Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 29 November

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.

Blue water on the surface. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

Blue water on the surface. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 26 November

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).

Peter Illidge (GBRMPA) inspected a ship’s windless on Great Detached Reef. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

Peter Illidge (GBRMPA) inspected a ship’s windless on Great Detached Reef. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 25 November

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.

Raine Island Beacon. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

Raine Island Beacon. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 24 November

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 monument to Pandora. PHOTO: Peter Illidge, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The monument to Pandora. PHOTO: Peter Illidge, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 23 November

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.

Research vessel Silentworld II anchored up behind Quoin Island. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation

Research vessel Silentworld II anchored up behind Quoin Island. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 22 November

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.

Night Island magging. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation

Night Island magging. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation

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.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 18/19 November

Monday 18 November 2013

On Monday afternoon expedition team members from the Silentworld Foundation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Museum flew into Lizard Island 80 nautical miles north of Cairns to continue their search for the wreck of the Indian-built opium trader Morning Star (1814) and the Javanese-built merchant vessel Frederick (1818).

After carrying out the usual pre-trip safety checks (diving and fitness) the team departed Lizard Island on Monday evening heading for Wreck Bay off Stanley Island in the Flinders Group.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

After motoring overnight on board the expedition vessel Silentworld 2 the team arrived off Wreck Bay to be greeted by perfect diving conditions – with no wind and almost pancake flat seas.

In no time at all – with the dive tenders fuelled, the dive, survey and safety equipment checked and loaded and the divers briefed – the team was off to search and hopefully locate the remains of the Frederick which was driven onto a coral reef at the head of Wreck Bay in 1818.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – Just following up on a few leads…

In April the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum returned from Ferguson Reef with a whole heap of information from the wreck-site of the Indian-built troopship Fergusson lost on Ferguson Reef in 1841 whilst on a passage to India from Sydney.

The team also brought back stacks of remote sensing data associated with our search for two other elusive shipwrecks associated with that early trade. The Indian built opium trader Morning Star lost south of Forbes Island in 1814 and the Javanese built trading ship Frederick wrecked of Stanley Island in 1818.

Kieran Hosty inspecting anchor chain during the Ferguson Reef expedition in March 2013

Kieran Hosty inspecting anchor chain during the Ferguson Reef expedition in March 2013

The Morning Star was a two masted, teak hulled, possible copper sheathed and fastened brig of 135 tons built by J. Scott and Company of Fort Gloster, India in 1813 for Lackersteen and Co and registered in Calcutta, India. (Parsons, 2003) Additional information, supplied from the Report of ships and vessels cleared outwards from Port Jackson in His Majesty’s Colony of New Wales 1/07/1814 – 30/09/1814 indicates the small vessel carried at least 8 cannon and a relatively large crew of 36 – hall marks of either a privateer or a vessel involved in the shipment of a valuable cargo – such as tea or opium.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 1-3 April

Monday 1 April 2013

April Fool’s Day – The wind has been steadily increasing overnight and some of the team – including Frits and Lee – have abandoned Hellraiser 2 to seek more comfortable berths on board the much larger SWII which does not bounce around so much in the increasing swell.

Plans for the day are much the same as yesterday, with the exception that the team will be joined by Steve and Sparra in Hellraiser 2 which – because we are operating more than eight miles away from the main vessel SWII – will act as a temporary rest stop for the teams working out of the smaller dive tenders.

Four teams on and in the water today – Frits and John ‘magging’ in Maggie; Gil, Greg, Lee and Freddy diving anomalies in Caribe; Xanthe, Jacqui, Andrew, Rick, Glen and I ‘magging’ and diving in the Hydro-sport; and Sparra, Steve and Grant on Hellraiser 2.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 28 and 29 March

Thursday 28 March

After a somewhat late night for the expedition team members and crew who had been waiting for the arrival of Hellraiser 2, the team members got together early the next morning to discuss the practicalities of working the ‘end of flood tide’ on the wrecksite so Xanthe could get a complete photomosaic of the site.

We decided to send a small team of divers, including Xanthe, Greg, Gil and Andrew, over to the site just before the ‘end of flood’ at 0700 so that Xanthe would have enough water depth to complete the photomosaic. Just in case, Freddy and Kieran would act as stand-by divers so that the in-water divers could be pulled out of the water if the ebb-tide came in earlier than expected.

Luckily conditions on site were perfect with the strong south-easterly (wind) holding up the ebbing tide long enough for the photomosaic to be completed without incident.

In the afternoon we planned for Frits and John to mag the northern part of the lagoon, have Andrew and Grant record the features of the carronades (cannon) on site, have Gil and Greg record the dimensions of all the various bits on the anchor chain, and Jacqui and I would record the knee and bilge pump dimensions. Unfortunately and unexpectedly the tides refused to cooperate – although for the last couple of days, the tides were behaving relatively normally with gaps of approximately 6 hours between High and Low tide – today the ebb tide was more prolonged, possible due to the effect of the New Moon. This meant the dive tender and Maggie (the shallow drafted magnetometer boat) were unable to get over the western edge of the reef and onto the wreck site.

After waiting for three hours – and noticing no discernible difference in the level of the water over the reef – the team called the dive and returned to Silentworld II.

Photo of Kieran and two of the crew on boat with seagul

We made a friend at sea!

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 26 and 27 March

Tuesday 26 March

This morning the weather conditions appeared to be improving on yesterday’s so we sent off four teams to work on the Ferguson site.

Team One consisting of Frits and John dove on a series of magnetic anomalies off the south western side of Ferguson Reef, Gil and Greg in Team Two measured up an anchor at the northern part of the site, Peter and Jacqui in Team Three measured a ‘flat’ anchor and Grant and Andrew in Team Four measured an anchor in the surf zone. Whilst all this was going on Xanthe took photographs of the work in progress and I monitored the work from the surface whilst taking part in an open classroom discussion via telephone through the DART virtual excursion program of the NSW Department of Education.

As the teams returned from the wrecksite the whole area was struck by a series of rain squalls drenching everyone – well at least it saved us the job of washing the dive gear.

After lunch, sea conditions appeared to have quietened down once again and in almost perfect conditions we set off to dive on the site. Gil, Greg and I went to measure the length of a stud link anchor chain that was attached to a ‘picked in’ anchor. Peter and Jacqui jumped in to measure up the various iron knees, assisted by Andrew, John and Frits armed with metal detectors they commenced a non-disturbance metal detector survey of the site to find out ‘what lies beneath’. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – Monday 25 March

Over the last few days the weather conditions on site have started to deteriorate as as the effects of a new monsoonal trough comes into play.

Photo of

Peter Illidge with charts.

With a substantial surf breaking over the southern and eastern edges of Ferguson Reef and with limited space in the boats we decided to send only single teams of snorkelers onto the reef-top searching for the magnetometer hits that John and Frits had detected on the previous day. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition 21 – 24 March

Thursday 21 March

Before departing Lizard Island this morning the team took advantage of the early start by climbing Cook’s Look the iconic hill on Lizard Island. The same hill climbed by Lieutenant James Cook and some of the crew of HMB Endeavour in 1770 shortly after that vessel had run aground on a coral patch now known as Endeavour Reef, south of Lizard Island. Cook used this vantage spot to find his way out of the ‘labyrinth’ which had so nearly claimed his vessel.

Photo of

Expedition team at Cooks Look

After climbing Cook’s Look our expedition vessels departed Lizard Island bound for the Flinders Group, 50 or so miles north.

After a smooth passage the two vessels anchored in the channel between the cluster of islands that make up the Flinders Group just south and east of Princess Charlotte Bay. In March 1899 a cyclone destroyed a pearling fleet anchored in the Bay, with the loss of over 400 lives including at least 100 local Aboriginal people who were swept away and drowned as the result of a huge tidal surge associated with the cyclone. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – the lead up

Our maritime archaeology team were set for a three week expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast of north Queensland to locate and survey shipwrecks Ferguson and Morning Star until the forces of nature threw some obstacles in their way – a couple of cyclones to be exact! Here, Kieran Hosty our maritime archaeology manager brings us up to speed with the expedition, the cyclones and the new plan.

We’ll be posting more of Kieran’s updates as the expedition continues, so keep an eye out.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Over the last week or so a number of factors have come into play which forced the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum to cancel or at best postpone the proposed Ferguson Reef Project.

Towards the end of last week a tropical low developed in the Gulf of Carpentaria and over last weekend formed into Severe Tropical Cyclone Sandra. Whilst TC Sandra has not caused any damage to the Queensland coast the formation of the cyclone in the Coral Sea has prevented one of the expedition vessel’s Nimrod Explorer from reaching Cairns from the Solomon Islands where it had been engaged in charter work. Cyclone Sandra has also whipped up the seas between Sydney and Cairns delaying the arrival of the second expedition vessel Silentworld II. Continue reading

Meet Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

Our education team recently caught up with Kieran Hosty, the museum’s manager of maritime archaeology, to find out more about his job and upcoming expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast Queensland.

Kieran wearing scuba gear sitting on boat at sea

Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

What does your role at the museum involve?

Over the last 12 months my position at the museum has changed from that of a curator with a primary responsibility of managing a collection to that of full time manager of the museum’s expanding maritime archaeology program. When I was a curator I was responsible for immigration, ship technologies and marine archaeology. My work includes research, documentation, site survey and assessment of underwater cultural heritage, along with museum exhibition concept, design and installation. Continue reading