Historical information

The wooden door was salvaged from the wreck of the sailing ship Eric the Red, which was a wooden, three masted clipper ship.
Eric the Red was the largest full-rigged ship built at Bath, Maine, USA in 1871, having had a 1,580 tons register. She was built and registered by Arthur Sewall, later to become the partnership E. & A. Sewall, the 51st ship built by this company. The annually-published List of Merchant Vessels of the U.S. shows Bath was still the home port of Eric the Red in 1880. The vessel was named after the Viking discoverer, Eric the Red, who was the first European to reach the shores of North America (in 980AD).

The ship Eric the Red at first traded in coal between America and Britain, and later traded in guano nitrates from South America. In 1879 she was re-metalled and was in first class condition.

On 10th June 1880 (some records say 12th June) Eric the Red departed New York for Melbourne and then Sydney. She had been commissioned by American trade representatives to carry a special cargo of 500 exhibits (1400 tons) – about a quarter to a third of America’s total exhibits - from America for the U.S.A. pavilion at Melbourne’s first International Exhibition. The exhibits included furniture, ironmongery, wines, chemicals, dental and surgical instruments, paper, cages, bronze lamp trimmings, axles, stamped ware, astronomical and time globes, samples of corn and the choicest of leaf tobacco. Other general cargo included merchandise such as cases of kerosene and turpentine, brooms, Bristol's Sarsaparilla, Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines, Wheeler’s thresher machine, axe handles and tools, cases of silver plate, toys, pianos and organs, carriages and Yankee notions.

The Eric the Red left New York under the command of Captain Z. Allen (or some records say Captain Jacques Allen) and 24 other crew including the owner’s son third mate Ned Sewall. There were 2 saloon passengers also.

The ship had been sailing for an uneventful 85 days and the voyage was almost at its end. On 4th September 1880 the Eric the Red approached Cape Otway with a moderate north-west wind and hazy and overcast atmosphere. Around 1:30am Captain Allen sighted the Cape Otway light and was keeping the ship 5-6 miles offshore to stay clear of the hazardous Otway Reef. However he had badly misjudged his position. The ship hit the Otway Reef about 2 miles out to sea, south west of the Cape Otway light station. He ordered the wheel to be put ‘hard up’ thinking that she might float off the reef. A heavy sea knocked the man away from the wheel, broke the wheel ropes and carried away the rudder. The sea swamped the lifeboats. The mizzenmast fell, with all of its rigging, then the mainmast also fell and the ship broke in two.

Some said that the passenger Vaughan, who was travelling for his health and not very strong, was washed overboard and never seen again. The ship started breaking up. The forward house came adrift with three of the crew on it as well as a longboat, which the men succeeded in launching and keeping afloat by continually bailing with their sea boots. The captain, the third mate (the owner’s son) and others clung to the mizzenmast in the sea. Then the owner’s son was washed away off the mast. Within 10 minutes the rest of the ship was in pieces, completely wrecked, with cargo and wreckage floating in the sea. The captain encouraged the second mate to swim with him to the deckhouse where there were other crew but the second mate wouldn’t go with him. Eventually the Captain made it to the deckhouse and the men pulled him up.

At about 4:30am the group of men on the deckhouse saw the lights of a steamer and called for help. At the same time they noticed the second mate and the other man had drifted nearby, still on the spur, and pulled them both onto the wreck.

The coastal steamer Dawn was returning to Warrnambool from Melbourne, its sailing time different to its usual schedule. Captain Jones sent out two life boats, and fired off rockets and blue lights to illuminate the area. They picked up the three survivors who were in the long boat from Eric the Red. Two men were picked up out of the water, one being the owner’s son who was clinging to floating kerosene boxes. At daylight the Dawn then rescued the 18 men from the floating portion of the deckhouse, which had drifted about 4 miles from where they’d struck the reef. Shortly after the rescue the deckhouse drifted onto breakers and was thrown onto rocks at Point Franklin, about 2 miles east of Cape Otway.

Captain Jones had signalled to Cape Otway lighthouse the number of the Eric the Red and later signalled that there was a wreck at Otway Reef but there was no response from the lighthouse. The captain and crew of the Dawn spent several more hours searching unsuccessfully for more survivors, even going back as far as Apollo Bay. On board the Dawn the exhausted men received care and attention to their needs and wants, including much needed clothing.

Captain Allen was amongst the 23 battered and injured men who were rescued and later taken to Warrnambool for care. Warrnambool’s mayor and town clerk offered them all hospitality, the three badly injured men going to the hospital for care and others to the Olive Branch Hotel, then on to Melbourne. Captain Allen’s leg injury prevented him from going ashore so he and three other men travelled on the Dawn to Portland. They were met by the mayor who also treated them all with great kindness. Captain Allen took the train back to Melbourne then returned to America.

Those saved were Captain Z. Allen (or Jacques Allen), J. Darcy chief mate, James F. Lawrence second mate, Ned Sewall third mate and owner’s son, John French the cook, C. Nelson sail maker, Clarence W. New passenger, and the able seamen Dickenson, J. Black, Denis White, C. Herbert, C. Thompson, A. Brooks, D. Wilson, J. Ellis, Q. Thompson, C. Newman, W. Paul, J. Davis, M. Horenleng, J. Ogduff, T. W. Drew, R. Richardson.

Four men had lost their lives; three of them were crew (Gus Dahlgreen ship’s carpenter, H. Ackman steward, who drowned in his cabin, and George Silver seaman) and one a passenger (J. B. Vaughan). The body of one of them had been found washed up at Cape Otway and was later buried in the lighthouse cemetery; another body was seen on an inaccessible ledge.
Twelve months later the second mate James F. Lawrence, from Nova Scotia, passed away in the Warrnambool district; an obituary was displayed in the local paper.

The captain and crew of the Dawn were recognised by the United States Government in July 1881 for their humane efforts, being thanked and presented with substantial monetary rewards, medals and gifts.

Neither the ship, nor its cargo, was insured. The ship was worth about £15,000 and the cargo was reportedly worth £40,000; only about £2,000 worth had been recovered. Cargo and wreckage washed up at Apollo Bay, Peterborough, Port Campbell, Western Port and according to some reports, even as far away as the beaches of New Zealand.

The day after the wreck the government steam ship Pharos was sent from Queenscliff to clear the shipping lanes of debris that could be a danger to ships. The large midship deckhouse of the ship was found floating in a calm sea near Henty Reef. Items such as an American chair, a ladder and a nest of boxes were all on top of the deckhouse. As it was so large and could cause danger to passing ships, Captain Payne had the deckhouse towed towards the shore just beyond Apollo Bay. Between Apollo Bay and Blanket Bay the captain and crew of Pharos collected Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines, nests of boxes, bottles of Bristol’s sarsaparilla, pieces of common American chairs, axe handles, a Wheelers’ Patent thresher and a sailor’s trunk with the words “A. James” on the front. A ship’s flag-board bearing the words “Eric the Red” was found on the deckhouse; finally those on board the Pharos had the name of the wrecked vessel.

During this operation Pharos came across the government steamer Victoria and also a steamer S.S. Otway, both of which were picking up flotsam and wreckage. A whole side of the hull and three large pieces of the other side of the hull, with some of the copper sheathing stripped off, had floated on to Point Franklin. Some of the vessels yards and portions of her masts were on shore. The pieces of canvas attached to the yards and masts confirmed that the vessel had been under sail. The beach there was piled with debris several feet high. There were many cases of Diamond Oil kerosene, labelled R. W. Cameron and Company, New York. There were also many large planks of red pine, portions of a small white boat and a large, well-used oar.

Other items found ashore included sewing machines (some consigned to ‘Long and Co.”) and notions, axe and scythe handles, hay forks, wooden pegs, rolls of wire (some branded “T.S” and Co, Melbourne”), kegs of nails branded “A.T. and Co.” from the factory of A. Field and Son, Taunton, Massachusetts, croquet balls and mallets, buggy fittings, rat traps, perfumery, cutlery and Douay Bibles, clocks, bicycles, chairs, a fly wheel, a cooking stove, timber, boxes, pianos, organs and a ladder. (Wooden clothes pegs drifted in for many years). There seemed to be no personal luggage or clothing.

The Pharos encountered a long line, about one and a half miles, of floating wreckage about 10 miles off land, south east of Cape Otway, and in some places about 40 feet wide. It seemed that more than half of it was from Eric the Red. The ship’s crew rescued 3 cases that were for the Melbourne Exhibition and other items from amongst the debris. There were also chairs, doors, musical instruments, washing boards, nests of trunks and fly catchers floating in the sea. Most of the goods were saturated and smelt of kerosene.

A section of the hull lies buried in the sand at Parker River Beach. An anchor with chain is embedded in the rocks east of Point Franklin and a second anchor, thought to be from Eric the Red, is on display at the Cape Otway light station. (There is a photograph of a life belt on the verandah of Rivernook Guest House in Princetown with the words “ERIC THE RED / BOSTON”. This is rather a mystery as the ship was registered in Bath, Maine, USA.) Parts of the ship are on display at Bimbi Park Caravan Park and at Apollo Bay Museum. Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village also has part of the helm (steering wheel), a carved wooden sword (said to be the only remaining portion of the ship’s figurehead; further research is currently being carried out), a door, a metal rod and samples of wood.

Much of the wreckage was recovered by the local residents before police and other authorities arrived at the scene. Looters went to great effort to salvage goods, being lowered down the high cliff faces to areas with little or no beach to collect items from the wreckage, their mates above watching out for dangerous waves. A Tasmanian newspaper reports on a court case in Stawell, Victoria, noting a man who was caught 2 months later selling tobacco from the wreckage of Eric the Red. Some of the silverware is still treasured by descendants of Mr Mackenzie who was given these items by officials for his help in securing the cargo. The gifts included silver coffee and tea pots, half a dozen silver serviette rings and two sewing machines.

The wreck and cargo were sold to a Melbourne man who salvaged a quantity of high quality tobacco and dental and surgical instruments.
Timbers from the ship were salvaged and used in the construction of houses and sheds around Apollo Bay, including a guest house, Milford House (since burnt down in bushfires), which had furniture, fittings and timber on the dining room floor from the ship. A 39.7 foot long trading ketch, the Apollo, was also built from its timbers by Mr Burgess in 1883 and subsequently used in Tasmanian waters. It was the first attempt at ship building in Apollo bay.

In 1881 a red light was installed about 300 feet above sea level at the base of the Cape Otway lighthouse to warn ships when they were too close to shore; It would not be visible unless a ship came within 3 miles from it. This has proved to be an effective warning.
The State Library of Victoria has a lithograph in its collection depicting the steamer Dawn and the shipwrecked men, titled. "Wreck of the ship Eric the Red, Cape Otway: rescue of the crew by the Dawn".


“The Eric the Red is historically significant as one of Victoria's major 19th century shipwrecks. (Heritage Victoria Eric the Red; HV ID 239)
The wreck led to the provision of an additional warning light placed below the Cape Otway lighthouse to alert mariners to the location of Otway Reef. The site is archaeologically significant for its remains of a large and varied cargo and ship's fittings being scattered over a wide area.
The site is recreationally and aesthetically significant as it is one of the few sites along this coast where tourists can visit identifiable remains of a large wooden shipwreck, and for its location set against the background of Cape Otway, Bass Strait, and the Cape Otway lighthouse.“
(Victorian Heritage Database Registration Number S239, Official Number 8745 USA)

Physical description

Door from the wreck of the ship Eric the Red. The wooden singular rectangular door includes three insert panel sections. The top section is square shaped and is missing its panel or glass. The centre timber panel is about a third of the height of the top panel and the bottom timber panel is approximately equal in height to the total height of the two upper panels.
The door fastenings include both a metal door latch and traditional door bolt. They are both attached to the front right hand side of the door. The bolt is just below the top panel, and the door latch is in approximately the centre of that side. The door latch has a round mark where a handle could have been attached. The wood of the door has scraping marks in a semi-circle around the door latch where the latch has swung around on its one remaining fastening and grazed the surface.
There is a metal hinge at the top section of the door on the opposite side to the latch. The painted surface has been scraped back to expose the wood.
The door is shorter than the average height of a person.
On the reverse of the door there are lines on the panels, just inside their edges, is what appears to be pencil.
The door is not aligned straight but is skew to centre.