Hive shipwreck

The convict ship Hive (1820-1835)

Convict ships in Australia

The Heritage Office successfully located the wreck of the convict transport Hive in December 1994. It is the only wreck of a convict ship in New South Wales and one of only three lost in Australian waters whilst engaged in transporting convicts from England to Australia. The other two were Neva (wrecked on King Island Bass Strait with the loss of 224 lives), and the George III near Hobart, with 133 lives lost. All three vessels were wrecked in 1835 - a bad year to be transported as a convict!


During a colourful period of the colony's history, the loss of the Hive in the largely unsurveyed region south of Jervis Bay caused excitment in Sydney. The valuable cargo of £10 000 of gold coin for the Commissariat was successfully recovered by rescue vessels, although salvage operations led to the loss of the schooner Blackbird at the site in 1836. Local identities, including Aboriginal people from Wreck Bay and Alexander Berry (after whom Berry's Bay in Sydney is named), aided the rescue of over 300 people on board which included passengers, soldiers from the 28th Regiment, crew and 250 male Irish convicts. The wreck event contributed to the naming of the bight Wreck Bay, a name that was to become well earned, as 14 other ships foundered there.

Built in the United Kingdom at Deptford Kent in 1820, the Hive was ship rigged and had two decks, a square stern and quarter galleries. The vessel was 120 feet (36.58 metres)in length , 480 tons gross, and decorated with a female bust figurehead. On the Hive's first voyage to Australia in 1834 there were 250 male prisoners.

The shipwreck

After picking up convicts at Dublin then Cork in Ireland, the Hive departed for Australia on 24 August 1835. The vessel ran aground on a sandy beach just short of Sydney during the night of Thursday 10 December 1835. There appeared to be a dispute amongst the officers regarding sailing directions set for the night, the captain finally ending the debate by exclaiming, "One person is sufficient to navigate the ship!". Unfortunately he was soon to be proven wrong.

The only loss of life occurred when the boatswain was tragically drowned in the surf whilst trying to save a young crew member in difficulties. The young man himself washed ashore safely. Once word of the wreck reached Sydney, rescue shps were sent to pick up the remaining passengers, crew and convicts as well as the ship's cargo. The Hive soon became a total wreck.


Archaeological probe survey of the Hive wreck site. Photo: Michelle Darlington

Archaeological probe survey of the Hive wreck site. Photo: Michelle Darlington

The Hive ran aground on the central part of Bherwerre Beach, Wreck Bay. Located under approximately two metres of sand and three metres of water, the buried hull was detected by Heritage Office Maritime Archaeologists in 1994 using a magnetometer loaned from ADI Ltd.

Further archaeological investigation

In 1995, the Heritage Office undertook a limited excavation of buried iron artefacts detected under the beach adjacent to the main wreck site. It was hoped that this material may have been associated with ship's timbers - either those of the Hive, or the Blackbird which was lost while salvaging the Hive. However, this was not the case and the iron material was left where it was found.

Excavation of remains under beach sand. Photo: David Nutley

Excavation of remains under beach sand. Photo: David Nutley

The importance of the Hive

The Hive wreck site is representative of the period of convict transportation to Australia, and the interaction between survivors of shipwrecks and Aborigines. The ship, its cargo, crew, military personnel and convicts were part of the later period of highly organised convict transportation. It survives as a rare example of a vessel engaged in this trade. The hull is the main surviving artefact and has the potential to provide information about the construction and fitting of one of His Majesty's prison ships during this period.

Listing information

The Hive is a gazetted Historic Shipwreck, under Section 6 of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The listing applies to the shipwreck and all relics associated with the shipwreck.


  • Heritage NSW, NSW Shipwreck database, accessable through the Australian National Shipwreck Database
  • Mawer, A., 1997, Most Perfectly Safe, Allen & Unwin: St Leonards, NSW, Australia
  • Nutley, D. & Smith, T., 1994, Convict transport Hive (1820-1836) and the schooner Blackbird (1826-1836): Report on the December 1994 maritime archaeological search. Department of Planning, Sydney, NSW Australia.
  • Nutley, D. & Smith, T., 1995, 2nd report on the maritime archaeological investigation of the convict transport Hive (1820-1836) and the schooner Blackbird (1826-1836). Department of Urban Affairs & Planning, Sydney, NSW Australia.