History of the Dunraven, a Shipwreck in the Red Sea

by B. N. Sullivan

Dunraven wreckA popular dive site in the northern Red Sea is the wreck of a ship called the Dunraven. This shipwreck is located near the southernmost tip of Egypt's Sinai peninsula, close to a landmark called Beacon Rock (AKA Sha'ab Mahmoud), near the mouth of the Gulf of Suez.

Today we will review the history of the Dunraven. In the next two posts, we will present more photos of the Dunraven, and tell about diving on the shipwreck.

The Dunraven was a British cargo vessel that was built, operated, and sunk in the late 19th century. Over the years since the vessel's remains were discovered by divers, many stories have been circulated about the history of the Dunraven. At one time it was thought to have been either a spy ship or a treasure ship associated with Lawrence of Arabia. These stories later proved to be false. Instead, it appears the Dunraven had a far less romantic history.

The Dunraven was built in England, at Newcastle, and launched in 1873. Like many of the most modern vessels of that era, she was powered by both steam and sail. The ship was nearly 80 m (260 ft) long, with a beam of just under 10 m (33 feet).

The Dunraven plied the route between England and India. On what turned out to be her final voyage, the ship had carried timber and steel from Liverpool to Bombay, and was making the return trip laden with general cargo when tragedy struck. According to historical data about the vessel compiled by Ned Middleton, the Dunraven left Bombay on April 6, 1876 loaded with cargo bound for Liverpool. The ship, with her crew of 25, crossed the Indian Ocean in good time and entered the Red Sea, stopping at Aden for coal. She continued northward through the length of the Red Sea, apparently headed for the Suez Canal.

DunravenIn the wee hours of April 25, 1876, the Dunraven, running at full speed under steam power, was approaching the mouth of the Gulf of Suez. As the story goes, a sailor on watch spotted a large dark object, and thought it was a buoy. The Second Mate also saw the object and thought it was a boat.

In any case, the Captain ordered the engines stopped, but it was too late. The ship hit what turned out to be rocks, and the hull was breached at the fore compartment (see photo at left).

Middleton writes:
The steam pumps were immediately set to work and a fruitless attempt was made to heave her off by means of a kedge anchor. By 7am, the water reached the engine room and put out the fires. By midday the starboard side of the upper deck was under water and the Master and crew took to the lifeboats. They remained with their doomed vessel and at 4pm an Arab Dhow came alongside and took the shipwrecked mariners on board. It was only at this time that the Master of the Dunraven was made aware if his actual position - off the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsular.

At 5 pm, the Dunraven slipped off the reef and sank in 15 fathoms (27 m) of water. For three days the Dhow lay at anchor over the Dunraven until Captain Care and his crew were transferred to the passing Italian steamer "Arabia" which conveyed them to Suez. The Peninsular and Orient steamer "Malwa" later transported them all back to England.
Tomorrow, we will post some more photos of the wreck of the Dunraven for Wordless/Watery Wednesday. Then, later in the week, we will tell about diving on the this famous shipwreck in the Red Sea. Stay tuned!


  1. Has to be fun exploring shipwrecks!

  2. What an wonderful adventure Bobbie, the pics are amazing, thanks for sharing !!

  3. Amazing, amazing shots. And thank you so much for telling the story behind this ship. Amazing!

  4. Thank you all. Yes, shipwreck exploring is great fun.



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Bobbie & Jerry