Tag Archives: Flinders University

Romance, scandal and maritime archaeology in Victoria

During my directed study, I’ve been researching 18 shipwrecks lying in Victorian state waters. I’ve researched the history of shipwreck significance, worked out how shipwreck significance is assessed and begun the process of assessing significance for some of those wrecks.

Some shipwrecks have turned out to be significant because of the events surrounding their working lives, some because of the results of the studies of archaeologists examining their wrecks. Either way the waters of Port Phillip and the surrounding Victorian coastline shelter some very interesting shipwrecks.

Here’s just a taste:

Loch Ard is one of the most famous shipwrecks in Victoria. A three-masted square-rigged iron sailing ship, Loch Ard left England on 2 March 1878 with a general cargo of luxury items and industrial loads of railway iron and cement. On 1 June, the ship was only a day or two out from Melbourne near Cape Otway when heavy fog descended.

Loch Ard. Image courtesy Heritage Victoria

Loch Ard. Image courtesy Heritage Victoria

When the fog lifted, the Captain, instead of clear ocean and a distant shoreline, was faced with sheer cliffs and breaking waves. I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like. The ship hit the reef just off Mutton Bird Island and large waves caused the masts and rigging to crash down so the lifeboats couldn’t be launched successfully. Tom Pearce, one of the crew, and passenger Eva Carmichael were the only two on board who survived (Lomdahl 1992).

Just five bodies (out of 47) were ever recovered. Eva lost all her immediate family and would have died herself if Tom Pearce hadn’t come to her rescue. If life were a Hollywood movie, Eva and Tom, both eighteen, would have sailed happily off into the sunset. Society of the day certainly thought they should at least get married since they had spent time alone, drinking brandy before Tom went to find help (ignoring the fact it was dark, cold and Tom needed to catch his breath before attempting to climb the cliffs). But it wasn’t Hollywood and instead Eva went back to Ireland and married a Captain Townsend while Tom went back to the sea. Ironically, Eva and her husband moved to the Irish coast where she was called on to help shipwreck survivors … one of whom (apparently) turned out to be Tom Pearce (The Argus 16 June 1934). This is a Hollywood script just crying out to be written.

The Loch Ard Peacock. Image courtesy Victorian Collections.

Image courtesy Victorian Collections.

A few days after the wreck, a crate containing a large ceramic peacock was washed ashore in Loch Ard Gorge. The Minton Loch Ard Peacock is one of the more famous pieces of cargo saved from the wreck. The porcelain statue, valued at over $4 million, is one of only nine still existing worldwide and was arriving in Australia to be displayed at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It finally got its chance to shine at the 1988 Brisbane World Expo. The peacock is currently on display at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warnambool, Victoria.

Then there’s Clarence, a small coastal wooden sailing ship, indistinguishable from many vessels plying their trade around the southern coast of Australia during the 1840s and 1850s. Clarence sailing past would have been a bit like watching a semi-trailer driving down the highway. You might idly wonder what it was carrying before it disappeared from view; then again you might not. However, Clarence’s brief and unglamorous career as a small trading schooner belies its subsequent importance to archaeological and historical studies of undocumented Australian shipbuilding (Harvey 1989).

Clarence line drawing. Image courtesy Heritage Victoria

Clarence line drawing. Image courtesy Heritage Victoria

I’m sure Clarence’s builders from the Williams River in NSW never imagined their work would be so scrutinised. Remember people, whatever you build today may be examined in 200 years by an archaeologist trying to piece together your work … make sure it’s good (or if you want to have some fun, make it cryptic)!

Clarence is currently the subject of an Australian Research Council grant studying the excavation, reburial and in-situ preservation of shipwrecks and their artefacts. I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer when, in 2012, Clarence was excavated, wrapped in geo-textile, covered in shade cloth and tarpaulin and weighed down by 3,500 sandbags. As a result, Clarence may still be there for archaeologists to study in 1000 years time and I can now add ‘professional sandbag filler’ to my resumé.

A small section of Clarence reburial .... Image Jon Carpenter

A small section of Clarence reburial …. Image Jon Carpenter

One vessel not often in the public eye is the clipper ship, Schomberg. Schomberg had no statement of significance in the Victorian database and when I started researching I had no idea what I’d discover. What I did find was a tale of pride, scandal and narrowly avoided tragedy. Schomberg’s story was almost the nineteenth century’s version of Titanic: built at great expense, labeled the most perfect clipper ship ever built, designed to be the most comfortable, luxurious and fastest vessel to sail to Melbourne—and it sank on its maiden voyage in 1855. Fortunately, the steamer SS Queen was close enough to come to the rescue of the 430 passengers and crew.

Captain 'Bully' Forbes. Image courtesty Project Marco Polo

Captain ‘Bully’ Forbes. Image courtesty Project Marco Polo

The Captain, ‘Bully’ Forbes, was charged in the Supreme Court with negligence because of the suspicion that he was playing cards with two female passengers below decks while his ship ran aground. None of the passengers spoke terribly highly of him, complaining that he strutted the deck with a loaded revolver and that half-naked women were emerging from his cabin at all hours of the night. Despite a protest meeting, two inquiries and the court proceedings, he was found not guilty and cleared of all charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence (Uhl 1985:24).

As an aside, Schomberg was built using the ‘diagonal principle’: its frame was British oak with layers of Scottish larch fitted diagonally to the frames, apparently the same design as Queen Victoria’s newly acquired yacht. Interestingly, pieces of hull with this distinctive design feature were washed up on the New Zealand coast and were thought to be a part of Schomberg‘s hull (Lomdahl 1992).

The clipper ship, Schomberg. Photo Heritage Victoria

The clipper ship, Schomberg. Image courtesy Heritage Victoria.

This is just a brief journey through three Victorian shipwreck histories that grabbed my attention, there is more to tell for each but space is brief. While it takes more than just romance, scandal and maritime archaeology to make a vessel significant, each adds to the fabric of the story that makes up the life and wreck of a ship.

References

Harvey, P. 1989 Excavation of the Shipwreck Clarence: Port Phillip Bay October 1987. Victoria: Victoria Archaeology Survey, Maritime Heritage Unit.

Lomdahl, A., 1992 Underwater Shipwreck Discovery Trail. Victoria: Victoria Archaeological Survey, Maritime Archaeological Unit.

Mosely, M. 1934 ‘Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce. Why they did not marry.’ The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.:1848-1957), 16 June, p. 4, retrieved 13 October 2013, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/10947161

Uhl, J. 1985 Sailing Ships, Shipwrecks and Crime in the 19th Century: A Handbook for Historians, Genealogists, Shiplovers and Criminologists based on Supreme Court Records, Criminal Sessions 1840s-1860s. Oakleigh, Victoria: Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.

Significance of the torpedo boat: HMVS Lonsdale

Jane Mitchell

My directed study project set out to analyse 18 excavated shipwrecks and assess their significance statements. So far I’ve completed some research into the history of shipwreck significance and the significance statements within the overall Victorian Heritage database (which you can read about here), but since then my research has kept me locked inside the Victorian Heritage Register, sifting through all the information attached to each of the 18 ships’ records.

My research is now complete and my next task is to update (or write) statements of significance for some of these wrecks. Not all of the wrecks I’ve been looking at have management plans in place and the statements and their evidence-based evaluation criteria are designed as a jumping-off point for ongoing management of these wrecks.

First cab off the rank is the HMVS Lonsdale.  The current statement of significance in the Victorian database reads: “The HMVS Lonsdale is historically significant as a relic of Victoria’s colonial navy” (Victorian Heritage Register 2005:S425).

It’s important to bear in mind there isn’t any way to ascertain when this statement was written, but when you research  the history of the vessel, there’s more to HMVS Lonsdale than just historical significance.

HMVS Lonsdale. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

HMVS Lonsdale. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

Brief History:
Ten torpedo boats served across Australia from the early 1880s onwards. They were purchased by the individual colonies in response to a perceived threat of a Russian (and briefly French) invasion (Hunter 2011:1). The British-based Thornycroft, the builder of HMVS Lonsdale, went on to build the fast PT attack boats used with great success in World War II. HMVS Lonsdale and HMVS Nepean, another Thornycroft second-class Victorian torpedo boat, were commissioned in 1883 and arrived in Australia in 1884.

HMVS Lonsdale never saw battle action but did take part in the annual and rather festive Easter exercises, even hitting HMVS Cerberus in 1885 with one of its spar torpedoes – the only time Cerberus came under fire in its career (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:13). Based on British advice the second-class torpedo boats underwent some Australian modification to their torpedo gear, which subsequently improved their speed and performance (Argus 23 February 1888). By 1892, Victoria had three-second class torpedo boats, two first-class boats and 32 torpedoes (Cahill 2009:134).

The torpedo boats were handed over to the Commonwealth after Federation in 1901 and put up for sale in 1902, but, with no buyers, Nepean and Lonsdale continued to take part in manoeuvres (Cahill 2009: 132). When the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was officially formed, Lonsdale and Nepean, considered ‘outmoded’, were again unsuccessfully put up for sale in 1914 (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:13). What happened to HMVS Lonsdale over the next six years is unclear, but, sometime before 1920, the vessel ended up on the beach at Queenscliff, briefly becoming a meeting point for local beach goers before the sand slowly swallowed it and it faded from memory.

The remains of HMVS Lonsdale were first located in 1983 by members of the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria (MAAV) by following the long-buried 1920s shoreline (Cahill 1999). A short survey followed to confirm the identity of the vessel. The conning tower was re-excavated in 1997 for an attempted geophysical survey, but it was largely unsuccessful due to the large amounts of extraneous ferrous material scattered around the site (Shwartz 1997:2). Due to the recent redevelopment of Queenscliff Harbour, HMVS Lonsdale was re-excavated in 2005/2006 in an effort to determine the full extent of the wreck (Hewitt and Tucker 2009).

Significance Criteria
As discussed in my blog post here, the criteria I used to assess the significance of HMVS Lonsdale is based on AIMA’s Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks, incorporating the values listed in the Burra Charter.

Criterion 1. Historic
HMVS Lonsdale has historical significance as a key element of the Victorian Colonial Navy. International wars, threats of invasion and local rebellions encouraged uncertainty, fed partly by popular press, in Britain’s ability to protect its colonies. As an early member of Victoria’s Colonial Navy, HMVS Lonsdale was a significant part of Victoria’s defence. Along with the other first- and second-class torpedo boats—Nepean, Childers, Countess of Hopetoun and GordonLonsdale formed part of the frontline defence for the last twenty years of the Victorian Colony.

Criterion 2. Technical
HMVS Lonsdale was built at the shipyard of John Thornycroft, who went on to produce the fast attack Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats used with great effect in the Pacific during WWII. Lonsdale represents a rare, early example highlighting the development of these fast, hit-and-run type vessels.

Criterion 3. Social
HMVS Lonsdale has minor social significance. The vessel had some social significance as a member of the colonial naval defence force of the late 19th century.

Criterion 4. Archaeological
The 2006 excavation results appeared to indicate that the section forward of the machinery space is no longer coherent, although a 1.7 metre section of the bow exists lying on the port side, disarticulated from the main structure. Information gathered to date suggests that the ship, aft of the conning tower, still exists, although its condition is unknown (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:32).

HMVS Lonsdale Conning tower. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

HMVS Lonsdale Conning tower. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

Abandoned watercraft and subsequent site formation processes are a current and ongoing research topic in Australia (see Richards 2008, Hunter 2011). HMVS Lonsdale has contributed to this topic and further study and conservation of the vessel has the ability to continue to add to this subject literature.

Criterion 5. Scientific
Anodes were placed on the wreck during the archaeological survey in 1997, but there has been no subsequent electrode potential survey. Due to high ground water and tidal fluctuations, the wreck is frequently exposed to water and is at risk of collapse (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:32). Although HMVS Lonsdale has been scrapped and hulked, it still has possible scientific significance through contributions to ongoing work on corrosion studies.

Criterion 6. Interpretive
HMVS Lonsdale is currently the subject of a small interpretive display at the Queenscliff Maritime Centre. The vessel has future interpretive significance not only in regards to the development of the Navy in Australia, but also the types of vessels that contributed to the defence of the colonies.

Criterion 7. Rarity
HMVS Lonsdale is a rare surviving example of a second-class torpedo boat and the only surviving example of a second-class torpedo boat from the Victorian Colonial Navy.

Criterion 8. Representativeness
HMVS Lonsdale is significant as one of only three surviving second-class torpedo boats that were used in the defence of the Australian and New Zealand colonies.

Using the criteria above, I’ve re-written HMVS Lonsdale’s significance statement:

HMVS Lonsdale Significance Statement:
Ten torpedo boats made up part of the frontline defences of several of the Australian colonies in the late 19th century, when there was a real and perceived threat of invasion by the Russians and French. HMVS Lonsdale is historically significant as a rare and representative example of a Victorian second-class torpedo boat. Lonsdale demonstrates technical significance as an early example of the development of the fast attack torpedo craft, culminating in the ‘PT’ boats used so effectively in WWII. The vessel has archaeological significance, contributing to the study of abandoned watercraft and subsequent site formation processes and scientific significance through future corrosion studies.

HMVS Lonsdale on Williamstown slipway pre 1915. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

HMVS Lonsdale on Williamstown slipway pre 1914. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

References:

Anon. 1888 ‘Improvements in the Naval Defence.’ The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1957), 23 February, p. 13, retrieved 13 August 2013, <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6104784&gt;.

Australia ICOMOS 1999 The Burra Charter: The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance.

Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology. Special Projects Advisory Committee & Australian Cultural Development Office & Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 1994 Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks. Canberra: Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office.

Cahill, D. c.1999 HMVS Lonsdale 1882—1914. Retrieved 12 August 2013 from <thttp://home.vicnet.net.au/~maav/hmvslonsdale.htm>

Cahill, D. 2009 The Lonsdale: A Victorian torpedo boat. In M, McCarthy (ed), Iron, Steel & Steamship Archaeology: Proceedings of 2nd Australian Seminar, held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, pp 133–135. Fremantle: Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology.

Hewitt, G. and C. Tucker 2009 Queenscliff Harbour. Consolidated Excavation Report. Unpublished report prepared for Queenscliff Harbour Pty Ltd.

Hunter, J.W. III 2011 Abandonment issues: An assessment of military vessel discard trends derived from Australasia’s torpedo boat defences, 1884-1924, The MUA Collection. Retrieved August 12 2013 from <http://www.themua.org/collections/items/show/1194&gt;

Richards, N. 2008 Ships’ Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Shwartz, T. 1997 TM-4 and TM-4E survey for positioning of Lonsdale, unpublished report to Heritage Victoria, Geophysical Technology Limited, Armidale.

Victorian Heritage Register, 2005 VHR Number S425.  Retrieved 13 August 2013 from http://www.heritage.vic.gov.au.

Shipwreck Significance: past, present and future

Jane Mitchell

I’ve been working with Heritage Victoria to evaluate the significance statements of the shipwrecks located in Victorian state waters. If you missed the first installment you can read about it here.

Australia is currently considering ratifying the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The Convention and its accompanying Annex have at its core an approach towards in-situ preservation and non-invasive survey methods. Considering ratification will require changes to legislation and perhaps a reassessment of current methodologies and techniques, I thought it a good time to look at where we’ve come from and where the future might lie for shipwreck significance.

The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act was passed into law in 1976, with every wreck treated on a case-by-case basis (Ryan 1977:24-25). This, in effect, required an assessment of significance in order to justify a wreck’s inclusion on the Register, however the Act was in force before an established, and published, set of assessment criteria was developed.

The first suggested set of criteria was put forward in 1977. A wreck could be considered for protection if it:

  1. was significant to the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Australia
  2. was relevant to the early development of Australia
  3. was relevant to a person or event of historical importance
  4. contained relics of historical or cultural significance
  5. was representative of a particular design or development
  6. was a naval wreck (other than one that had been scrapped or that had no particular interest) (Ryan 1977:25).

These criteria were very descriptive of the types of shipwrecks Australia was concerned with at the time, including the Dutch wrecks off the coast of Western Australia, and the then more recent wreck of HMAS Voyager, sunk close to Jervis Bay.

In 1985, blanket protection with a rolling date of 75 years was introduced to the Historic Shipwreck Act (1976). An inherent characteristic of blanket protection is a level of significance to a wreck or relic without the requirement to demonstrate it. It was expected that this amendment would give practitioners more time to manage the wreck resource, rather then having to spend time justifying its protection (Cassidy 1991:5).  After the 1993 historic shipwreck amnesty, blanket provision was applied to the states and the number of protected shipwrecks jumped from 156 to over 5000 overnight (Jeffery 2006: 127). It could be argued that underwater heritage managers responsible for these shipwrecks have been playing catch-up ever since.

AIMA’s Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks was published in 1994 and is, to date, the only national publication outlining significance criteria for the assessment of shipwrecks:

  1. Historic
  2. Technical
  3. Social
  4. Archaeological
  5. Scientific
  6. Interpretative
  7. Rare
  8. Representative

Interestingly, the analysis of the Victorian Wreck Register has revealed only one shipwreck that has a statement of significance and evaluation criteria assessed according to the AIMA Guidelines. A detailed conservation plan for the brig, Columbine (VHR S134), was produced in 2009 and can be found on the Heritage Victoria website (Steyne 2009). Both the Statement and the qualifying criteria were uploaded to the Victorian Wreck Register.

S136 (1)_Columbine_Jul 03_015

In 2001, the Plenary Session of the General Conference adopted the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO 2010:2). The Convention set out principles for protecting underwater cultural heritage and provided rules for treatment and research.

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

Rule 14 of the UNESCO Annex outlines the requirement for assessments of site significance in the preliminary stages of any archaeological project, describing these assessments as a very important step in the process (Maarleveld 2013:85).

UNESCO’s criteria for determining the significance of a site, are:

  1. Archaeological significance
  2. Historical significance
  3. Research significance
  4. Aesthetic significance
  5. Social or spiritual significance and remembrance value
  6. Visibility and experience value
  7. Economical significance

Additional comparative criteria are used to evaluate the degree of significance of a site in comparison with other sites in an area:

  1. Provenance
  2. Period
  3. Representativeness and group value
  4. Rarity/uniqueness
  5. Condition/completeness/fragility
  6. Documentation
  7. Interpretive potential
  8. Accessibility  (Maarleveld 2013:84).

These criteria incorporate and build on the criteria outlined in AIMA’s Guidelines. Whether or not, Australia ratifies the 2001 UNESCO Convention, UNESCO’s assessment criteria could be well utilised within Australian underwater cultural heritage management. It must always be remembered that assessing the significance of heritage is an exercise in understanding an item’s value to the community and thereby the best means of managing it (Pearson and Sullivan 1995:17).

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

There are over 6000 wrecks recorded in the Australian National Shipwreck Database (ANSDB). All states and territories in Australia assess the significance of their shipwreck resources slightly differently, according to different criteria and methodologies. In light of the possible ratification of the UNESCO convention, perhaps now is the time to revisit a national approach to significance assessments for Australia’s underwater cultural heritage. The development of a unified national approach to significance assessments of shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites would benefit the national wreck resource and assist in interpretation and management across all the states and territories of Australia.

I’ve rewritten the significance statement for HMVS Lonsdale. You can see the significance criteria and new statement here.

References

Cassidy, W. 1991 Historic shipwrecks and blanket declaration. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 15(2): 4—6.

Jeffery, B. 2006 Historic Shipwrecks Legislation. In M Staniforth and M Nash (eds) Maritime Archaeology: Australian Approaches, pp 123-135. New York:Springer – Plenum series in underwater archaeology.

Maarleveld, T.J, U. Guerin and B. Egger (eds) 2013 Manual for Activities directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage. Guidelines to the Annex of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. Paris:UNESCO.

Pearson, M. and S. Sullivan 1995 Looking After Heritage Places: The Basics of Heritage Planning for Managers, Landowners and Administrators. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing Ltd.

Ryan, P. 1977 Legislation on Historic Wreck. Papers from the First Southern Hemisphere Conference on Maritime Archaeology, pp 23-27. Newport: Australian Sports Publication.

Special Projects Advisory Committee and Australian Cultural Development Office and Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 1994 Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office, Canberra.

Steyne, H. 2009 The Brig, Columbine, Ocean Grove, Victoria. Conservation Management Plan. Melbourne:Heritage Victoria.

UNESCO 2010, The History of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, Retrieved on 18 September 2013 from <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001894/189450E.pdf&gt;

Finding A Shipwreck You Can’t See: Detection and Survey Methods from Hinchinbrook Island

By Kurt Bennett

I have just finished a week-long field practicum in tropical Queensland. The field practicum took place on Hinchinbrook Island between the 7th and 14th of July. Five students (including myself) from Flinders University helped the Heritage Branch of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (QLD) locate possible shipwreck sites. Multiple survey methods were employed to locate cultural material buried beneath the sand. This blog will focus on one site that was investigated during the field practicum. It is located on the north end of North Shepherd Bay (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Location of the ‘possible’ shipwreck and our campsite (Google 2013).

Figure 1: Location of the ‘possible’ shipwreck and our campsite (Google 2013).

Queensland Parks Service observed timbers in North Shepherd Bay after Cyclone Yasi, in 2011, removed sand from the beaches on the eastern side of Hinchinbrook Island. The GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates were taken and passed on to Paddy Waterson, Senior Heritage Officer at the Heritage Branch. The pictures taken by Parks resembled possible ships timbers. On Monday the 8th July and Friday the 12th 2013, the GPS points were visited. The GPS points were located approximately 3.6 kilometres (km) from our campsite (South Macushla) along a walking track. The walking track finished on the southern end of North Ramsey Bay and required a 1.6 km walk along the beach to the approximate area. No cultural remains were visible upon arrival and therefore certain archaeological methods were needed to locate the previously seen cultural material. The following will discuss the methods employed in order to find the cultural material and determine what remains on the beach.

The first step was a mixture of two methods using both a GPS and a metal detector. The aim was to locate the original marks with the GPS and establish a central point for what was originally witnessed. A 20 metre (m) square was placed around the central GPS point, marking an area to be metal detected. The metal detector, Excalibur II, was set to exclude non-ferrous metals. This enabled the metal detector to detect iron concentrations. The metal detection was systematically executed, with the user following an east-west pattern every one metre along the 20 m grid. Every ‘hit’ was marked with a pin flag and measurements taken using the baseline offset method (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Metal detector hits with baseline. Photo facing NE, North Shepherd Bay (Kurt Bennett, 8 July 2013).

Figure 2: Metal detector hits with baseline. Photo facing NE, North Shepherd Bay (Kurt Bennett, 8 July 2013).

Once the designated area had been covered and all the hits were marked, the next step was to probe the points of interest (hits). This was to determine whether solid material was buried beneath the sand. Both metal and wood were detected, with metal being distinguishable from wood due to the vibrations and the sudden jolt felt by the probe, as opposed to the stickiness felt with waterlogged wood. The probing also indicated the depth of cultural material. The wood and metal was located at a depth of approximately 30 centimetres (cm) below the sediment surface. The sand proved to be a challenge to probe as it was wet and compacted due to being located in the intertidal area.

Once the probing indicated there was material below the beach surface, a 1 m square was placed around the GPS point; this also proved to be a concentration of iron from the metal detection survey. The trench was then excavated with shovel and trowel until material was found. Timber was uncovered, which was possibly a ship’s timber with an iron brace and a treenail (Figure 3). Photographs and measurements were taken of the timber. The trench could not be excavated any deeper than 30cm due to water seepage caused by the intertidal zone. Therefore only the top face of the timber and iron brace was seen, with the rest left submerged in watery sand. The trench also uncovered rocks that were thought to be metal when detected by the probe. This posed a challenge when trying to distinguish between metal and rock, as the rock had the same reaction as metal when probed.

This became more evident when the site was revisited on Friday the 8th.  Photographs were taken of the uncovered timber and the trench was backfilled. Our investigation was limited due to the tide and daylight dictating the time we could spend at the beach. The trench could not have been dug if the tide was in and therefore the site had to be visited during low tide. This left the team approximately four hours to investigate the site. Not to mention we had to be back at camp by nightfall for health and safety reasons. Apparently dusk is the time that crocodiles come out to feed, and that is definitely not the way I planned on finishing my field practicum.

Figure 3: One metre square excavated showing ships timber, North Shepherd Bay. Timber being measured by Flinders students (Kurt Bennett, 8 July 2013).

Figure 3: One metre square excavated showing ship’s timber, North Shepherd Bay. Timber being measured by Flinders students (Kurt Bennett, 8 July 2013).

North Shepherd Bay was revisited on Friday the 12th and this time the aim was to establish the full extent of the site. Again the metal detector was employed and this time we extended our square to 20 m north south of Monday’s metal detection area. To our disappointment the hits did not resemble the shape of a ship’s hull, but more a scatter of debris. This was still exciting, as it could still resemble a wrecking event. The only way to find out was to dig and dig we did!

Several holes were dug, with the longest being over four metres in length (Figure 4). This trench was a continuation from the previous ship timbers. Two additional timbers were uncovered and what appeared to be the beach substrate with a rocky base. It proved to be a little frustrating, since we set out to find a shipwreck. The timbers uncovered were measured and detailed drawings were produced, providing an accurate recording of what had been found. The lengths of the two timber were approximately 1.5 m. The rest of the metal detector hits uncovered a mixture of items that may have washed in over time, including a chain block and pulley, and buried car batteries. The metal detection survey was extended a further 250 metres, walking south along the beach, but it had to be cut short due to daylight running out.

Figure 4: Red arrows indicating points of interest dug for material. Photo facing SE, North Shepherd Bay (Kurt Bennett, 12 July 2013).

Figure 4: Red arrows indicating points of interest dug for material. Photo facing SE, North Shepherd Bay (Kurt Bennett, 12 July 2013).

The aim of visiting North Shepherd Bay was to investigate the known GPS marks. The timbers uncovered and seen after the cyclone may be a result of washed up material, possibly from a shipwreck in another location, or they could be the last remaining pieces of a shipwreck. The methods employed were systematically executed to try and determine if a shipwreck lay beneath the sand, however our thorough searching and non-stop digging proved it was a beach littered with cultural material that could span a whole century. The methods mentioned above will provide a basic plan for any archaeologist wishing to investigate buried shipwrecks on a beach.

The Three Hour Trench

Forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.

Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones may not have great credibility within the archaeological world, but he did get one thing right: no matter what you discover out in the field, you will inevitably be required to read, research and question what you find.

This blog post is about the contents of a trench, just one of many that were dug during the July 2013 Flinders University Maritime Archaeology practicum. But the contents of this trench proved difficult to identify and taught me a valuable lesson.

This year’s practicum took place on the beaches of Hinchinbrook Island, one of the largest island national parks in the world, with an area of 39,350 hectares (Thorsborne 1988). It lies almost exactly midway between Cairns and Townsville and is just offshore from the sleepy coastal town of Cardwell. On February 2011, this area lay directly in the path of Cyclone Yasi, the first cyclone since 1918 to hit the coast with the maximum intensity of category five (The Australian 2012).

Cardwell was almost completely flattened and Hinchinbrook Island was badly damaged, with trees pushed over and sand dunes literally washed out to sea. Out of the devastation, however, appeared an archaeologist’s dream – the timbers of an almost complete ship’s hull on the beach of Ramsay Bay on the north-eastern side of the island.

Archaeologists from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (QEHP) inspected the hull in June 2011 and completed a baseline-offset survey of the wreck. Timber samples helped determine that this was the wreck of the Brigantine Belle (Waterson 2012). But there are at least eight recorded wrecks or remnants of shipwrecks along this stretch of the island’s coast (Barrie 2003:115). So what else could be here?

Hinchinbrook Fieldwork Ramsay Bay June 2011

Results of June 2011 survey. Metal artefact debris field located at the bottom left. Wreck site of Belle is located to the north. Photo courtesy of QEHP.

During the 2011 investigations, a concentration of metal artefacts, dubbed the ‘debris field’, was observed south of Belle’s hull. Only basic recording was completed on the visible sections of these artefacts at the time. Part of our task was to attempt to identify the nature and purpose of the artefacts in the area; perhaps they were a part of Belle, perhaps another wreck. Our job was to identify key targets using metal detector surveys, then excavate, record and re-bury  what we found – all within one tidal cycle (Waterson 2013:3). Including travel time to and from site, that gave us approximately three hours.

Since 2011, the sand has started to wash back onto Ramsay Bay’s beach and once again covered Belle’s hull. When we arrived at the GPS marks this year, no part of the debris field was visible anymore either.

Since part of our task was to determine if this site was related in any way to Belle, we needed to confirm the distance between the two sites. So first steps first (if you’ll pardon the pun): one of the QLD archaeologists, Amelia Lacey, and I paced out the distance between the 2011 GPS marks of both sites. We discovered that the distance between the two was 527 paces – or 389 metres in a more useful measurement. So while I now knew  I had a standard pace of 0.75 metres, we still didn’t know if the Belle’s hull and the debris field were related—were they too far apart for wreckage to end up through the forces of nature?

While Amelia and I were pacing between sites, the rest of the crew were conducting the metal detector survey over the debris field and by the time we returned had marked out the best places to set trenches.

And so Amelia and I found ourselves turning the sand in Trench 1 of the Ramsay Bay debris field. High up on the beach, we began to dig. It took us an hour of digging before we hit metal … which spurred us on to keep going.

Amelia Lacey (top) and Jane Mitchell negotiating the space in Trench 1. Photo courtesy Paddy Waterson, 10/07/2013

Amelia Lacey (top) and Jane Mitchell negotiating the space in Trench 1. Photo courtesy Paddy Waterson, 10/07/2013

And going …

Running out of time to get to the bottom ... Photo courtesy Paddy Waterson, 10/07/2013.

Running out of time to get to the bottom … Photo courtesy Paddy Waterson, 10/07/2013.

After having to extend the trench so that it didn’t cave in on us we uncovered this:

Trench 1, Ramsay Bay Hinchinbrook Island. Photo by Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

Trench 1, Ramsay Bay Hinchinbrook Island. Photo by Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

As we had uncovered each piece, speculation continued. What were we looking at … portholes? Logging equipment? Ship fittings? Unfortunately due to time constraints—and safety—we couldn’t extend the trench to find the outer edges of all the artefacts, which means we don’t have the entire picture and we aren’t even sure of the size of that picture.

Many words can be used to describe fieldwork: fun, challenging, interesting, exhilarating, intriguing, even occasionally disheartening and terrifying. Because of the depth of our trench and the time it took to dig, we had approximately half an hour to record, measure, photograph and rebury the artefacts before we had to head back to camp. You get one chance to record an artefact; make too many mistakes and the information may be lost forever.  Get enough information and your research question may be answered or you might discover new information.

By the time we left, my field notebook was a tangled mess of lines and numbers and hurried notes with—fingers crossed—enough information to solve the riddle of the shapes we’d uncovered in the sand.

An archaeologist’s field notebook is a personal thing … I had 20 minutes to measure in the artefacts … the interpretation afterwards took some work! Photo courtesy Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

An archaeologist’s field notebook is a personal thing … I had 20 minutes to measure in the artefacts … the interpretation afterwards took some work! Photo courtesy Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

There were obviously a few different artefacts within the trench, but the two shapes in the centre—the only ones we had managed to uncover completely—intrigued me. An iron square and a circle attached by a shared centre bar. The circle had iron eyelets on either side and both shared a diameter of approximately 28 to 29 cms. They were like collars, with a width of 15 centimetres.

Closeup of both excavated unidentified artefacts, trench 1 Ramsay Bay. Photo by Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

Closeup of both excavated unidentified artefacts, trench 1 Ramsay Bay. Photo by Jane Mitchell, 10/07/2013.

Close-up of unidentified artefact in trench 1, Ramsay Bay. Photo courtesy Jane Mitchell, 10/7/2013

Close-up of unidentified artefact in trench 1, Ramsay Bay. Photo courtesy Jane Mitchell, 10/7/2013

A two-hour journey back to camp provided plenty of opportunity to discuss the day and throw around theories, but we were generally stumped. The other trenches had revealed nothing other than a seemingly random collection of iron artefacts. Trench 1 was the only trench that turned out to contain something that could have a potentially identifiable use. One of the team thinks her grandfather may have an object similar to the square/circle collar artefact on his barn wall, perhaps a tool to help stack logs for transport; a possibility since logging was a common industry in North Queensland in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.

One disadvantage of archaeological detective work on an idyllic tropical island is the lack of access to the Internet and an inability to cart along notes and resource books. If I stood on one leg on a rock outside our camp kitchen and held my breath I might get enough internet to my phone to have a look at my emails or check the weather, but there would be no chance of serious searching of databases or library archives.

Our field library consisted of two books: The Elements of Wood Ship Construction, a reprint of a 1919 edition written by W.H Curtis, a naval architect and engineer, and Minding my Business: The History of Bemerside and the Lower Herbert River District of Queensland Australia, written by local Douglas R Barrie. Since we hadn’t uncovered any timber, the former revealed nothing obvious and there was nothing in the latter to suggest the origin of the trench 1 artefacts.

One of the difficulties with this particular artefact is context. Ramsay Bay is an exposed beach open to the sea. On our 5km walk to site each day, we observed all kinds of flotsam and jetsam: mooring buoys, marker buoys, chest freezer doors, nets and a surprising amount of single thongs (flip-flops or jandles if you prefer). One day we even encountered a set of airplane wheels. There is no obvious ship wreckage near the debris field, no timber, nothing other than a bundle of iron artefacts in a relatively small area of beach.

I had a quick stopover in Townsville on my way back to Melbourne and I went to the local history section of the city library. Still chasing the logging angle, I asked the local history librarian for any information she had, particularly images on the timber industry in North Queensland. The only logging book in their archives was The Trees that Fell: A History and Description of the Timber Industry of North Queensland from 1898 to 1988, but within its pages I found nothing that looked remotely like the artefacts we’d found.

An afternoon at the State Library of Victoria focussing on logging also yielded no results. Using logging, logging in North Queensland and logging equipment in the late 19th century as search terms I found no descriptions or images that correlated with the artefacts we found. Perhaps these artefacts were nothing to do with logging at all?

Archaeology requires an open mind. Someone suggested an affiliation with logging and I had run with it, but I had found no evidence to support that theory. And it served as a valuable reminder that other avenues shouldn’t be ignored. So in conjuction with consulting other maritime archaeologists, I sent the artefact images out to wider fields, including an aeronautical engineer, a plasterer specialising in historical restorations … even my mother.

But it was Captain Paasch all the way from 1890 (courtesy of Heritage Victoria’s Peter Harvey) who helped solved the mystery: our artefacts turned out to be lower mast caps. These caps would help connect a lower mast to the next one. The lower mast would be squared off at the top, and the square section of the mast cap would help stop the mast rotating under the strain of sailing.

Lower Mast Caps Capt Paasch plate 93

Label B: Lower Mast Caps. (Paasch 1890 : Plate 93)

It now looks like we had uncovered a salvor’s pile of iron ship fittings. In three hours we had managed to answer one question, but raised others. Are the mast caps from Belle or from one or more of the other wrecks that are known to have ended up in Ramsay Bay? Is this a salvor’s pile that was used more than once? Could this pile of iron be used to help identify other ships wrecked on the beach?

Archaeology is like that—one question answered invariably opens up others. The search for answers will continue …

References
Barrie, Douglas R. 2003 Minding my Business: The History of Bemerside and the Lower Herbert River District of Queensland Australia. S & D Barrie, Ingham

Curtis, W.H. 1919 The Elements of Wood Ship Construction. 1st ed. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989 Motion Picture, Paramount Pictures, United States.

McKenna, Michael & Tony Koch 2012 Cyclone Yasi crosses coast in North’s darkest hour, The Australian, 17 September, accessed 18 July 2013, <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/cyclone-yasi/norths-darkest-hour-as-monster-cyclone-yazi-bears-down/story-fn7rj0ye-1225999112395&gt;

Paasch, H. 1890, Illustrated Marine Encyclopedia. Argus Books, England.

Smith, L.W. & North Queensland Logging Association 1991 The Trees that Fell: A History and Description of the Timber Industry of North Queensland from 1898 to 1988, With Reminiscence and Factual Information from the North Queensland Logging Association. L. W Smith, Ravenshoe.

Thorsborne, Margaret & Arthur Thorsborne 1988, Hinchinbrook Island: The Land Time Forgot. Weldons, McMahons Point.

Waterson, Paddy 2012 Shipwreck Heritage: The Belle. Unpublished powerpoint report. QEHP, QLD.

Waterson, Paddy 2013 Hinchinbrook fieldwork practicum 7-15 July: Information for participants. Unpublished handbook. QEHP, QLD.