I recently wrote about a mystery shipwreck at Cape Jervis. My interest began when I read a report in The News newspaper for June 1968. A “Staff Reporter” for The News reported an 1889 shipwreck at Cape Jervis (South Australia) called the Ben Loric (The front page article on Monday 17th June 1968 (“Body of diver, 26, found”).

The article concerned the recovery of a spearfisherman’s body from the wreck. Further in the article, it was reported that the wreck was an “old steel vessel Ben Loric”.

The article continued on page 34 where it was (again) reported “The Ben Loric sank 150 yards off Cape Jervis in 1889. The bow is only 8 ft. from the surface at low tide.” Yet another reference was made regarding the Ben Loric.

I had not heard of a wreck called the Ben Loric, so I looked through my many reference books and searched online for any details regarding it. When all that drew a blank result, I asked several of my veteran shipwreck enthusiast friends. None of them had heard of the Ben Loric either, and none of them could find any reference to it as well.

A couple of my friends would suggest that it was quite likely that the reporter was referring to the wreck of the Cowry, which also sank in 1889.

The Cowry was, however, a wooden screw steamer. Its wrecking occurred when it was “Driven from her moorings at Yankalilla (Yankalilla Bay, Normanville) in a terrific gale on June 6, 1889, to become a total wreck”.  There is no suggestion that the wreck of the wooden steamer ended up down at Cape Jervis at all.

No other known wrecks from 1889 fit the description of the Ben Loric and neither do any wrecks known to have been wrecked at Cape Jervis.

The ‘wreck of the Ben Loric’ is therefore a complete mystery in 2021. You will see from my article “The Mystery Wreck at Cape Jervis” that I researched several vessels from the Ben Line without much success. As explained there, I came across ‘Ben Larig’. At https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/find/Ben+larig , I found a photograph of “The ‘Ben Larig‘ at Port Adelaide [PRG 1373/18/111]”. According to the summary for the photo, “The iron ship ‘Ben Larig’, 1734 tons, at Port Adelaide. [Iron ship, 1734 tons, ON95002, 260.2 x 38.2 x 23.3. Built 1887 (8) Birrell Stenhouse and Co. Dumbarton. Owners: Watson Bros. Registered Glasgow.”

This looks more like possibly being our mystery ship, especially as it was in South Australia around 1889, but no further information about the ship is available. Other than that, there have been many Ben Line ships with names starting with ‘Ben’.

I found a list of all Ben Line ships at https://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/ben.shtml  . Many ‘Benvorlichs’ and ‘Benlarigs’ are listed (yes, all one word though, and no second ‘i’ in ‘Benvorlich’). This list dismisses any thoughts about the Benvorich or the Benlarig, and there isn’t a Benloric listed. I am therefore no closer to solving the mystery about the Ben Loric/Benloric wreck at Cape Jervis.

Since writing my article, I tried approaching a couple of organisations in the hope of getting more clues. The best response that I received came from David via GIRT Scientific Divers: –

“Hi Steve, I have several comments. Firstly, have you looked in Peter Horne’s book, South Australian Diving Fatalities 1950-2005, to see if there is an entry for the death of the spearfishman. If there is an entry, there may some information about the site of where the body was recovered. Also, there may be a report of the death in an edition of the Australian Skindivers Magazine – please refer https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B_GphfzMEbApS1YtZjBXcnUtSUU . Secondly, have you looked at the digital newspaper collection on the National Library’s Trove website to see if there are any contemporary newspaper reports re Ben Loric, its career or its loss in 1889? Thirdly, could the Ben Loric be confused with the Hopper Barge No. 3 which is located about 160 metres from shore (i.e. my measurements using the Location SA Map Viewer website)? The description of the Ben Loric wreck is not unlike the Hopper Barge. Fourthly, have you looked at any online aerial photographs to see if there are any obvious wreckage (please check the Location SA Map Viewer website for shipwreck location used by the GSA before looking). Finally, when the weather is warmer and calmer, I would suggest that you have a look from both the shore and possibly from within the water to see what you can find.”

My reply to David was, “Thanks David, all good suggestions which I will work my way through. Cape Jervis could mean a large area. It is subject to poor conditions and there is a ferry service running regular trips. I think that I tried searching on Trove. Will see what can be done along the lines of your suggestions.”

I did try following up on David’s suggestions at home. His comment “the Hopper Barge No. 3 which is located about 160 metres from shore” is of great interest. That sank in 1880. If that is the wreck in question, why was it referred to as the Ben Loric?

I had, coincidentally, written an article titled “The Stranding of the Steamer Sorata” (https://mlssa.org.au/2021/05/26/the-stranding-of-the-steamer-sorata/ ) about the same time as “The Mystery Wreck at Cape Jervis”. In “The Stranding of the Steamer Sorata”, I wrote, “The (successful) recovery attempts on the Sorata led to the sinking of a barge – Hopper Barge No.3 – alongside the Sorata on 21st October 1880. “Shipwrecks of South Australia – Book Two – 1876-1899” by Ronald Parsons gives accounts of the stranding of the Sorata and the sinking of the barge.”

Further, “South Australian Shipwrecks – A Data Base 1802-1989” by Peter Christopher includes details about the Sorata, which was not wrecked, but not details about the Hopper Barge, which was wrecked. “Australian Shipwrecks Volume 3” by Jack Loney also includes details about the Sorata.

I found these details about the barge online: –

Wreck Name – Hopper Barge No. 3

Hull – Iron

Length – 34.8

Built – 14/01/1880 at Glanville

Loss Date – 21/10/1880

Location – Backstairs Passage, 1.3 miles south of Cape Jervis, South Australia

Cause – Sunk due to heavy weather. On 4 September 1880, the Orient Lines steamer SS Sorata stranded on a ledge of rocks about a mile south of Cape Jervis. The vessel was not badly damaged and in order to refloat the vessel, it was determined that a barge was required to carry silt ….

Latitude -35.6245

Longitude 138.094”

I have long held this mud map of the wreck site: –

I took a look at “South Australian Diving Fatalities 1950-2005” by Peter Horne in relation to the mystery Ben Loric wreck. The three divers spearfishing on the wreck had some alcohol to warm up prior to their dive. They had a long walk back after being dragged a long way at the end of their dive. After consuming more warming fluid, they dived again. The conditions had deteriorated and “they were swept around a point of rock, where they came upon the wreck of an old barge”.

It does seem that the three divers may have accidentally come across Hopper Barge No. 3 near Land’s End. This appears to be what the Staff Reporter for The News referred to as the Ben Loric for some reason. If the wreck in question is Hopper Barge No. 3, why did the reporter call it the Ben Loric?

The surviving divers were named Richard and Peter, whilst the diver that died that day was called Thomas Burton. I merely mention their names in case it assists me in getting any further information on the matter. If Richard & Peter were around the age of 26 at the time of their dive in 1968, they would be around 79 years old today in 2021, if they are still alive. I trust that this tale is not going to upset anyone at all.

(Header photo taken at Fishery Beach, near Cape Jervis, with Kangaroo Island in background)

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.

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