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K476The Tyalgum passing the wreck of the Terranora, 1933. TRM Collection K476

Lieutenant John Oxley documented and named the Tweed River in 1823. In the years following major survey by Captain Henry Rous in 1828, the river became a means of opening up the Tweed Valley to European trade and settlement.

The earliest vessels active in the Tweed were a variety of sailing ships, providing early settlers with contact with the outside world. Such ships carried staples and transported produce, such as sugar and timber, to city markets. Later steamships became a familiar sight as they plied their trade up and down the coast and into the rivers. Ferries carried passengers between settlements on the river.

Coastal shipping was irregular, at the mercy of the weather, and often dangerous; the Tweed River bar was a notorious place for shipping disasters. According to the Australian Shipwrecks Database, 47 ships have been wrecked in the vicinity of the Tweed River/Tweed Coast area since European settlement.

The Tweed Regional Museum holds a number of model ships in its collection. Those featured on this page have a special relationship with the Tweed. Also featured on this page are some of the relics held in the Museum Collection, from shipwrecks in our waters.

The Mermaid

The MermaidModel of the Mermaid. Donated by Bill Spencer, 2003. TH2003.85.
The Mermaid was a cutter, built in India in 1816. The Mermaid is famous for its role in surveying the Australian coastline, under the charge of Lieutenant Philip Parker King, and its later role as a colonial vessel. The ship was used in 1823 on a voyage to locate a new site for a penal colony, under Captain Charles Penson. Also on board were Lieutenant John Oxley and surveyor John Uniacke.

It was on this voyage, on 31 October 1823, that the Mermaid encountered bad weather and sheltered near Cook Island off the coast near Fingal Head. The mouth of a large river was sighted, and the next day Oxley and Uniacke went up the river by whaleboat, investigating both the river itself and the surrounding land.

John Oxley named the river the Tweed, after a river in his native Scotland.

Read more about the Mermaid (26kB PDF)

The Tweed

The TweedModel of the Tweed. Donated by Graham Nicoll. TH2003.67.
The SS Tweed was a single screw steamer, built by Wood, Skinner and Co. at Newcastle on Tyne, England, in 1884. The ship was built specially for the shallow waters of the Tweed River and named after the river.

The Tweed was owned by the G W Nicoll Line, one of the first line of steamships to trade on the Tweed River. The SS Tweed carried both cargo and passengers between Sydney and the Tweed area, but unfortunately she was wrecked within three years of arriving in the area.

Read more about the Tweed (26kB PDF)

The Gwendoline

GwendolineModel of the Gwendoline. Donated by Laurice Bolton, 2003. TH2003.322.
The Gwendoline was a topsail schooner built in 1897 at Coopernook, NSW. The Gwendoline was owned by the Langley Brothers Company and made frequent trips between Sydney and the Tweed from 1897 to 1903. The Langley Brothers pioneered shipping trade between Sydney and the Tweed, operating sailing ships and steam ships from the late 1860s to 1925.

Whilst in service on the Tweed, the Gwendoline was captained for a short time by Peter Simonsen, who captained many vessels travelling between Sydney and the Tweed, as well as being skipper of the tug Terranora for nearly 30 years.

Read more about the Gwendoline (23kB PDF)

The Terranora

The TerranoraModel of the Terranora. Donated by Bill Spencer. TH2003.326.
The tug Terranora was a single screw steamer built in 1896 by David Drake for Langley Brothers Co. The Terranora operated at Tweed Heads for 35 years, guiding and towing ships across the treacherous Tweed bar, and had many narrow escapes. Captain Peter Simonsen was in charge of the Terranora for nearly 30 years.

In 1933, the Terranora was taking soundings of the Tweed bar to locate a channel for the Tyalgum to leave port. The Terranora became stuck on the sand spit and within half an hour all rescue attempts were abandoned. By the next day, the Terranora was totally wrecked.

Read more about the Terranora (26kB PDF)

The Tyalgum

The TyalgumModel of the Tyalgum. Donated by Bill Spencer. TH2003.86.
The Tyalgum was a steel twin screw steamer built in Glasgow in 1925. She was owned by the North Coast Steam Navigation Company and serviced the North Coast from 1925 to 1939.

On 25 August 1939, under the command of Captain W Tolmie, the Tyalgum ran aground near the entrance to the Tweed River whilst being towed across the bar. She was on a voyage from Sydney to Tweed Heads, carrying 190 tons of coal. All salvage attempts were finally abandoned on 6 September 1939, and the Tyalgum was subsequently sold as a wreck. The funnel, machinery and boiler were removed, and the remaining wreck became a favourite fishing spot and adventure playground for children, before finally disappearing under the waves in 1949.

Read more about the Tyalgum (26kB PDF)



1. Bottles recovered from the wreck of the Scottish Prince. The Scottish Prince was wrecked off Southport in 1887, with a cargo of, amongst other items, 3700 cases of whisky. Despite rescue attempts, the ship sank. Passengers and crew were saved, along with some cargo. Much of the remaining cargo washed ashore, to the delight of locals. The wreck site was first discovered in 1955. It is a popular dive site and new finds have been made as recently as 2012. These bottles were donated in the early 2000s.

2. Porthole from the Alberta. The Alberta is the largest vessel lost near Tweed Heads, and was wrecked on Sutherland Reef on 19 October 1890.

3. Spanner head, valve and alarm clock from the Terranora. The Terranora was wrecked in 1933; to read more about the Terranora, see the detailed story above.

4. Spoon from the Dellie. The Dellie was wrecked in 1941, travelling from Tasmania to Brisbane with a cargo of apples. More about the Dellie can be found on our website here , as part of the Tweed Tales Tall and True series.

5. Door mechanism and porthole from the Fido. The Fido is the second largest vessel to be wrecked in Tweed waters, running into a reef near Cook Island during the night of 19 July 1907.

If you would like to know more about Australian shipwrecks, check out the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database. (external link)
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