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.
Shipwrecks and maritime archaeology are key parts of understanding Australian’s history as a land that is gurt by sea. Image: Measuring artefacts in situ, during an archaeological dive on the Great Barrier Reef, 2013 / ANMM.
Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse
Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.
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.
Dirk Hartog plate, 1616. Tin (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Four hundred years ago, Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog (1580–1621) sailed into history when, on 25 October 1616, he made the first documented European landing on the west coast of Australia in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Eendracht (‘Concord’ or ‘Unity’). Today his name is synonymous with the inscribed ‘Hartog plate’ that marked his landfall at Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, Western Australia. This evocative pewter relic, now held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land. Continue reading →
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.
A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert’s published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.
Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
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.
Maggie II in action at Cumberland Entrance Credit: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation
After having watched the waves pile up on top of the surrounding reefs for the last five days it was a great relief to finally get out from behind Waier Island and make our way slowly over to the western end of the Cumberland Entrance to commence searching for the wreck of the Hydrabad.
Wind, waves and spray at Waier Island. Courtesy Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
For the last five days (except for a brief trip over to Mer Island to allow six team members with pressing work or family commitments to fly back to the mainland) the expedition team have spent almost the entire time holed up on the southern side of Waier Island waiting for the strong North-westerly winds to abate.
However at long last the wind has started to drop off and the sea conditions have moderated enough to allow us to leave our sheltered anchorage to recommence our surveying work.
Sea conditions at the wreck site on Ashmore Reef. Credit: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation
On the beach at Waier Island. Credit: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation
The voyage in – Maggie II takes a beating. Credit: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation
After a six hour voyage punching through 3-metre high seas created by the 40 knot North-westerly wind The Boss, with Maggie II in tow, passed through Hibernia Passage. We arrived at the anchorage on the north-western side of Mer Island at the eastern entrance to the Torres Strait. Mer is the largest of three islands (the others being Dauar and Waier) that were formed by the collapse of the crater of an extinct volcano many thousands of years ago.