Treacherous Tides at Danger Point: The Story of the Coolangatta Wreck and the Maritime Archaeological Fieldwork Practicum July 2014

The Coolangatta Wreck: is it CoolangattaHeroine, or something completely different. This was the project aim that students and practitioners faced at the Maritime Archaeology Practicum in July, on the golden beaches of the Gold Coast, Queensland. A small group of students, as well as industry partners and volunteers, led an investigation into the identification of the ship from partial remains which are in poor preservation, and scattered around the Gold Coast, From Coolangatta to Bundall.

Coolangatta wrecked on August 19, 1846, after a severe cyclone approached the area. Having been at anchor for 5 weeks, the anchors torn from the ship and was driven ashore. Having been loading the cedar wood from Greenmount Beach, via the Tweed River, Captain Steele and his crew were ashore rafting timber. The two prisoners onboard (George Craig and William George Lewis) were freed as the cyclone intensified and torn the ship and any other persons left on board risked the swim ashore.

The wreck remains have survived through unusual impacts, environmental and human. If they are the same remains from Coolangatta, they have survived three cyclones and remained intact with each deposition of the remains, having been recorded as moving north along the coastline from Point Danger to its last location, Coolangatta Creek (2 kilometres north from Queen Elizabeth Park). The area was named after the shipwreck in the field notes of 1883 government surveyor, Henry Schneider. At the time of its wrecking, another 5 fully laden ships were also bar-bound in the harbour, which adds to the mystery, is it Coolangatta?

The cyclone periods which led to the discovery/rediscovery of the wreck are:

1863 – 1864       First Discovery

1870 – 1880s     Rediscovery

1930                  Second Rediscovery (Coolgatta Creek)

During the 1970s, the remains were being used as a local dive site, being in shallow water, and a surfer rendezvous point. One diver that remembers using the site, John Strano, came to visit the group when conducting the magnetometer and metal detector survey, and indicated that it was further ashore than where we were already surveying. Strano later gave a statement to the reporter from the Gold Coast Bulletin, and is given a mention about later use of the wreck.

It was also during this era that the council at the time thought it would be the best idea to demolish the site, in an explosive manner. This was what the survey above had been designed over, a survey of the blow-up site. Remains of the shipwreck, having had the local surroundings named after Coolangatta, and what still is thought to be today, as a memorial event, pieces of the wreck was taken and handed out as souvenir, and the rest of the remains scattered. Memorials have been erected from remains, Such as Queen Elizabeth Park, Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Museum (Bundall), from the timber and frames of the wreck (mostly hull planking with Muntz(‘s) Metal sheeting still attached). Anchor memorials (such as the obelisk at Coolangatta Creek) were also constructed); one having been at the airport, however been expected to have been dismantled and the anchor relocated to the Gold Coast City Council (Tugun Works Depot).

Of the approximate 100 vessels wrecked in the vicinity of the Tweed River, 54 of these were timber constructed. Since there was no name attached to the remains, other than someone who wrote ‘Coolangatta’ in the sand while taking a photograph of the remains in 1930 (figure 1), there is no conclusive information about the identity of the remains. Two of the most likely candidates for the remains are Coolangatta and Heroine.

coolangatta 1930

Figure 1: Shipwreck remains on beach, ‘Coolangatta’ written in sand (1930)

From searching the dump point of shipwreck remains of the Gold Coast City Council (Works Depot), to a day in Queen Elizabeth Park, to cataloguing artefacts from Scottish Prince and recording yet more timbers and copper sheathing from what is thought to be remains of Coolangatta, the week had only just started. Although not everything was able to be accomplished, much of the work we had set out to achieve was completed.

Archival research, as with any other project, familiarised ourselves on the Coolangatta wreck, and the question as to why we are there in the first place. The information compiled into a report, based entirely as a review of many sources relating to Coolangatta and Heroine, David Nutley’s Report summarised what notable differences are between the two 19th Century vessels.

Coolangatta (1843 – 1846).

  • After 1846 wrecking event, repairs made to damage on port side bilge.
  • Refitted around 1846, would have included repair/replacement of Muntz Metal sheathing, replacement of rigging lines, sails, etc.
  • Square stern.
  • Strongly Built.
  • Timber likely to be from Shoalhaven Area (built).
  • Anchor types will pre date 1846 (i.e. Porter’s anchor).

Heroine (1894 – 1897).

  • Re-metalled in 1895.
  • Built with ‘northern timbers’ presumably from the north coast of New South Wales (built Nambucca River).
  • Anchor types will post date 1843: (i.e. Horniball or Trotman’s anchor).

Muntz Metal (post 1846 (second patent) – Muntz’s) on both vessels.

Muntz(‘s) Metal could date wreckage.

Sheathing could contain a year stamp.


After Comber 2014

The Gold Coast City Council (Tugun Works Depot), a place which we would later have to come back later in the and finish off, was our first site. As you can see in figure 1, the remains here were just carelessly dumped and forgotten about over time, even though their had been talk since the 1970s that care and proper management should given to these remains.


Figure 2: Timber in GCCC yards, overall site (photo courtesy of Lauren Davison)


The Queen Elizabeth Park memorial (figure 3) was a the site where work continued, even on the morning of my flight back, the day after the practicum finished. The drawings from the site were filled with detail, due to being the most intact piece located in the surrounds. Even in its poor state of preservation. different scale plans (including tracings), and rubbings were taken from the site.


Figure 3: Queen Elizabeth Park Coolangatta Memorial, Coolangatta (photo courtesy of Lauren Davison 2014)

The Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Heritage Museum was the last place of known wreck material, at least in public collections which were accessible to us. The monument that was constructed was befitting of the ship (figure 4). especially with only being constructed from mainly frame segments. To finish to off, a square of Muntz’s Metal was flying as a makeshift flag, complete with a stamp. When we were on site, the group also helped in a trial of the new shipwreck database, to be published online which helps in the collection of shipwreck remains locals might have in their homes.


Figure 4: Coolangatta Memorial, Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Heritage Museum (photo courtesy of Kate Greenwood 2014)

Coolangatta Creek and the anchor memorial (figure 5), the site of the magnetometer and metal detector survey was the final place the group visited. Our land search site and the scene of so many human impacts on the wreck. Having been hit my excavators and blown to pieces, it was the ideal place to start a search for any materials which might have been buried in the sands.


Figure 5: Anchor Memorial, Coolangatta Creek (photo courtesy of Paddy Waterson 2014)

Timber samples were collected from all pieces of the wreckage remains, as well as Muntz(‘s) Metal sheeting pieces, to be sent away for analysis and visual analysis respectively (figure 6). It will be interesting to find out the results of the analysis, which will hopefully be able to identify the ship once and for all. So I’ll end again with, is it CoolangattaHeroine, or something completely different.


Figure 6: Lauren Davison (background) and Brad Guadagnin (foreground) taking timer samples, Queen Elizabeth Park, Coolangatta (Photo Courtesy of Toni Massey 2014)



Comber, Jillian

2014 Coolangatta Shipwrecks: Archival investigation of the Coolangatta and Heroine. Prepared by David Nutley. Report to Queensland Department of Environment & Heritage Protection

One response to “Treacherous Tides at Danger Point: The Story of the Coolangatta Wreck and the Maritime Archaeological Fieldwork Practicum July 2014

  1. Awesome work, very interesting and look forward to hearing about the analysis outcome.