Historical information

The key was recovered from the Falls of Halladale, a four-masted iron-hulled barque that was built in 1886 for the long-distance bulk carrier trade. The vessel was built for the Falls Line (Wright, Breakenridge & Co., Glasgow, Scotland) at the shipyard of Russell & Co., Greenock on the River Clyde, she was named after a waterfall on the Halladale River in the Caithness district of Scotland. The ship's design was advanced for her time, incorporating features that improved crew safety and efficiency such as elevated bridges to allow the crew to move between forward and aft in relative safety during heavy seas.
The Falls of Halladale was the seventh vessel in a series of eight similar iron-hulled sailing ships, all built by Russell & Co and all named after waterfalls in Scotland. The Falls of Halladale was preceded by the Falls of Clyde (1878), the Falls of Bruar (1879), the Falls of Dee (1882), the Falls of Afton (1882), the Falls of Foyers (1883) and the Falls of Earn (1884). The Falls of Halladale was followed by a sister ship, the Falls of Garry (1886). The Falls of Clyde is afloat today and is a major attraction at the Hawaii Maritime Centre in Honolulu.
The Falls of Halladale is best known for her spectacular demise in a shipwreck near Peterborough, Victoria on the shipwreck coast of Victoria, Australia. On the night of 14 November 1908, she was sailed in dense fog directly onto the rocks due to a navigational error. The crew of 29 abandoned ship safely and all made it ashore by boat, leaving the ship foundering with her sails set. For weeks after the wreck, large crowds gathered to view the ship as she gradually broke up and then sank in the shallow water.

Soon after the accident the ship's master, Capt. David Wood Thomson was brought before a Court of Marine Inquiry in Melbourne and found guilty of a gross act of misconduct, having carelessly navigated the ship, having neglected to take proper soundings, and having failed to place the ship on a port tack before it became too late to avoid the shipwreck. Capt. Thomson's punishment included a small fine and he had his Certificate of Competency as a Master suspended for six months.
Today the Falls of Halladale is a popular destination for recreational divers. The wreck is easily accessible by scuba divers about 300 m offshore in 3 to 15 m of water. The hull lies on its collapsed starboard side. Some of the original cargo of 56,763 roof slates remains at the site of the wreck along with corroded masses of what used to be coils of barbed wire. Twenty-two thousand slates were salvaged in the 1980s and used to provide roofing at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village in Warrnambool. An anchor that was recovered in 1974 is on display at the village.


The key is significant as a salvaged item from the Victorian heritage-listed Falls of Halladale wreck. As an artifact from the wrecked ship, it helps us to remember today the story of the wrecking and is an important reminder of a marine incident in Victoria's maritime history.

Physical description


Inscriptions & markings