Presented by Luke Agati, King Island Historical Society

King Island has a long history of shipwrecks. Lying in the middle of western Bass Strait, it was a trap for seafarers, particularly those in the mid-1800s, who did not know the area well. There have been 100 shipwrecks along the island’s rough and jagged coastline.

The barque Cataraqui carrying 367 passengers and a crew of 42 foundered on the west coast of King Island in 1845. Cataraqui slammed into jagged reefs close to shore. Huge seas pounded the hull until it parted and sank with the loss of 400 people. Only nine survived what is still Australia’s worst civil maritime disaster.

Luke Agati will give a brief history of the ship, its voyage within the context of immigration to Australia at the time, King Island at that time of the disaster and the awful events that occurred when the ship struck rocks on the island’s west coast including how the survivors fared, the burials in five mass graves and the memorial. In the aftermath, there was shock and consternation throughout the colonies. There was talk in building a lighthouse in the Bass Strait, but why did it take fifteen years to build the Cape Wickham Lighthouse?

Luke will also explore the impact of the Cataraqui on King Islanders through the 20th century, including memorials, recovery of artefacts, commemorative services and gravesite surveys. Recent work by local historians and Parks and Wildlife staff will also be discussed and why the disaster is still significant to Australia today.

Luke Agati is President of the King Island Historical Society. He is also a councillor of the local municipality and is historian of the sub-branch of the King Island RSL. He has published two recent books on King Island’s contribution to the Great War and curated the Centenary of Armistice Exhibition in Currie. Previously he lived in Hobart and was active with the Friends of the Theatre Royal. Two years ago, his book ‘Strutting the Stage’ was published, covering the social history of Tasmanian theatre in the first twenty-five years (1833-59). He is working on a second volume cover the golden age of theatre in Tasmania between 1860 and 1919.

Time: 12.00-1.00pm, Tuesday 5 February 2019

Place: Royal Society Room, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Customs House, 19 Davey St entrance.

Phone the Maritime Museum on 6234 1427 for more details or email