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Three hundreds miles from Brisbane in the southern Pacific lies a reef which seems to draw luckless sea captains to bring their ships to doom. Middleton Reef is only about five miles by three miles in size, a kidney-shaped coral atoll with a clear blue lagoon as its centre. The coral reef around the perimeter is only a few feet above the water at low tide and is completely submerged at high tide. The lagoon is too shallow to afford shelter to vessels, the sandy bottom giving way to coral outcrops reaching toward the surface.

Thirty miles south lies Elizabeth Reef, an equally treacherous outcrop. Middleton Reef was first discovered in 1788 by Lt. John Shortland in the Alexander, a transport on passage from Sydney to Batavia. The reef was named after Admiral Sir Charles Middleton. Today, ships try and give the reef a wide belth - but not all are successful. And some of them have been big vessels, posing the question as to why they could not avoid the reefs. The largest of these was the refrigerated cargo liner, Runic, 13500 tons, wrecked on Middleton Reef as recent as 1961. Prior to this, the fully- rigged ship Askay, 1616 tons, wrecked on Elizabeth Reef in 1911 was the largest vessel, followed by the Norwegian barque, Errol, 1446 tons, lost on Middleton Reef in 1909, and the British barque Annasona, 1436 tons, lost on Middleton Reef in 1907. Despite the distance from the mainland, most of the crews made it safely in their ship's boatss, with about fifty lives recorded lost on the two reefs over the two centuries. Twenty-six wrecks are listed by name with a further twelve known locations of unidentified ships.

Loney [LI], and Bateson [AS1] form the basis of the listing, with Byron [BNN] adding valuable information on the current state of the vessels.
[44 records]

Associated links:  PACIFIC OCEAN

Agnes Napier. Schooner, 35 tons. Struck Middleton Reef in a gale, 1 November 1855. Crew reached Nambucca on the New South Wales coast thirty-five days later, and met up with the schooner Prospector, which took them on to Sydney. [LQ],[LI]

Alma. Barquentine, 163 tons. Built at Dundee, 1853. Wrecked on Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Ocean, 3 August 1883. [LQ]

Annasona. British, barque, steel, 1436 tons. Built at Glasgow, 1892. Lbd 239 x 36.1 x 21.6 ft. Captain Blackstock.  From Calloa, Peru to Australia, wrecked on Middleton Reef, 18 January 1907 Before the loss of the Runic, visitors to Middleton were guided by the bowsprit of the vessel pointing grotesquely skywards. Being wrecked in the dark hours of the morning, her master threatened to shoot any man who attempted to lower a boat before daylight; the crew got off safely and were picked up by the private schooner yacht Stanley and landed on Lord Howe Island. Despite it being privately owned, the Royal Australian Air Force used the reef and its historic wreck for bombing practice during World War 2.  [LI],[LH],[LQ],[SAN - barquentine],[BNN]
In 1906, when bound from Philadelphia to Melbourne, almost foundered in a gale near Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia.
@ Wrecksite known, at about "& o'clock" on the outer reef, Middle Reef.

Askay. Ship, 1616 tons. Built Glasgow 1878. Lbd 255.5 x 38.7 x 23.1 ft.  Wrecked on Elizabeth Reef,  27 December 1911. She was bound from Peru to Sydney. No loss of life. [See also Askoy] [LQ],[LI]

Blue Jacket. Schooner, 74 tons. Was last seen near Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, late in 1857 during a voyage from Noumea to Sydney.  [LQ]

Britannia. Full rigged ship, whaler, 301 tons. Built Bridport, UK, 1783. Owned by S. Enderby & Sons, she was the first vessel to engage in whaling in the southern Pacific.Wrecked on either Elizabeth or Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 25 August 1806.  Three boats left the wreck but one containing eight men was apparently lost in a gale.  The remaining two reached Newcastle on 8 September. [LI],[AS1],[LQ],[LAH],[SAN]

Constitution. American ship. Wrecked on Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 1859. [LI],[LQ]

Defender. American ship, wood, 1300 tons. Captain Robinson. Wrecked on Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Ocean, 27 February 1859. The crew left in three boats and eventually reached the New South Wales coast, however on landing one seaman was lost.
[LI],[LAH],[LQ - wrecked on Middleton Reef],[BNN - wrecked near vessel Douglas, Elizabeth Reef]

Douglas. Barque, 300 tons. Built 1862. Lbd 118.1 x 25.9 x 15.9 ft. Captain Sayers.  From Newcastle to Yokahama, wrecked on Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Oceans, 8 May 1869. The Douglas was forced high on to the reef. With both boats stove in a raft was constructed, and with nine aboard, spent six days drifting around the lagoons perimeter before finding a channel and escaping to the open sea; eventually picked up by the schooner Stormbird.[LI],[BNN],[LQ]
@ Wreck lies on the outer reef at about "5 o'clock".
Also listed:
Douglas. British barque. Lost on Middleton Reef, 1859. [LQ]

Elizabeth. Brig, 140 tons. Captain H. Browne.  Lost on Elizabeth Reef or Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, in 1831. Gave her name to the reef, which has at times been called Seringapstam, Clark or Eliza Reef. Discovery of the reef however is usually credited to the ships Claudine and Marquis of Hastings in 1820. After leaving Sydney on 13 February for New Zealand, then on to London,  failed to arrive. On 31 March 1833 the cutter Fairy found her remains on a reef now believed to be Middleton. Apparently she had been abandoned by the crew but no trace of them was ever found.[LI],[AS1]

Errol. Norwegian barque, 1446 tons. Built Glasgow 1868 as the Carisbrooke Castle; lbd 239.5 x 37.6 x 22.9 ft. Captain Andreasen. From Peru to Newcastle, firmly in the grip of treacherous currents she crashed on to Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 18 June 1909. Within a few hours, with her back already broken she disintegrated into three pieces throwing her master, the mate and several of the crew to the sharks. Most of her passengers met a slow and horrible death from drowning, thirst, starvation and sharks. A raft with five men on board set out for the Annasona, which could be seen about eight kilometres away.  There was no food on her but they discovered some brackish water trapped in the crevises in her hull. Those left on the Errol were soon suffering from hunger and thirst. One morning the body of the captain’s wife and two of her four children were found floating near the wreck, then next day another two children died.  When SS Tofua passed by the reef on 12 July only five of the twenty two passengers and crew had survived. Today nothing is visibleof the barque above the sea. [LI],[LQ],[LAH]

Fairy. Cutter, 29 tons. Captain William Owen. Found the missing brig Elizabeth high on a reef, Pacific Ocean, 1832. [AS1],[LI]

Fuku Maru.   Japanese tuna boat. Wrecked on Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 1963.  She lies high and dry but is in very poor condition having been burnt out; was used as a food cache and possible shelter for many years. Loacted at about "4 o'clock" on the outer reef. [LI],[BNN],[LQ]

Golden Grove. HMS store ship.  Lieutenant Shortland. Discovered and named Middleton Reef, 1788. [LI]

Josephine. Yacht. An entrant in a trans Tasman race, struck Middleton reef, Pacific Ocean, April 1978.  After drifting in a life raft for 29 days, Bill Belcher, her sole occupant was picked up by a ship east of Fraser Island, off the Queendland coast. Not a bad effort foy a 66 year old veteran. [LI],[LQ],[#BB]

Kosim Maru. Japanese vessel, lies off the outer reef on the western edge of Elizabeth Reef.  [BNN]

Mallsgate. Barque, iron, 1073 tons. Built 1877. Ashore on Middleton Reef, 21 July 1889. The crew left her in the two boats and reached the Queensland coast after eight days at sea.
[LQ],[LAH],[SAN - Mallagate, iron barquentine]

Mary Catherine. Vessel type unknown. Possibly lost on Middleton Reef, 1851. [LQ]

Mary Lawson. Wooden barque, 432 tons. Built 1864. Lbd 128.4 x 27.1 x 17 ft. From Sydney to Shanghai, wrecked on Middleton Reef in huge seas, 10 June 1866. One boat set out for the mainland, arriving safely near Clarence Heads on the New South Wales coast. HMS Falcon returned to the reef but there were no sign of survivors. Five drowned, including the captain and his wife; three saved when their boat arrived at the mainland. [LQ],LAH],[LI]

Naida. Brig, 298 tons. Struck Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 9 July 1885. Some of the crew reached Lord Howe island on the 25th and the Mary Ogilvie was sent to rescue those who had remained on the wreck. [LI],[BNN - Naiad],[LQ - Naiad, Elizabeth Reef]

One and All. Ketch. Sank near Middleton Reeef, Pacific Ocean, 1971.  Her crew of six constructed a wind driven generator on the wreck of the Runic while sheltering and awaiting rescue.  It soon fell into disrepair leaving the wreck as Middleton’s only major landmark. When desperation forced them to leave the reef they spent six days adrift in a rubber life raft before being rescued. [LI]

Packet. Whaler, brig, 183 tons. Lbd 82.1 x 19.7 x 131 ft. Captain Davidson. During a midnight gale, wrecked on Middleton Reef, 24 February 1857. The twenty-six crew got clear in two of her boats and landed on the highest part of the reef. Desperately short of food and water, they set out for the Australian coast and fell in with the schooner Ebenezer four days later.
[LQ],[LI - struck Elizabeth Reef]

Queen of the East. American ship. Abandoned after striking Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 18 April 1872. Her crew landed safely near Richmond River, New South Wales four days later. [LI],[LQ]

Ramsay. Wooden barque, 767 tons. Built 1863. Lbd 209.5 x 32 x 19.2 ft. From Brisbane for London with a cargo of wool, lost on Middleton or Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Ocean, 31 October 1883. After attempts to free her failed, she filled as the tide rose, then commenced breaking up. Two boats containing the crew eventually reached the Australian coast after battling rough seas, however eleven lives lost. Some crew picked up by SS Derwent after six days in a boat. Some of the wool was later recovered. [ASW6 - Elizabeth Reef],[LQ - Elizabeth Reef],[LI - Middleton Reef],[LAH - Middleton Reef]

Rosetta Joseph. Barque, 265 tons. Built at Manning River, New South Wales, 1847.  Lbd 88.9 x 23.2 x 15 ft. Captain A. Patrick Carrying 32 passengers and a crew of 15, was swept on to Elizabeth Reef, 1 December, 1850.  When the weather moderated three boats were launched and a course set for Lord Howe Island about 160 kilometres to the south.  Rough weather brought the passengers and crew to the brink of disaster before they changed course and arrived at Port Macquarie on the New South Wales coast on 10 December. [AS1],[LI - ship],[LQ]

Runic.  Steel motor vessel, refrigerated cargo liner, 13500 tons. Built at Belfast, 1950. Lbd 561.2 x 72.3 x 32 ft. Aground, wrecked, on Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean,  February 1961. No lives lost.At the time, world’s largest refrigerated cargo liner. She struck the reef at a speed of about seventeen knots, over riding the sharp coral for about twenty five metres before stopping, leaving almost three quarters of her length in deep water Eventually she swung around and lay with most of her length on the reef.  On 26 March with a fierce tropical cyclone approaching she was finally abandoned by the master and crew. For the next few years several syndicates stripped most of value from her before leaving the rusting remains as a stark monument to the destructive forces of nature. The Runic is no longer the attraction that she once was.  Charred with fire, the ship is now a broken relic, stripped of her valuable fittings and left for the sea and time to devour. it is dangerous to clamber over her once strong decks as rusty metal may easily give way. [LI],[LH],[LQ],[BNN]

Sospan Foch. Yacht. From Auckland,  lost on Middleton Reef, 1974. The four members of her crew were rescued by a fishing boat after living for six weeks on the wreck of the Fuku Maru. [LI],[LQ]

Stanley. Schooner yacht. Involved in rescue - see barque Annasona, Middleton Reef, 1907. [LI]

Stormbird. Schooner. Picked up survivors of the wrecked barque Douglas, 1869. [LI]

Stuart Russel. Barque. Supposed lost on Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean, 1856. [LI],[LQ]

Tyrian. Barque, 226 tons. Built 1828.  Captain Robinson From Auckland for Sydney with 46 passengers and crew, struck Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Ocean, 24 November 1851. Twenty set out in the long boat and reached Newcastle while those remaining at the wreck were rescued by passing ships. [LI].[LQ]


Unidentified. A wreck, possibly a Japanese fishing trawler, lies on her side on the south-west side of Elizabeth Reef, Pacific Ocean. [LI],[BNN]

Unidentified. Cannon has been found off Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean. [LI]

Unidentified. Trawler. Wrecked in a channel near what is known as the North East Horn of Middleton Reef, Pacific Ocean. [LI]

Unidentified. Wreck lies to the east of False bight, Middleton Reef. [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreck lies on the outer reef, at about "2 o'clock", Middleton Reef.  [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreckage lies on the reef at about "3 o'clock", Middleton Reef. [BNN]

Unidentifided. Wreckage lies at about "5 o'clock" on the outer reef, Middleton Reef.  [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreck lies inside the lagoon at about "7 o'clock" , Elizabeth Reef.  [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreckage lies on the outer reef at about "4 o'clock", Elizabeth Reef. [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreckage lies on the inner reef at about "3 o'clock", Elizabeth Reef. [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreckage lies on the outer reef at about "2 o'clock", Elizabeth Reef. [BNN]

Unidentified. Wreckage lies on the outer reef at about "1 o'clock", Elizabeth Reef. [BNN]

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