This past January, a collaborative research team comprising maritime archaeologists from the Silentworld Foundation and the museum conducted a shipwreck survey at Kenn Reefs in Australia’s Coral Sea Territory. The team relocated a number of historic shipwrecks documented by the Queensland Museum in the 1980s, as well as four new wreck sites. The Kenn Reefs complex is a seamount system located within the ‘Outer Route’, a seaway used by nineteenth-century mariners in an effort to avoid the Great Barrier Reef when travelling to and from Australia’s east coast. The discovery of multiple shipwreck sites of nineteenth-century vintage at Kenn Reefs demonstrates the hazards faced by mariners as they transited through waters that were insufficiently charted. Field investigations included reef-top inspections, metal detector and magnetometer surveys, and diver-based ground-truthing of observed features and buried anomalies.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
On a cold sunny morning in June 2016, Silentworld Foundation Director and maritime archaeologist Paul Hundley steered the survey vessel Maggie III into shallow water at the head of Berrys Bay on Sydney’s North Shore. Accompanying him were the museum’s maritime archaeologists Kieran Hosty and myself, staring intently at a laptop computer as it displayed readings from a marine magnetometer towed a short distance behind the boat. As Maggie III’s hull glided through water less than a metre deep, we watched for any indication that remnants of a unique sailing ship might lie buried in the silt below. Continue reading
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.
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.
Overnight, the wind from the north-west has abated a little and the swell on the northern exposed edge of Ashmore Reef, where the wreck site is located, has decreased. This allowed us to get dive teams on-site nice and early to take advantage of the calmer seas.
Led by Michael Gooding (Silentworld Foundation), Lee Graham (Australian National Maritime Museum) and Grant Luckman (Department of Environment) the dive teams have continued to plot the scattered remains of the shipwreck by carrying out additional 100 metre-long compass and tape transit surveys from the two main anchor clusters.
After an 18-hour trip, the expedition team arrived at the northern edge of Ashmore Reef on board the expedition vessel The Boss. Towed behind The Boss were one of two rigid hull inflatable boats (RIBs) and the Silentworld Foundation’s small survey catamaran Maggie II – also known as The Caravan of Courage because of its unique deck cabin that looks remarkably like a small 1970s caravan.
Over the last four years, the Australian National Maritime Museum’s underwater archaeology program has been uncovering evidence of Australia’s strong colonial trade links to Asia.
In January (2012), the museum’s archaeology team located the remains of the Royal Charlotte, wrecked in 1825. The Indian-built three-masted ship had just brought convicts to Sydney, and was en route to India with a contingent of British troops and their families when it ran aground during a gale on the inaccurately charted Frederick Reef, approximately 450 km off the Queensland coast.
The Royal Charlotte was the second wreck site discovered by the museum’s archaeology team in the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef in recent years that demonstrates the strong trade links between Australia and India during the early years of the colony.
Previous expeditions to the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef by the museum discovered the wrecksite of the Indian built schooner HMCS Mermaid (in 2009) made famous by its circumnavigation of Australia in the early 1820 whilst under the command of Phillip Parker King and another expedition in 2010 re-surveyed the wrecksites of HMS Porpoise and the merchant ship Cato which had been lost on Wreck Reefs whilst on a passage to India in 1803.
In late October this year the Museum announced plans for a further expedition in early 2013 to continue this research.
The Indian built, three masted, armed, copper sheathed, teak, 555 ton ship Fergus(s)on was bound from Sydney (NSW) to Madras (India) in convoy with the Orient and Marquis of Hastings when it was wrecked on a reef in the vicinity of the Sir Charles Hardy Islands on April 27 1841 in the latitude of 12° 18’S and 143° 54E. The passengers (170 rank and file of the 50th Regiment of Foot) and crew were subsequently rescued by the crews of the accompanying vessels and the Fergus(s)on remained on the reef for a number of years acting as an informal beacon for those navigating this particularly hazardous section of the reef.
Because of its informal use as a navigation mark the reef overtime became known as Ferguson Reef and lies on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef approximately 60 nautical miles offshore from Fair Cape and 50 miles south of the Raine Island Entrance in Far North Queensland.
Wreckage consisting of chain and ballast stones believed to be off the Fergus(s)on were sighted in the middle of Ferguson Reef in 1986 and several expeditions by the Queensland Museum have attempted to survey the remains of this and other historic shipwrecks in the area.
The area of the Great Barrier Reef in the vicinity of Ferguson Reef and the Raine Island Entrance is a known wreck trap with over thirty vessels known to have been wrecked in the vicinity including eleven vessels voyaging to India such as Borneuf (1853); Chesterholme (1858); Charles Eaton (1854), Cornelius (1854); Eliza (1815); Elizabeth (1854); Fergus(s)on (1841); Frances Walker (1854); Lady Kinnaird (1861) and Martha Ridgeway (1842) and Undaunted (1863
The Royal Charlotte and proposed 2013 expeditions are part of an Australian Research Council project, a joint project between the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Silentworld Foundation and Sydney University.
* The Silentworld Foundation is a not-for-profit Foundation established to further Australian maritime archaeology and research, and to improve Australia’s knowledge of its early maritime history.