top of page

James Service - Lost 22 July 1878


         Bow: S 32° 27.373'

                   E 115° 39.702'

        Stern: S 32° 27.381'

                   E 115° 39.730'

Location: Murray Reef

Site depth: 4 - 9 metres

Divable conditions: <1.0m swell

Visibilty: 3-10 metres

Vessel: 3 Masted Barque

Construction: Iron

Tons: 455 tons

Vessel length: 46 metres

Wreck event: Event Unknown - Lost with no survivors wrecked on reef.


The James Service was lost sometime on the 22nd of July in 1878. The 3 masted iron barque was sailing from Calcutta to Melbourne carrying mainly a cargo of Castor oil, bales of sacks and jute and 10 passengers. On the 21st of July a barque was observed sailing north with only two masts leading to the thought the James Service had possibly lost a mast while enduring a northwest gale that had been lashing the coast and was making way for Fremantle. The next day, on the 22nd a ship was observed foundered on the Murray Reefs west of the Peel Estuary inlet. It wasn't until the following days when empty lifeboats had washed ashore near the Peel inlet that the wreck was identified as the James Service, the lifeboats were found with no signs of life aboard or within the vicinity of the lifeboats. Over the following weeks the bodies of her crew and passengers were one by one discovered washed up from as far south as Bunbury and as far north as Point Peron.



It took a number of days for the bodies of those lost to come ashore. The first, a female passenger was discovered at Point Peron, the next at the mouth of Peel Inlet. Over the following weeks more heavily decomposed bodies were discovered on the beaches south of Peel Inlet. Some in such condition that their remains had to be buried in the dunes on the Peel foreshore where they were found. Almost a century later in 1973 a human skull was discovered in the dunes south of the inlet which was identified to be one of the victims of the James Service disaster. Nearby two more bodies were identified by the Maritime Museum during an inspection of the site.

Diving the site:

The wreck of the James Service rests on a sloping reef 4.6 nautical miles northwest of the northern entrance of the Peel Estuary. The site lays on the eastern side at the shallowest point on the south portion of the Murray Reef, about 800 metres at 35-40 degrees from south cardinal navigational marker that defines safe water at the southern end of the reef. The bow lays on its starboard side in only 3 metres of water hard up against broken limestone bommies and the wreck extends east 50 metres to the stern of the James Service, laying in the sand at around 9 metres. The stern is the most intact section of the wreckage and is easily distinguishable against the sand, the midships section, however, is heavily covered in kelp leaving almost all features of the wreck site hidden from view. Extending south is atleast one mast and surrounding the site is numerous ledges and small overhangs. The site was dived in very low swell with better than average visibility, due to the shallow reef west of the site, moderate to high swell would most likely create breaking waves that would wash over the site and decrease visibility.


When visiting the site, it is most easily accessed from launching at the Mary Street Lagoon boat ramp on the western side of the estuary, or the Dolphin Marina boat ramp if launching on the eastern side of the estuary. The wreck is located around 4.6 nautical miles from the mouth of the Peel Inlet and is best accessed in winds under 15 knots. When arriving at the site, the stern can be easily distinguished as a dark patch protruding into the sand east of the shallow reef, this area makes for the best reliable holding ground for anchoring and in easterly winds this would keep the vessel over the site for a quick descent. Caution should be taken when visiting the site with regards to swell, in moderate swell the reef should break and wash towards an anchored vessel at this location. If this is the case be sure to watch the swell for a while before anchoring and anchor a safe distance from the turbulence and swim onto the site.

bottom of page