Yellow Team – You don’t have to get wet to do maritime archaeology!

Authors: Jenny Bonney and Maryanne Williams

The yellow team of Jenny Bonney and Maryanne Williams, with supervision from Rob Koch, Gay Lacsina and Bill Jeffery have been surveying the wreck of the Speke, at Kitty Miller Bay, Phillip Island. The Speke ran aground in Feb 1906 in gale force winds. All of the crew, except one unlucky sailor, managed to make it to shore and were rescued several hours later, by locals. Frank Henderson, a crew member drowned when the lifeboat that he and some others were in smashed up on the rocks.

The wreck of the Speke broke up within a few days of been grounded and over the next few years, many parts that were left were salvaged by locals on Phillip Island and used in many different ways all over the island. The bow of the Speke is the main part of the wreck that is left today, however there are smaller pieces of the wreck scattered all over the beach (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Rob Koch and Bill Jeffery at the bow of the Speke. Photograph by Jenny Bonney

Figure 1: Rob Koch and Bill Jeffery at the bow of the Speke. Photograph by Jenny Bonney

During the first week of the field school, the yellow team took measurements of the pieces of wreckage that are still left on the beach and the surrounding environment, in order to the place the remains of the wreck in context (Figure 2). As well as taking points with the total station, mud maps of the beach and the wreckage were drawn, and photographs of all of the pieces of wreckage and the surrounding area were taken.

Figure 2: Jenny Bonney holding the prism that is used with the Total Station instrument to measure 3-dimensional data. Photograph by Rob Koch

Figure 2: Jenny Bonney holding the prism that is used with the Total Station instrument to measure 3-dimensional data. Photograph by Rob Koch

The Speke is located on the southern part of the Island facing Bass Strait on a beautiful, rugged coastline. The weather varied from 20 to 35oC and from light breezes to 40 to 50 knot winds so conditions were challenging at times but outweighed by the beautiful landscape we worked in (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The coastline in the vicinity of the Speke. Photograph by Maryanne Williams

Figure 3: The coastline in the vicinity of the Speke. Photograph by Maryanne Williams

The site is a 1 kilometre walk from the car park making it  a great way to keep fit, although the trek back to the car late in the day seemed twice as long as the morning trek.

Of interest also was the variety in the cultural landscape of this small bay. We found evidence of a road leading from the foreshore to the cliff above which may have been used by the Speke salvage teams. As well, evidence of shell middens at one end of the beach show the area has been in use for a long time.

In the evening after working all day at the site, we would have lectures of different subjects relating to maritime archaeology and heritage. On one night we went to the Phillip Island Historical  Museum and heard a talk on shipwrecks around Phillip Island from 1854 to 1932 by John Jansson, a local historian. After the talk, we were able to have a look around the museum and chat with some Phillip Island residents.

After completing the archaeological survey at Kitty Miller Bay, we then moved to Rhyll that is located on the northwest part of the island, facing the mainland. After the isolation of Kitty Miller Bay, Rhyll seemed liked a bustling metropolis (population about 100). Here we mapped and photographed the maritime infrastructure that included a boat ramp, old shipyard and jetty that has evidence of 3 different structures including the current jetty (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The old slipway in between the two jetties at Rhyll. Photograph by Bill Jeffery

Figure 4: The old slipway in between the two jetties at Rhyll. Photograph by Bill Jeffery

On Friday 7 February the yellow team went out on the Heritage Victoria boat Trim, implementing a side scan sonar survey. Side scan sonar is an underwater sensor instrument, that is often used to find shipwrecks. The sensor is housed in a ‘fish’ that is towed behind a boat, with pulses of sound sent out on either side of the sensor. These pulses of sound bounce of the seabed and any objects that are on the seabed.

We did the side-scan sonar over the site of the Dandenong, but didn’t find anything. After this we took the boat over the site of another wreck, the ferry Vixen that sank in 1917 (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Maryanne Williams in control of Trim during the side scan sonar survey. Photograph by Rob Koch.

Figure 5: Maryanne Williams in control of Trim during the side scan sonar survey. Photograph by Rob Koch.

So now we have all the data we need it’s time to starting collating it all and make sure our report is completed.

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