Stefano 1875

GPS: S 22° 44.366

         E 113° 41.559'

Location: South of Black Rock Passage, Ningaloo Reef

Site depth: 11 metres

Divable conditions: <1.0m swell

Visibilty: <10 metres

Vessel: Barque

Construction: Wood

Tons: 858 tons

Vessel length: 51 metres

Wreck event: Wrecked on reef 1875

The Stefano site is a fantastic site to dive however, being a wooden vessel not much remains distinguishable of the wreckage besides an anchor, windlass and numerous iron knees scattered over the reef top. The attraction of the site ties in with the amazing story of the wreck but also the condition of the surrounding reef and marine life. The site is located in around 12 metres of water with bommies of healthy coral reaching up to the surface on a part of the Ningaloo Reef that has very little disturbance and visitation due to being inaccessible to most trailer boats. When visiting the site it was achievable by launching at the Ningaloo Station shearers quarters with permission from the station owners, the nearest boat launching facility is 30 miles further south at Coral Bay or beach launching 20 miles further north at South Lefroy Bay. Visibility on the site was crystal clear but due to the surrounding bommies that would break in large swell the site should only be dived when the swell is low. The site stretches for around 40 metres by 30 metres with two large sand areas for anchoring.

The survival story:  Copied from the facebook page and referenced from Gustave Rathe's book "The Wreck of the Barque Stefano off the North West Cape of Australia in 1875" a must read for anyone interested inthe history of Western Australia:

The wreck of the Stefano and the story of its sole two survivours on the harsh Ningaloo coast is one of the most amazing stories in early Western Australian history and also one of the less known.

In 1875 the 850 ton Barque left Croatia with a crew of 17, Captain Miloslavich at only 26 was the oldest onboard the Stefano as it left Cardiff with a load of coal destined for Hong Kong. The youngest was a cabin boy employed in Cardiff and was possibly a young orphan. Another, one of the survivours, Miho Baccich, was only 16 and on his first voyage away from his mother and family.

On the 26th of October the Stefano sighted the west coast of Australia and steered north by west to avoid the poorly charted north west cape. The next morning at 230 am the Stefano grounded on the Ningaloo Reef. As waves crashed over the stricken vessel, the crew frantically tried to abandon ship and lives began to be lost. Crew were washed overboard or tried to swim for shore and were never seen again, the young English cabin boy was crushed to death as the first lifeboat full of life saving provisions was smashed to pieces against the hull by pounding waves. Of the 17 crew onboard only 10 made it to the barren and desolate shore of Cape Range, this was to be only the beginning of their misfortune.

What followed was 3 months of starvation, hunger, thirst and death as the crew attempted walking south towards the Ashburton River thinking that there was a settlement there, unbeknown to them no such settlement existed. The survivours, lost and disorientated soon started dying one by one, they were separated at times, encountered Aborigine tribes who at times offered some assistance but also pondered the thoughts of killing the survivours. Starving and on the verge of death after almost two months ashore, in late December an intense cyclone hit the coast, four survivours made it to the safety of a coastal cave and witnessed the eye of the storm passing over as others could only seek protection in the barren waist high scrub that dominates the range, ultimately costing two sailors their lives as they were found in the following days only a few hundred metres from the cave. Over the following month their numbers were down to only three left alive as scarcity of food and water took their toll. As they resigned to their fate and in extreme poor health two of the surviours began to resort to cannibalism of one of their dead comrades only being halted by the dying spiteful words of the third last survivor as he passed away at that moment, too feeble to intervene while watching them over the dead body. Having given up on living and accepting death the last two lay about the cave and in the baking sun on the beach without the energy to move, waiting for the inevitable when they were discovered again by aborigines. Over the next few months they were nursed to health, and passed from tribe to tribe through different tribal lands finishing their journey from the wreck site north of Coral Bay, to the death cave thought to be as far south as Quobba and finally delivered to an area near Bundegi Well near present day Exmouth, the two survivours the 16 year old Miho Baccich who had never left his mother and 18 year old Ivan Jurrich were delivered by the tribesman to pearling captain Charles Tuckey around 17 April, almost 6 months after the wrecking of the Stefano.Captain Charles Tuckey, from Mandurah sailed them to the Swan River Colony where they were treated like royalty and lorded over by the locals before being sailed back to their homelands.

An amazing account of their survival and life amongst the tribes of the North West was recorded by Miho Baccich's pastor on arrival back in Croatia where it remained for over a century. The very brief and incomplete information above comes from the book written from Miho's account by his grandson Gustave Rathe. The wreck site was only found in the late 90's by the Maritime Museum of WA and is located around 8 miles south of the Ningaloo Station Homestead south of Black Rock Passage.