Shipwrecks

Lady Elizabeth (1879-1913)

The wreck of what’s left of the Lady Elizabeth lies in Whalebone Cove, battered by the elements and vandalised. She has been there since the 17th February, 1936, having drifted into the cove after breaking from her mooring during a storm. She had been in the main harbour for 23 years after being condemned as “unseaworthy” and converted into a warehouse, following a gale-ravaged voyage round Cape Horn.

Lady Elizabeth was built by a renowned English ship builder, Robert Thompson Jnr., one of a number of Thompsons who owned and ran the J.L. Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland.   Robert Thompson Jnr. left the family business in 1854 to start his own yard in Southwick, Sunderland and built the 1,155 ton sailing barque for a Mr John Wilson as a replacement for the first Lady Elizabeth, a 658-ton barque which had sunk off Western Australia in 1878. It had also been built by the Thompsons. The shipyard became famous for being responsible for the design inspiration behind the WWII Liberty class naval cargo ships, which became a symbol of US wartime industrial output.

Key Facts:

barque icon

Three-masted, iron-hulled barque

Mystery of the missing sailors

Size: 1208 tons, 223 ft
Launched: Sunderland, 6 June 1879
Fate: Struck rock

The second Lady Elizabeth was launched on 4th June, 1879.  It had three masts and an iron hull, and was described as being “just under average size”, even though she was the seventh largest ship Robert Thompson built. She would spend the next 30 years hauling cargos around the world, but her ownership and crewing were far from plain sailing.

Her first owner, John Wilson, worked her for about five years, before going bust after “over extending” himself running a fleet of ships.  In February, 1884, she was badly damaged by a hurricane off Australia, but managed to make it to Sydney, where six of her crew “jumped ship”. Another of her crew, William Leach, died after falling from one of her masts. 

Video footage © 2023 Mark Spicer

Her first owner, John Wilson, worked her for about five years, before going bust in after “over extending” himself running a fleet of ships.  In February, 1884, she was badly damaged by a hurricane off Australia, but managed to make it to Sydney, where six of her crew “jumped ship”. Another of her  crew, William Leach, died after falling from one of her masts.

In 1906, she was bought by a Norwegian company, for a reported £3,250 and during one voyage to Australia, her reputation for losing crew increased. Shortly after leaving Callao, Peru, with a number of Finns as crew, one of them became ill with what the captain diagnoses as Malaria. Soon another two Finns were also sick. The captain prescribed what were described as “remedies” and allowed the three to walk the deck to get fresh air, as the weather was calm and “fine”.  Before docking in Newcastle, New South Wales, it was discovered that two of the sick crewmen were “missing”. The captain concluded that the malaria had caused both men to become delirious and jump overboard. A guard was put on the remaining sick man and Lady Elizabeth entered port.

On December 4th 1912, the “Lady Liz”, as she has been dubbed by folk in the Falklands, sailed from Vancouver, Canada, with a shipment of lumber, heading for Mozambique. While rounding Cape Horn, roughly half way through her voyage, she was battered by fierce gales – the cargo was mostly lost and the ship badly damaged.  Four men were washed overboard.

As she limped into Berkeley Sound, on her way to Port Stanley, the barque struck Uranae Rock, off Volunteer Point, causing extensive damage to the hull. Once in Stanley, she was declared unseaworthy, “beyond repair”. She was eventually bought by the Falkland Island Company and put to use as a floating timber warehouse.

On February 17th 1936, she was on the move again, when a storm hit the port and her mooring ropes broke, allowing her to drift into Whalebone Cove, where she beached on a shallow sandbar, where what’s left of her remains. Over the years, she has been vandalised and battered by the elements. She is currently owned by the Crown Receiver of Wrecks.

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