13 April 2022

Mystery of Nelsons Beach shipwreck and its puzzling cargo re-emerges from sands of time

| Albert McKnight
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Shipwreck at Nelsons Beach

The mysterious shipwreck at Nelsons Beach re-emerged from the sand in the 1970s. Photo: Nancy Hinde.

A nearly 200-year-old shipwreck shrouded in mystery recently re-emerged from its sandy grave on a Far South Coast beach.

One of many wrecks littering that wild and remote coastline, it is surrounded by questions.

The wreck on Nelsons Beach, just north of Tathra, was first reported bottom-up and loaded with cedar logs in 1859 by the captain of the SS Mimosa – a ship that would also sink and become the namesake of Mimosa Rocks National Park.

Heritage NSW said it was made from wood, weighed about 70 tonnes and now emerges occasionally after heavy seas such as those that recently battered the region.

Aside from these scant details, little is officially known about it. Where did it come from? Did anyone die in the wreck? What was with the cedar logs?

“I think that’s why it always arouses interest, because of the mystery,” Nancy Hinde said.

She and her husband Ollie Hinde, who have lived in the Bega Valley all their lives, have been tracking the wreck for years after first spotting it in the 1970s. Early April’s large seas uncovered it most recently, although the sand had mostly reclaimed it from view on the day she saw it.

Ms Hinde shared an article with About Regional written by local historian Sister Bernice Smith in the 1960s after wild weather uncovered the wreck.

“Police from Bega sent down to investigate reported that she was bottom-up and firmly wedged between two outcrops of rock,” Sister Smith wrote.

“Timbers in her suggested she was an American vessel. She was wonderfully well built and all wedges were of timber. No papers were found in her or any name to give any indication of her ownership.”

READ ALSO Can you help unravel this knotty nautical mystery?

Ms Hinde has a theory about the cargo found on the ship – the cedar logs. Her husband had spoken to a local timber cutting family, who told him they had once gone into the bush on the nearby Mumbulla Mountain which was supposed to be virgin country, untouched by logging, and came across stumps of cedar trees

So, she said the logs might have been poached from the mountain. But if so, how were they transported to the ship?

“It’s just another mystery I guess,” she said.

Shipwreck at Nelsons Beach

Local Nancy Hinde said it was hard to know when the mysterious wreck would next appear. Photo: Nancy Hinde.

The tale of the timber doesn’t end there. Sister Smith wrote that the Department of Wrecks and Shipping sold the logs to local families who made furniture out of them and by the time she wrote her article some of the furniture was still in use.

“It would be interesting to know if some of the furniture is still around,” Ms Hinde said.

Sister Smith also wrote that when the bones of the wreck were sawn through they were like “polished wood”.

It is not the only shipwreck mystery in the area; for instance, there is the well-known ‘Bermagui Mystery’.

In 1880, geologist Lamont Young sailed off from Bermagui with four others to survey goldfields. Several days later, the ship was found at what is now called Mystery Bay, near Narooma, with a bullet in its side, but all of its five crew had disappeared and have never been found.

Also, Heritage NSW said the charred remains of an unidentified, 50-ft schooner were found in the sand between the mouth of the Bega River and Nelsons Lagoon in 1891.

READ ALSO Photographer Ray McJannett brings history back to life, one shot at a time

Plenty of the shipwrecks littering the Far South Coast have been spared such a cloud of confusion. For instance, the above-mentioned paddle steamer Mimosa left Eden for Sydney in 1863 before it reportedly hit rocks between Bermagui and Tathra and sank. Two passengers went down with the ship.

Ms Hinde said it was always exciting when she and Mr Hinde spotted the wreck at Nelsons Beach.

“Whenever the remains of this ship wash out, everyone floods over to see it and it becomes a point of interest for a lot of people,” she said.

“We don’t know how it got there and that will remain the mystery.

“It’s hard to know when it will reappear again, it might be next week or it might be years. We’ll wait and see.”

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Sylvia Bryant12:22 pm 19 Apr 22

Wow what a fantastic story!

Shirley Edwards10:10 am 17 Apr 22

very interesting I thank you so much

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