Kenn Reefs expedition, days one through four

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.

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.

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Monday 12 January off Endeavour Reef

As the expedition winds down for 2009 the weather has been winding up – the wind and the seas have been gradually increasing over the last three days. Whilst its still possible to dive on Endeavour Reef an expected wind shift to the south and east will making diving on the HMB Endeavour stranding site very difficult.

The first dive teams were in the water quite early this morning trying to finish off the Endeavour Reef research prior to the wind shift.

Nigel had tracked down archival information on the early salvage work on the site. This information indicated that the early salvor’s had recovered most of the stone ballast from an area 26 meters at 080 degrees from the tripod. The records also indicated that most of the iron kentledge was recovered from an area 28 meters at 105 degrees from the tripod.

The stone ballast team consisting of Peter, Nigel, Lee and Warren and the kentledge ballast team, consisting of Xanthe, Ed, Grant and myself located the railway iron tripod and ran out tapes on the designated bearings. Luckily for us the salvor’s information proved accurate and the two teams quickly located the areas.

Visual surveys of the two areas indicated that the reef areas still showed signs of the explosives with a large depression 10 meters in diameter and 1 meter deep marking the area where the kentledge had been recovered. This depression, devoid of any coral, was stripped back to bare coral rock. A metal detector survey of this area produced no magnetic anomalies however Ed Slaughter did locate a significant anomaly about 14 meters away from the tripod.

The stone ballast team did not see evidence of blasting but did not locate several other ballast stones and more lead sheathing.

Following this dive the decision was taken to close down the work on the Endeavour Reef and prepare to head down the coast in Spoilsport to Flora Reef and the team from Nimrod / Silentworld.

Nigel Erskine, ANMM, inspecting possible HMB Endeavour ballast on Endeavour Reef

Nigel Erskine, ANMM, inspecting possible HMB Endeavour ballast on Endeavour

Its the Mermaid

Dr. Nigel Erskine , ANMM, surveying a cluster of anchor chain on site.

Dr. Nigel Erskine , ANMM, surveying a cluster of anchor chain on site.

I hope you have been following Alice and Megan’s blogs on the 2009 Mermaid Project over the last six days. Over the last couple of days the dive team have made a number of significant discoveries on Flora Reef. Two days ago during a magnetometer survey on the southern side of the reef the team picked up a small but impressive magnetometer signal about 150 meters offshore from what was then Flora Reef Unidentified shipwreck No 2. A team of divers were sent in and after only a short search located a 5 foot long, wrought iron kedge anchor sitting on top of a coral bommie in 7 meters of water. We know from historical accounts of the wreck that the crew of the Mermaid dropped a small kedge anchor about half a cable length from the stern of the vessel in an attempt to kedge (pull) the Mermaid off the reef. Their attempt failed and the kedge anchor and its coirfibre cable were abandoned.

Lee Graham from the Museum's Fleet section next to the Mermaid's anchor.

Lee Graham from the Museum’s Fleet section next to the Mermaid’s anchor.

Paul Hundley, ANMM surveying in the schooner's pump.

Paul Hundley, ANMM surveying in the schooner’s pump.

In itself the discovery of the anchor did not proove that that the wrecksite was HMCS Mermaid and the team continued to survey the site looking for additional information. Yesterday a metal detector survey uncovered a series of anomlies scattered amongst coral rubble on the southern side of the site. These anomlies have now been identified as being casement or cannister shot (packets of ball bearings contained within a small canvas bag of small wooden cannister) the team have also found fragments of copper sheathing, sheathing nails, ship’s fastenings, lead patches and several large magnetic anomalies on the wrecksite. This information along with the position of the wreck and the size of its remains has meant that we are now quite positive that the site is that of HMCS Mermaid wrecked off the Frankland Islands in 1829.

Archaeologists, scientific divers and volunteers divers and snorkellers are continuing their investigation of the site hoping to reveal more information about this fascinating vessel.