Map of Marion Bay & SS Willyama wreck - Google Earth 2013Map of Marion Bay & SS Willyama wreck - Google Earth 2013

As described in my article titled “Three Days at Marion Bay” in our May newsletter, a highlight of our trip was our visit to the site of the wreck of the Willyama near Marion Bay on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. The 2704-ton (or 2705t) SS Willyama sank in Marion Bay, near Rhino Head, on 13th April 1907. She had been built, just 10 years earlier, in 1897 (for the Adelaide Steamship Co.). Her cargo was 4000 tons of coal from Newcastle. This coal, which was bound for Port Pirie, is said to have “provided many (of Yorke) peninsula’s residents with a private coal supply, at no charge, for many years” (“Yorke Peninsula Shipping” by Ronald Parsons).

The SS Marion ran ashore about 1½ miles east of Cape Spencer in July 1862. She is said to have been wrecked in the bay already named Marion Bay after an earlier shipwreck. The 919-ton, three-masted, wooden (teak) migrant ship Marion was wrecked on a reef near the Troubridge Shoal, almost 11 years earlier, in July 1851. Both Marion Reef and Marion Bay were named after this earlier shipwreck when some of the survivors (360+ passengers & crew?) from it landed at Marion Bay. Another group of survivors landed at Cape Jervis. A one-masted wooden cutter called Marion was broken up at Louth in South Australia around 1912.)


An anchor from the SS Marion located at the Marion Bay Historical Centre
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

I’ve long yearned to dive on the wreck of the Willyama ever since Geoff Mower, our Society’s Public Officer and longest serving member, wrote an article about the wreck almost 34 years ago, for our November 1980 newsletter.
I was hoping to turn my dream into reality when I was going to visit Marion Bay just after Easter this year.

Geoff’s 1980 article has been republished and can be read here. The article was accompanied by this sketch of the wreck site. You can click on the image to read his original dive report.

Sketch of the wreck of the Willyama - Geoff Mower, November 1980
Sketch of the wreck of the Willyama – Geoff Mower, November 1980

Until I was able to take some photos of my own, Geoff’s sketch of the site was all that I had to go by. I think that Geoff did a pretty good job of sketching the wreck site.

His article was first published in our November 1980 newsletter (No.43). I think that I was able to republish the article in a later issue when I was made Editor a little later on. I was able to read the article several times over the years and dream about diving on the wreck one day.

Although I have since visited Marion Bay on the odd occasion, I never did get to see or dive on the wreck. I hoped to change all that, however, when I prepared to travel to Marion Bay just after Easter this year. I planned to take my scuba gear with me, although I knew that I would have to dive alone whilst I was at Marion Bay. I hadn’t taken the time to re-study Geoff’s details about the wreck, but imagined that it was close to shore and accessible with relative ease. I wasn’t even sure just where the site was exactly, but assumed that it would become obvious to me once that I got down to Marion Bay. I could easily just ask around.

Anyway, my plans all went awry when I visited my GP the evening before Good Friday and was told that I had a middle-ear infection and my sore ankle needed to be X-rayed and ultra-sounded. I wouldn’t be able to make such appointments until after Easter. I was justifiably devastated, having planned to do several dives over Easter and the following week which I was taking off of work.

It may have been just as well, however, since diving alone on the Willyama during less than ideal conditions would have been dangerous. At least I was able to see and photograph the wreck from the shore (just over 107 years to the day that she hit a reef on 13th April 1907).

She was actually abandoned during a salvage attempt on 25th April 1907 (Anzac Day) when she became damaged during rough weather. I was, coincidentally, symbolically visiting the site on Anzac Day 2014, 107 years after the abandonment in 1907.

I want to share some of those photos with you, with reference to Geoff’s article.


The wreck of the Willyama can be seen from this viewing platform at Willyama Beach
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)


This sign pointing to the wreck site is in the area where Geoff and his buddy probably camped prior to November, 1980
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)


This interpretive sign is now located close to the wreck site
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)


A close-up shot of the sign
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

I tried getting a good shot of the wreck site from several locations along Willyama Beach. This appears to be the best shot that I managed to get of the site: –


The steering gear of the Willyama protrudes above the surface of the water even at high tide
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

The location of the boiler was almost discernible just beyond the steering gear. I also tried to get a shot of Rhino Head in the distance from several locations along Willyama Beach and at Stenhouse Bay. This appears to be the best shot that I managed to get of it: –


Rhino Head in the distance
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

It seems that a housing estate is now located in the area where Geoff camped prior to November 1980: –


A housing estate is now located in the area where Geoff camped prior to November 1980
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

There are now some steps leading down to the beach at the wreck site: –


Steps leading down to the beach at the wreck site
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

An anchor from the Willyama is located at the Marion Bay Historical Centre, along with an anchor from the SS Marion (of 1862). The Historical Centre was opened in October 1997. Unfortunately, the anchor from the SS Willyama is starting to disappear under a nearby shrub.


Marion Bay Historical Centre with anchors from the Willyama (left) & the Marion(rear)
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

Here is a close-up shot of the anchor from the Willyama: –


An anchor from the SS Willyama located at the Marion Bay Historical Centre
(Photo: Steve Reynolds)

Society member, Brian Brock’s recently sent me two of his poems which make reference to the wreck of the Willyama and Marion Bay. The poems are quite long, but here is an extract from each of them: –

“The Willyama’s mast you’ll see
In Willyama Bay
Bronze whalers also there may be
Or so our students say”

“The Bottom End” from “May-Day!” (Pioneer Books 1985)

“Not the same without you, mate.
‘Course the waves still wash Willyama’s beach
And throw up her coal during storms
As the cross swings low over the coastal dunes.”

“Stan Slow” from “Catharsis” (Pioneer Books 1981)

By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

3 thought on “Marion Bay & the wreck of the SS Willyama”
  1. Hi Steve, the information you provide here has helped jog my memory of some of the ship wrecks that I Knew so well as a child.Dad farmed at “Southern Pines ” – 2000 acre property a few klms up the (now) Warooker Road where I grew up from 1947 to 1963 when I left to go nursing. I am now trying to write about growing up at Marion Bay while I can as memory is fading and collecting coal from the SS Willyama used to fuel a steam box or fire box to heat metal to be used for machinery repairs. Many thanks for the memories. Claire nee Zilm

    1. That’s great thanks Claire. It makes the effort all worthwhile. That should probably be “Warooka Rd” though. Do you know the origins of ‘Warooka’? ‘Warook’ said to mean ‘mud’ or ‘muddy waterhole’. ‘Warriooka’ is said to mean ‘ship’ and ‘warooka’ = ‘bird; or ‘parrot’. This all suggests that the aborigines thought of ships as birds and would declare “Warriooka Warooka”.
      The native name for Marion Bay is aid to be Cockadowie, meaning ‘head of bay/water’. Marion Bay’s name comes from the time when survivors from the shipwreck Marion landed there in 1851, not from the SS Marion which was wrecked nearby in 1862.
      Thanks for the opportunity to revisit all of this.

  2. Willyama had a great wave there in the right conditions…I haven’t been there since 1981, when it was still fairly unknown as a surfing break. A bit sharky, but they were well fed.

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