SS Macleay Wreck

The Macleay lies approximately 100 meters from the South East Corner of Little Island, approximately 40m deep. It is for deep certified & technical divers only. As this site is exposed to the conditions it is best dived first thing in the morning on a single dive or combined with the wreck of the Oaklandas a second dive and is a fun option for your Deep course.

Due to the position of this wreck there is often a surface current running so the skipper puts out a line from the stern to the bow of the dive boat allowing you to easily pull yourself along to the anchor line. As you descend down the anchor line you may also experience changes in temp and visibility all of which adds to the excitement of the dive. You really don’t know what you are going to get until you reach the bottom.

Surrounded by a barren rocky sandy bottom lies the wreck which displays her tragic end through the damage to her hull still evident today. The bow faces the Island and the two anchors can be seen from this point. A large boiler is clearly visible central to the wreck. The wreck itself comes alive with Blue Groper, Sergeant Bakers schools of Pomfreds, Cuttlefish and a resident Wobbegongs which snooze on the boiler.


The Woodburn was built in 1883 in London and set sail to be imported to Australia. In 1889, a year after her arrival the vessel was sold to the Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Co. It was then her name was changed to “Macleay”. The Macleay spent the next 20 years as a passenger vessel along the New South Wales coastline. By the beginning of 1911, her passenger carrying days were over and the ship was regulated to cargo carrying only.

On October 11, 1911, the Macleay departed Newcastle with a main cargo of coal. It was destined for the Clarence River with a crew of 17 people and three horses. After passing the Port Stephens light, signaling the name of his ship and conversing about the weather and current shipping movements, the Captain retired to his cabin. Within minutes of the Master leaving the bridge and for reasons unknown, First Officer Goldsmith altered the course from North North East to North East. According to records, Helmsman Petterson soon saw breakers ahead and stated “I fancy its breakers ahead.” Goldsmith replied “No, it’s a school of fish – mullet or something.” Petterson Replied “Yes; I think you have a school of rocks ahead of you.” He swung the helm hard to port it was too late. The ship collected the southeast corner of Little Island. Life rafts were launched, the horses were cut free and within 20 minutes the vessel had sunk. There were two survivors (ref: "Shiprecks, Storms and Seamen of the NSW Coast", Max Gleeson).