While the magnetometer crew conducted its initial search west of Observatory Cay, a second team embarked upon a metal detector survey of the cay itself and searched for evidence of survivor camps associated with the wrecked vessels Bona Vista and Jenny Lind.
The Australian National Maritime Museum and Silentworld Foundation recently led an expedition to the Australian Coral Sea Territory to conduct an archaeological survey of historic shipwrecks lost at Kenn Reefs during the nineteenth century. The Kenn Reefs expedition is a continuation of an ongoing collaborative project between the museum and Silentworld Foundation that commenced in 2009 and led to the discovery that same year of the wreck of the colonial government schooner Mermaid (lost in 1829 on what is now known as Flora Reef). No less than eight vessels are known to have wrecked at Kenn Reefs between 1828 and 1884, and most grounded in relatively close proximity to one another on the largest of the southernmost reefs in the chain, as it was located within an oft-travelled shipping route, but poorly charted until the mid-nineteenth century.
Four hundred years ago, Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog (1580–1621) sailed into history when, on 25 October 1616, he made the first documented European landing on the west coast of Australia in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Eendracht (‘Concord’ or ‘Unity’). Today his name is synonymous with the inscribed ‘Hartog plate’ that marked his landfall at Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, Western Australia. This evocative pewter relic, now held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land.
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.
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 1987 the Australian National Maritime Museum purchased a set of original shipyard plans produced by the Scottish marine engineering and shipbuilding company Gourlay Brothers & Co. in Dundee. Like the best of discoveries, it seems the plans were destined for the rubbish but were saved at the eleventh hour. Together the plans represent images of early Australian cargo vessels, as well as a wide range of Australian shipowners and a long tradition in ship construction procedures.
After having watched the waves pile up on top of the surrounding reefs for the last five days it was a great relief to finally get out from behind Waier Island and make our way slowly over to the western end of the Cumberland Entrance to commence searching for the wreck of the Hydrabad.
For the last five days (except for a brief trip over to Mer Island to allow six team members with pressing work or family commitments to fly back to the mainland) the expedition team have spent almost the entire time holed up on the southern side of Waier Island waiting for the strong North-westerly winds to abate.
However at long last the wind has started to drop off and the sea conditions have moderated enough to allow us to leave our sheltered anchorage to recommence our surveying work.
After a six hour voyage punching through 3-metre high seas created by the 40 knot North-westerly wind The Boss, with Maggie II in tow, passed through Hibernia Passage. We arrived at the anchorage on the north-western side of Mer Island at the eastern entrance to the Torres Strait. Mer is the largest of three islands (the others being Dauar and Waier) that were formed by the collapse of the crater of an extinct volcano many thousands of years ago.
The mystery surrounding Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage has been a part of Canada’s identity for nearly 170 years. A lecture at the University of Sydney last Friday gave many engrossing insights into the story, and can be viewed online.
Franklin’s party of two ships and 129 men disappeared without trace in their quest to find the Northwest Passage, setting in train a series of unsuccessful rescue missions that would claim many more ships and lives. Last year, the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of Franklin’s lost vessels, was finally discovered 11 metres under water in the north of Canada.
Although the Bureau of Meteorology had indicated that we were in for a long spell of great diving conditions — with blue skies and calm seas — the team woke up this morning to grey overcast skies and a stiff breeze from the north-west resulting in a considerable surf building up on the northern edge of the reef. After assessing the situation and finding conditions onsite a little bumpy but workable, the first groups of divers re-commenced work.
The first task today was to buoy the major features of the site including the two anchor clusters, the iron carronades and the various grouping of iron knees and riders and then plot the positions of these features onto a site plan with the help of a GPS.
Once that task was completed additional teams of divers — led by archaeologists Paul Hundley (Silentworld Foundation) and Peter Illich (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) — entered the water to assess, measure and then record the features. At the same time the photographic team — led by Xanthe Rivett (Silentworld Foundation) and assisted by Grant Luckman (Department of the Environment) recorded the artefact assessment and survey work and supplemented the survey teams records by taking photographic close ups of various distinctive features, such as the anchor chain, anchor rings, carronade muzzles, touch holes and slides.
After an 18-hour trip, the expedition team arrived at the northern edge of Ashmore Reef on board the expedition vessel The Boss. Towed behind The Boss were one of two rigid hull inflatable boats (RIBs) and the Silentworld Foundation’s small survey catamaran Maggie II – also known as The Caravan of Courage because of its unique deck cabin that looks remarkably like a small 1970s caravan.
The other day, a friend said to me, ‘You have an awesome job’, and I guess I do. As a creative producer for the museum, I get to dream up new exhibitions and bring them to life. My friend’s comment was prompted by a photo I posted of the Nautilus, the steampunk submarine star of Voyage to the Deep, an interactive exhibition for families loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. It’s about underwater adventure and discovery, and uses the book as a foundation, but then builds on it to contrast the fantasy of the novel with real submarines and modern deep-sea research – the facts behind the fiction. Kids will be able to climb aboard a fantastical deep-sea vessel and take it for a drive (or should that be a dive?), exploring various undersea worlds and discovering what it’s like to live and work under water.
The project started about 18 months ago, when I was given the basic topic and started research. We used the 1998 Oxford World Classics translation by William Butcher for reference, as many of the earlier English editions contained translation errors (Butcher even got the title right: ‘seas’ not ‘sea’). We formed a team of people from different areas of the museum and started brainstorming ideas.
My role was to work out ways to turn these ideas, plus concepts from the book and factual information, into a cohesive interactive exhibition. So, as well as reading the novel, a lot, I had to research all sorts of topics, from the psychological testing of submariners to the size of squid eyeballs.
There was no shortage of inspiration or ideas to include. The tough part was passing these through the necessary practicality filters of what we could afford, what things we could build in such a way that they’d be safe, durable and able to travel (as the exhibition will tour to other venues), and what would appeal to our family audience. The latter was helped by holding focus groups with parents to seek their opinions and suggestions.
Once the content had been worked out, the next challenge was sourcing all the stuff we needed. Fortunately eBay proved excellent for finding weird props; who knew you could buy replica moray eel skulls and stingray spines? We engaged suppliers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and had components built all around Australia. By the time it’s all in one place, I suspect the exhibition will have come close to travelling its 20,000 leagues.
We’re also building some key elements in house, including the fantastic entry portal and one of my favourite exhibits – a shark that you have to reach inside to find out what he had for dinner. We even managed to create a forest of giant kelp for children to explore.
It’s been a challenging project, but a lot of fun too. I can’t wait to see it all assembled and in one place – a stunning steampunk submarine, a coral reef made from ghost nets and other marine debris, a giant kelp forest, a shipwreck and even the fabled lost city of Atlantis – yes, I definitely have an awesome job.
– Em Blamey, Creative Producer
Voyage to the Deep opens on 10 December. This exhibition was made possible by the support of Nine Network, Laissez Faire Catering, 2DayFM, and Douglas Fabian Productions.
Whilst looking though the artefacts from the Dunbar shipwreck, it is difficult to imagine that anything amongst the dull metal was ever intended to decorate people’s homes. Ship fixtures blend with metal domestic and commercial goods and all have acquired the dull lacklustre look acquired by years under the sea.
Yet amongst the piles of screws, nails and concretion are some lovely examples of metal work in the shape of flowers and leaves. These pieces had obviously been part of some elaborate Victorian pieces of furniture intended to adorn the houses of Sydney. Even more lovely was when I was able to find not only the maker of some of these pieces but also what they would have originally looked like. Not so dull after all it seems! Continue reading