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At the top of The Gap, the haunted cliffs that front the coast of Sydney’s Watsons Bay, sits a massive, battered anchor. It belonged to the Dunbar, an 1186-tonne three-masted clipped en route to Sydney from Plymouth, England, that was swept by a gale onto the rocks at South Head on August 20, 1857. All but one of the 123 crew and passengers perished: drowned, dashed on rocks or mauled by sharks.
This book is the story of the Dunbar, using the wealth of contemporary sources that exist, and but written with narrative pace and excitement. It will follow the personal stories of many of ship’s crew and passengers to bring to life the world of sail and its risks, and in particular it will focus on James Johnson, the sole survivor. The wreck was one of Australia’s worst ever, and happened on the doorstep of the young city of Sydney, showing the precariousness of the new colony’s link to the home country. It shocked the city, and its aftermath saw enormous changes to navigation and maritime safety, including the building of the lighthouse that still stands today overlooking The Gap.
It is perhaps fitting that James Johnson, the survivor, became its lighthouse keeper. Written with the same impeccable research, eye for detail and powerful storytelling that made Larry’s Razor such a perennial seller, Dunbar is a fascinating, terrible piece of our history.