Loch Ard Gorge, a tragic story
“If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor,” Captain Gibbs said.
Many of us would like a story with a happy ending. A brave young man saves a beautiful lady from danger. The two fall in love, marry and live happily ever after. But this is not how the story ends for Tom and Eva.
Tom Pearce was nineteen when he was an apprentice of Loch Ard, a clipper ship that was bound for Melbourne from England. It left England for Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne on 2 March 1878.
After a three-month journey, the cargo ship that was in full capacity reached the waters of Port Campbell and ran aground near Mutton Bird Island on 1 June. It was dark and misty. When the captain realized the ship was in a shallow water, it was too late. The clipper collided with a rocky reef.
Of the 54 people including 17 passengers and 17 crew members, only two survived the shipwreck. Even the 29-year-old commander of Loch Ard, Captain Gibbs, did not make it to the shore.
Tom jumped off the ship and swam to the shore. Upon reaching land, he heard a woman crying for help. A brave sailor he was, he jumped into the water and rescued Eva Carmichael. She’s a 19-year-old Irish woman who was to emigrate to Melbourne with her family.
When they reached the shore, Eva was unconscious. Thanks to the case of brandy that was washed ashore that helped revive her.
Tom climbed out of the gorge to raise an alarm to local pastoralists. Two men from the nearby Glenample Station rushed for their help. Immediately, teams of rescuers were sent to save the ship’s passengers. But no one else survived. The rest of the people aboard Loch Ard perished including Eva’s family.
The young sailor received a hero’s welcome in Melbourne. And the story of Tom and Eva spread throughout Australia and England. They were so famous that people wished them to get married. Despite people’s wishes, Eva returned to Europe three months later and married an aristocrat. Tom was just a sailor.
A real-life story is often tragic, and most of the time, it does not end the way we want it to be. Tom continued to work as a sailor and returned to England where he died in Southampton. He was 49.
Loch Ard had been sailing between 1873 and 1878 from England to Australia and vice versa with a stop in Calcutta, India. The 1878 trip to Melbourne was the fifth and final voyage. Since 1797 there had been over 800 shipwrecks in Victoria of which less than 200 of them have been discovered.
On 11 March 1982, Loch Ard was protected as a Historic Shipwreck. The cargoes were salvaged. Some artifacts and relics of the shipwreck still remained and stored in a museum that was built to keep the details of Loch Ard Gorge’s history. There’s also a cemetery of those who died in the incident and a number of plaques.
Loch Ard Gorge was named after the shipwrecked clipper. In June 2009, the arch of the nearby Island Archway collapsed. The two unconnected pillars are officially named Tom and Eva, after the Loch Ard survivors.
You can get to Loch Ard Gorge through the Great Ocean Road 3.5 kilometers northwest of the Twelve Apostles. Climb down the cliff through a stairway and stroll down the beach. You can also slip out to the east side of the gorge through a pathway.
Behind the beauty of Loch Ard Gorge hides a dark and tragic story of shipwreck, heroism, and survival.