Bass Strait, between Warrnambool and Cape Howe.

VHR Number


Date lost


Year of construction



Statement of Significance

The HMS Sappho is historically significant as one of Australia s maritime mysteries, and is one of only a handful of Admiralty wrecks in Australian waters including the HMS Sirius(1790) and HMS Pandora (1791).

Physical Description  
Rig Brig
Hull Details Cost to build - 21 pounds 4 shillings & 4 pence per ton. Sappho carried 16 guns Built with 12 guns
Number of Masts 2
Length / Breadth / Depth 100.65 Feet / 32.4 Feet / 15.2 Feet
Builder Devenport Naval Dockyard under the supervision of Sir William Symonds, Surveyor of the Navy
Built Date 1837
Built Port / Country Plymouth / England
The Royal Navy brig HMS Sappho operated as a slaver-catcher off the west and east African coasts for nine years. Thomas Fraser was in command when the SAPHHO captured the slavers CAMOONS and ISABELITA. It was refloated after running onto a reef off Honduras in 1841. After erroneously detaining and arresting a suspected slaver in 1857, Commander Moresby was transferred with the SAPPHO to the Australian Station where his excessive zeal could do less damage. He had only been married six weeks when the vessel left England; little is known about the crew. The Sappho left Cape Town bound for Sydney and was last seen about 20 miles west of Cape Otway by the mate of the brig Yarra , William Belither, as the vessel entered Bass Strait. Some time after 18 February 1858 the Sappho disappeared with all hands and was presumed to have sunk. Strong NE winds were reported between Port Phillip and Cape Howe at the time the Sappho disappeared. Gratings recovered on Flinders Island may have come from the vessel. The master of the schooner Little Pet reported seeing two masts projecting from the sea between Cape Liptrap and the Glennies. This may indicate that the vessel foundered off the Gippsland coast. The Sappho was last seen as it entered Bass Strait in February 1858. Despite a search of the strait and the islands, no trace was ever found of the vessel or its crew of 147.
Voyage Details  
Date Lost 18/02/1858
Voyage from Cape Town to Sydney
Owner Royal Navy
Master of Vessel Commander Fairfax Moresby
Weather conditions
Strong NE winds
Cause of Loss
Foundered at sea and lost without a trace
Further Details  
Number of Passengers 0
Number of Crew Members 147

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