New South Wales hosts a wide variety of historic shipwreck sites. These range from large, fully exposed and intact hulls to smaller, largely disarticulated, dispersed, and buried structural components and artefacts. The environments in which these sites exist also differ significantly in terms of seabed composition, water depth and water clarity.
The museum’s maritime archaeology team recently visited the shipwreck site of the late nineteenth century steamship Centennial. The dive was part of an ongoing initiative to document selected historic shipwreck sites within Sydney Harbour with digital photography and videography. Still images and video footage collected during the project will be used to generate 3D digital photo-mosaics of these sites and test the usefulness of this recording method in a variety of environments.
Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
In the spirit of National Archaeology Week 2016 we took the opportunity to open the floor to you, our audience and community, with the hashtag #AskAnArchaeologist. This was a chance for you to ask your questions about all things archaeology and maritime heritage to our team.
Many years ago when I was attending primary school we were taught The Columbus Day poem in order to remember the momentous events of 1492. The opening stanzas of the poem went something like:
In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He had three ships and left from Spain
He sailed through sunshine and he sailed through rain
These three vessels, sponsored by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I Queen of Castile and Leon – made up a great voyage of exploration lead by Christopher Columbus – also known Cristofora Colombo in his native Genoa and as Christobal Colon in Spain – who had managed to convince the joint sovereigns of Spain that he had found a short cut to the famous spice islands of the Orient.
These famous ships were, of course, the caravels Pinta and Nina and the larger Galician nao (ship) Santa Maria and with them Columbus discovered, although the Native Americans would have been a bit bemused by the term, not the Orient but in fact the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti – before returning to Spain with the Pinta and the Nina – the Santa Maria having been wrecked in Caracol Bay, Haiti in on Christmas Day, 1492. Columbus lead several other voyages of discovery to what became known as the Americas and the rest as they say is history. Continue reading
Miles away from my office at the Australian National Maritime Museum and the lapping waters of Darling Harbour, is my temporary workspace in the south east corner of the spectacular Jordan Rift Valley. Here, rimmed by ancient and multi-coloured mountains, the valley descends to the salty shores of the Dead Sea. At over 400m below sea level, this is the actual lowest place on the earth’s surface.
Despite the bare and beautiful mountains and a sea void of life, communities have flourished in this region for tens of thousands of years. The rich history of those people who have lived by the Dead Sea is now the focus of a brand-new purpose built-museum: The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth.
Viking activity extended from Asia in the east to Greenland and North America in the west, and from the islands far up in the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and northern Africa in the south. During the Viking Age, exotic and exclusive goods flowed into the Viking homelands in Scandinavia and were made available, for those who could afford them, at trading places such Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang and others. Along with the material goods came ideological, political and religious currents.
Among the many exotic artefacts that have been discovered at Viking-Age sites are a Persian glass beaker, an Irish cross, an Indian statuette of the Buddha, a Coptic ladle from Egypt, and shells from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean intended to be made into pendants. Such artefacts are evidence of what great melting pots many of the Viking Age communities were. Much of what we call ‘Viking-Age culture’ was in fact created from encounters between norrænir menn and other peoples.
Back to where it all started and a mystery…
After an exciting trip back down from the Great Detached Reef – Silentworld II and its full time crew headed up by Captain Michael Gooding responded to a Mayday call on late Thursday evening and rescued two professional fishermen from their sinking fishing vessel north of Cooktown – the team arrived off Flora Reef, south of Cairns on Friday morning.
Flora Reef is the location of HMCS Mermaid, the former surveying vessel of Phillip Park King, which was wrecked whilst on voyage from Sydney (New South Wales) to Port Raffles (now in the Northern Territory) in 1829. After several searches the wreck site of the Mermaid was located and surveyed by the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2009 in the first, of what has turned out to be many, successful underwater archaeological research projects.
Flora Reef is also close to the site of, an as yet unresolved mystery, dating back to 1943.In February 1943 the Royal Australian Air-force Catalina A24-25 from 11 Squadron RAAF – went missing off Cairns whilst returning from an anti-submarine patrol – the last garbled message from the aircraft – which was received at Townsville contained the words ‘Force land’. Because the message was received at Townsville rather than Cairns and because of eyewitness accounts from soldiers at a military installation on one of the islands south of Cairns the aircraft was presumed to have crashed near the Frankland Islands. Despite an extensive search the aircraft was not located and the crew of 11 presumed lost – missing in action.
Another perfect day on Great Detached Reef – seas almost mirror smooth – with only a slight breeze from the north – however a 20-knot change from the south-east is predicted to come in sometime in the late afternoon which will make diving on the outer edge of the reef difficult if not impossible – so it is time to get cracking.
Two dive teams away nice and early from the back of Silentworld II – Dive Team One, consisting of John, Peter and Xanthe headed south across the lagoon to exam some possible shipwreck sites that Bungee in his helicopter had seen the day before and Dive Team Two, made up of Frits, Meri, Jacqui, Rob, Kieran and Michael heading south east, also across the lagoon, to the site of the Charles Eaton.
The Charles Eaton was a 313 ton, three masted, wooden barque under the command of Captain J.G. Moore when it was wrecked on a speculative voyage to India in 1834. On board the vessel were Captain William D’Oyley of the Bengal Artillery, his young family and several other passengers. The vessel struck the eastern edge of the Great Detached Reef and some of the crew deserted in the only serviceable boat leaving the passengers and remaining crew stranded on the wreck. The survivors built a small raft on which they successfully sailed to the mainland but unfortunately they encountered a group of Aboriginal people who killed all the survivors except for a young crewman called John Ireland and two year old William D’Oyley – they were subsequently rescued two years later by Captain Lewis of the schooner Isabella – by which time young D’Oyley had become completely assimilated into an Aboriginal family and could no longer speak English. Continue reading
With Bungee searching the reef from overhead we sent out Xanthe, Rob, Meri, Frits, Jacqui, Kieran and Michael to commence surveying the buoyed shipwrecks starting with the one on the northern arm of Great Detached Reef.
This site consisted of a single iron anchor out on the edge of the reef on the other side of the surf break, two large mid-19th century iron anchors – one lying flat on the seabed the other picked into the reef top some 120 metres in from the edge of the reef. Surrounding these substantial anchors (4.0m long by 2.8m wide) are several lines of stud link anchor chain running in a north-westerly direction from the edge of the reef across the reef top and towards the centre of the site. Around the anchor chains are large iron concretions (an iron / sand / corrosion product matrix), a number of copper-alloy fastenings, copper-alloy sheathing (a metal coating used to protect the lower hull of timber sailing vessels from fouling and marine borers).
Scattered forward of the two anchors are several composite piles of chain, stone ballast and iron knees and rigging components – the largest mound being some 5.0 metres long, 2.0 metres wide and 1.5m high.
Viking-Age society had a powerful upper class, an aristocracy of magnates and chieftains, some of whom called themselves kings, though they ruled mainly over people, not territories, via alliances based more on personal loyalty than on ethnicity. But while the society was hierarchical, social positions were not always as fixed as we might imagine. It was possible for individuals to both improve, and lose, their social status.
A large proportion of the population – perhaps between 20 and 40 percent – was unfree, or thralls. Locally born slaves had more freedom that those who had been captured and forced into captivity. While some unfree people were simply labour slaves, others were given significant rights. A ‘housecarl’ on a farm or estate could, if he was lucky, advance to the level of ‘bryte’, a type of farm manager or overseer.
The trade in thralls or slaves for labour was highly profitable. Indirect evidence of the trafficking of thralls in Viking-Age Scandinavia comes from archaeological finds such as shackles, neck-irons and similar restraints.
After leaving Pandora Entrance the expedition vessel Silentworld II, ably skippered by Michael Gooding from the Silentworld Foundation, motored down the outside of the Great Barrier Reef before coming abreast of the Raine Island Entrance – marked by its famous 14-metre high stone navigational tower and shipwrecked sailors’ refuge built on the Island by convict stone mason in 1844. The Island marks the confluence of the Inner and Outer Routes through the Great Barrier Reef and the reefs bordering the northern and southern entrances have been the location of a number of shipwrecks – with Great Detached Reef – having at least 15 known wreck occurrences.
After passing Raine Island we motored around the northern arm of Great Detached and entered the protected anchorage on the south-western side of the Reef almost directly opposite an iron fluke that was protruding above the gentle surf breaking on the northern side of the arm.
After motoring overnight the Silentworld Foundation’s Research Vessel Silentworld II arrived offshore from Moulter Cay (Entrance Cay) some four nautical miles south of the wreck site of HMS Pandora.
In 1790 the three masted, wooden, 24 gun, Porcupine class frigate HMS Pandora sailed from England to Tahiti in the South Pacific in pursuit of HMAV Bounty and its infamous mutineers led by Fletcher Christian. After capturing some of the mutineers, the Pandora searched the Pacific, visiting the Solomon, Rotuma, Union, Samoa, Palmerston, Society and Cook Islands before returning to England, via the Torres Strait when it was wrecked in an entrance through the Great Barrier Reef that beats its name.
The survivors sailed in open boats from the Barrier Reef to Java and eventually returned to England, where the surviving mutineers were brought to trial. The wreck site was re-discovered by divers – with the assistance of the Royal Australian Air Force – in 1977.
Eel and Fison Reefs
Bungee and his helicopter left early this morning after a successful day yesterday looking for aircraft wrecks along the coast, whilst we waved Bungee off, the crew prepared Silentworld II for sea – destination Eel Reef.
Vessel arrived off Eel Reef two hours later and the two dive tenders were lowered off the top deck, filled with divers and equipment, and then despatched from Silentworld II to mag and dive the reefs we did nit survey the last time we were here.
Conditions were perfect – well a little too perfect – the sea was so calm we had trouble seeing the edge of the reefs and coral bommies –which can usually be seen by the breaking of the sea over them.
Friday 22 November 2013
After closing down the work on the Frederick wrecksite we have decided to shift our attentions further north and have another look for the Morning Star (1814) – wrecked off Eel Reef near Quoin Island.
However first things first – on the way up we have arranged to meet up with well-known Queensland diver and documentary film maker Ben Cropp. Ben has been diving and finding shipwrecks in far northern Queensland for more than forty years – he found the Fergusson shipwreck on Ferguson Reef way back in the late 1970s and was also one of the divers who found HMS Pandora.
Ben and his boat Freedom are anchored up behind the back of Night Island about 20 nautical miles to the north of us and conveniently on the way to Eel Reef. Ben has asked us to help him in his hunt for the ship Swiftsure which was wrecked in the vicinity of Night Island in 1829 just after it had rescued the crew of HMCS Mermaid which had been wrecked on Flora Reef near Cairns just a few weeks before and re-discovered by the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2009.