Author Archives: lyndabignell

The Loch Sloy shipwreck 1899: The final blog (or is it?)

The final chapter in this investigation of the Loch Sloy (there may be more to come!)

Previously, the researchers investigating the location of the burials of the people who drowned when the Loch Sloy sank off the Kangaroo Island coast in 1899, had searched archives, spoken to various people and made contact with members of the May family.

The time had come to make a decision about conducting a survey to see if there were any indications of burials.  This took place in December 2011.  The fitter members of the group (and believe me you have to be fit to walk through dense scrub and rocks for nearly three hours) undertook the walk out to our identified area, starting at Rocky River just near the tourist centre in Flinders Chase National Park.  The other not so young, and not so fit researcher (me!) met with contacts at the Hope Cottage museum in Kingscote.

The intrepid explorers located the cairns that had been erected by the May family to indicate where the Loch Sloy went down, and some features near the cliff that looked like graves because of their orientation and the formal layout of rocks.  The rangers at Flinders Chase were very helpful in suggesting different routes to the site that might prove less exacting.

One option was to start from Cape de Couedic and follow the ETSA track until it ended and then walk the rest of the distance.  This may prove to be easier, we were told.  Our contact with the Kangaroo Island Walking Group indicated that this walk had been done before.

Following this survey, we had to decide when would be an optimal time to conduct an excavation.  Because of Amer Khan’s work commitments and the time involved in preparations and permits, we would not be able to return to Kangaroo Island until March 2012.

Permits were applied for and granted, funding was released and AARD (Aboriginal Affairs & Reconciliation Division, South Australian government) indicated that there were no known burials in the area we were going to investigate.

With everything in place, and with some students from Flinders University to help with the excavation, we returned to Kangaroo Island.  Again, the fitter and younger people made the trek out to the site returning with massive blisters and the belief that the original route taken in December was the better one.  Progress was made, though, and the features that  had been previously identified as possibilities were excavated to bedrock, but disappointingly showed no burials.

However, these two trips provided extremely valuable information and insight into excavating in remote areas and enabled the researchers to meet people on Kangaroo Island who were extremely helpful and knowledgeable.  Future investigations will focus on the exact location of the wreck and from that, and a re-look at the information, we may still find the graves.

It is hoped that, in the future, some sort of recognition of this shipwreck will be implemented.  This may take the form of an event (with guests from the U.K.) at Kilpatrick’s grave and maybe interpretive signs telling the story.  Another suggestion was that the beach where the survivors came ashore could be renamed the ‘Loch Sloy’ beach.

We all look forward to future involvement in this project and would like to thank everyone concerned from Kangaroo Island and mainland South Australia.

As a member of the research team (for my directed study) I have been able to observe how the processes for archaeological investigation work in a government department, and how an archaeologist works with people with different backgrounds and skills.  It’s hard to know if we are any closer to finding the burials but the media coverage has unearthed new contacts that may be able to help. We are optimistic.

Even though my directed study with Flinders University Archaeology Department is now finished, I look forward to being involved in this project as a volunteer.

I would like to thank Jen McKinnon for putting my name forward for this project.  I have learned so much Jen, thank you.  I would also like to thank Heather Burke who, as ever, has been helpful in her comments and technical assistance throughout this topic.

Watch this space for more blogs in the future!

Drowning in a sea of information: The search for the graves of the victims of the Loch Sloy shipwreck (1899)

The Loch Sloy project: Part 3

For over six months in 2011 and 2012 I was involved in a research project which was conducted by Amer Khan at DEWNR (Department of the Environment, Water and Natural  Resources), the purpose of which was to find the graves of the people who had perished when the barque Loch Sloy sank off the south-western coast of Kangaroo Island.

We had already looked at primary documents from State Records of South Australia, which pretty much confirmed what had been documented previously by both Robert McKinnon (1993) and Gifford Chapman (2007).  We had met with Mr Chapman and had gained valuable connections to the May family of Kangaroo Island (see blog post number 2), whose ancestors had been predominant in the rescue of the four survivors and in the burial of eleven bodies.  The only clue we had from these sources was a cairn that supposedly pointed to where the wreck was sited, and the grave of Mr Kilpatrick who had survived the wreck only to die onshore (see blog post number 1).

The cairn indicating the position of the wreck of the Loch Sloy, courtesy Amer Khan, 2012.

A photograph in both texts by McKinnon and Chapman indicated a cliff face that denoted the beach where the ship had sunk.  Our next task was to pull together all these pieces of information to try and locate a possible grave site for the 11 bodies that had washed to shore in the weeks following the wreck.  Then we discovered Trove!  Trove is a resource of online newspapers organised by the National Library of Australia and here I issue a warning!  It is very addictive!

Two newspapers on Trove, the Adelaide Advertiser and the S.A. Register, provided vital information on the possible position of the graves.  On Friday 19th May 1899, The Register reporter, who was part of the search party, reported that 11 bodies had been found and stated that nine of them had been ‘rudely buried within half a mile of each other’, and that Trooper Shegog had made notes.  The article also gave us the information that the bodies had been found on the beach and on the rocks below the cliffs.   Another report detailed an interview with Charles May.  This also provided good information and pinpointed the discovery to the foot of the cliffs.  Mr May also described, in detail, the route that he and Mr Hoskings took in their search.

A view of cliffs on Kangaroo Island, courtesy Cameron Hartnell, 2012

While this information was extremely useful, we still did not have a definitive location for the burials.  One reason was the naming of the beaches, which have changed over time and, secondly, our inability to locate the notes made by Trooper Shegog.  Our next source of information was to provide us with possibilities.  We examined the coastline with the aid of Google Earth and pinpointed possible locations that fitted in with the descriptions from the newspapers, texts, and our meeting with Mr and Mrs May, the descendants of Charles May.

Armed with all this information, it was decided that it would be worthwhile organising an expedition to Kangaroo Island to see if any further excavations or investigations would be useful.

My next blog will detail the discoveries we made on two expeditions to Kangaroo Island.


Chapman, G. 2007 Kangaroo Island Shipwrecks. South Australia: Chapman.

McKinnon R. 1993 Shipwreck Sites of Kangaroo Island. Adelaide: State Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Land Management.

South Australian Register, Friday 19 May 1899, p6.

Adelaide Advertiser, Thursday 18 May 1899, p6.

Loch Sloy Shipwreck, No. 2.


Shipwrecks on Kangaroo Island are well documented. The old Heritage Branch of the South Australian State government produced a report by Robert McKinnon in 1993, ‘Shipwreck Sites of Kangaroo Island’ and DENR (Department of the Environment and Natural Resources) produced a report in 1997, by Cosmos Coroneos, ‘Shipwrecks of Encounter Bay and Backstairs Passage.’  The publication of particular interest for the Loch Sloy project was Robert McKinnon’s text, which included well researched details about the ship and its demise.

Another publication was one written by Mr Gifford Chapman in 1972, ‘Kangaroo Island Shipwrecks’. This was updated and republished in 2007. These were both well-known texts and it was decided that a trip would be undertaken as part of my Directed Study to see Mr Chapman, at Moonta.  Mr Chapman is a Kangaroo Islander who has spent his life around the sea and ships, both in his work and as a professional abalone diver.  Mr Chapman proved to be a very interesting person with an encyclopaedic knowledge about Kangaroo Island and its people. He was able to suggest where we could find further information and the contact details for Mr Gordon May, a descendent of the May family who assisted the survivors of the Loch Sloy wreck, and also helped to bury the deceased.

It was fortunate for us that Mr May had retired in suburban Adelaide, and was an avid recorder of the May family history.  In our innocence, we thought we could meet him for a couple of hours one afternoon, but it became quickly apparent on our first visit that Mr May was indeed a prolific collector and recorder of the May family history, all of which was very interesting and added to our pool of knowledge.  We scheduled a second visit which lasted quite a few hours, over a very nice lunch, when we were able to photograph pertinent information, and, thank heaven for computers and particularly a senior person’s knowledge of computers, were able to copy his files for future perusal.

Another connection that was suggested to us, was a lady called Bev Overton, who lives on Kangaroo Island, and has connections with the museum.  Not only that, but her daughter is also an avid historian, whose particular interest is genealogy.  We were to meet Bev and her daughter on our trips to the Island, and gain valuable contacts.

Finding such enthusiastic people is a godsend to the researcher, as no one person, or small group can hope to find such information quickly, and as the funding for this project was restricted to a particular time period, our timing was of the essence.  The distraction from the task of researching the Loch Sloy graves was the other interesting information which emerged from our oral histories.  We recorded the interviews, but as time was the enemy, they have not been fully transcribed as yet.  However, we also took notes at the meetings and had the backup of Mr May’s written work.

My next blog shows us drowning in the sea of information that began with the visit to the Mays.

Lynda Bignell