Cresting the rise from Gypsy Cove towards Whalebone Cove, the view across Stanley Harbour is dominated by the rusting wreck of the Lady Elizabeth. Her three bare main masts and bow sprit stand proudly against the dramatic Falklands backdrop. It really is one of those ‘wow factor’ photo opportunities of the Falklands.
Affectionately called the ‘Lady Liz’ by locals, she had a thirty year career, hauling cargo around the world’s seas, before being shipwrecked off the Falkland Islands in 1912. She was condemned as unseaworthy in 1913, after which she spent another twenty three years as a floating timber warehouse, moored off Stanley pier. She finally broke free of her moorings one stormy night in 1936, drifting to rest on a shallow sandbar in Whalebone Cove, where she still sits today.
She was actually the second Lady Elizabeth built for a Sunderland-based shipping company, the first Lady Elizabeth having sunk off Western Australia in 1878. It seems that the name was no luckier, second time around.
Her current owner, the Crown Receiver of Wrecks, bought her for £1,000 back in 1913. More recently, plans were made by the Crown Receiver of Wrecks to salvage Lady Elizabeth and convert her into a floating museum. Due to lack of funding, however, the project was never completed. Sadly, much of her timber and many of her unique features have been plundered by opportunists, but nonetheless she remains a very photogenic wreck.
Over the years the Lady Liz has been slowly giving in to the ravages of time and the elements. But many Falkland islanders believe that is exactly right. Locals often take the view that the hulks of shipwrecks are part of the island’s heritage and should be left to their fate. The SS Great Britain, the Lady Elizabeth, the Charles Cooper and the Jhelum are all sea going vessels that came to the end of their voyaging ways after limping into the waters around the Falklands.
A notable exception is the French-built barque, the Fennia. She was damaged off Cape Horn and bought by the Falkland Islands Company for use as a storage hulk. Condemned in 1927, the Fennia was an integral part of the landscape, moored in the middle of Stanley Harbour for forty years. For a time she was even used as lodgings for German prisoners of war and internees during World War II. Sold to the San Francisco Maritime Museum as a museum centrepiece, the Fennia was towed out of Stanley in 1967. Sadly, funds for her transfer ran out before her journey was completed, and she sits to this day, amongst a jumble of junk in a Uruguayan scrap yard.
The Lady Liz and other wrecks around the Falkland Island shores are beloved by many Falkland islanders, and if anything, the sad story of the Fennia has made islanders even more determined to keep them in Falklands waters.
If you are tough enough to brave the icy Falklands waters (or trust that your wellies are 100% leak free!), it is possible to paddle out at low tide and take a look at this rusting iron beauty of a shipwreck up close. I’ve not quite mustered the courage yet, but it is definitely on my to do list!