Our Windy Weekend with SUHR

By Josh Jones, Maddy McAllister and Danielle Wilkinson (MMA Students)

Three Flinders Maritime Archaeology students volunteered for the Society of Underwater and Historical Research (SUHR) in a joint effort with the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) to survey the historic shipwrecks around the Yorke Peninsula and the Investigator Strait. The SUHR team focused on the historic wrecks Ethel and Ferret, which are located on Ethel Beach in Innes National Park, while the DENR team performed dive oriented surveys and site assessments. The SUHR members that volunteered from Flinders included Joshua Jones, Maddy McAllister and Danielle Wilkinson, and the team was lead by Britt Burton. The DENR survey team included Shea Cameron, Amer Khan, Julie Mushynsky and Ross Cole.  The survey was hampered by the ever-changing weather, which ranged from sun and clear skies to fifty-knot winds and horizontal rain. DENR conducted their surveys over a two-week period, which allowed sufficient time to perform their surveys during fair weather. SUHR on the other hand, only had one day to complete their survey, which happened to be on a day when the weather was tempestuous.

Anchor of Ethel. Courtesy of Joshua Jones, 2011.

Originally named Carmelo, Ethel was built in England in 1876. In 1904, under the command of Captain Bogwald, Ethel was sailing to Port Adelaide from South Africa. As it rounded the tip of the Yorke Peninsula it struck a reef. The rudder was damaged, leaving the crew unable to steer the vessel. They eventually became stranded on the little beach now known as Ethel Beach. One crewmember drowned whilst trying to swim to shore, but all the remaining crew survived. S.S. Ferret was passing and notified the nearby lighthouse keeper of the stranded vessel. Some salvage attempts were made but due to the location of the beach, which is surrounded by steep cliffs, Ethel remained relatively intact for many years.

S.S. Ferret was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1871, and it has an unusual story. It was stolen in 1880 and made its way to Port Phillip in Victoria under the name of S.S. India. It was recognised and retrieved in dramatic circumstances. In 1920 Ferret left Port Adelaide for Port Victoria. A dense fog deceived the crew and they passed too close to Cape Spencer. Ironically Ferret became stranded on the same beach as Ethel, sitting only 200 metres away. All 22 crew survived. The site of the Ferret wreck is difficult to dive or survey as it lies in the breakers close to shore, and there are very few times a year when it is calm enough to see. Very little is known about the extent of the site.

On Saturday the 21st of May, the SUHR team inspected the sites of Ethel and Ferret to gauge the size and determine the visibility of the wrecks. Ferret was not accessible or visible due to rough surf. The site of Ethel however was still exposed on the beach, although only a portion was accessible as the majority remains buried. The following day the team headed out early with the intention of drawing a site plan and a profile drawing of the largest feature to the north west of the wreck. Upon arrival the weather proved to be cold, rough and limiting. The priority was to complete the site plan for Ethel, and measure the features. This proved to be very difficult with constant wind and an approaching tide. It was decided that the most accurate method would be ‘baseline offset’ with one person drawing, two people taking measurements, and another writing down the measurements. By midday half of the site had been mapped, and members of the DENR team arrived to help. They established a site boundary for the Ethel using a metal detector and GPS, and took archaeological photos of the site. Conditions worsened and the wind continued to increase. Luckily the site plan was completed by early afternoon, but the profile view could not be attempted due to the tide which had already claimed a range pole.

Ethel at sunset. Courtesy of Joshua Jones, 2011.

On the way back a quick stop was made at the Edithburgh Cemetery to visit the sailors’ mass grave and officers’ graves of Clan Ranald, one of Australia’s worst shipwreck disasters. Forty out of a crew of sixty-four perished after the vessel tilted onto its starboard side and was smashed against cliffs near Troubridge Hill.

The sites of Ethel and Ferret are constantly changing due to environmental impacts such as shifting sands and destructive storm action. Regular trips should be made to document the changing exposure and monitor the effects upon the wrecks. In particular another visit during calmer weather should be made to inspect Ferret. Ethel would be beneficial to recent AIMA/NAS course participants to practice their mapping and recording skills whilst helping to monitor the changing features of the site.

SUHR is a great society that all maritime archaeology students should join. Events include monthly lectures and weekly opportunities to check out the society’s artefact storage at Netley, as well as other volunteer opportunities like this one. Students will become involved in the maritime archaeological network of South Australia, and who knows what opportunities may arise? Join their Facebook group for more information.


Arnott, T. 1996. Investigator Strait – Maritime Heritage Trail, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Adelaide, South Australia.

2 responses to “Our Windy Weekend with SUHR

  1. Thats so cool, I like the bit about the S.S. Ferret, how freaky! Keep up the great blogs you studious archeologists:)

  2. Fab !! love it and with grit and determination in the weather (horizontal rain!!..wow!) Great stuff for Aussie history. thanks