Think that slinging on a backpack and heading for the hills is an adventure? Think again. Seventeen men. 31,500 litres of rum and beer. A journey of thousands of miles across treacherous oceans from India to Australia. A shipwreck that lay forgotten for over 200 years. And a 740km journey on foot to find help… and survive.
On the 10th of November 1796, the merchant ship Sydney Cove left Calcutta, India heading for the newly-built colony of Sydney, Australia. Tea, ceramics, rice, tobacco – and more booze than a drive-in campground on the Easter long weekend – filled the ship to the rafters.
But alas, the Sydney Cove would never make it. Thanks to wild ocean currents the ship was damaged near the coast of Tasmania and was wrecked on the 9th of February 1797.
Stranded between what would later become known as Preservation and Rum Islands, the sailors were in some serious hot (or should we say, cold) water.
Tassie isn’t exactly known for its sun-drenched winters and with sub-zero temperatures on their way, the crew knew they needed to find a solution. And quick.
A Tale Of Survival
Using a longboat, the men paddled 300km to the mainland of Australia. But boats really weren’t their forte and just before reaching land, the longboat was ripped apart by the ocean. Luckily, they had the best transport known to mankind at their disposal. Feet.
With a couple of pistols, some rice, and some cloth, the group swam ashore, landing 700km south of Sydney. Over the following months, the group headed north. They travelled over sand dunes, crossed rivers, and hiked through eucalypt forests, with the promise of Sydney, a warm bed, and some decent nosh forever in their minds.
But only three of the seventeen men would ever make it.
Fourteen crew members were left along the way, too ill or injured to continue. Finally, on the 15th of May, the last three survivors spotted a fishing boat in Port Hacking, and the kind fishermen sailed them the last 40km north to Sydney.
They would never have made it without the help offered from Indigenous guides, who showed them where to find food and water, as well as letting them pass through their land. The journey marked one of the first prolonged encounters between Europeans and Australian Aboriginal people.
200 Years Later
The Sydney Cove lay forgotten on the floor of the ocean until 1977, when it was discovered by a group of amateur divers. Declared a historic site, in the nineties, Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service salvaged historic items including cannons, shoes, and anchors.
But the biggest treasure? Booze. Remember the 31,500 litres of rum and beer? A few bottles miraculously survived, and have since been declared the oldest bottled beer on record. Thanks to the ocean’s cool temperatures and a stellar job on corkage, the contents were preserved, and some of the yeast cells were still alive!
The World’s Oldest Beer
Last year James Squire launched a historic new beer, The Wreck Preservation Ale, to commemorate the wreck of the Sydney Cove. Hold up! ‘Sounds like a marketing ploy!’ we hear you holler. Well, batten down the hatches matey, because this wasn’t an ordinary brew.
The Wreck Preservation Ale was created using yeast from one of the very bottles that lay beneath the ocean for 200 years. Officially validated by scientists at the Australian Wine Research Institute as the ‘World’s Oldest Beer’, it’s a collaboration between James Squire and David Thurrowgood, a Conservator at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.
Not wanting the story of the shipwrecked sailors to go forgotten, James Squire is back this year with a new brew made with old yeast – The Wreck Survivors’ Ale.
An Imperial Porter, the beer is partly-aged in rum barrels and not only tastes great, but is a true connection to Australia’s colonial history. Already craving a schooner? Don’t worry so are we.
Luckily, a limited batch of the beer will be available to drink at all James Squire brewhouses across the country from the start of August. And the clever guys behind the creation have already worked out a way to replicate the yeast, meaning this bad boy can live for hundreds of years to come. Oh, and if Dad’s a bit of a beer connoisseur you can get your hands on one of 5,000 bottles this Father’s Day – make sure he shares!
The Great Australian Survivors’ Trek
But that’s not all. To celebrate the new brew, James Squire has teamed up with We Are Explorers to give four lucky Explorers the chance to recreate key parts of the survivors’ trek up the east coast of Aus.
We’re currently picking the winners and will be setting off in August. Keep your eyes on our page for the latest on this rad adventure!
Feature photo by Tim Ashelford