Historical information

These rectangular slates of 'beautiful, unusual, expensive, green' American roofing tiles were recovered from the wreck of the Falls of Halladale. Salvaging began in 1974 by volunteer divers, using local cray-fishing boats. An efficient system was devised that enabled the recovery of up to 4,000 of the still neatly packed slates a day. Many of 22,000 salvaged slates can be seen on roofs of eight buildings in the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.

The sought-after slate doesn't need any special treatment before use. Some of the slates have slight red staining that comes from over 70 years in the wrecked vessel's rusting hull.

The four-mast iron barque 'Falls of Halladale' left New York in August 1908 and, due to a navigational error, floundered off the rocks at Peterborough, Victoria, in the following November. None of the 29 lives on board were lost. Crowds gathered for months to watch the tall ship slowly break up.

The green American slates were carried on board as ballast. As well as over 56,000 of the American slates, the large cargo on the Falls of Halladale included benzine, costly timber, rolls of printing paper, coils of barbed wire, thousands of metal bolts, hardware items, tableware, American walnut desks and medicine. some of the cargo was later recovered.

ABOUT THE FALLS OF HALLADALE - in more detail

Built: 1886 by Russell & Co., Greenock shipyards, River Clyde, Scotland, UK
Configuration: Four masted sailing ship; iron-hulled barque; iron masts, wire rigging, fore & aft lifting bridges.
Size: Length 83.87m x Breadth 12.6m x Depth 7.23m, Gross tonnage 2085 ton
Owner: The Glasgow Falls Line, Wright, Breakenridge & Co of Glasgow, Scotland
Wrecked: the night of 14th November 1908, Curdies Inlet, Peterborough south west Victoria
Crew: 29

The Falls of Halladale was a four-masted sailing ship built-in 1886 in Glasgow, Scotland, for the long-distance cargo trade and was mostly used for Pacific grain trade. She had a sturdy construction built to carry maximum cargo and able to maintain full sail in heavy gales, one of the last of the ‘windjammers’ that sailed the Trade Route. She was one of the first vessels to include fore and aft lifting bridges, which kept the crew safe and dry in as they moved around the decks in stormy conditions. She was owned by Wright, Breakenridge & Co of Glasgow and was one of several Falls Line ships, all of which were named after waterfalls in Scotland.

On 4th August 1908, with new sails, 29 crew, and 2800 tons of cargo, the Falls of Halladale left New York, bound for Melbourne and Sydney via the Cape of Good Hope. The cargo on board was valued at £35,000 and included 56,763 tiles of American slate roofing tiles (roof slates), 5,673 coils of barbed wire, 600 stoves, 500 sewing machines, 6,500 gallons of oil, 14,400 gallons of benzene, plumbing iron, 117 cases of crockery and glassware and many other manufactured items.

The Falls of Halladale had been at sail for 102 days when, at 3am on the night of 14th November 1908, under full sail in calm seas with a six knots breeze behind and misleading fog along the coast, the great vessel rose upon an ocean swell and settled on top of a submerged reef near Peterborough on south-west Victoria’s coast. The ship was jammed on the rocks and began filling with water. The crew launched the two lifeboats and all 29 crew landed safely on the beach over 4 miles away at the Bay of Islands. The postmistress at Peterborough, who kept a watch for vessels in distress, saw the stranding and sent out an alert to the local people. A rescue party went to the aid of the sailors and the Port Campbell rocket crew was dispatched, but the crew had all managed to reach shore safely by the time help arrived.

The ship stayed in full sail on the rocky shelf for nearly two months, attracting hundreds of sightseers who watched her slowly disintegrate until the pounding seas and dynamiting by salvagers finally broke her back, and her remains disappeared back into deeper water.

The valuable cargo was largely lost, despite two salvage attempts in 1908-09 and 1910. Further salvage operations were made from 1974-1986, during which time 22,000 slate tiles were recovered with the help of 14 oil drums to float them, plus personal artefacts, ship fittings, reams of paper and other items (a list of items held at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is included below).

The Court of Marine Inquiry in Melbourne ruled that the foundering of the ship was entirely due to Captain David Wood Thomson’s navigational error, not too technical failure of the Clyde-built ship.

The shipwreck is a popular site for divers, about 300m offshore and in 3 – 15m of water. Some of the original cargo can be seen at the site, including pieces of roof slate and coils of barbed wire.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village’s Collection of shipwreck artefacts from the Falls of Halladale include;
- Anchor from the bow of the ship displayed on the lawn on the hill.
- Roof slates, American slate, some now used on buildings at Flagstaff Hill; Bank, Light Keeper’s Cottage, Chartroom, Mechanics Institute, Church, Common School, Tea Rooms and Dressmaker’s.
- Roof slates offcuts (kept from the slates after they were trimmed)
- Slate wall hanging
- Mast collar or masthead
- Nameplates, large brass, letters “S”, “A”, “D” from the ship’s name on both bow and stern
- Cap liners used in the preservation of foods
- Photographs and postcards (several)
- Compass section
- Step tread
- Sheaves
- Chair piece
- Bullseyes
- Porthole rim and portholes
- Reams of paper
- Medicine bottles
- Wood sample
- Key
- Rope
- Vent cover
- Long ship-building nail
- Blocks, or pullies, with triple sheaves
- Hinge
- Fabric
- Chart case
- Wooden packing slip
- Rubber boot piece
- Drinking glass
- Lamp chimney
- Wagon wheel hub
- Wheel spoke
- Clock frame
- Cribbage board
- Vent cover

Significance

The Falls of Halladale shipwreck is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register (No. S255). She was one of the last ships to sail the Trade Routes. She is one of the first vessels to have fore and aft lifting bridges. She is an example of the remains of an International Cargo Ship and also represents aspects of Victoria’s shipping industry. The wreck is protected as an Historic Shipwreck under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976).

Physical description

Rectangular slates of green American roofing tiles, some with a red-brown stain.

Inscriptions & markings

None