleay rolled over and sank within ten minutes of striking the reef.
Only two members of the crew survived, and only three bodies were recovered.
Max Gleeson (1996) “Shipwrecks, Storms and Seamen”. [This book can be purchased at http://maxgleeson.com/].
The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld : 1875 - 1929), Saturday 21 October 1911, page 16, available at National Library of Australia.
Australian Government - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; "Australian National Shipwreck Database", available at on 13 March 2012.