This past September, Kieran Hosty and I travelled to Newport, Rhode Island to assist an ongoing effort to archaeologically document eighteenth-century shipwreck sites in the city’s harbour associated with the American War of Independence (1775-1783). We were invited to Newport by Dr Kathy Abbass, Director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), an all-volunteer organisation that has been locating, documenting and investigating the maritime cultural heritage of Newport Harbor and its adjacent waterways since the late 1990s. Maritime archaeologists affiliated with the museum have been working with RIMAP since 1999, and a team comprising Kieran Hosty and the museum’s Head of Research, Dr Nigel Erskine, visited Newport as recently as September of last year to assist with the project.
Our interest in RIMAP’s research stems from the investigation of a fleet of British transports scuttled at Newport during the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778— a story that has already been chronicled in a previous blog by Kieran and an article by Nigel in the scholarly journal The Great Circle. Among these vessels was the Lord Sandwich, a 368-ton bark that attained international recognition under its previous name, HMB Endeavour. Endeavour, of course, is best known for its voyage of exploration between 1768 and 1771 under the command of Lieutenant James Cook, during which it became the first European vessel to reach Australia’s east coast.
Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445.
Remembering the ‘Twerp‘
On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.
Invasive corallimorphs have colonised a modern shipwreck at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The corallimorphs have benefitted from a phase shift in the reef’s ecosystem brought on by the shipwreck’s iron components leaching into the water column. Image: Susan White/US Fish and Wildlife Service.
This past January, a collaborative research team comprising maritime archaeologists from the Silentworld Foundation and the museum conducted a shipwreck survey at Kenn Reefs in Australia’s Coral Sea Territory. The team relocated a number of historic shipwrecks documented by the Queensland Museum in the 1980s, as well as four new wreck sites. The Kenn Reefs complex is a seamount system located within the ‘Outer Route’, a seaway used by nineteenth-century mariners in an effort to avoid the Great Barrier Reef when travelling to and from Australia’s east coast. The discovery of multiple shipwreck sites of nineteenth-century vintage at Kenn Reefs demonstrates the hazards faced by mariners as they transited through waters that were insufficiently charted. Field investigations included reef-top inspections, metal detector and magnetometer surveys, and diver-based ground-truthing of observed features and buried anomalies.
Pete Illidge measures the cannons at site KR12 while Renee Malliaros records information on an underwater slate. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.
Flush with the exhilaration of discovering site KR12 and the ship’s bell, the team set to work the following morning (16 January) to document finds. John, Jacqui, Pete, Renee, Lee and Jules entered the water and conducted a baseline offset survey of the site, followed by detailed recording of the cannons and anchors. Jules then took close-up photographs of each anchor and cannon while Lee carried out a photogrammetric survey of these and other features, including the rudder hardware found in association with the bell. Continue reading →
Lee Graham and his trusty tow-board. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.
While the dive team was busy documenting sites KR10 and KR11 on the morning and afternoon of 14 January, the magnetometer team took advantage of the calm weather and sea conditions to run a survey along the outside of the entire Kenn Reefs system. The first area surveyed was along the outside fringe of the ‘foot and ankle’, with specific emphasis placed on detecting offshore components of known shipwreck sites (such as KR1, KR2 and KR4). Because sea conditions were calm, the team also ‘deployed’ Lee on a tow-board behind the magnetometer.
The tow-board (also known as a ‘Manta-board’) is a flat, hydrodynamic-shaped board with handles that is connected to a towing vessel with a length of line. The person using the tow-board grips the handles, is pulled through the water at low speed, and can visually search the seabed for shipwreck material. Most tow-boards are designed so that their users can turn, dive and ascend through the water column at will, simply by changing its orientation with the handles. Lee was positioned 10 metres behind the magnetometer in the hope he might be able to visually spot and identify any anomalies it detected.
Pete Illidge and Renee Malliaros prove that site mapping and synchronised swimming are not mutually exclusive tasks. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.
One of the major goals of the Kenn Reefs expedition was to find Hope, the small cutter built from material salvaged from Bona Vista, and later lost during the rescue of the brig’s crew. According to historical accounts, two boats were sent from the rescuing vessel (the ship Asia) to Observatory Cay, where they recovered most of Bona Vista’s crew, the brig’s allocation of specie (gold and silver coin brought aboard Bona Vista for trading purposes), and brought them aboard Asia. A skeleton crew of thirteen and the personal belongings of all of the brig’s officers and men remained aboard Hope, as did unspecified salvaged goods valued at £1,000. However, as Asia got underway and took Hope under tow, tragedy struck:
Silentworld Foundation CEO and project team leader John Mullen uses a metal detector to search for artefacts in shallows off Observatory Cay, while Jacqui Mullen (background) documents a find. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.
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.
Observatory Cay and part of the ‘foot and ankle’ are visible from the bow of Silentworld shortly after its arrival at Kenn Reefs. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.
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.
Oil painting of Sobraon (later Tingira), by William Barnett Spencer, c 1866. Image: ANMM Collection 00009342.
On a cold sunny morning in June 2016, Silentworld Foundation Director and maritime archaeologist Paul Hundley steered the survey vessel Maggie III into shallow water at the head of Berrys Bay on Sydney’s North Shore. Accompanying him were the museum’s maritime archaeologists Kieran Hosty and myself, staring intently at a laptop computer as it displayed readings from a marine magnetometer towed a short distance behind the boat. As Maggie III’s hull glided through water less than a metre deep, we watched for any indication that remnants of a unique sailing ship might lie buried in the silt below. Continue reading →
ANMM Shipwright and diver Lee Graham inspects a collapsed iron frame on the Centennial site that has been colonised by sponges. Image: James Hunter / ANMM.
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.
James Hunter guides one of the Reef Balls under the Australian National Maritime Museum’s north wharf. Photo: Lee Graham.
Next time you visit the Australian National Maritime Museum, make sure you take a peek under the north wharf for a glimpse of our new artificial reef. Last week we installed a series of six Reef Balls® — purpose-built artificial reef habitats for sea creatures donated by the NSW Department of Primary Industries. They’re actually half-balls (hemispheres) and are hollow, with several small holes that provide shelter for fish and invertebrates. They’re made of concrete with a special additive that strengthens them, while lowering the pH to encourage the settlement and growth of marine organisms.
ANMM staff stand on the stern of HMAS Anzac after the AE2 commemoration ceremony. Left to right: Dr James Hunter (Curator, RAN Maritime Archaeology), Kevin Sumption (Director), and Dr Nigel Erskine (Head of Research).
Between 17 and 25 April, I travelled to Turkey to participate in a closing conference and commemoration ceremony associated with the submarine AE2. AE2 was one of two Australian submarines to participate in World War I. It gained notoriety for penetrating the Dardanelles, a narrow and well-defended Turkish waterway that became a graveyard for a number of British and French warships — including two submarines — during an ill-fated naval campaign in March 1915.