Historical information

This example of a sailing ship’s ‘dead-eye’ is from the wreck of the LOCH ARD, which sank near Port Campbell in 1878. The vessel was an iron hulled clipper ship constructed for the Loch Line in 1873. It was part of a fleet of similar merchant ships owned by that company, which specialised in bringing passengers and goods from London via the Great Circle route to Melbourne, and returning to Britain via Cape Horn with the colony’s wool clip.
Deadeyes were a common feature of sailing ship technology in the nineteenth century. They were a simple, cheap, and hard-wearing device that, in conjunction with another deadeye, provided an effective means of levering, or tightening, attached ropes and stays.
Lower deadeyes were fixed to the sides of the ship by an encircling metal collar (inset in a flattish groove chiselled around the outer circumference of the disc), which was bolted to iron bars attached to the hull (called chain-plates). Upper deadeyes were looped by a strong hemp or wire rope (inset in a rounded groove carved around the outer circumference of the disc), which was joined to the bottom ends of the rigging which reached up to secure the masts into position (called shrouds or stays). Connecting a Lower deadeye to its corresponding Upper deadeye was a rope (called a lanyard) which looped up and down through the three “eyes” of each disc, to form a pulley system.
The hitching of the two deadeyes with a looped lanyard provided the means of tightening, or loosening, the tension on the mast rigging ― essentially by pulling against the chain-plates bolted to the outside of the hull. It was a procedure that could be performed by sailors at sea and in emergencies. For example, after a gale the stays may have stretched and the masts worked loose, requiring retightening. Or, in the extreme circumstance of shipwreck, the lanyards might need to be released on the weather side, so that the masts fall away from the stricken vessel.


The shipwreck of the LOCH ARD is of State significance. Victorian Heritage Register S417.

Physical description

A well-preserved ship’s deadeye with wire loop rope still attached. The original tar coating for water-proofing still remains, colouring the entire artefact black. It is wrapped in hessian cloth and hemp cord and is currently in storage under secure and stable conditions. This deadeye was recovered from the wreck of the LOCH ARD. The artefact is a typical deadeye, comprising a thick round wooden disc, pierced by 3 similarly sized and shaped holes from one flat side through to the other, in a triangle formation. The survival of the wire cable loop-rope suggests it was an Upper Deadeye, connected to the shrouds (mast rigging). Previous number PWO 2388.