Tag Archives: shipwreck

An Anchor and Pisces Star: DEWNR Southeast Coast Shipwreck Survey, SA

google earth

Survey Area. Google Earth. Accessed 02/12/14.

Date: 27 November–­4 December 2014

Staff/Volunteers: Amer Khan (DEWNR); Simon Carter (DEWNR); Guy Williams (DEWNR); Anthony Virag (DEWNR); Dr Brad Duncan (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage); Kurt Bennett (Flinders University Volunteer); Daniel Petraccaro (Flinders University Volunteer) and David Hanna (DEWNR).

This is our second blog on the archaeological study of newly identified shipwrecks at Carpenter Rocks in South Australia’s southeast. If you missed out on previous blog on the Hawthorn shipwreck; click here for the link.

Our next site of interest is a reported historic anchor located in Gerloff Bay at Carpenter Rocks. Abalone diver, Bryon Deak reported an anchor and general location to Amer Khan, the state maritime heritage officer. We launched Rapid, DEWNR’s research vessel at Buck’s Bay and anchored near the reported site. Amer and Brad geared up in dive gear on the boat and lead by Byron, they searched for the anchor. There was sadly no anchor identified from the survey. Increasing wind and ocean swells ceased the days dive activity all the team returned safely to Buck’s Bay.

Anthony guiding Brad and Amer who are diving near the possible anchor location. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.


Brad and Amer geared up for diving. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.







Due to the more favourable weather conditions in the afternoon, Anthony, Kurt and Daniel later snorkelled the area. A survey search was undertaken but still no anchor. At the end of the day, the team decided that there was a high possibility the anchor was buried and a metal detector and air probe survey of the area was necessary.


Eagleray swimming in gerloff bay. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.

Due to good weather condition, the team decided to revisit gerloff bay. Daniel and Anthony snorkelled to the site location and placed a buoy while Amer and Kurt dived the potential targets. Amer and Kurt used a metal detector along multiple survey lines, but there was no sign of the anchor.

Our next plan was to record the shipwreck of the yacht Pisces Star, located at Cape Banks. The wreck is located 30 metres offshore in a strong tidal zone. We were able to take photos of the vessel, a GPS position and compass bearings. We would have liked to take measurements of the wreck but it was not possible due to the strong swell and the danger of a diver being caught in the strong currents.


Pisces Star near Cape Banks. Photo courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Recording the Pisces Star. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Looking out to the Pisces Star. Photo courtesy of Anthony Virag.

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Cape Banks lighthouse and Pisces Star to the right. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Over the next couple of days, we will be recording the Pisces Star, revisiting gerloff bay, and hopefully looking for a wreck at Lake Bonnie.
Stay in tune for more updates.

Kurt Bennett and Daniel Petraccaro

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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.


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.

Getting Shipshape: Assessing Shipwreck Significance

Jane Mitchell

Significance adj. the quality of being significant or having a meaning
(The Macquarie Dictionary 3rd edition)

The project I’m working on aims to evaluate current statements of significance for those Victorian shipwrecks that have associated artefacts collected by Heritage Victoria.

The Heritage department is about to embark on an assessment of the significance of its shipwreck artefact collection. In light of that, it is especially important the shipwrecks the artefacts came from have sound statements of significance to provide a framework for the assessment of the collection.

The significance of particular items of cultural heritage will mean different things to different people … and over time what is considered important can also change. A thorough significance assessment is critical in properly understanding the meaning and value behind an item and is the foundation on which all management plans should be built.

Maarleveld et al. sum up the problem nicely: like beauty, significance cannot be defined in legal terms (2013: 83). However, any subjective opinion must be removed as much as possible. Therefore, methods for assessing significance have been developed for use by managers responsible for items of cultural heritage.

Assessing Significance

There are various methodologies for assessing significance but all have the same central process:

  1. Research the history of the wreck including its history since sinking.
  2. Compare and assess against a defined set of criteria.
  3. Write a statement that distills the essence of a wreck’s significance into a sound bite that encapsulates as much as possible.

burra charterThe cornerstone of Australian heritage practice is the Burra Charter (the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance) first adopted in 1979. Government legislators and funding bodies give preference to work that follows the processes and approach of the Burra Charter (Marquis-Kyle & Walker 2004:6).

The charter uses five values to define cultural significance: aesthetic, historic, scientific, social and spiritual. These criteria are always listed alphabetically and one is not considered more significant than another.

The Australian Institute of Maritime Archaeology’s (AIMA) Guidelines for the AIMA GuidelinesManagement of Australia’s Shipwrecks (1994) is the only Australian publication that deals specifically with assessing significance for shipwrecks and uses eight criteria to do so:

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

The last two criteria are considered comparative and allow the significance of a wreck to be placed into a broader context, thereby fixing its place into the wider cultural landscape.

Reference must also be made to the Guidelines for Investigating Historical Archaeological Artefacts and Sites, published by the Heritage Council of Victoria in December 2012. The Council has updated its eight criteria, which are different to, but encompass the same ideas as, the AIMA criteria.

It should be noted that, whatever criteria are used, not all of them must be met for a wreck to be deemed significant. It should also be remembered that significance could change over time and as such needs to be revisited and revised regularly.

The Victorian scene

All information relating to shipwrecks in Victoria are registered in the Victorian Wreck register. The register contains fields for the physical attributes and locations of a wreck and allows uploading of any images, surveys and management plans. There is also a field for Statement of Significance. A quick database search of all shipwrecks reveals that, out of 705 registered shipwrecks, 252 have been located and of those, just under half have significance statements attached to them.

All wrecks on the Victorian Heritage Register with or without a Statement of Significance

All wrecks on the Victorian Heritage Register with or without a Statement of Significance

In Victoria, either the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976) or the state Heritage Act (1995) provides protection to shipwrecks. These pieces of legislation give blanket protection to all shipwrecks and relics that are 75 years and older – whether their location or existence is known or not. This implies an inherent level of significance to a wreck or relic without the requirement to demonstrate it.

Wrecks 75 years or older with or without Significance Statements

Wrecks 75 years or older with or without Significance Statements

Project scope

My Directed Study project is starting with an assessment of 18 shipwrecks that Heritage Victoria has been involved in excavating and/or has collected artefacts from. These include well-known wrecks such as Loch Ard and SS City of Launceston and other lesser known ones such as Foig-a-Ballagh. There is even one existing under reclaimed land: HMVS Lonsdale.

Victorian Shipwreck list

The 18 wrecks of this assessment project. Note: EMu is the collections database and numbers indicate the number of artefacts held in the collection for each wreck.

A quick review of the information in the database for these 18 wrecks has revealed that 15 have Statements of Significance.  So now we know the quantity, what about the quality?

The statements of significance range from a short paragraph to one sentence. Compare Loch Ard:

The Loch Ard is historically significant as one of Victoria and Australia’s worst shipwreck tragedies. It is archaeologically significant for its remains of a large international passenger and cargo ship. It is highly educationally and recreationally significant as one of Victoria’s most spectacular diving sites, and popular tourist sites in Port Campbell National Park.

To HMVS Lonsdale:

HMVS Lonsdale is historically significant as a relic of Victoria’s colonial navy.

There is no breakdown of the assessment criteria for any of these wrecks in the database. While this information may be in conservation or management plans, these are not necessarily uploaded into the database. There is also no date so it is impossible to ascertain when the statement was written.

As I’ve searched through the database and researched the nature of significance I am struck by the thought that this lack of detailed information has been created in part by the very pieces of legislation designed to protect the wrecks themselves.

Blanket protection, which assumes a level of significance of all protected wrecks, does not require significance assessments for a wreck to be entered in the register. Currently, wrecks are being protected based solely on age, as others that may have more significance are decaying. However, as resources are limited in the current economic climate, priorities need to be in put in place. Significance assessments are an important part of that process.

In most cases, shipwrecks are intangibly tangible relics from the past. They exist out of sight under the water and are visited by relatively few. Underwater cultural heritage managers need to provide solid significance assessments, that are readily available and easily accessible. Only then will we be able to put forward a credible case for sufficient funding to preserve our shipwreck heritage. Hopefully this project will be a start to that process.

You can read about how I used the criteria to write a statement of significance for HMVS Lonsdale here.

What are your thoughts on assessing significance of shipwrecks? How do they differ from terrestrial sites? I’d be really interested in your opinion.


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, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office, Canberra.

Marquis-Kyle, P. & M. Walker 2004 The Illustrated Burra Charter. Good Practice for Heritage Places. Australia ICOMOS.

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. UNESCO Paris.

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.

From Ship to Shore to Hawthorn: Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Field School, 2013.

Figure One: Group photo in Port MacDonnell, SA. Photo taken by Nita von Stanke. 16/02/13.

By Daniel Petraccaro, Masters in Maritime Archaeology Student Flinders University.


Nothing can compare to the field school experience offered this year to the graduates enrolled in the Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Programme. The Maritime Archaeology field school was based at Port MacDonnell, in South Australia’s Southeast region, and was held from the 3rd to 16th of February. The rigorous two-week program offered students an introduction to techniques from underwater surveying, mapping, and photography to recording (figure 2).


Figure Two: Students Daniel Petraccaro and Hunter Brendel with Supervisor Gay Lascina start mapping the ketch Hawthorn. Photo by Chelsa Pasch. 06.02.13.

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