Holbourne Island became well known in 1875, when 18 survivors of the shipwreck SS Gothenburg reached its shores. Four survivors arrived on a damaged port lifeboat on 25 February, where they survived by eating raw bird's eggs and drinking rain water that had pooled in the island rocks. The following day, 14 survivors from a starboard lifeboat also landed. Because rescue was uncertain, the survivors engraved their names on the concave side of a large turtle shell, which is displayed in the South Australian Museum, on North Terrace in Adelaide.
On Sunday, 28 February, 15 of them set off in the starboard lifeboat for an island about 20 miles (32 km) away to the south, which seemed to be more in the track of ships. A rescue ship sent looking for survivors of the Gothenburg, picked up the group and took them safely to Bowen. The ship subsequently returned to Holbourne Island and rescued the three remaining survivors.
On 2 September 2001, the 50,000 gross ton bulk carrier Pax Phoenix departed Hay Point, Queensland bound for India via Singapore. While passing Holbourne Island, an oil slick was noticed and described as being 60 to 80 metres (200–260 ft) in width. Although there were concerns about the effect on the island and wildlife, it eventually dispersed naturally out to sea without impact.
- McInnes, Allan (1982). Wreck of the Gothenburg: Read to a Meeting of the Society on 25 February 1982.
- Australian Government Archived 10 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine (2008). Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Retrieved online 19 January 2008.
- Australian Government Archived 27 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine (2006). Major Oil Spills in Australia: Pax Phoenix. Retrieved online 19 January 2008.
- Bateman, Daniel (2009). Coral sea's Bermuda Triangle. Townsville Bulletin. Retrieved on 16 June 2009.