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.
The Narooma Bar on a very calm day with Montague Island in the distance. Image: Lee Graham / ANMM.
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.
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.
Detail of the Gourlay Bros. plan of the BonnieDundee. ANMM Collection, 00001118
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.
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.
A swimming gala poster featuring Beatrice Kerr. ANMM Collection.
“By-the-bye, everyone rushes after lunch to the Palace Pier to see a young Australian girl in a swimming and diving performance. We went with the rest, and can assure our readers that Miss Kerr is better worth seeing than nine out of ten of the famous dancers…”
Poster advertising Beatrice Kerr’s swimming and diving show. ANMM Collection.
Digitising the National Maritime Collection archive reveals some interesting stories from the lives of the people behind the objects. One such story was the career of aquatic star Beatrice Kerr. I found her both entertaining and inspirational, while scanning and researching her letters, handbills and photographs.
If you’re a swimmer, even though you know you’ll be fine, just the idea of being suspended above something tens, let alone thousands of metres dark and deep can cause that weird tingling combination of excitement and fear.
As part of the USA Gallery program, we’ve been negotiating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to bring Deepsea Challenger to the museum. This is the submersible vessel piloted by James Cameron 11kms down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It’s a bit like having the lunar lander from Apollo 11 on display, only in reverse!
DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI
What makes it extra special is that Deepsea Challenger was built (in secret) in Sydney.Continue reading →
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.
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.
Charles Eaton’s stove. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
Conditions are remaining perfect for diving with the weather forecast predicting very light easterly winds for the next five to six days – with such great conditions all dive-tenders were away early from the stern of SWII heading for Wreck Bay – a few kilometres south and east of the anchorage.
The two Silentworld Foundation dive-tenders arrived on site and whilst the smaller Carib checked out the shallows and beaches for any crocodile activity the dive teams got ready to enter the water from the larger Hydra-sport.
Lemon Shark at Wreck Bay. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation
Peter from GBRMPA and I entered the water first – down one of the buoys marking the larger of the magnetic anomalies – and we commenced a circular sweep of the seabed using the metal detectors searching the shallow sand and weed patches, areas of broken coral and larger intact expanses of staghorn and plate coral for any signs of the Frederick.