9 Of History’s Most Famous Shipwrecks — And How These Doomed Vessels Met Their Ends

Published March 13, 2022
Updated May 25, 2022

The Tragic Shipwreck Of The SS Yongala

Ss Yongala

State Library of VictoriaThe sinking of the SS Yongala in 1911 killed 122 people as well as a racehorse and a prize bull.

Called “Townsville’s Titanic,” the sinking of the SS Yongala is considered one of Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disasters. On March 23, 1911, the vessel sank off the coast of Queensland, near the town of Townsville.

The doomed ship set out on its final voyage on March 14, 1911. At first, nothing about this journey seemed unusual or dangerous. The SS Yongala had been to sea 98 times and was commanded by Captain William Knight, one of the “most capable men” of the Adelaide Steamship Company.

But a cyclone had whipped up at sea. And though telegram warnings of inclement weather swiftly spread on land, the SS Yongala was still waiting to receive its Macroni radio from England, as reported by the Maritime Museum of Townsville. So those warnings went unheard. Additionally, the ship apparently missed flag warning signals that were sent to it from the land.

On the 23rd, the ship sailed straight into the cyclone. That night, it didn’t appear in Townsville as scheduled — and it was nowhere to be found.

Ss Yongala Shipwreck

Auscape/Universal Images Group/Getty ImagesThe 1911 shipwreck of the SS Yongala is now a popular diving site in Australia.

At first, many believed that the SS Yongala was merely delayed, not destroyed. Though people on other ships described the cyclone as “the worst… ever experienced,” Knight knew Australia’s coast “better than many people know their front gardens,” according to the State Library of Queensland. Most people thought he’d be able to weather the storm.

By March 26th, however, the ship was officially declared missing. And by June, an inquest determined that the SS Yongala was lost at sea, along with the 122 people who were on board when the vessel vanished.

Declaring the ship “seaworthy” and its captain “unimpeachable,” the inquest declared that “the fate of the Yongala passes beyond human ken into the realms of conjecture, to add one more to the mysteries of the sea.”

The wreck itself wasn’t definitively located until 1958. Today, it’s a popular site among divers. But according to Queensland.com, no one is allowed to enter the ship — because it contains human remains.

author
Kaleena Fraga
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
editor
Jaclyn Anglis
editor
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.