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399 Low Head Road
Low Head
Tasmania 7253

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Low Head Pilot Station Maritime Museum

Shipwrecks on Hebe Reef


Located some five kilometres off the mouth of the Tamar River, Hebe Reef stands right in the middle of what to an unsuspecting sailor appears to be the middle of the channel into the river. At high tide on calm days no waves break over it to warn of the danger. Its sharp rocks can quickly hole any ship or break its back.

The reef is named after the Hebe, a fully rigged ship, which was wrecked there in 1808. Since then the reef has claimed many ships, the most notable of which were the barque Phillip Oakden in 1851, barque Asterope in 1883, SS Esk in 1886, ketch Windward in 1890, the barque Eden Holme in 1907, and the ore carrier Iron Baron in 1995.

To guide vessels past this dangerous reef, leading towers at Lagoon Bay were erected in 1848. In 1882 they were replaced by the present leading light towers at She Oak Point.



Hebe was a full-rigged ship of 250 tons built at Chittagong, India in 1804.

She left Madras, India, on the 25th March 1808 under the command of Captain Joseph Leigh, bound for Sydney with a cargo of Indian produce, and one passenger, The master decided to put into Port Dalrymple, but while approaching Tamar Heads on 15 June the vessel ran onto  the reef in rough weather, and, in the ensuing confusion, one of the Indian crew was drowned. The rest of her complement reached Sydney on board the Estramina on 11 October. Much of the vessel's cargo and fittings were also salvaged, and sold by auction at Sydney on 31 October .

Phillip Oakden

The barque Phillip Oakden, was built at Blackwall Point on the Tamar River by William Patterson.. On the afternoon of the 24th January 1851 she arrived off the Tamar entrance on the return leg of her maiden voyage to London. Conditions at the time were fine, with west-north-westerly winds, and the vessel was under full sail towards the pilot boat, an officer being stationed  to keep an eye out for the Hebe Reef. Signal flags were seen from Low Head which the master, Captain John Duigan, read as 'keep more to port.' Assuming they wanted him to go about so that his identification flags could be read, he did not change course. Meanwhile the pilot Cordell was approaching  the Phillip Oakden as hard as his crew could row, waving his own flags. He was still about half a mile from the vessel when, at about 3:30 p.m., she sailed straight onto Hebe Reef. All hands and the 16 passengers were safely got ashore.

The Phillip Oakden remained on the reef intact for several weeks, allowing most of her cargo and some of her gear and fittings to be salvaged before she broke up during a gale during the second week of March.


The 600 ton barque Asterope left London on the 13th December 1882, under the command of Captain Stapleton. She twice was forced into Falmouth, Cornwall, for repairs, once after collision with another ship, and the second time because of bad weather. She finally departed England on the 31st January 1883.

At 3 p.m. on the 8th June, just after high tide, while the vessel was approaching Tamar Heads in very light wind from the north west, she ran onto Hebe Reef and stuck fast in the falling tide. At the time of impact the captain was attempting to position the ship so it would be in line with the leading towers, and did not realise he was close to the reef.

By the following day the Asterope had obviously suffered structural damage, and the captain decided to abandon ship and sell it as a wreck. Before much of the cargo could be salvaged, the ship broke up in a gale on the 15th June.

The inquiry held at Launceston found the master had been negligent in his navigation of the entrance to the Tamar, and the Police Magistrate, who was presiding, considered his certificate should be suspended for three months. The Nautical Assessor, however, considered only a censure was required and his certificate was returned.


The 800 ton S.S. Esk sailed from Hobart for Sydney via Devonport on the 21st April 1886 under the command of Captain J. W. Evans. At daylight on the 24th the ship entered the Tamar River and anchored at Lagoon Bay to wait for the tide before continuing to Devonport.

Shortly before noon the ship got under weigh, steering W.N.W. with the leading towers lined up behind. After about half a mile Captain Evans noticed that the towers had opened a little and were not in line, but he could see the Hebe Reef buoy well to port and was confident he could clear the reef. He believed the buoy marked the eastern edge of the reef, but it was on the north western edge. He steered a course more to the north and ordered full speed. The Esk then rammed onto a sunken part of the reef, driving her bow high onto the reef before the vessel stopped. The Esk made water quickly. By next afternoon she was a complete wreck with water covering her from amidships to the stern. Some of the fittings were saved before the vessel broke up in a gale on the 7th May.

At the inquiry, Evans' certificate was cancelled for careless and reckless navigation in not referring to charts and ignoring the marks and lead towers. But though sacked by his company, he later became Hobart manager of Huddart, Parker & Co., a Member of Parliament and Premier, and was knighted in 1936. From 1939 until his death in 1943 he was Governor of Tasmania. He was Premier of Tasmania in January 1907, when the Eden Holme was wrecked.


The ketch Windward, originally rigged as a schooner, was built at Latrobe by George Dyson in 1876 and was registered in Melbourne in the name of J. S. Lee.

Having survived a stranding on Three Hummock Island in 1879 the Windward finally foundered on Hebe Reef on the 19th July 1890.

The ketch loaded with iron rails bound for Smithton was towed down the Tamar River by the coastal steamer Cambria. After casting off and while setting sails the Windward drifted onto Hebe Reef and leaking badly drifted away from the reef and sank in four fathoms, a total wreck.

A Court of Inquiry, held in Launceston, decided “that the ketch was lost through the ignorance of the owner by not observing the directions of the master, and by not keeping the leading lights in line”.

The owner of Windward was Joseph S. Lee and the master John Roddy.

Eden HolmeClick on this link for a detailed description.

Iron Baron

On the 8th July 1995 the 37,000 ton bulk carrier Iron Baron left Port Kembla for Bell Bay with a cargo of manganese ore, and arrived off Tamar Heads on the 10th, where she dropped anchor to await the pilot and high tide. When the pilot was seen to be approaching the vessel got under weigh, but shortly after he came on board the pilot found that the vessel was off course. While attempting a starboard turn back into the channel, the ship hit Hebe Reef and held fast. Rocks punctured her fuel tanks, resulting in severe pollution of the nearby beaches.

The vessel was hauled off by tugs on the 16th, but a survey found her hull had been very badly strained and there were strong protests against her being towed into the Tamar, still leaking fuel oil. After remaining at anchor outside the Heads for nearly a fortnight, on the 30th July she was towed to a position about 100 kilometres north-east of Flinders Island and scuttled in deep water.

An inquiry found no single individual was to blame for the mishap, but identified several contributing factors including poor navigation, training and passage planning.

Iron Baron on Hebe Reef.
Pilot Station Maritime Museum Collection.


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