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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

Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum Day Five

Gold Coast Wreck Conservation Project – Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum.

The last day of fieldwork and as usual full of excitement. We woke up to find ourselves on the front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin (Figure 1 and 2).


Figure 1: Front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin (Photo Lauren Davison).


Figure 2: Gold Coast Bulletin (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).

The team then split into two again with a small group heading to the council depot at Tugun and the rest staying at the Tallebudgera Creek Caravan Park to process data, undertake research (Figure 3), and draw out the anchors that had been recorded (Figure 4).


Figure 3: Wendy and Isabelle researching the Heroine (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 4: Mark and Dana drawing anchors (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).

At the council yard the work involved scale drawings of frames (Figure 5) and an articulated section including ceiling planking, stringer, frames and fasteners (Figure 6) as well as taking timber samples (Figure 7).


 Figure 5: Lauren doing a scale drawing of a frame (Photo Amelia MacArthur Lacey 2014).


Figure 6: Brad and Trevor recording the articulated section (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 7: Lauren taking timber samples (Photo Amelia MacArthur Lacey 2014).

The group that had stayed behind at the caravan park came for a visit to the council yards in the afternoon. With the extra hands we were able to turn to articulated section over and have a look on the exterior side. Planking, wale and a small section on sheathing were found on the exterior (Figure 8).


Figure 8: Paddy and Lauren cleaning the exterior surface of the articulated section (Photo Wendy van Duivenvoorde 2014).

To end I would like to thank a wonderful group of people that helped with this project. The Gold Coast City Council, Kevin Rains and Jane Austen; the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Paddy Waterson, Amelia MacArthur Lacey, and Toni Massey; the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society, John Burns and Bob Nancarrow, local residents, John Strano, Fred Lang Junior, and John Hogg; Cosmos Archaeology, Cos Coroneos, Dani Wilkinson, and Gina Scheer, Trevor Winton, Mark Polzer, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, baby Isabelle, Brad Guadagnin, Peta Fray, Dana Gilmore and Kate Greenwood.

And finally a last thank you to all the local residents of the Gold Coast who were very helpful and friendly.

Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum 2014 Day Four

Gold Coast Wreck Conservation Project – Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum.

Today we visited the beach at Coolangatta Creek where the shipwreck was recovered in 1974 to undertake a magnetometer survey (Figure 1) and metal detector survey (Figure 2) of this area. Guests from Cosmos Archaeology, Cos Coroneos, Danielle Wilkinson, and Gina Scheer, came along for the day to help investigate the site.


Figure 1: Danielle, Cos, Dana and Kate undertaking the magnetometer survey (Photo Gina Scheer 2014).


Figure 2: Trevor, Amelia and Kate completing the metal detector survey in Coolangatta Creek (Photo Gina Scheer 2014).

 After setting up the grid from the magnetometer survey (Figure 3 and 4) the team split with a group returning to Queen Elizabeth Park, Coolangatta to continue recording the shipwreck remains. Detailed drawings (Figure 5), timber recording forms (Figure 5) and timber samples (Figure 6) were taken.


Figure 3: Toni and Amelia setting up the grid at Coolangatta Creek (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 4: Dana, Trevor and Danielle setting up grid at Coolangatta Creek (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 5: Mark, Toni and Jane doing a detailed drawing and Brad completing a timber recording form (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 6: Brad, Mark, Lauren and Jane taking timber samples (Photo Toni Massey 2014).

Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum 2014 Day Three

Gold Coast Wreck Conservation Project – Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum.

Today was the third day of work, or the middle of our field practicum and we recorded another section of shipwreck, this time at the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society, Bundall. The shipwreck remains are part of a sculpture (Figure 1 & 2) constructed from what was thought to be Coolangatta. The work today would not have been possible without access to the remains provided by the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society and help from president John Burns and volunteer Bob Nancarrow.


Figure 1: The team in front of sculpture at the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society (Photo Kate Greenwood 2014).


Figure 2: Sculpture of shipwreck material (Photo Wendy van Duivenvoorde 2014).

Timber recording forms and photographs of the ten individual elements (both planking and frames) were used to record the remains (Figure 3) before samples were taken (Figure 4) and tracings and scale drawings (Figure 5) completed.


Figure 3: Lauren Davison recording a frame fragment (Photo Toni Massey 2014).


Figure 4: Wendy van Duienvoorde and Paddy Waterson taking timber samples (Photo Toni Massey 2014).


Figure 5: Brad Guadagnin and Trevor Winton undertaking a scale drawing of Frame 2 (Photo Wendy 2014).

Completed at the same time as the shipwreck recording, with the help of Ashley Parker, was the entering of the shipwrecks artefacts at the historical society into a database, the Queensland Historic Shipwreck Relics Project, designed by Ashley himself to complete a register of the shipwreck artefacts at Bundall.

Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum 2014 Day Two

Gold Coast Wreck Conservation Project – Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum

Day two and we headed to Queen Elizabeth Park, Coolangatta to record an intact section of the shipwreck recovered in 1974 containing a wale, three hull planks, frames, fasteners and sheathing (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Kevin Rains, Jane Austen, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Peta Fray, Amelia MacArthur Lacey, Dana Gilmore with the intact section in Queen Elizabeth Park, Coolangatta (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).

Overall pictures and detailed photos of individual features were completed (Figure 2) and a scale drawing of the shipwreck section was completed using baseline offset survey (Figure 3). Patent marks were found on the sheathing with these features being recorded through rubbings (Figure 4) and photographs. Tracings were also taken of the sheathing and upper planks to find patterns in the holes (Figure 5).


Figure 2: Kate Greenwood photographing the back of the section (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 3: Peta Fray and Lauren Davison baseline offset survey (Photo Toni Massey 2014).


Figure 4: Dana Gilmore taking rubbings of the patent marks (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).


Figure 5: Dana Gilmore and Kate Greenwood tracing copper sheathing and Brad Guadagnin, Peta Fray and Lauren Davison baseline offset survey (Photo Toni Massey 2014).

A slight change in staff for the afternoon. Paddy, Kate and Dana went to the Tweed Heads Historical Museum for historical research while Mark joined the group in Queen Elizabeth Park. Activities were similar to the morning with the scale drawing, tracing of timbers with the addition of recording the frames and fasteners undertaken by Mark and Brad (Figure 6).


Figure 6: Brad Guadagnin and Mark Polzer recording frames (Photo Lauren Davison 2014).

The day ended with Trevor Winton from Jacobs Consulting and MAAWA joining us to help for the rest of the week.