Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – Monday 25 March

Over the last few days the weather conditions on site have started to deteriorate as as the effects of a new monsoonal trough comes into play.

Photo of

Peter Illidge with charts.

With a substantial surf breaking over the southern and eastern edges of Ferguson Reef and with limited space in the boats we decided to send only single teams of snorkelers onto the reef-top searching for the magnetometer hits that John and Frits had detected on the previous day. Continue reading

Meet Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

Our education team recently caught up with Kieran Hosty, the museum’s manager of maritime archaeology, to find out more about his job and upcoming expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast Queensland.

Kieran wearing scuba gear sitting on boat at sea

Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

What does your role at the museum involve?

Over the last 12 months my position at the museum has changed from that of a curator with a primary responsibility of managing a collection to that of full time manager of the museum’s expanding maritime archaeology program. When I was a curator I was responsible for immigration, ship technologies and marine archaeology. My work includes research, documentation, site survey and assessment of underwater cultural heritage, along with museum exhibition concept, design and installation. Continue reading

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 16

Thurs, 19 Jan 2012
Wreck Reef

People woke up early this morning.  They are excited at the prospect of finding another wreck today. The conditions are perfect!  The wind had swung to the east and the waves are nearly flat.  Our intrepid mag team can’t wait to get out, so a boat is launched off the top deck and Nigel, Lee and Wayne from James Cook University head out at 6 am.

They came back an hour later with reports of a large anomaly in the gutter spotted yesterday.  In magnetometer speak it is a multiple di-polar anomaly with a maximum amplitude of 800 gamma lasting at least 6 seconds.  In simple English, it means a scattered site of iron debris covering an area of 30-50 metres.  Our reference tables for the magnetometer allow us to convert the strength of the anomaly to weight of iron. In 10 metres of water an anomaly of 800 gamma equates to a mass of iron of approximately 10 tonnes!

After breakfast we sent out the two magnetometer teams again.  The morning team went back to the west side of the north reef to confirm the earlier find.  The other team was working in the lagoon around the coral cay.  By mid-morning dive teams were sent into the gutter with metal detectors to try and isolate the source of the anomaly.  Three successive dives were unable to locate the source.

At lunchtime we debriefed on the results of our mag and metal detector surveys.  Consensus of opinion is that the source of the anomaly is buried beneath the coral sand at such a depth that it is beyond the metal detector’s sensitivity, but is so large that it easily definable on the magnetic signature of the magnetometer.  As we are not allowed to disturb the bottom sediments by any excavation, we are unable to confirm the source iron.

From the historical records we know that the Lion had a 316 lb iron anchor, two iron try-pots weighing a total of 676 lbs., 500 iron harpoons and lances which would weigh over 1 tonne, and 6 tonnes of hoop iron to bind the whale oil barrels.  We also assume that the Lion was armed with at least one cannon, as the accounts for the fit-out of the voyage lists two casks of cannon powder.  We also know that on its previous voyage Captain Hardwick used canon to ward off an attack by South Sea Islanders. This would seem to correlate very closely to the observed anomaly.

Dive boat

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

All divers were up by 4 pm.  We moved everyone onto the coral cay for the annual team photo.  Unfortunately, with the two second time delay Xanthe wasn’t able to get into her own photo!

The Dive team

The Dive team. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

The ANMM team

The ANMM team (R-L) Kieran, Paul, Lee, Nigel with Peter from Oceania Maritima. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We had our final dinner together tonight.  Tomorrow Silentworld II is having a rest day.  Kanimbla will be moving to Hope Islet to spend our last day of the survey.  The guano vessel Lone Star is known to have been lost there.

More tomorrow…


Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 15

Wed, 18 Jan 2012
Wreck Reef

The anomoly

The anomoly. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We woke up to great conditions this morning. The wind is still coming from the north, but it has dropped off considerably and the seas are much calmer as well.  Today we are off on a Lion hunt!

After breakfast we sent out two magnetometer teams on the north side of the reef.  One team was working from the northern entrance moving to the west and the other from the entrance to the east.  By mid-morning the west team had come back in with a moderate anomaly to be checked out.  A dive team was sent out and at the bottom (at 17 metres depth) was coral sand with gently undulating ridges from the surge and current.

After lunch the mag teams went back out again.  Another dive team went in search of the anomaly and a team of snorkel divers searched the shallow lagoon on the west side of the entrance.  They noticed a deep gutter of water varying between 4 to 10 meters deep just to the south inside the outer reef and just north of the shallow lagoon.  This fits the captain’s description of the wrecking of the Lion.

…the lookout-man discovered broken water right ahead; the helm was immediately put down (to star board,) but too late to clear the reef, the vessel grounding immediately. She soon after forged over the outer reef-and became fixed, falling over with her deck to the reef.

We remained on the reef three days, employed in getting ready the boats and securing water and provisions, to carry us to Wide Bay or elsewhere. The vessel was entire when we left her, and, as she was well protected by the outer reef which she beat over, there is every probability of her holding together a considerable time-more especially as she is in a basin in the north side of the reef, and the heaviest winds here are from S. and S. E.

Snorkelling on the reef at West Islet

Debbie, from Flinders University snorkelling on the reef at West Islet. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We will have to check this out with the magnetometer tomorrow.

The last divers were back on Kanimbla by 6 pm.  The end of our first day at Wreck Reef and everyone is really tired, but excited by the work we had done.  People didn’t last long after dinner, not a person up past 9.30 pm!


Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 14

Tues, 17 Jan 2012

The conditions don’t seem to be improving, so last night we made the decision to move to West Islet on Wreck Reefs. We raised the anchor after breakfast and started our trip east.

The trip across was a bit rough, so we lost a few of the crew to their bunks for part of the day.

We arrived at West Islet at 5 pm and anchored up inside the reef at a very comfortable anchorage. 

So that’s it.  Not much else to say about the day.  Tomorrow we will start our search for the Lion, a 300 tonne American whaler which went down on 4 December 1856.


Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 12

Sun, 15 Jan 2012
Saumarez Reef

View of reef underwater

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

The wind has picked up again this morning.  It’s blowing about 25 knots out of the east and swell is up on the outside of the reef.

It is still too high to get out on the reef face and the forecast is sustained winds for the next 24 to 36 hours.

We have decided that we have done all we can on the Woodlark.  A snorkel team is going to collect the measuring tapes that were left on the site around the basin yesterday.  They will also see if they can swim between the surf and the rock outcrop to identify the windlass, an apparatus used to raise an anchor.  In 1991, Ron Coleman recorded that this windlass was a hybrid mechanism that seemed to be able to raise both hemp cable and anchor chain.  The Woodlark was sailing at a time when ships were transitioning from thick hemp rope on the anchor to the more modern (and stronger) anchor chain. Certainly from what we have seen on site, the Woodlark did have anchor chain.  Whether they also used hemp cable it is impossible to say, as no evidence of this would survive.

Scuba diver at reef and detail of artefact

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

It was impossible to swim against today’s strong current (about 4 knots) running from the east to the west, so we drifted over the reef looking for any other features.  We ended up back in the basin and climbed into the boat to wait for the scuba divers to finish clearing off the tapes.

There wasn’t a lot that we could do after lunch.  We have caught up with our paperwork and logbooks.  We checked our email and sent out a few messages.  Now we are waiting for the re-supply boat to arrive. It eventually came into the reef about 5 pm.  We transferred 12 days of accumulated rubbish out to Knight Passage. They transferred fresh milk and food to us, along with our replacement equipment and four new team members.  Both boats got together for a joint dinner tonight, the first time in two days.

We will have to wait and see what tomorrow will bring.

Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 11

Sat, 14 Jan 2012
Saumarez Reef

The wind has moderated a bit this morning and the swell is calming down too… at least on the inside of the reef.  It is still too high to get out on the reef face.

We are on the search for the Woodlark, a Sydney merchant ship that struck on the shallow reef on the eastern side of Saumarez Reef in 1829. As it wrecked, it went up and over the reef into a shallow basin on the reef top.  We are going to approach the site from the inside and see if we can get close enough to search the basin while staying away for the pounding surf on the outside of the reef.

The last time anyone had been on the site was back in 1991.  At the time, Ron Coleman an archaeologist with the Queensland Museum was only able to spend about three hours doing a quick survey.  At least we have a GPS location from that visit which will make our work a lot easier.

Time to find the Woodlark!  We loaded the boats mid-morning.  We have two manta board teams and a snorkel team.  One of the manta board teams will be working from the basin out to the east as far as a prominent rock outcrop.  Supposedly nine survivors from the Woodlark scrambled onto this rock and stayed on it for three days. 

View of reef below the surface of the water

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

The other manta board team will work from the rock further east, out towards the surf break.  The snorkel team is going to work in and around the basin.

At the mid-day debrief the teams reported that we had relocated a number of features mapped by the Coleman team in 1991, including a pair of iron knees and the anchor chain running into the basin. We may have also located some new iron strapping between the rock and the basin.  And the snorkel team located some new anchor chain in the basin.  A small fragment of copper sheathing was the only small artefact to be seen, found close to the anchor chain in the basin.

Anchor chain

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

After lunch three scuba teams went back out on the reef.  Two teams divided the basin in half along the east/west axis.  One team worked in the southern half and the other in the northern half of the basin. The two teams conducted a metal detector survey to locate iron objects below the surface and buried in the coral sand sediment.  The third team which included our photographer, roved over the entire site taking photographs and conducting a visual survey of the area for material visible on the reef top.

There was a strong current running from the east to the west, partially caused by the rising tide, but also pushed along by the still strong easterly winds. Hopefully the weather will moderate further tomorrow.  With good wind and waves we should be able to wrap this site up in one more day. 

Tomorrow we are also expecting our re-supply vessel to arrive in the afternoon.

Sting ray on reef

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

 Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 10

Fri, 13 Jan 2012

We’ve had a little bit of bad luck today at Saumarez Reef…. The wind and swell are up too high to get out on the reef face where the Woodlark and Noumea are wrecked.  It’s also raining off and on, although that really doesn’t worry us.

We spent the morning going over research notes about the area and the wrecks located here.

A few people went out on a dive around the coral heads near the Kanimbla.  They reported that much of the coral is dead, and although there are some small reef fish swimming around, it looks very barren. 

After lunch things continued much the same, a few people went for another dive and others used the time to refresh thoughts and historical details on the other wreck sites we are going to try to get to.

All in all, a quiet day recharging the batteries after our work on Frederick Reef. 

Hopefully the weather will moderate tomorrow.  Time to find the Woodlark!

Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Congrats!

Before a change of subject – as the archaeological team share their experiences from Saumarez Reef in search of the Woodlark and Noumea shipwrecks – we’d like to reflect on the survey at Frederick Reef.

The search for shipwreck Royal Charlotte has been a great success, but we have to admit, we’ve held back on a few details (sorry!). We can now confirm that the team have found the anchor and canon from the Royal Charlotte!  Everyone at the museum is excited about the finds and sends their congratulations to the dive team.

Below are some images of the anchor and canon, part of the Royal Charlotte wreck of 1825.

Scuba diver with anchor from Royal Charlotte shipwreck

The anchor! Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Scuba divers measuring anchor

Measuring the anchor. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Detail of canon from shipwreck Royal Charlotte

The canon. Where’s Wally? Spot the little fish in the photo.

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 7

Tues, 10 Jan 2012

Today my team was assigned the task of doing a SCUBA survey of the outside coral reef, directly opposite the buoy making the anchor chain on the inside.  We entered the water at 9 am for a 40-minute dive.  During that time we found copper fastening, keel staples, a large piece of lead which may weigh over 500 kg! 

Jenni in her scuba gear under water

Jenni Mullen on a dive. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We swapped tanks for a second dive, but had to wait on a surface interval of one hour.  We went back out and got in another 40-minute dive before lunch.

We had a mandatory two hour surface interval after our second dive, and then headed out a third time. It was on this dive that we saw a piece of timber in deep water, but because this was our third dive for the day we weren’t able to get down that deep without compromising our no decompression limits.

We ended the day as usual with a great dinner and photos.  Tonight we had a special talk by James from Flinders Uni on his work on Australian Colonial Navy vessels.

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

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 3

Friday, 6 Jan 2012


We arrived at Frederick Reef about 3 am… announced by the rattling of the anchor chain through the boat.  Most people were up about 6 am to catch their first glimpse of the reef and sand cay. After breakfast at 7 am we started preparing for check-out dives. Before the dives Kieran gave a general historical briefing and a dive safety briefing about the diving procedures we will be using.  The first dives were done between 11.30 am and 1.30 pm in teams of three or four.  We had a late lunch and went straight back for a second check-out as a boat dive.  Final divers were up at 4.30 pm.  One of the teams located a timber that appears to be from the wreck!

Very close by was an iron staple knee.  A reinforcing structure that may have supported two deck beams.

Photo of a piece of timber on sea floor and iron knee staple

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

After completing dive logs, washing gear and writing up notes we finally finished off at 6 pm.  A 12-hour day and the crew were a bit weary!  Dinner was served at 7.30 pm, followed by a debrief of the day’s activities.  Xanthe Rivett, our expedition photographer, put on a slideshow of the day’s photos.  Here are just a few…

Kanimbla boat at sea

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Beautiful beach

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Detail of sea creature on sand

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Cheers Paul Hundley
(Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 2

Most of the crew were up by 7 am.  The seas were up and the Kanimbla was rolling and pitching.  Some of the crew chose to pass on breakfast and stay in their bunks.

After breakfast a group of us set up the safety bags containing a strobe light, emergency whistle and safety sausage or tall position marker that can be seen at quite a distance.  We are very remote and very conscious of safety procedures.

A bit later on we pulled out copies of our historical records and scoured over them for additional clues to where we might find the Royal Charlotte.  We took a break at lunchtime and afterward downloaded our report from the 2010 reconnaissance with the chart of mag hits, their strength and location.   The last task for the day was to make up our decent lines and marker buoys.  The team from Flinders took charge of this under the capable teaching of Lee Graham from ANMM.

 Lee Graham from ANMM teaching the team from Flinders on the make up our decent lines and marker buoys.

We wrapped up work for the day about 6 pm and had dinner at 7 pm in the lee of Saumarez Reef.  This gave us a bit of protection and cut down the rolling of the boat a bit.  Everyone was very tired from fighting the seas today and there wasn’t anyone up past 9 pm.

Early tomorrow morning we will arrive and anchor up at Frederick Reef.

Paul Hundley

Hopefully in the next instalment I will be able to introduce the crew and post photos of most of us.  Stay tuned!

Cheers Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)