Finds from the Fields of Fire: The other volcano on the Bay of Naples

Installing the statue of Hermanubis with the assistance of a forklift. Image: Will Mather / ANMM.

Installing the statue of Hermanubis with the assistance of a forklift. Image: Will Mather / ANMM.

Several of the most unusual and interesting items in Escape from Pompeii are from the Museum of the Parco Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei housed in the Castle at Baia on the Bay of Naples. The Archaeological park covers the ancient sites of Cumae, Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) and Baiae which were a lot more famous to ancient Romans than Pompeii and Herculaneum. The sites are on northern side of the Bay as it stretches past Mount Vesuvius and Naples.

All three sites are situated in or around the Campi Flegrei, which translates as the fields of fire. The Campi Flegrei is one very large ground level volcano with gaseous fumeroles, boiling mud pools, and numerous smaller craters – about 24 of them – some of them flooded like Lake Avernus. The caldera of the volcano continues underwater into the Bay of Naples. If it were erupt it would be catastrophic.

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Mouths of Gold

The wreck of the Dunbar in 1857 is a well-known story in Sydney and the effect it had on the colony at the time. One of the outcomes of the wreck was the recovery of the artefacts it left behind. In addition to the ship itself, there were hundreds of everyday objects that do not often survive the rigours of domesticity but tell the story of life in a growing colony. In effect the wreck becomes a time capsule, preserving together the materials of many different industries and areas of life.

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857. ANMM Collection

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857.
ANMM Collection

There were many day to day items in the Dunbar collection that tell of the increasing wealth of its residents. Remnants of clocks, watches, furniture labels from iron bedframes and ovens, coins, jewellery and silver tableware are just a few. Some small but interesting pieces also found were sets of dentures. These are made of gold and despite their torture like conations, they are surprisingly delicate and one of the many wonders of what could survive a devastating shipwreck such as the Dunbar. It did get me wondering what the state of dentistry was in the colony of Sydney in 1857 and whether these dentures were an export from London, or did they possibly belong to one of the passengers? We know from the passenger list that there were a number of wealthy passengers on board who could have afforded dentures and at least one surgeon, Alexander Bayne,  who might have been a practicing dentist also.

Dentistry across the globe up until this point was an unregulated industry and attracted many pretenders. Traditionally the practice was a side industry for surgeons, chemists and even silversmiths. Australian newspapers from the early 1800’s onwards have numerous advertisements for dentists. And it is interesting to see that most promote other services as well. There were ‘dentists’ who were also apocathries, accoucheurs (male midwives), surgeons, photographers and ‘cuppers’ (practitioners of bloodletting). The usual arrangement at this time was to set up a practice in a room in your house and advertise the hours you would be ‘at home’. It was a relatively casual affair it seems as there was no sterilization or hygiene standards to consider so a ‘dentist’ could indeed be multi-tasking practitioner. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 30 and 31 March

Saturday 30 March 2013

Woke up this morning to a very empty anchorage at the back of Ferguson Reef – with Silentworld II (SWII) and the Hydro-sport dive tender having left for Portland Roads at 0330 this morning – leaving a much reduced crew (Xanthe, Andrew, Grant, Freddy and I) on board Hellraiser 2 to check out the last remaining anomalies and take the last measurements before cleaning up the site and sailing westward to meet the larger team at Eel Reef, and hopefully the wreck of the Indian-built opium clipper Morning Star wrecked three miles south west of Quoin Island in 1814.

With a much smaller team to get ready we got to the outer edge of Ferguson Reef and the wrecksite of the Ferguson in plenty of time for the high water slack.

Xanthe, Grant and Andrew from the Silentworld Foundation and I jumped in just to the seaward of the ‘picked in’ anchor and allowed the last few minutes of the floodtide to carry us in over the reef top and along the stud link anchor chain which runs back over the top of the reef for some 200 metres before ending amongst flat plate and staghorn coral.

Kieran underwater looking at anchor chain

Kieran inspecting the anchor chain.

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Dunbar: Dun and Dusted

Hi, it’s Oli again. This time I’m going to tell you about another one of my tasks as an intern at the museum in the curatorial department, which is writing about the infamous Dunbar wreck.

As one of the most significant wrecks in Sydney’s waters, it is important for the museum’s history of the wreck to be complete and accurate. To this end, I found myself reading Kieran Hosty’s book Dunbar 1857, Disaster on Our Doorstep, which paints a fascinating history of the wreck, according to the archaeological discoveries from the wreck site (just south of The Gap, near South Head, Sydney). I am tentative to admit the fact that I didn’t get much work done that day was on account of the book, which is complete with hundreds of images of various artefacts salvaged from the wreck, and provides a vivid insight into a tragic page of Sydney’s past.

Here are some highlights from the story of the Dunbar:

After a fast voyage from England to Australia, Dunbar approached Port Jackson on the night of 20 August 1857, in a rising gale and bad visibility. The Macquarie Light could be seen between squalls, however the night was very dark and the land almost invisible. Shortly before midnight the veteran Captain Green estimated the ship was six miles away from the harbour’s entrance and ordered the vessel on, keeping the Macquarie Light on the port bow.

Buckles removed from the Dunbar wreck, now preserved at the museum.

Shortly afterwards breakers were sighted ahead, and Captain Green, believing the vessel had sailed too far towards North Head, ordered the helm hard to port. Dunbar struck the cliffs just south of the Signal Station at South Head, and the ship immediately began to break up. All 63 passengers and 58 of the crew perished in the disaster.

The sole survivor was James Johnson, an able seaman on watch at the time of the wreck. He was hurled into the surging ocean, where he was thrust by the waves into the cliffs and onto a rocky ledge – he climbed as far up the cliff-face as he could, and managed to get out of the reach of the waves. Johnson would remain there for two days, before being hauled up by a rope lowered over the cliff-face.

Many Sydneysiders knew the people on the ship and large crowds were drawn to the scene of the wreck to watch the rescue of Johnson, the recovery of bodies, and the salvage of cargo – newspapers were filled with graphic descriptions of the wreck for weeks after.

A small selection of the vast number of coins removed from the Dunbar wreck, now preserved at the museum.

The victims of Dunbar were buried at St Stephens Church in Newtown, and an estimated 20,000 people attended. Banks and offices closed, every ship flew their ensigns at half-mast, and minute guns were fired as the procession went past. Later, there was an outpouring of letters demanding the upgrade of the lighthouses, and the issue was raised in Parliament and recommended by the jury of the Dunbar inquest. This recommendation was followed in 1858 when Hornby Lighthouse was constructed.

The museum has a fascinating collection relating to this disaster and my job has been to proof the entries in our collection management system to ensure all the information is correct.

NB. Many of the artefacts in the museum’s Dunbar collection were removed from the wreck by hobby divers during the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of laws protecting significant historical maritime sites.

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 8

Wed, 11 Jan 2012

Today my team was assigned the task of doing a measured site map. When we headed out for our first dive, the outside of the reef had a lot of surge which made it very difficult to use long tape measures on the site.

Inside in the lagoon, James and Maddie from Flinders University were measuring a newly discovered timber which may be part of a keel or keelson – a major structural timber low in the bilge of a vessel.  It also appears to have articulated timbers that disappear into the bottom sands.

Two scuba divers inspecting a piece of timber from shipwreck

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We were back at Kanimbla to swap tanks for a second dive, but had to wait on a surface interval of one hour.  We went back out and got in another 35-minute dive before lunch.
While we were in the water there was another team that was doing a final sweep over the coral cay with metal detectors.  We had used the magnetometer on land a couple of days before, but it didn’t show any concentration of ferrous metal.

Man with metal detector walking along sand cay

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Xanthe, our photographer did a fly over of the outer reef site taking photos of the different deposits of small finds that had been identified…

Artefacts and archaeological equipment

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

…and some of the not so small finds, like this piece of collapsed lead sheathing (pictured left) which is about 500 x 750mm and weighs about 200 kg.  We aren’t sure what it is exactly, but some theories include lead sheathing associated with a powder room.

After our final dives we discussed the results we had achieved and the potential for further significant discoveries.  We decided that with the change of weather being forecast, it would be better to make the crossing to Saumarez Reef before the wind increased.  That way we will have a few days to potentially work on the Woodlark or the Noumea – two ships of interest that are known to have wrecked there.  The Woodlark was a Sydney merchant ship lost in 1829.  The Noumea was a black-birding vessel, recruiting labourers for the Queensland cane fields in 1880. 

We will let you know how things go.

Paul Hundley (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 6

Mon, 9 Jan 2012

I was up early today at 5.45 am.  Some people are starting to get up with the sun!

My team was assigned the task of doing a manta board survey from the coral cay, west as far as we could go; and then, from the reef break to the south. We were out from 8.30 am until midday.

Conducting a manta board survey at sea

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

During that time we found two pieces of timber, possibly from the shipwreck, in the deep water of the lagoon. West of the cay we found another pulley sheave, but without the bronze coak, and an unidentified assemblage of iron and timber. 

In the afternoon we headed out to get an overall picture of the finds that have been discovered over the last four days.

Timber from shipwreck at sea floor

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Here are a few photos of the day…

Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Snorkel team on inflatable boat

First snorkel team heading out for the morning. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Free diver under water

Free diving on an anomaly while on the manta board survey. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Underwater reflection of coral reef

The water was so clear and reflects the sea bottom like a mirror. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett