Shipping Blackspot: Largest Find of Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Intensifies

Shipping Blackspot: Largest Find of Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Intensifies

In Greece, marine archaeologists have made an unprecedented discovery of shipwrecks in one area of seabed - now numbering 58. It is the largest such find in the history of the Mediterranean. The wrecks that lie off a small archipelago in the Aegean Sea include vessels from Ancient Greece right up to modern times. Experts suspect that those wrecks from ancient times contain many precious artifacts. It is expected that the find could become one of the most important marine archaeological finds of the twentieth century.

Trade Route Revealed

The discovery of shipwrecks is a common occurrence but there has been nothing on the scale of this discovery. The wrecks were found around the small archipelago of Fournoi. This is now a remote group of islands, but in the past they were located on major trade routes and was a haven for ships on long journeys. Fournoi is made up of 20 islets and reefs near the better-known tourist island of Samos. Some 1500 people live on the main island and they are mainly fishermen.

Diver, director and cinematographer Anastasis Agathos, 47, films an anchor at a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

Cause of the Shipping Black Spot

The majority of the ships may have been lost to inclement weather. Fournoi has numerous rocky reefs and sandbanks and even the most experienced mariners could have problems navigating around the islands. It appears that many of the ships were headed to the island to rest for the night and instead they sank to the bottom of the Aegean Sea. Experts believe that the waters in the area are very susceptible to sudden wind storms, which make them particularly treacherous. Alternatively, many ships may have succumbed to pirates, as Fournoi was once notorious for being a haven for pirates.

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Diver and technical director Markos Garras, 50, inspects an amphora at a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 19, 2018. Picture taken September 19, 2018. Image: Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

The Fournoi Survey Project

The treasure trove of vessels was found by a group of international marine archaeologists who have been diving in and around the Aegean archipelago. The archaeologists are part of the Fournoi Survey Project, which is working with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities . The survey began in 2015 and in that year alone they identified some 22 sunken ships and since then they have discovered another 36. The Archaeology News Network Blog reports that the co-director of the survey has stated ‘We knew that we had stumbled upon something that was going to change the history books.” The team was able to make so many discoveries because of information from sponge fishermen who are very familiar with the local water.

The international team of divers has not only identified and mapped the wrecks they have begun to excavate them. The Greek City Times reports that ‘The team has raised more than 300 antiquities from the shipwrecks. These include many amphorae or storage jars, which once held wine, fish sauce, honey, and olive oil, which are allowing experts to have a better understanding of the cargoes of vessels in the ancient and the medieval Mediterranean. It is believed that some 90% of the vessels were carrying amphorae. According to Reuters the team was ‘excited by amphorae, they found originating from the Black Sea and North Africa’ which are very rarely found.

Chief conservator of the Fournoi Survey Project Angelos Tsompanidis, 42, and student of the Department of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art Helen Margarita Bardas, 25, carry an amphora from a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 19, 2018. Image: Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

The wrecks usually rest between 15 feet (40 meters) and 20 feet (60 meters) and have not been touched by looters. They are all typically in good condition. This has prompted some of the team to call for the establishment of an underwater museum for students and amateur divers. It is also hoped that many of the finds will be stored in a specially built museum on the main island of Fournoi and this will greatly help the islands tourist industry.

The historical importance of the find

The importance of the find cannot be overstated. The sheer number of vessels means that it is possible by studying them to understand the history of trade routes in the area over hundreds of years. The shipwrecks can help experts to have an unprecedented insight into the development and nature of trade in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages. From the recovered artifacts they can reconstruct the nature of trade between the Black Sea, Southern Europe, and North Africa. It is hoped that more artifacts can be recovered and that more wrecks and precious objects will be uncovered in the future.

Mediterranean shipwrecks reveal ɻirth of globalisation' in trade

For almost seven decades archaeologists have searched the eastern Mediterranean in vain for wrecks that sank along antiquity’s mighty shipping lanes.

Now, though, a British-led team can reveal a spectacular discovery – a fleet of Hellenistic, Roman, early Islamic and Ottoman wrecks that were lost some two kilometres below the waves of the Levantine Basin between the 3rd century BC and the 19th century.

Sean Kingsley, director of the Centre for East-West Maritime Exploration and archaeologist for the Enigma Shipwrecks Project (ESP), told the Observer: “This is truly ground-breaking, one the most incredible discoveries under the Mediterranean.”

The ESP’s ambitious underwater exploration used cutting-edge remote and robotic technology to research and record the finds, some of which could rewrite history, according to the experts involved.

One of the wrecks is a 17th-century Ottoman merchant ship, described as “an absolute colossus”, which was so big two normal-sized ships could have fitted on its deck. Its vast cargo has hundreds of artefacts from 14 cultures and civilisations, including the earliest Chinese porcelain retrieved from a Mediterranean wreck, painted jugs from Italy and peppercorns from India. ESP say the ship reveals a previously unknown maritime silk and spice route running from China to Persia, the Red Sea and into the eastern Mediterranean.

The ship, which is thought to have sunk around 1630, while sailing between Egypt and Istanbul, is a time-capsule that tells the story of the beginning of the globalised world, Kingsley said: “The goods and belongings of the 14 cultures and civilisations discovered, spanning on one side of the globe China, India, the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and to the west North Africa, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium, are remarkably cosmopolitan for pre-modern shipping of any era.”

He added: “At 43 metres long and with a 1,000-ton burden, it is one of the most spectacular examples of maritime technology and trade in any ocean. Its size is matched by the breadth of its cargoes.”

A copper coffee pot from the 1630 shipwreck. Photograph: © Enigma Recoveries.

The Chinese porcelain includes 360 decorated cups, dishes and a bottle made in the kilns of Jingdezhen during the reign of Chongzhen, the last Ming emperor that were designed for sipping tea, but the Ottomans adapted them for the craze then spreading across the East – coffee drinking. Hidden deep in the hold were the earliest Ottoman clay tobacco pipes found on land or sea. They were probably illicit because there were severe prohibitions then against tobacco smoking.

Kingsley said: “Through tobacco smoking and coffee drinking in Ottoman cafes, the idea of recreation and polite society – hallmarks of modern culture – came to life. Europe may think it invented notions of civility, but the wrecked coffee cups and pots prove the ‘barbarian Orient’ was a trailblazer rather than a backwater. The first London coffeehouse only opened its doors in 1652, a century after the Levant.”

Steven Vallery, co-director of Enigma, said: “In the Levantine Basin, the Enigma wrecks lie beyond any country’s territory. All the remains were carefully recorded using a suite of digital photography, HD video, photomosaics and multibeams. For science and underwater exploration, these finds are a giant leap forward.”

The last phase of Enigma’s fieldwork was carried out at the end of 2015, with the post-excavation process continuing for years after and remaining unpublicised until now. Some of the recovered artefacts are being held in Cyprus, from where the archaeologists worked. Initial concerns that the site was in Cypriot waters have been disproved, Kingsley said, and the Enigma team now hopes the entire collection will go on permanent exhibition in a major public museum.

The Sinking of Andrea Doria

Though not the largest or fastest ocean liner of its era, the 697-foot Andrea Doria was widely regarded as the most beautiful. Its decks were dotted with three outdoor swimming pools, and it was dubbed a 𠇏loating art gallery” for its dazzling array of paintings, tapestries and surrealist murals. There was even a life-sized bronze statue of the ship’s namesake, a 16th century Genoese navigator. Equally impressive were the Doria’s safety features. It boasted two radar screens𠅊 relatively new technology on ocean liners𠅊nd its hull was divided into 11 watertight compartments. Anxious travelers could also take solace in the presence of Captain Piero Calamai, a venerable Italian mariner and veteran of both World War I and World War II.

The Doria safely completed 100 transatlantic crossings between 1953 and 1956, and it initially seemed that its 101st would be no different. After leaving Italy on July 17, 1956, the ship stopped at three ports in the Mediterranean and then steamed into the open ocean on a nine-day voyage to New York City. Along with 572 crewmembers, it held 1,134 passengers ranging from Italian immigrant families to business travelers, vacationers and even a few notables such as Hollywood actress Ruth Roman.

Andrea Doria, part of Italy’s transatlantic liner fleet, now lies a battered wreck about 300 miles east of New York after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm. (Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

On July 25, the Doria entered the heavily trafficked sea-lanes off the Northeast coast of the United States. That same day, the 524-foot Swedish passenger liner Stockholm departed New York on a voyage to its homeport of Gothenburg. By around 10:30 p.m., the two ships were approaching one another from opposite directions off Nantucket. Neither was following the established “rules of the road” for ocean travel. Despite sailing in heavy fog, Captain Calamai had ordered only a minor reduction in speed to stay on schedule for an early morning arrival in New York. Stockholm, meanwhile, was steaming north of the recommended eastbound route in the hope of shaving time off its journey.

Around 10:45 p.m., Calamai’s radar picked up a blip representing Stockholm. The Swedish vessel, under the watch of third officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen, spotted the Doria on its own radar a few minutes later. It was a situation both had encountered countless times, yet on this occasion the two ships somehow came to opposite conclusions about one another’s locations. Carstens plotted the Doria to his left and prepared to pass port-to-port, while Calamai, fixing Stockholm’s location to his right, maneuvered for a more unconventional starboard-to-starboard passage. One of the men—it’s still not certain who—had misread his radar and inadvertently steered his ship toward the other.

The officers didn’t realize they were on a collision course until shortly before 11:10 p.m., when Calamai finally spotted Stockholm’s lights through a thick curtain of fog. “She’s coming right at us!” one Doria officer shouted. With just moments to spare, Calamai ordered a hard left turn in an attempt to outrun the other ship. Carstens, having spotted the Doria, tried to reverse his propellers and slow down. It was too late. Stockholm’s icebreaker bow crashed into Andrea Doria’s starboard side like a battering ram, snapping bulkheads and penetrating some 30 feet into its hull. It remained lodged there for a few seconds, then broke loose, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the Doria.

Aerial view of Stockholm entering harbor after crash with Andrea Doria against skyline. (Credit: Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Onboard Andrea Doria, passengers felt a tremendous jolt accompanied by the sound of clanging metal. Actress Ruth Roman described hearing a 𠇋ig explosion like a firecracker.” In one of the lounges, the ship’s orchestra was playing the song 𠇊rrivederci, Roma” when they were abruptly hurled from their stage by the force of the crash.

Those who only ended up with scrapes and bruises could consider themselves fortunate. The collision killed five people on Stockholm and dozens more on the Doria, which had seen a large section of its starboard side turned into twisted metal. Italian immigrant Maria Sergio and her four young children all perished on impact as they slept. In another cabin, Brooklyn resident Walter Carlin discovered that the exterior wall of his room had been completely sheared off. His wife, who had been reading in bed, had simply disappeared. By far the most extraordinary story concerned Linda Morgan, who was sleeping in a starboard side cabin. The crash killed her stepfather and stepsister, but Morgan was somehow lifted from her bed and thrown onto the crumpled bow of Stockholm, where she landed with only a broken arm. “I was on the Andrea Doria,” she told the astonished Stockholm sailor who found her. “Where am I now?”

Following the shock of the collision, both crews scrambled to take stock of their vessels. While Stockholm was found to be in no danger of sinking, the Doria had sustained critical damage and was listing over 20 degrees to its starboard side, allowing seawater to spill through its watertight compartments. Calamai resigned himself to abandoning ship, but soon encountered a catastrophic problem: the list was so bad that the Doria’s eight portside lifeboats could no longer be launched. The remaining starboard side craft could only carry around 1,000 of the ship’s passengers and crew. “Here danger immediate,” Andrea Doria radioed. “Need lifeboats𠅊s many as possible�n’t use our lifeboats.”

Promenade deck of French Liner le de France occupied by survivors of Andrea Doria. (Credit: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Luckily for Calamai, his ship was floating in a heavily traveled strip of the Atlantic. While the mangled Stockholm began rescuing passengers from the Doria, several other vessels answered its distress calls and raced to the scene. The first, a small freighter called the Cape Ann, arrived around 12:30 a.m. Two American Navy ships followed shortly thereafter, but lifeboats remained scarce. Finally, around 2 a.m., a massive French ocean liner called the Ile de France maneuvered alongside the Doria, lit up the darkness with its floodlights and began making rescues with its lifeboats.

Though help had arrived, the situation aboard the Doria remained perilous. Debris from the collision had trapped some of the passengers in their cabins, and many on the lower levels had to brave smoke-filled hallways and knee-deep water on their way to the main deck. Those who gathered by the useless portside lifeboats faced their own set of problems. With the Doria listing to its right, its main deck had turned into a steep, slippery slope. To reach the starboard side lifeboats, many had to lie on their backs and slide down the deck, making sure to stop before they careened off the edge and into the water. All the while, the ship continued to roll, threatening to capsize at any moment.

Aerial view of Stockholm entering harbor after crash with Andrea Doria against skyline. (Credit: Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The rescue—one of the largest in maritime history—lasted several hours, but by 5:30 a.m., nearly all the Doria’s survivors had been evacuated. 753 people were placed aboard the Ile de France, with the rest scattered aboard Stockholm and four other vessels. Captain Calamai seemed ready to go down with his ship, but reluctantly boarded the last lifeboat after his crew refused to leave him behind. A few hours later, as the rescue fleet steamed toward New York harbor, Andrea Doria finally capsized and flooded. At 10:09 a.m., it disappeared beneath the Atlantic.

All told, 51 people had died as a result of the collision𠅏ive on Stockholm and 46 on the Doria. The ships’ owners both blamed the other for the tragedy, but following an out of court settlement, a trial was averted and neither was officially held responsible. In the years since, investigators have used crew depositions and computer simulations to try and recreate the night of the disaster. While there were obvious mistakes from both ships, many researchers now believe that Carstens made the crucial error by misreading his radar and concluding that the Doria was several miles farther away than it actually was. Nevertheless, debate over the cause of the wreck continues even today.

Stockholm was eventually repaired. Andrea Doria, meanwhile, rests in some 240 feet of water in the North Atlantic. It has become a hallowed site among scuba divers, who call it the “Mt. Everest” of diving, but poor visibility and unpredictable currents have ensured that 60-year-old wreck is still claiming lives. Since 1956, over a dozen people have perished while trying to explore its watery grave.

4. Merchant ships: key records

Although many records contain incidental references to the loss of merchant ships, almost no systematic attempts were made to collect information about them until the 19th century. The registration system established by the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1786, 1825 and 1854 required a ship&rsquos loss to be officially recorded. The Transcripts of Registration transmitted to the Registrar of Shipping for 1786 onwards (BT 107 &ndash BT 108, BT 110, indexes in BT 111) show when the registry was closed on a vessel which had been declared lost or missing. The nineteenth-century records often also include the date and place of the incident.

Other possible sources include:

Useful information (such as depositions) on both merchant and naval ships taken as prizes can be found in various High Court of Admiralty series.

It may also be worth consulting:

  • British House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, which can be viewed online at The National Archives.
  • Sources primarily concerned with deaths at sea.
  • Newspapers, which may contain reports of shipwrecks The Times is available online in our reading rooms.

15 Famous Shipwrecks in the World

Shipwrecking is not a good thing to happen always. Indeed, several maritime accidents in the past have shown us how bad they are, and the uncountable loss they make.

However, for the generations to come, shipwrecks act as a window to their own long history. The histories of conflict, survival, and of course, the history of destinies.

Shipwrecks are important discoveries that tell us stories of the past, helping us connects the dots in our own history. Those are the testimonies to the trade and cultural exchanges of our predecessors.

Over countless centuries, there have been many ships that have fallen prey to accidents – natural as well as caused by human interference.

Many enthusiastic travellers, brave warriors and merchants have found their final resting place on the bottom of oceans, rivers and lakes across the world.

Resting undisturbed in the darkness of our waters, these shipwrecks not only excites the history buffs but any common person.

A rough estimate of the United Nations shows at least 3 million shipwrecks are lying across ocean floors around the planet.

In addition to being important sites of cultural interest, these historical monuments contribute significantly to a healthy marine ecosystem and also support the growing recreational dive tourism industry.

In this article, we take you through the pages of history to find some of the precious maritime treasures that have been lying on the ocean’s floor.

1. The fleet of Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan’s lost fleet is one of the most famous shipwrecks of old times. Two Mongolian invasion fleet attempting to attack Japan was wrecked in storms 1274 and 1281, killing tens of thousands of troops.

Several artefacts belonging to these vessels were found centuries later from the seabed of the Imari Gulf. In October 2001, an entire shipwreck claimed to originate from Fujian in south China, was discovered by the archaeologists.

Recently in 2015, archaeologists located a Mongolian ship in a bay close to the city of Matsuura, near the island of Kyushu.

2. The Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships on a mission to invade England in 1588 was disrupted by storms and a large number of the Armada’s ships were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, killing around 5000 soldiers.

Among the drowned were most of the soldiers and crewmembers of the 32-gun warship La Juliana, built near Barcelona in 1570.

In 1985, local divers discovered the wreckage of three vessels of the fleet, including La Lavia and the La Santa Maria de Vision and La Juliana. In 2015, several cannons from La Juliana were found in sands off Streedagh in Co Sligo.

3. RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic, the most famous ship for never making her destination, was the largest cruise ship of its time. The Titanic was built in Ireland at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. It was considered to be the most developed ship of that era.

However, the Titanic, which was famously described as ‘unsinkable,’ unfortunately sank after colliding against an iceberg in its maiden voyage- from Southampton to New York City- on 14 April 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Around 1, 517 people lost their lives in one of the biggest marine tragedies in history.

After many unsuccessful expeditions, the wreck was finally located by a joint French–American expedition in 1985. Quite a number of artefacts have been removed from the shipwreck and they are displayed in the National Maritime Museum, in England.

Many schemes were proposed to raise the ship, but the fragile condition of the vessel prevented such plans. The wreck of the RMS Titanic is now protected by the 2001UNESCO Convention.

4. RMS Empress of Ireland

Canadian ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River on 29 May 1914 after colliding with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad due to thick fog, killing 1012 people.

The vessel was en route from Quebec City to Liverpool, with 1057 passengers and a crew of 420 abroad when the vessel went down in one of the worst disasters in Canadian maritime history.

At present, the wreck of Empress of Ireland lies in a shallow 130 ft of water.

On several occasions after the incident, several divers have successfully recovered many valuables including silver bars, a brass bell and a stern telemeter etc from the ship.

5. MS Estonia

The Estonia ship casualty in the Baltic Sea is one of the biggest maritime incidents to have occurred in the recent past. The cruise ferry MS Estonia, built in the German shipyard Meyer Werft, was en route to Stockholm from the Estonian province of Tallinn when it sank on 28 September 1994.

Over 800 people lost their lives in this horrifying incident and the majority of the bodies were never recovered.

The cause of the accident remains controversial as there are many theories about the cause of the sinking. The most commonly known reason for the accident is said to be the rough weather conditions that the ship encountered.

However, certain other sources disregarded this reason and stated that because of the ship’s military involvement, bombs were planted by rival countries to destroy the ship.

After the accident, there were demands from the relatives of the deceased to raise the vessel in order to give a land burial. And, at the same time, there were discussions to raise the ship for a detailed inspection to know the cause of the accident.

However, the Swedish government decided to bury the vessel and thousands of tons of pebbles were dropped on the site.

As per the Estonia Agreement 1995, the burial site has been designated as a sea grave and prohibited the exploration of the wreckage.

6. The Andrea Doria

The Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria sank after colliding against Swedish ship MS Stockholm on the night of July 1956, killing 46 people.

The vessel, which had 1,134 passengers and 572 crew members on board, was en route to New York City when it met with one of the most infamous maritime disasters in history.

However, in spite of the severity of the incident, not many lives were lost thanks to the timely communication by the ship’s authorities and commendable rescue efforts.

After the sinking of the vessel, divers Peter Gimbel and Joseph Fox were managed to locate the wreck of Andrea Doria.

Today, resting in some 240 feet of the North Atlantic water, the wreck of Andrea Doria has become a popular site among scuba divers, being called “Mount Everest of scuba diving.”

7. HMS Victory

The 100-gun ship of the Royal Navy HMS Victory was launched in the sea in the year 1737 and met with an accident in the English Channel in the year 1744.

The sinking of HMS Victory, in one of the worst British naval disaster in the English Channel, claimed the lives of more than 1,000 sailors.

The ship disappeared from sight at the Channel Islands and for over 250 years, there was no sight of any remains of the ship.

The shipwreck was discovered in the year 2008 by the Odyssey Marine Expedition of the United States around 43 nautical miles from where it encountered the storm and disappeared from sight.

As a military wreck, the remains of HMS Victory are now the property of the British Government under marine laws.

8. MV Doña Paz

The Philippine-registered passenger ferry MV Doña Paz was en route from Leyte Island to Manila when it sank after colliding with the oil tanker MT Vector on 20 December 1987.

One of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history, the collision claimed the lives of at least 4,386 people.

Reports then revealed that the vessel was overcrowded, the vessel did not have a radio and passengers didn’t have immediate access to life jackets.

The ship, now known as ‘Asia’s Titanic,’ was mostly destroyed in the collision due to the fire.

9. The Carpathia

The British passenger liner RMS Carpathia is best known for rescuing survivors from the Titanic when the cruise ship met with its accident.

However, Carpathia met with the same destiny when it was destroyed by a German submarine in the year 1917, at the time of World War I.

The vessel was attacked by three torpedoes from a German U-boat when it was moving as part of a convoy travelling from Liverpool to Boston and five people were killed in the accident.

The wreck of Carpathia was found in the year 1999, by a company known as Argosy International Ltd, in 600 ft of water, 298 km west of Land’s End, sitting upright on the ocean bed.

10. The Mary Rose

The Mary Rose was a warship in the navy of the Tudor King Henry VIII and was destroyed while leading an action against a French ship in Solent, in the Isle of Wight on 19 July 1545.

The ship sank in a strait of the English Channel, claiming the lives of hundreds of men.

This shipwreck was salvaged in the year 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust and now the artefacts are displayed in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The artefacts that were discovered in the Mary Rose were quite unique, offering immense knowledge about the equipment of naval warfare of that era.

Credits: Mary Rose Trust/

11. The Vasa

The Vasa was a Swedish war vessel that was built during the 17th century and it was a most high-tech warship when it set sail. However, the ship sank during its maiden voyage in the year 1628 in Stockholm Harbor.

There were many unsuccessful attempts to raise the ship from the seabed in the years that followed.

Finally, the Vasa was recovered in 1961 and at present, the remains of the Vasa are stored at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm where it attracts more than a million visitors per year.

12. The Rhone

The iron-hulled steamship RMS Rhone was a UK Royal Mail Ship or packet ship owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. This ship was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands in the year 1867, killing 123 people.

The topmast of the vessel remained above the waterline for a long period after the accident and the Royal Navy blew up the stern of the ship only in 1950 due to the navigational hazard.

At present, because of the way the shipwreck is positioned in the water, the Rhone is regarded to be the best diving destination in the Caribbean.

13. The Sultana

In one of the worst and least recognised maritime disasters in the history of the US, the explosion and sinking of steamboat Sultana on 27 April 1865 took 1,800 lives in the Mississippi River, near Memphis.

The ship was used at the end of the American Civil War to transport the POWs from the Union army back home and the vessel met with an accident after the explosion of its boilers.

The wreck of the ship was found in the year 1982 in a soybean field on the Arkansas side, around 6 km from Memphis.

Featuring few relics from the ship, a temporary Sultana Disaster Museum was opened in 2015, on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy.

14. RMS Republic

The steam-powered ocean liner RMS Republic, built-in 1903, lost at sea after colliding with the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida in 1909.

The vessel was en route from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports while it met with the accident that killed six people.

There are a number of rumours suggesting that the Republic was carrying valuables including gold when she went down off Nantucket, Massachusetts.

The wreck of Republic, which was found in 1981 by Captain Martin Bayerle, lies upright around 80 km south of Nantucket Island around 250 feet underwater.

15. RMS Lusitania

British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was the world’s largest passenger ship for a brief time when it launched in 1906.

The vessel was sunk on 7 May 1915 after being attacked by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1962 passengers and 1191 crew members.

The disaster occurred on the 202 nd trans-Atlantic crossing of RMS Lusitania. After the sinking, there were few salvage efforts and several items from the vessel were recovered.

Currently, the wreck lies 11 miles south of the lighthouse at Kinsale, Ireland, with around 300 feet of water.

You may also like to read:

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Famous Ship Wrecks

ISSN 1444-8939 PRINT
ISSN 1447-1981 ONLINE
March, 2001
Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory

No part of this unpublished report may be reproduced without the written
permission of the Director, Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory
The Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory Research Report
series is a medium for the dissemination of the results of research undertaken
by MAGNT staff in the fields of Natural Sciences, History and Culture. All
contributions are reviewed internally by staff of the MAGNT.
First printed 20 April, 2001
ISSN 1444-8939 Print
ISSN 1447-1981 Online
© 2001 Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory. No part of this unpublished
report may be reproduced without the written permission of the Director, Museums and Art
Galleries of the Northern Territory.
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
PO Box 4646, Darwin NT 0801, AUSTRALIA
This report is the culmination of an extensive review process in which a series of three
draft reports were produced. A first draft of this report was circulated to government
agencies and colleagues for review in June 1998. In May and August, 1999, second and
third drafts were released for public comment.
Feedback received from government agencies and public groups focused on
recommendations relating to site protection and public access. Each successive draft was
produced with a consideration of those comments. This was done whilst maintaining an
adherence to fundamental heritage management principles.
The history of the shipwreck (including salvage and site visitation)
The Australian was a two masted steel steamship built in 1896 by Robert Napier and Sons
of Glasgow, Scotland. It was owned and operated by the Eastern and Australian Steamship
Company (E&A) as a passenger and cargo vessel. The Australian was worked by
Australian officers and a Chinese crew.
The Australian continuously traversed an extensive circular route which included
Adelaide, ports along the east coast of Australia, Palmerston (referred to as Darwin
following the Commonwealth takeover in 1911) and finally ports in the Indonesian
archipelago and the China Sea. The general route was established, individual ports
changing due to shifting management policies and work relating to each individual voyage.
On 17 November 1906, whilst making way to Palmerston from eastern ports, the
Australian struck Vashon Head reef. An official inquiry concluded that the accident
occurred due to a combination of unusual tidal flow and the lack of navigational beacons in
the region.
For two years following the accident there was a series of salvage operations and
unsuccessful refloating attempts. A public auction of the ship’s internal fittings took place
in August 1908. In the 1970s, the site was visited by a number of salvors, who, amongst
other activities, were responsible for using explosives on the site to remove the condenser
of the engine. In 1990 Operation Raleigh, a British-based volunteer organisation, visited
the site. In 1996 the MAGNT visited the site as part of a regional maritime archaeology
survey. In this season the museum staff completed a site plan. In 1997, as part of this
project, the site was again visited and a more extensive survey conducted.
Design of the Australian
The Australian had a gross tonnage of 2838 tons length of 341.7 feet (104.15 m) and a
breadth of 42.2 feet (12.86 m).
The steel body of the Australian was an advance on iron made hulls, steel being a lighter
and stronger material The triple expansion engine became the dominant steam engine
favoured for its fuel efficiency and performance. The coal burning steel boilers allowed
higher levels of pressure, which translated into a higher power output. The simple schooner
rig of the steamer more likely served as a stabilising feature and emergency propulsion in
times of engine failure. The refrigeration engines were ‘compressed air’ in design, a style
that preceded the ‘ammonia’ and ‘carbonic anhydride’ types. Though without accurate
temperature regulation, the ‘compressed air’ design was less toxic than later systems.
The Catterthun and the Brisbane steamship wrecks are useful as a technical comparison
with the Australian, in order to illustrate various options in design, and indicate evolution
in design. For example, the power output of the Australian far exceeded that of the
Catterthun and the Brisbane due to the advent of steel boilers.
Site description
The remains of the ship are best understood as consisting of three main sections. These are
the bow, the midship-section which rests on the remains of the ship floor and the upright
stern counter. Small amounts of debris are located at short distances from this main body
of material, however in general these three sections constitute the shipwreck. The
wreckage is approximately 110 metres in length and lies in 5-8 metres of water depending
on tidal variation.
The superstructure of the vessel has been removed by natural forces. The most noticeable
features of the site are the bow, stern section, the boilers and machinery. The machinery
includes a windlass, winches, a triple expansion engine, a dynamo and twin refrigeration
units. In addition to machinery lower deck construction features are visible, for example
remains of the cellular double bottom. Other visible site features include a clipper bow,
bowsprit and anchor.
The description of the shipwreck site within this document includes a review of the ship
break-up sequence which documents the major changes the ship underwent from its
stranding to the present. This includes the refloating in 1907 and the eventual separation of
the bow and stern from the midship section.
Site location
The Australian is located approximately 220 km NE from Darwin, off the coast of the
Cobourg Peninsula. Cobourg Peninsula is a large peninsula of land, approximately 2207
km², and is the most northern region of Arnhem Land. The shipwreck site is located on
Vashon Head reef, Vashon Head being a small point of land marking the western entrance
to Port Essington.
The Northern Territory experiences two major seasons, a Wet and a Dry season, each
following a brief equinoctial episode. The Wet season (November-April) is associated with
high rainfall and cyclonic winds. During this time the winds can change from calm
conditions to squalls and cyclonic depressions. Considering these weather conditions the
most appropriate time for fieldwork is at the end of the Dry season (May-October), when
the conditions are calmest. The sea and swell at Cobourg Peninsula is low to moderate
throughout the year, but the area experiences a large tidal range.
Statement of the shipwreck’s significance
The Australian is historically significant because of its role in facilitating coastal trade
between Palmerston and other ports in Australia and in facilitating early international trade
between Australia and Asia.
The Australian is also historically significant because it was used as a vessel for Chinese
immigration and was worked by a Chinese crew. Therefore the history of this steamer
contributes to our understanding of the history of Australian immigration and Chinese
labour at a time of national debate over non-European immigration and non-European
The Australian is the most intact wreck of a steamer located in the Northern Territory and
can offer a great deal of archaeological information regarding ship construction and
machinery as found on late 19th century steamers. The variety of machinery and ship
construction remains, which are in good condition, deem this shipwreck as representative
of a class of steamer. Evidence of early salvage and refloating will offer a further level of
archaeological data.
The remains of the refrigeration machinery (used in cold cargo storage) demonstrates a
technology that markedly changed Australia’s export market and most noticeably changed
Australia’s economic relationship with Britain.
The Australian is protected under the Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwrecks Act.
Management plan – the recommendations
Though the superstructure and a large portion of the hull is absent, what does remain
constitutes a shipwreck of technical and archaeological significance. This determined that a
management plan with a strong focus on protection and conservation was needed.
Funds to manage the site are limited. Therefore realistic recommendations have been
developed with this limitation in mind.
Recommendation 1: that an environmental assessment of the Australian be conducted in
the near future. This should include an in situ corrosion study. From these results it will
then be possible to develop a conservation program that takes a range of variables into
account. The CMPPM should stipulate the need for a conservation program and offer
partial logistic and/or financial support.
Recommendation 2: that following an environmental assessment a conservation strategy
be designed and implemented. The CMPPM should stipulate the need for a conservation
program and offer partial logistic and/or financial support.
Recommendation 3: that MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission instigate an
ongoing site monitoring program to monitor changes in the site over time. The CMPPM
should stipulate the need for this program as part of its commitment towards a conservation
Recommendation 4: that select rangers from the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission who
work at Gurig National Park, be trained as inspectors under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
The CMPPM should indicate approval of this proposal.
Recommendation 5: that the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission
establish a visitor registration system to collect information on site visitation as part of the
visitor monitoring program for the CMP. This should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 6: that anchoring directly onto the shipwreck be prohibited as a
provision of the CMPPM . This restriction should include using the bow or stern as a
mooring fixture, when these features are exposed at low tide.
Recommendation 7: that certain items be recovered as they may be stolen. These are the
ceramic tiles, the remains of the bone cargo and the brass padlock.
Recommendation 8: that fishing that does not involve anchoring on the site be permitted.
Therefore trolling and drifting should continue to be permitted.
Recommendation 9: that an education package be made available at the Black Point ranger
Recommendation 10: that information be placed at the boat launch and jetty at Black
Point. This will indicate that it is illegal to interfere with, damage or remove an historic
shipwreck or related items. This should also include information regarding the prohibition
of anchoring on the site. This recommendation should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 11: that the brochure on the shipwreck be widely distributed, and in
particular made avaliable to visitors at the Black Point Ranger Station. This should be
reflected in the CMPPM
Recommendation 12: that there be a consistent inclusion of information about the
shipwreck in publicity and publications dealing with the recreational and historic resources
of Gurig National Park and the CMP. This should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 13: that further non-disturbance survey work be conducted to increase
overall knowledge of the site. Particular attention may focus on the midship area.
Recommendation 14: that the machinery and important aspects of ship construction be
recorded in greater detail. Aspects of ship construction include the propeller housing,
cellular double bottom and the clipper bow.
Recommendation 15: that further survey work include the search for evidence of salvage
and refloating repairs.
Recommendation 16: that a small excavation in the stern section be conducted to reveal
how the propeller was removed during salvage.
Recommendation 17: that a probe survey east of the exposed material be conducted to
indicate the extent of buried material.
Recommendation 18: that a detailed comparison between the technology and archaeology
of the Australian to similar steamer wrecks be conducted.
Recommendation 19: that records relating to the Australian, whilst it was at ports other
than Darwin, be collected. This may include customs and port authority documentation
from outside of Australia.
Recommendation 20: that the experiences of ethnic or foreign crews on early Australian
steamers be investigated, using the Australian as one example. The Australian had a
Chinese crew, visited Asian ports and brought Chinese immigrants to Australia, all during
a time of national debate over non-European immigration and non-European labour.
Recommendation 21: that research into the natural significance of this site be encouraged
by both the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission. One example of this
kind of work is a marine biological survey of the site. This recommendation should be
reflected in the CMPPM.
Administrative strategy
This report contains an administrative strategy. In brief the administrative strategy repeats
established policies and suggests objectives. An example of a policy relates to the authority
of the delegate of the Historic Shipwrecks Act in the management of the site. An example
of an objective is the inclusion of key site management recommendations in the CMPPM.
Cobourg Marine Park and Gurig National Park
This report contains a brief explanation of the history and present status of these parks. It
highlights some key areas in possible research in maritime archaeology within the
geography of the parks. The report also explains the reasoning behind the close
involvement of the Parks and Wildlife Commission in site management recommendations.
A guide for those departments participating in the management of the site
This report contains a practical guide for those government departments which may
become involved in the management of the Australian. It gives a practical review of the
Historic Shipwrecks Act. This report also includes a discussion on the Historic Shipwrecks
Program and a review of other relevant Territory and Commonwealth legislation.
Historic shipwrecks located in marine protected reserves
As the Australian is located within a marine park this chapter cites examples of other
historic shipwrecks protected under various marine park or marine reserve legislation.
The Yongala (1903-1911) is located in Queensland and is protected under both the Historic
Shipwrecks Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Cwlth). Situated within
a Marine Park B zone it is illegal to damage or remove any cultural or natural material
from the site under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The Clan Ranald (1900-1909)
is located in South Australia within the Troubridge Hill Aquatic Reserve which was
established under the Fisheries Act 1982 (SA.). The reserve was established to protect
benthic organisms. The removal of shell, sand or plant life is illegal, resulting in the
prohibition of dredging.
1997 fieldwork details
This section explains the aims and methodology of the fieldwork. The aim of the fieldwork
was to conduct a non-disturbance survey of the visible remains of the shipwreck. An
understanding of site formation and site deterioration was to be developed and key
environmental factors that effect material remains identified. Due to restrictions in time
and personnel the methodology of survey was simple and aimed for a broad impression of
the site with a limited degree of accuracy. The result therefore serves as a good beginning
to further more detailed survey work.
This section also lists the dive team and details the boat and diving policies. It also lists
fish species observed on the site.
Historical and technical details of the Australian steamship
This section lists basic information on the ship’s history and design.
I would like to thank those people who have contributed to this report.
Alan Withers, Libby Stirling, Rowan Marshall and Mark Ingram, from the NT Department
of Parks and Wildlife, who participated in the 1997 fieldwork. The ongoing support of the
rangers based at Black Point ranger station greatly contributed to the success of the
fieldwork. I would also like to thank the Department of Parks and Wildlife specifically for
their contribution of personnel, equipment and accommodation during the fieldwork.
Thanks also go to John Riley who participated in the fieldwork and contributed
significantly to the site survey and the development of a site plan once again his expertise
in steam and iron shipwrecks proved invaluable.
Thanks also to Silvano Jung for his ongoing advice and for his assistance in graphic
design. Also thanks to Nova Graphics for its contribution to graphic design, and Barbara
Bowden, Lorna Gravener and Dirk Megirian for proof reading and assistance in
I would also like to thank various individuals or organisations who contributed to this
project by providing valuable information or equipment: David Nutley and Tim Smith
from the NSW Heritage Office, Terry Arnott and Bill Jeffery from Heritage SA, Vivienne
Moran from the Queensland Museum, Mike Lawton from Power and Water (NT), Kirean
Hosty from the National Maritime Museum, the State Library of NSW and the National
Maritime Museum in Greenwich England.
Finally thanks to Paul Clark for his continuous support and advice, and to the staff of the
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory for their assistance and encouragement.
List of abbreviations………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12
Glossary of terms ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 12
Chapter 1: The role And scope of this plan ………………………………………………………….. 15
The history of the shipwreck design of the Australian site
description site location statement of the shipwreck’s significance
the recommendations administrative strategy a guide for those
departments participating in the management of the site historic
shipwrecks in marine protected areas 1997 fieldwork details.
Chapter 2: The Australian – related histories ………………………………………………………… 16
Napier shipbuilders the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company
the working life of the Australian stranding of the vessel and
consequent events the Australian steamship in relation to the
developing maritime economy of Australia a review of previous site
Chapter 3: The design of the Australian steamship………………………………………………… 37
Introduction overview sails and rigging the steamer’s structural
design machinery and systems.
Chapter 4: The significance of design: a review of design features in relation to technical
invention of the period ………………………………………………………………………………………. 46
The significance of design the Australian steamship, a technical
comparison with the Brisbane and the Catterthun.
Chapter 5: Site description and archaeological Information…………………………………….. 53
Site location and description of the area site formation sequence site
description site deterioration environmental conditions.
Chapter 6: Assessment of the site’s significance ……………………………………………………. 69
Preamble historic significance technical significance social significance
archaeological significance scientific significance interpretative
significance rarity significance representative significance statement of
Chapter 7: Management policies and relevant issues……………………………………………… 73
Preamble management of the Australian through provisions stipulated in the
marine park plan of management the preservation of material remains
protective legislation the impact of development site identification for passing
traffic visitation to the Australian interpretation material on the Australian
artefacts and records research.
Chapter 8: Management recommendations – implementing policy …………………………….82
Preamble the preservation of material remains from natural forces the
preservation of material remains from human threats interpretation research.
Chapter 9: Administrative Strategy……………………………………………………………………󈼭
Established policies Objectives.
Chapter 10: Cobourg Marine Park and Gurig National Park …………………………………….86
Establishment of the parks the archaeological resource of Cobourg Peninsula
the reasoning behind the involvement of the Parks and Wildlife Commission in
site management.
References ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….88
Appendix 1: A Guide for departments participating in the management of the Australian
Appendix 2: A discussion on the Yongala and the Clan Ranald shipwrecks ………………..97
Appendix 3: 1997 field work details……………………………………………………………………..99
Appendix 4: Historical and technical details of the Australian………………………………�
List of Figures
Fig. 1. Robert Napier ………………………………………………………………………………………….16
Fig. 2. David Napier …………………………………………………………………………………………..16
Fig. 3. The Persia at Napier shipyard, Govan, 1855………………………………………………󈻩
Fig. 4. The E&A flag. ………………………………………………………………………………………󈻪
Fig. 5. The route of the Australian ……………………………………………………………………….23
Fig. 6. Operational Raleigh site sketch…………………………………………………………………..35
Fig. 7. MAGNT site sketch, 1995. ………………………………………………………………………..36
Fig. 8. The Australian………………………………………………………………………………………󈻽
Fig. 9. Sail plan of the Australian ………………………………………………………………………󈻾
Fig. 10. Plan view of the Australian……………………………………………………………………󈻿
Fig. 11.An example of cellular double bottom design……………………………………………….40
Fig. 12. An example of a compound engine…………………………………………………………… 40
Fig. 13. An example of a double ended boiler ……………………………………………………….. 42
Fig. 14. The stern section of a similarly designed single screw steamship…………………… 42
Fig. 15. Diagram of a closed air refrigeration system………………………………………………. 43
Fig. 16. A steam driven winch…………………………………………………………………………….. 44
Fig. 17. A steam driven windlass…………………………………………………………………………. 44
Fig. 18. Bow of a steamship with davit structure to hold anchor……………………………….. 45
Fig. 19. The Black Prince…………………………………………………………………………………… 47
Fig. 20. The Great Britain………………………………………………………………………………….. 47
Fig. 23. Location of the site………………………………………………………………………………… 53
Fig. 22. Site formation sequence …………………………………………………………………………. 55
Fig. 23. Site plan of the Australian., 1997. ……………………………………………………………. 58
Fig. 24. The remains of the bow………………………………………………………………………….. 59
Fig. 25. The anchor in-situ …………………………………………………………………………………. 59
Fig. 26. The capstan and anchor crane in-situ, located at the bow. …………………………….. 60
Fig. 27. The forward winch in-situ ………………………………………………………………………. 61
Fig. 28. The port bilge keel in-situ……………………………………………………………………….. 62
Fig. 29. Frontal view of similar boilers, a general guide ………………………………………….. 63
Fig. 30. The low pressure cylinder section of the propulsion engine in-situ. ……………….. 64
Fig. 31. The high and intermediate pressure cylinders section of the propulsion engine in
situ ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 64
Fig. 32. The dynamo in-situ ……………………………………………………………………………….. 65
Fig. 33. A refrigeration unit in-situ………………………………………………………………………. 65
Fig. 34. Aerial photograph of the Australian the bow, boilers and stern are visible ……… 78
Fig. 35. Visitors to the site, 1997…………………………………………………………………………. 78
Fig. 36. Seasonal visitation to Gurig National Park ………………………………………………… 79
Fig. 37. Annual visitation to Gurig National Park…………………………………………………… 79
List of Tables
Table 1. Wrecked E&A ships……………………………………………………………………………… 21
Table 2. Technical comparison: Australian, Catterthun and Brisbane steamships ……….. 51
AIMA Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology
A.S.N Australasian Steam Navigation Company
B.I. British India Steam Navigation Company. Some authors refer to this
company as the British India Company.
CMP Cobourg Marine Park
CMPPM Cobourg Marine Park Plan of Management (draft). The CMPPM may
eventually be amalgamated with the Gurig National Park Plan of
Management (GNPPM). If this occurs recommendations in this report that
refer to the CMPPM would refer to the amalgamated version.
E&A Eastern and Australian Mail Steamship Company. In various references that
I used, this company was also referred to as the Eastern and Australian Mail
Steam Company. I have referred to the company by the name used during
the operational period of the Australian.
GBRMP Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
GNPPM Gurig National Park Plan of Management (draft).
HP High pressure (cylinder)
IHP Indicated horse power
IP Intermediate pressure (cylinder)
Knts Knots
LP Low pressure (cylinder)
MAGNT Museums and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
nhp Nominal horse power
NTT&G Northern Territory Times and Gazette
N.T. Northern Territory of Australia
P&O Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
PWCNT Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory
psi Pounds per square inch
aft peak tank A water storage tank located at the extreme stern end of
the hold of a vessel.
anchor chain locker A trunk which stores the anchor chain or cable.
anchor crane A crane positioned on the fore-deck and used to raise and
lower the anchor between the deck and the hawse pipe.
bilge keel Fitted in pairs they sit on the outside of the bilge and
lessen the rolling of the ship.
boiler bearers The supportive rests that a boiler sits on.
bollard A deck fixture used for securing the boat to jetties etc. It is
a supportive frame with vertical spools.
Bowsprit The spar projecting from the bow of the ship.
bulkhead A partition between below-deck sections.
capstan A cylindrical barrel located in the fore-deck area. It is
driven mechanically and directs the chain of the anchor.
cellular double bottom A water ballast reservoir, positioned on top of the ship’s
floor, whose cannels are cellular in design.
compressed air refrigeration The air refrigeration system most likely used on the
Australian to transport chilled food.
condenser The section of the steam engine that condenses steam to
derrick A mechanism for hauling cargo, in which a crane- like
system is secured on deck, in some cases supported by a
double-ended boiler A boiler with a separate furnace at each end. The design
was to increase power with an attempt to keep size
increase to a minimum.
dynamo A machine that converts energy to electricity.
fairleads A board with holes in it to allow rigging or line to run
feed water filters The machinery that filters oil and other impurities from
the water that leaves the condenser to return to the boilers.
fore-deck The forward section of the deck.
forepeak tank A water storage tank located at the extreme fore-end of the
hold of the vessel.
gross tonnage The tonnage measurement which includes both the cargo
capcity and the ship’s dead weight (own weight).
gunwale The side of the hull which rises above the upper-deck.
hawse pipe and hawse hole The hawse hole is located in the bow area near the stem.
The anchor chain feeds into the ship through the hole. The
hawse pipe leads from the hole and supports the chain
from chaffing the internal fittings.
life boat davits A life boat storage and access system where vertical poles
support a pulley system. The lifeboats are stored in a
upright position on the deck.
moulding lines- Distinctive structural lines that run horizontally yet follow
the curvature of the hull.
mizzen mast The rear mast
port Left side
propeller hub The hub or nut which holds the propeller blades in place.
sheerstrake plating Uppermost hull plating
stanchion A fixed upright support.
starboard Right side
stringer internal Supportive frames that are positioned horizontally along
the hull.
supportive stays Bars placed to give support and fix feature in position.
triple expansion engine A steam engine in which the steam is expanded in three
consecutive stages.
warping ends (winch) The round spools on a winch that feed the chain.
water-line theory John Riley’s theory that an iron ship that sinks upright on
sand will become buried in that sand to about the level of
its waterline.
winch Steam driven pulley machine used to haul cargo and deck
windlass A large winch used for heaving the anchors.
The Australian is a shipwreck protected under the Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwrecks
Act 1976. It is located along the northern coastline of Cobourg Peninsula within the
Northern Territory.
The aim of this plan of management is to assess the significance of the shipwreck, to
investigate what the relevant issues are in relation to the management of the site and to put
forward a series of recommendations regarding its future management.
These recommendations have been reached via the following process:
(i) the collection of data
(ii) an assessment of the site and the development of a statement of significance
which codifies the position of MAGNT
(iii) a discussion of policies and issues relevant to the management of the site
(iv) development of the recommendations, based on the previous three stages.
It is important to note that each phase builds on information and reasoning gathered and
developed in previous phases.
Archaeological fieldwork and historical research was conducted to produce this
management plan. During this process the author became aware of further directions that
research could take. It was beyond the role and scope of this project to conduct this further
research, however these proposals are briefly discussed.
This plan includes additional chapters which will serve as a resource for government
departments that may be involved in the management program. This includes, for example,
a discussion of the Historic Shipwrecks Act. Therefore a secondary role of this plan is to
serve as an ongoing resource in the management of historic shipwrecks.
The implementation of a management program is subject to the resources available.
Management recommendations have been developed with these financial restrictions in
mind. In response, one strategy has been to support the ongoing participation of the NT
Parks and Wildlife Commission in the management of the shipwreck.
This management plan has been funded through a grant from the Commonwealth
Department of Communications and the Arts. The Historic Shipwrecks Program was
administrated by this Department until November 1998. Following this the program was
transferred to the Commonwealth Department for the Environment and Heritage.
The delegated authority of the Historic Shipwrecks Act in the Northern Territory is the
Director of the MAGNT.
2.1. Napier Shipbuilders
The Australian was built by Robert Napier and Sons which was based in Glasgow,
Scotland. Robert Napier was referred to by many contemporaries as the ‘father’ of Scottish
engineering (Shields 1947: 42). Such praise was justified, as many important figures in the
development of marine steam engine technology in Britain had at some point worked and
trained under Napier.
Napier Engineers, eventually renamed Robert Napier and Sons, was founded by cousins
Robert and David Napier (Figs 1, 2). These men were born into a family legacy of iron
engineering. The fathers of both David and Robert were blacksmiths, David’s father also
being an iron founder. Robert’s brother James and his cousin William were engineers and
boiler makers. Thus David and Robert were, early in their lives, exposed to skills related to
steam and iron technologies.
Fig. 1. Robert Napier (Shields1947: 53) Fig. 2. David Napier (Shields 1947: 53)
David was the founding engineer of the company, whereas Robert was the more business
minded man. David built his first steamship, the Marion (57 tons), in 1816 (Shields 1947:
35). David left the company in 1836 to work in London (Shields 1947: 40). The notion of
Robert Napier being more the businessman than the engineer is supported by Shields, who
states that the capabilities of Robert as an engineer depended heavily on those who worked
for him (Shield 1947: 43).
Until 1843 Napier built only steam engines, working in conjunction with a ship builder.
But in this year, under the guidance of Napier’s chief engineer William Deny, Napier built
the Vanguard with a gross tonnage of 700 tons (Shields 1947: 47). The vessel was praised
by the critics, and orders for more vessels came in. Napier Engineers expanded. Napier’s
expansion included shipyards at Govan and Middleton. Interestingly the company also
purchased the Parkhead Forge giving Napier control over iron production. This was the
peak for Napier Engineering with orders coming from Russia, Turkey, France, India and
elsewhere (Shields 1947: 51). In 1853 Robert Napier’s sons joined the company, and the
title was changed to Napier and Sons (Shields 1947: 51).
The distinctive clipper bow of the Persia was a trademark of Napier shipbuilding, an
aesthetic feature also found on the Australian (Fig. 3). Ironically the E&A became
remembered for operating a number of steamers with this feature. It is interesting to note
that, despite a consensus that a clipper bow on these steamer was an aesthetic feature only, a
clipper bow did save the Persia, allowing it to ride over an ice barrier (Hume 1975: 24-26).
Fig. 3. The Persia at Napier shipyard, Govan, 1855 (Hume 1975: 25)
Robert Napier died in June 1876, aged 86 years, and the management of the company was
handed to engineer A.C.Kirk. Kirk was the engineer to whom was attributed the design of
the first deep sea commercial steamer with a triple expansion engine, the Propontis, built
by Randolph Elder and Co. (Gardiner 1993: 107). Kirk was also an early pioneer in using
steel in ship construction, engineering the Paristian, the first steel steamer to cross the
Atlantic Ocean (Shields 1947: 51). The ability of steel boilers to produce higher levels of
pressure and so, in turn, capable of fully utilising compound steam engine technology was
an advantage early appreciated by Kirk and Elder.
However Kirk’s greatest success was the Aberdeen which was powered by a triple
expansion engine and was built in 1881 by Napier and Sons. The Aberdeen could produce
over 2600 IHP with steam at 125 psi (Gardiner 1993: 107). The true value behind the
design was the ability of the engine to utilise the available high pressure steam and
available exhausted steam efficiently, translating to ‘if the ship travelled at 13 knots in the
open ocean it would burn less than 40 tons of coal a day'(Gardiner 1993: 108).
The success of the Aberdeen helped convince other ship owners that this kind of engine
design was the next step from two stage compound steam engines. In 1883 Napier built
two Kirk designed engines for the steamers Oaxaca and the Tamaulipas, the largest
steamers of their time, each with a 60 inch stroke and a working pressure of 135 psi
(Gardiner 1993: 109).
The Australian, being built in 1896, came after the peak of Napier and Sons. However, the
role of Napier in early steam ship innovation should not be undervalued. Napier was an
early steam ship engineering company that favoured innovation and creativity and so
contributed significantly to a dynamic period of technological development and ship
2.2. The Eastern and Australian Steamship Company
Introduction. E&A was a small British-owned shipping company that contributed to the
development of international trade between Australia and Asia and coastal trade between
Palmerston (Darwin) and other Australian ports. Based in Sydney, the small fleet of
steamers travelled extensively, operating in new territories and working in unestablished
trade. The E&A fleet transported passengers and cargo across a route that spanned along
the southern, eastern and northern coasts of Australia and through Asia. The fleet also
brought Chinese immigrants to Australia.
Fig. 4. The E&A flag. (Olson 1976: 110)
The E&A was created in 1873 to service a contract advertised by the Queensland
Government. The contract involved short cutting the standing mail service from Britain to
Australia, ensuring that Queenslanders received their mail more regularly. This contract
was short lived however the company managed to always subsidise its costs by gaining
mail carrier government subsidies throughout its existence. The company went through
three liquidated forms, eventually becoming absorbed into the B.I. a subsidiary of P&O,
immediately following the first World War (Laxon 1963: 8).
The Queensland mail contract, the Torres Strait route and trade with Asia. The P & O held
a long standing contract to work the mail service from Britain and Europe to Australia.
From Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the service reached Albany, Port Adelaide, Melbourne and
Sydney (Olson 1976: 3). The company first offered this service in 1853, failed a year later
but reinstated a service in 1858 (Bach 1967: 110, 147). The earlier route required overland
passage at the Suez, linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The creation of
the Suez Canal in 1869 eliminated the need for an overland route however P&O were only
permitted to transport mail through this canal in 1874 (Bach 1976: 148).
These steamers would sail from Britain, through the Suez Canal, and hug the coast of India
to Ceylon. From Ceylon the steamers continued down the west coast of Australia, along
the southern coast, and then north travelling up the east coast. Queensland would
experience delays from up to a month from when the mail steamers reached Albany to
when they finally reached Queensland (Olson 1976: 3). The colony of Queensland decided
to establish a more regular mail service for itself. Its government had also recognised the
trade opportunities inherent with a short route to Asia, this recognition shown in the 1860s
when the colony entered into a short-lived funding venture with the Netherlands
government to offer subsidies to Dutch shipping companies (Campo 1991: 1). Thus the
Queensland government offered a subsidy for a service to pick up mail at Singapore, from
P&O steamers, make way through the Indonesian archipelago and the Torres Strait,
reaching the north coast of Queensland. The ‘Torres Strait route’ to north-east Australia had
been a discussion point amongst politicians and businessmen of the colony since the 1840s
(Nicholson 1996: 225).
The itinerary for this route was assigned as part of the terms of the mail contract. The
designated ports of call were: Singapore, Batavia, Sourabya, Somerset (a British post in the
Torres Strait), then the Queensland regional ports Cardwell, Bowen and Gladstone,
reaching Brisbane and finally Sydney. Shortly after the commencement of the contract
Hong Kong was added as a port of call (Hardwick 1983: 2). Other conditions of the
contract were schedule requirements and the ability to maintain each steamer at an
acceptable safety and performance standard. Eventually ports in mainland China and Japan
were added to the itinerary. The E&A service offered Queensland a fortnightly mail
service with Britain (Olson 1976: 7).
This contract provided Brisbane and regional Queensland ports with their own mail
service. The contract subsidised E&A whilst it developed a small but lucrative niche in
Australian coastal trade and the Asian trade. This was a remarkable opportunity when one
appreciates the variety of ports and opportunity for new markets. The ability for the
company’s directors to foresee the lucrative Asia trade through the Torres Strait route is
best shown in this excerpt from a shareholders meeting in 1874:
the progress of the trade between the East and Australia is realising the expectations
formed of it, the steamers having had on more than one occasion to shut out cargo, not
only in China but also Singapore ( Hardwick 1983: 4).
The foresight to appreciate the trade possibilities in Asia went hand in hand with the
ingenuity required to plot a regular route through the poorly charted waters of the Torres
Strait. Sail ships and steamers had of course travelled this route before the E&A was
established. The area experienced activity from the 1860s with the growth of the pearl
industry. In turn the British settlements of Somerset, established in 1864, and then replaced
by Thursday Island in 1877, indicated the intention of Queensland to provide assistance to
all traffic along the route. However the E&A service was one of the first fleets that
regularly made way through these waters as part of an established itinerary. Nicholson
reflects that the E&A service was the first with a structured ‘reef pilot’ program, an official
response to the unfamiliar waters (Nicholson 1996: 386). Foley also recognises that a
significant majority of pilots who were employed by other companies in these early days
were originally from E&A (Foley 1982: 34,29). In turn he reflects that it was the E&A ship
the Sun Foo which in 1874 completed the earliest known full-length pilotage of the Barrier
Reef from Brisbane to Torres Strait (Foley 1982: 27).
The slow development of the Torres Strait as a popular route was due, partially, to the lack
of coal and wood to fuel the inefficient early steamers (Nicholson 1996: 234). Thus a
regular use of the channel awaited developments in engine efficiency and performance.
In 1880, when the contract came up for renewal, E&A lost it to the larger B.I. This rival
offered a direct link between Queensland and Britain (Laxon 1963: 4). In turn this larger
company would eventually develop a more popular cargo trade through the Torres route
(Lewis 1973: 45). The loss of the contract was steeped in controversy. Olson argues that
the loss occurred because of disputes regarding ports of call and the size of the subsidy
(Olson 1976: 18). Lewis suggests there was more involved, arguing that B.I. had close
political and commercial ties in Queensland (Lewis 1973: 45). He states that one year
before the contract came up for renewal, McIlwraith, the premier of Queensland, was
already deliberating details with B.I. (Lewis 1973: 45). The Liberal Opposition challenged
this move, fearing a shipping monopoly, the kind a large conglomerate company like BI
could create (Lewis 1973: 45). The loss of this contract sent E&A into its first voluntary
liquidation (Olson 1976: 18).
The South Australian mail contract. In 1880 the second company was formed. With this
came the delivery of two new vessels, the Catterthun and the Tannadice. The following
year saw the E&A awarded a mail contract from the South Australian government, to run a
service between Adelaide and Palmerston. In this same year (1881), the Brisbane was
wrecked, stranding at Fish Reef near Palmerston, inward bound from Hong Kong (Laxon
1963: 5). The E&A had, by this time, extended its service to Melbourne and Adelaide
Palmerston officially becoming a part of the South Australian colony considerably earlier
in 1865 (Powell 1982: 77). In 1911, when the Commonwealth took control of the
Northern Territory, Palmerston become known as Darwin. This contract continued until
World War 1 when the E &A ships were commissioned for active duty (Olson 1976: 23).
By 1884 all of the steamers from the original company had been replaced with faster, more
efficient and therefore more financially lucrative ships. In addition to the Catterthun and
the Tannadice, the Airlie and the Guthrie were purchased and placed into service. The
ports of call for this fleet were: Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Thursday Island,
Townsville, Bowen, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The port of Singapore
had been removed from the route to make way for the more lucrative Chinese passenger
and trade market (Olson 1976: 22). It was also removed as now the company no longer
serviced international mail. The E&A company was developing a strong trade service with
Asian ports and did lucrative business servicing Chinese immigration to the colonies. In
June 1894 for reasons that are unclear, the second company was liquidated, but by July the
third company was formed (Olson 1976: 23).
The third company and the purchase of the Australian. The 1890s saw the development
of strong competition in the trade through the Torres Strait to Asia, particularly from the
China Navigation Company which offered the east coast of Australia a similar passenger
and freight service (Laxon 1963: 6). By this time French and German services were also
connecting Asia to the colonies of Australia (Olson 1976: 26). Due to this period of
competition, and because of the loss of the Catterthun in 1895, the company reviewed its
fleet. Over the next few years E&A introduced the Australian, the Eastern and the Empire.
These new steamers returned the E&A to a competitive level.
The Australian, at 2838 tons, was the first steel steamer of the fleet and also the first with
400 nhp (Laxon 1963: 7) .The Eastern, built in 1899, was 3,586 tons with 469 nhp (Laxon
1963: 7). The Empire, built in 1902, was 4497 tons with 613 nhp (Laxon 1963: 7). These
ships demonstrated a return to the clipper bow trademark of the early E&A vessels
(previous examples being the Guthrie and Airlie). The Australian and the Eastern were
both built by Napier and Sons. The Empire was built by Beardmores, a company
associated with Napier. Following the wreck of the Australian the company purchased the
Aldenham originally built in 1894 for the Aberdeen Line. The Aldenham was also built by
Napier and Sons (Laxon 1963: 7).
Following the death of a major shareholder named Guthrie in 1900, there was dispute
amongst the shareholders as to the company’s future (Olson 1976: 28). The shipping
industry was becoming the domain of large conglomerate companies and the era of the
small shipping company was over. The E&A resisted an initial buy-out offer from the B.I.
(a subsidiary of P&O), but by the end of World War 1 they eventually sold to the P&O
group (Olson 1976: 28).
The use of Asian crews in the E&A company. The E&A steamers operated with
Australian officers and Asian crews, predominantly Chinese, whilst servicing Asian
immigration. This occurred during a period in Australia of restrictive regulations dealing
with non-European labour and non-European immigration. One clear example of this is the
regulations relating to the Commonwealth’s Immigration Restriction Act 1901.
Particularly relevant to maritime working conditions, in 1878 European seaman and dock
workers who worked for the Australian owned Australasian Steam Navigation Company
(A.S.N), staged a strike in Sydney and Brisbane, protesting the use of cheap Asian labour.
The strikers gained public support, and the protest ended only after violence was
threatened. The experiences of both the Chinese crew and passengers aboard these ships is
of social and historical importance.
Conclusion. E & A was a small shipping operator that contributed to the trade and
passenger service between coastal ports in Australia, and was a pioneer in the development
of trade with Asia. Laxon argues that when the company first worked its route, north
Queensland and the Torres Strait were poorly charted and at times treacherous waters
(Laxon 1963: 2). He commends the pioneering spirit of the company by arguing its route
was ‘poorly navigated, dealing in a trade that was mostly untried’. This was certainly true
on both counts. The first ocean-going vessel at Port Kennedy, an early British base on
Thursday Island, was the mail steamer the Brisbane in 1878 (Nicholson 1996: 260).
Perhaps reflecting the difficult route travelled over the course of the company’s history, six
ships had been lost (Table 1).
Table 1. Wrecked E&A ships (Olson 1976: 22-23)
Ship Year built, location of wreck and year
Queensland – built 1875, wrecked Wilson’s Prom. VIC. in 1876
Singapore – built 1874, wrecked off Keswick Island, QLD in 1877
Brisbane – built 1874, wrecked on Fish Reef, NT in 1881
Normanby – built 1874, wrecked, bound for Manila in 1893
Catterthun – built 1881, wrecked on Sea Rocks, N.S.W in 1895
Australian – built 1896, wrecked Vashon Head, N.T in 1906
2.3 The working life of the Australian
Introduction. The Australian joined the E&A fleet as the first of a new wave of steamers
and it was described at the time as the pride of the fleet. It was the company’s first steel
steamer, and the first with 400 nhp capacity, giving the vessel a tested speed of 15 knots.
The steamer was also given a warm welcome from the local Palmerston press, who
referred to the vessel as the ‘finest ship that has entered this port in many years’ (NTT&G
31 July 1896). This report also describes the steamer as being ‘beautifully furnished’ and
with ‘electric light throughout’. The Australian had accommodation facilities for 70 first
class passengers, 35 second class passengers and an unspecified number of places for
steerage class passengers (NTT&G 31 July 1896). The E&A fleet was serviced by
Australian officers and Asian crews.
The Australian and the other steamers of the fleet travelled a long route, which began in
Adelaide and ended in Japan. Although the steamers generally ran the same route particular
ports may have differed depending on the work and contracts of each voyage. At any one
time the fleet would be dispersed across the east coast of Australia and the China Sea.
The ports of call. The E&A fleet worked a common route that changed over time
reflecting changes in business interests and contracts. In addition the ports of call for each
voyage would differ depending on the available work. Therefore attempts to determine the
exact itinerary of the Australian are misguided, the problem exacerbated by secondary
references that are vague and contradictory. However it is a useful task to produce at least a
general view of the fleet’s route during the time that the Australian was operational.
By the time the Australian joined the fleet Singapore and Java had been excluded as ports
of call (Hardwick 1983: 5). He explains that the removal of Singapore was to allow the
company to focus on the ‘more profitable China trade’. Singapore and Java were first
introduced as ports during the earlier held Queensland mail contract.
In the early 1880s the E&A fleet called at: Japan (no specific port given in this reference),
Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Thursday Island, Townsville, Bowen, Brisbane, Sydney
and Melbourne (Olson 1976: 22). The continuing inclusion of small regional Queensland
ports like Bowen and Townsville, after the loss of the Queensland mail contract, is an
interesting aspect of the itinerary (Olson 1976: 22). This must indicate that following the
period of the contract the company continued to make profitable trade through these ports.
Bach refers to regional Queensland ports as being profitable and highly competitive (Bach
1976: 251). These ports were kept in business from the rich hinterland industries. For
example, the Australian transported chilled foods to Asia from producers in Australia, and
Bach states that Queensland produced a great deal of meat for this industry (Bach 1976:
Olson lists another itinerary, which seems more likely to have been that used during the
operational period of the Australian (Olson 1976: 22). This association is based on other
references and links Olson makes between the route and the period in question. These ports
include: Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Cooktown, Darwin,
Timor, Manila, Hong Kong, Foochow, Shanghai, Moji, Kobe and Yokohama. These ports
make up the itinerary mapped in Figure 5.
A difference in this itinerary (Fig. 5.) to what occurred in practice would relate to whether
smaller ports were visited during individual voyages and when Foochow (Fuzhou) was
introduced as a port of call. In general, any attempt to reveal a set route is misguided,
because the Australian may have called at different regional ports depending on work
specific to that voyage.
The duration of the route. From the newspaper reports of the Australian’s incoming and
outgoings at various ports it is possible to piece together an understanding of the time it
took to complete legs of the route. These estimates are extremely broad. They do not
account for weather conditions affecting speed or delays at each port. Nevertheless, to
complete the journey from Hong Kong to Palmerston, with stops at Manila and Thursday
Island, the Australian took approximately 10 days (NTT&G 14 December 1900). This
voyage can be broken down to finer estimates with references indicating that Palmerston to
Fig. 5. The route of the Australian (Nova Graphics 1997) .
Thursday Island took 6 to 8 hours and Palmerston to Timor took 36 hours (NTT&G 31
July 1896). From Adelaide the Australian took approximately 5 days to reach Sydney and
then transferred passengers and cargo crew before leaving port (NTT&G 19 February
The voyage from Sydney to Palmerston took approximately 10 days (NTT&G 11
December 1896). From these references it can be stated that the Australian took
approximately 25 days to reach Hong Kong from Adelaide.
Visits to Asian ports. The recorded experiences of crews and passengers aboard these
steamships that travelled to Asia at the turn of the 19th century provide fascinating
insights. This extract from the local Palmerston newspaper tells the story of Mr Tully,
manager of the Palmerston Commercial Bank, who went for a holiday on the E&A vessel
Eastern, travelling to Japan and stopping at intermediate Asian ports:
Manila would appear to be almost as difficult a place to gain access to as the North Pole
or Thibet (sic), the obstructions in this case however, being of a purely artificial and
official nature. The proud Caucasian traveller finds himself placed in somewhat the
same situation as the Asianic seeking to gain admission to Australia. If he wishes to stay
there he has first to show that he possesses the where withdrawn to pay his way if he
wishes to take a change of linen and go ashore for the night only, much ponderous
official machinery has first to be set in motion and he cannot even land for an hour or
two without obtaining a pass from the Customs officials. In fact a visit to Manila would
seem calculated to provide food for some serious reflection by the most bigoted of
protectionists. Mr Tully saw much interest in Hong Kong and Canton, but the tortuous
crowded streets and the overpowering odours of the quaint metropolis of southern China
were not provocative of any very strong desire for a too prolonged acquaintance. The
foetid (sic) atmosphere is calculated to promote unpleasant reflections respecting
plague, cholera and other germs which blunts the keen interest in the novel
surroundings. Like myriads of other travellers, Mr Tully found the scenery and the
climate of Japan delightful, and was much impressed by the efficiency and cheapness of
the railway service. At one point on the route a 300 mile journey can be taken at a cost
of 12s, the best meals being provided for about 1s, whilst waiters are detailed for each
carriage, who watch over the comfort of the passengers with a tender solicitude, even to
fanning away the obtrusive fly which may have settled momentarily upon your nose
(NTT&G 9 October 1903).
This excerpt gives us a limited insight into the opinions of one European traveller to the
region. Mr Tully’s reference to there being differences in tolerance and acceptance for
foreign visitors is interesting, as is his mention of the anti-Asian ‘protectionist’ climate
permeating Australia during that time.
The cargo. From newspaper accounts, it is possible to determine the kinds of cargo that the
Australian had shipped within Australia and the cargo coming in and out of Australia. The
cargo is significant in determing the economic role of the steamer. It also reflects examples
of trade between Palmerston and coastal ports in Australia, and between Australia and
Asia. A limitation to this review is the absence of information regarding shipments
between Asian ports.
Regardless of the role of the Australian in freighting a variety of goods the mail had
always been the most precious of items. The mail service contract aided E&A to subsidise
the long route from Adelaide to Palmerston. The significance of the mail cargo was
illustrated when the passengers of the stranded Australian were rescued by the passing
Waihoi. The Waihoi brought aboard 56 bags of mail, in preference to much of the
passenger luggage and much of the other goods (NTT&G 23 November 1906).
The Australian steamer shipped both exotic and bulk cargo. From Australia to Manila, and
other Asian ports, the ship carried export goods such as pearl shell, trepang, tortoise shell,
whisky and racehorses (NTT&G 18 May 1900). Thus the Australian contributed to
servicing small niche markets between Australia and Asia, as well as carrying exotic ‘once
only’ cargo. An extreme example of exotic cargo was the transport of two lions from the
Sydney zoo to a zoo in Japan in 1903 (NTT&G 11 December 1903). The export of trepang
demonstrates the continuation of a export tradition that had been in progress before
European settlement.
The Australian also exported exotic and bulk goods from Palmerston markets to southern
ports. In August 1903 the Australian exported: 153 cattle hides, 225 bags of tin ore, 11
cases of pearl shell, 61 bags of salted fish, 19 bags beef and 40 packages (size unknown) of
sundries to southern ports (NTT&G 14 August 1903). This varying and seemingly
impressive trade was in fact small and Palmerston struggled at this time to develop a
substantial export market (Powell 1982: 85-108). The steamer also provided basic
materials to Palmerston from the south, such as coal, flour and building materials (NTT&G
18 May 1900 & NTT&G 30 November 1906) .
The Australian, with a net tonnage of 1784 tons, would have been considered a medium
sized steamer of its time with regard to the transport of bulk commodities. Nevertheless the
ship had a contributory role to play in the development of the minerals export market of
northern Australia. Tin, copper and other minerals from mines north of Katherine were
shipped from Palmerston to both southern ports and buyers in Asia. In the year 1900 tin
ore would go for 70 pounds per ton in the Singapore markets (NTT&G 24 August 1900).
The discovery of gold, tin and other mineral deposits in the north restored peoples’ hopes
that not all of the great mineral deposits of Australia had been discovered and exploited
(Harlow 1997: 1).
The hopes for a thriving Northern Territory mineral industry were eventually dashed,
problems including poor ore deposits, high costs of labour increased by isolation and
fluctuating international prices (Powell 1982: 95). Despite eventual disappointment in the
results, the history of mining in the north had a significant impact on development, for
example the construction of the Pine Creek to Darwin railway, and on the history of this
part of Australia, for example the history of the mining settlement of Southport. Therefore
the Australian was involved in what was a limited but historically and socially significant
industry of northern Australia.
Of all the goods the Australian freighted, the industry that was most significant in regard to
the developing export economy of the time was the frozen foods market. The Australian
shipped frozen meats, dairy products and chilled fruit to Asia, eventually reaching markets
in Britain. The Torres Strait route was the popular route for this export market, therefore
the knowledge and experience of E&A in this passage assisted its expansion into the
industry. When the Australian was wrecked, the vessel was carrying 2000 tonnes of cargo
and an account of the event indicates that a large percentage of this was frozen meat and
butter (NTT&G 30 November 1906).
The Australian as a passenger service. The Australian serviced passengers travelling
between ports along the south, east and north coasts of Australia, those that travelled to
ports in Asia, some international travellers continuing to Europe on connected services.
Passengers also included visitors and immigrants to Australia from Asia.
The steamer was advertised as having accommodation for 70 first class passengers and 35
second class passengers. There was also accommodation for steerage class passengers, but
the number of places, and the quality of the berths, was less openly advertised. Olson
indicates that steerage accommodation was once advertised by E&A as ‘extensive coolie
accommodation’ (Olson 1976: 26). This certainly indicates that management was aware of
the lucrative cheap labour passenger trade. To be fair, perhaps this style of marketing lower
class berths is more indicative of the time than specifically this company.
Select passengers travelling to Palmerston from southern ports were often mentioned by
name in the shipping news section of the Northern Territory Times and Gazette. In some
cases a short paragraph was written regarding a visitor, the arrival of influential business
Figures or socialites being important local news. In contrast the steerage passengers were
listed based on ethnic affiliation. For example the voyage to Palmerston, cut short by the
stranding of the steamer in November 1906, included: 60 Chinese passengers, 2 Japanese,
and 2 Hindu, in addition to the 13 European passengers (NTT&G 23 November 1906). The
number of passengers aboard this luckless voyage is a broad guide to the number of
passengers travelling on earlier voyages of the steamship.
The experiences of passengers aboard the Australian would certainly have differed
depending on the quality of their berths and their reason for travel. For the more privileged
first and second class passengers the voyage was perhaps rough at times but an adventure
to be had, particularly for those travelling from southern ports to the exotic and distant
There was a social life aboard for the wealthier European passengers, consisting of dances,
organised group activities and shared drinks in the saloon (Olson 1976: 47-49). An
example of a prevailing sense of adventure for some passengers aboard the Australian is
that in April 1899 a cricket team made up of passengers from the steamer took on the
Palmerston team, a match that would have attracted a number of local spectators (NTT&G
14 April 1899). The same passengers were audience to a cultural performance by local
Aborigines (NTT&G 14 April 1899). The organised activities show that for some
passengers the voyage was a holiday of sorts, regardless of later intentions when one
reached their port of destination.
2.4. Stranding of the vessel and consequent events
The stranding. The Australian ran aground on the reef protruding from Vashon Head, a
point of land located along the northern coastline of Cobourg Peninsula, a peninsula that
marks the most northern point of Arnhem Land. The site is located approximately 220
kilometres from Darwin. Whilst steaming westward to Palmerston, through the Arafura
Sea, an unexpectedly strong tide brought the ship over the shallow reef. The officers and
crew were attempting to complete a leg of the ship’s circular route. This route included
Adelaide, intermediate ports along the east coast of Australia, Palmerston and ports in the
Indonesian archipelago and the China Sea. This route had been a travelled a number of
times by the ship and was the standard itinerary of the E&A company.
The Australian left Sydney on the 7 November 1906. Whilst in port the ship’s compass was
realigned, suggesting that it was unlikely that a navigational error due to an inaccurate
compass was to blame for the accident. Reflecting on the voyage up to this incident
Captain John George remarked that ‘nothing of importance took place on the voyage’
(Inquiry 1907).
The ship passed Croker Island at approximately 8:45pm on Saturday the 17th of
November, reaching the northern shore of Cobourg Peninsula. The Chief Engineer
Douglas Young stated that at the time that the ship ran aground it was travelling at 11.3
knots (Inquiry 1907).
The Captain, who was in charge of the bridge at the time of the incident, describes the
accident and his orders following. ‘At 8:50 pm the ship took the ground, the engines were
immediately stopped and the holds sounded and found 8 feet ( 2.4 metres) of water in
number one hold. At 8:53 the engines were put full speed ahead…’ (Inquiry 1907). The
water in the hold indicated to the Captain that the bilge of the hull had been breached in the
accident. He ordered the engines full speed ahead so that the ship could settle on the
shallow reef, avoiding the possibility of it sinking if in deeper water. The impact between
the ship and the reef was described by the NTT&G as a ‘bump’ which startled and alerted
the passengers and crew (NTT&G 23 November 1906), a description that suggests the
collision itself was not dramatic.
A number of testimonies at the inquiry claimed that the area was experiencing an unusually
strong tidal current. A number of expert witnesses also suggested that because there were
no navigational markers or signals along this particular coastline the area was inherently
dangerous to navigate (Inquiry 1907).
The Captain explained his error in navigation with ‘I have been running to and from Port
Darwin during the last 20 years. I do not know of any safe anchorage between Croker
Island and Cape Don. It is usual to run on when you get your departure from New Year
Island. When the vessel struck I was fully impressed that I was at least 8 miles from the
land and I was very much deceived…I had no knowledge of a phenomenal tide during this
time until I received the letter from Mr A Brown, who is a resident at Port Essington…’
(Inquiry 1907)
The Chief Officer Andrew Shaw supports this explanation with ‘…I thought we were off
the land by about 10 miles. I did not notice the ship being set in. The course steered was a
correct one and our departure from Cape Croker was made with the usual observations as
to the bearings. I have been told since the stranding of the ship that on the evening of the
17 of November she struck, there was an abnormally high tide on the north coast, and this
in my opinion would account for the accident’ (Inquiry 1907).
The explanation of an abnormally high tide that night was supported by Captain Mugg of
the Waihoi, the vessel that first reached the stranded Australian. Captain Mugg argued that
‘I consider that there was an exceptionally strong set of tides to the southward, and from
the choppy nature of the sea I consider that the current was unusually strong, this would be
the following tide after the stranding of the Australian…there is nothing to guide one in the
directory as to these exceptionally high tides…On my return to Port McArthur this trip I
found an unusually strong set towards the land, and between Cape Wessel and the
Goulbourne islands I was 30 miles out…’ (Inquiry 1907).
The explanation of an extraordinary strong tide that pulled the ship towards land was
accepted by the marine board inquiry and the Captain was not found at fault for the
stranding of the steamer (Inquiry 1907).
Following the collision all the passengers rushed to the deck. The newspaper account
claims that the Chinese passengers ‘seized their life belts and strapped them on, yelling
wildly the while’ (NTT&G 23 November 1906). The same account states that the boats
were lowered in preparation for an escape if necessary. When order was restored and the
hull investigated it was determined that the ship was resting ‘amidships’ on the reef. A
breach in the bilge was confirmed with a reading of 16 feet of water in the fore-hold. ‘The
passengers were all removed to the first saloon and the donkey engine was set to work in a
vain attempt to pump out the water from the holds’ (NTT&G 23 November 1906). Over the
course of the night the lowering tide exposed the hull, and the prospect of floating the
steamer, with the pumps working the flooding holds, was discounted.
Over the course of the night the low tide made the ship more unstable, the ship realigned
its orientation on the reef and developed a significant list to starboard. The flooding
worsened and the boilers and engine room were affected, forcing the crew to shut down
auxiliary engines (NTT&G 23 November 1906).
By early Sunday morning Captain George had decided to transport the passengers to the
nearby shore of Cobourg Peninsula. Three boatloads of Chinese passengers were deposited
on land. Another passenger, Captain Strachan, volunteered to master a boat the 130 miles
to Palmerston and return with assistance. Just prior to his departure the Waihoi, making its
way to Palmerston along the same route, was spotted. She responded to the distress calls
and approached the reef cautiously, anchoring 1/2 mile from the stranded Australian. The
passengers, a few of their personal belongings and the 56 mail bags were transported
across and taken to Palmerston (NTT&G 23 November 1906).
The officers and crew remained on board the vessel, staying on the port side which was
elevated because of the ship’s list to starboard. By this time below-decks was flooded, and
at high tide the starboard section of the ship was submerged. Reports indicate that the
stanchions and other deck supports appeared twisted and bent indicating the hull itself was
being manipulated. On Friday the 30 November, 6 days after the initial accident, the
officers and crew abandoned the steamer, and boarded the SS Pretoria, transferring stores
and personal belongings (NTT&G 23 November 1906).
Further correspondence dealing with a beacon at Cape Don. A beacon at Cape Don was
recommended by the inquiry board in conclusion to its investigation of the stranding. This
sentiment was echoed in government correspondence to South Australia, with the
Australian being cited as the example in argument (Government Resident 1907). A
committee was formed to discuss the options for making the passage across this stretch
safer. Despite the committee’s findings that Cape Don was the most appropriate site for a
lighthouse or beacon, a beacon was first established at Cape Hotham instead. It is ironic
that the SS Aldenham, the vessel purchased by E&A to replace the Australian, was the
vessel contracted to service the construction of this beacon.
Initial salvage operations on the stranded steamer. Following the stranding there were a
number of attempts to refloat the vessel. After these failed the vessel was salvaged, and
internal fittings sold at auction. The local newspaper, the Northern Territory Times and
Gazette, recorded these events in detail. The paper also recorded observations on the
condition of the wreck as made by the officers of passing ships. These accounts add a
further element to the story of this ship. Furthermore this information gives an insight into
the strategies taken by a group of early salvors in working the stranded ship. Searching for
signs of these salvage operations has been one way that the archaeology and the history of
this vessel have come together.
The first objective following the stranding was to remove the cargo not damaged by the
partial flooding of the holds. As stated earlier both the Waihoi and the Pretoria took cargo
aboard when they collected the stranded passengers and crew. The Pretoria returned to the
site a number of times in the first few days following the accident. The objective of these
visits was to take aboard the remaining cargo worth salvaging. In the first two trips she
took on board approximately 210 tons of cargo, mostly goods consigned to merchants in
Palmerston, and saved from disaster by being originally stored in the no. 2 hold, the drier
of the cargo holds. Mr Brown, the representative of E&A in Palmerston, restricted the
Pretoria from issuing salvaged cargo to these merchants, until conditions with the
underwriters had been settled. A further 1800 tons of cargo remained on the vessel at this
time, being perished goods, mostly butter and meats (NTT&G 23 November 1906).
Returning for a third salvage venture, 5 days after the stranding event, the Pretoria brought
a diver, who inspected the damaged hull of the Australian. The diver discovered that there
were large boulders lying along the reef floor. In particular there were boulders located
against the hull walls of hold no. 1 and 2 and the stern section. Also by this time, all the
holds were full of water except the aft hold. The engine room was ‘swamped’ and all
engines, including that powered by the ‘donkey’ boiler, were out (NTT&G 30 November
Further salvage and attempts to refloat the steamer. Captain Strachan, a passenger aboard
the steamer when she struck the reef, took a keen interest in the salvage of the ship. There
were few vessels available to be contracted for salvage work. Although the pearling fleets
were in harbour, with the season recently finished, the crew had been paid off. All of the
‘good’ sailors had been secured for the forthcoming season of the Arru Island fleet.
Strachan took this opportunity to participate in the investigation of the condition of the
steamer and the salvage of its cargo, using his own tug the Maggie and his small schooner
Envy, the latter being towed by the tug (NTT&G, 14 June 1907).
The exact agreement made between the underwriters of the steamer and Strachan over the
salvage rights is unclear. It is evident that he worked as the principal salvor for a period of
time, and between November 1906 and June 1907 outright ownership of the steamer
passed into his hands (NTT&G, 21 and 28 June 1907).
Strachan initially carried out only minimal salvage work, such as the removal of internal
fittings, because he was convinced that he would eventually refloat the vessel, tow it to
safe anchorage, and fix her breached hull and twisted carriage. He was told after three
diving inspections that the hull was not breached by large unmanageable breaks, but rather
there was a long ‘crack’ in the vessel’s plates. This was plugged by means of wooden
wedges and oakum. The effectiveness of this seal was said to be good, and proven by the
fact that the changing tide did not affect the level of water in the holds. Following this
success Strachan ordered additional pumps and other equipment, from Sydney, to assist
him in the process of refloating the steamer. The plan was to float the vessel and, under
assistance from the ship’s own steam, move it into deeper water and tow it away (NTT&G
28 June 1907).
The pump that arrived proved insufficient and it was feared that when directed into deeper
water the vessel would fill and sink beneath the surface. The project awaited the arrival of
further equipment from Sydney. In the meantime the plugs were removed and the vessel
allowed to resettle itself on the reef bed. The vessel was not floated again.
Over the following months, until mid-September 1908, Strachan made further attempts to
refloat the steamer (NTT&G 18 September 1908). His team ran into obstacles again and
again, however Strachan remained persistent. There is a suggestion that, as late as February
1908, Strachan received financial backing for his endeavour from the Commercial Bank of
NSW (NTT&G 28 February 1908). However he did not succeed and over time the vessel
deteriorated till mending the hull was no longer an option. Ownership of the vessel was
eventually handed to Messrs A.E.Jolly and Company due to an overdue bill of sale given
as security to fund the salvage work (NTT&G 18 September 1908). This company held an
auction of all salvaged material in August 1908.
Messrs A.E Jolly and Company had the officers of the steamer Waihoi complete an
assessment of the vessel to finally determine the potential for further salvage and the
viability of refloating the vessel. The crew of the Waihoi reported that the Australian had a
fair list to the starboard side, with its bow facing NW. From ‘about half flood tide’ the sea
was breaking across the number 3 and 4 hatchways. Under the saloon the main deck had
been forced up into a ridge over a few feet. The funnel was canted at an acute angle and the
main mast was also out of position. The engine room was flooded yet the machinery
remained in good condition. In turn there were a number of indications that the hull was
extensively damaged and breached. Further salvage was conducted on this visit. Material
taken included polished satin wood panelling, teak mouldings and other interior fittings.
There was also mention that the anchors, winches and chain were worthy of salvage
(NTT&G 25 September 1908). The Australian was later sold to another salvor named A.H.
Albert, in February 1911, who had developed a reputation for working wrecks off the
Queensland coast (NTT&G 24 February 1911).
Through the course of the salvage work the remaining rotting cargo, most probably the
meat in particular, emitted a foul odour from the cargo holds. There is a reference in a later
newspaper account that during the initial salvage work by Strachan, a worker was killed
from inhaling toxic fumes emitting from rotting cargo (NTT&G 2 October 1908).
The auction of salvaged material. On Saturday 29 August 1908 Messrs A.E. Jolly and
Company held an auction of salvaged items. The auctioneer, W.C.P. Bell, staged the event
in the Henrie and Bell’s rooms (NTT&G 21 August 1908).
It appears from the newspaper account that the auction attracted a large crowd and was
very successful. The advertisement for the auction details that the following items were for
sale: Teak safes, Ice chest, Tables, Filters, Settee cushions, Telegraphs and Stands,
Compass stand, Binnacles, Binnacle stands, Lamps life belts, Life buoys, Charts etc. There
was no mention of the sale of other items for example the bell and salvaged machinery.
Material such as this may have changed hands in equally profitable but less public ways
(NTT&G 21 August 1908).
2.5. The Australian steamship in relation to the developing maritime economy of
Introduction. To appreciate the historical significance of the Australian it is necessary to
understand its significance in the context of the larger maritime economy of Australia. This
chapter contains a brief history of relevant aspects of Australia’s maritime history prior to
this steamer’s appearance and discusses the working life of the steamer in the context of the
maritime economy at that time.
Prior to the 1850s. From the outset both social planning and economic hardship dictated
that the Australian colonies remained, at least initially, economically dependant on Britain.
There was a serious need for an export commodity that would reduce financial
dependency. This search was not aided by ideological positions such as that of
Commissioner Brigge who stated that the natural pattern of trade for the colonies will be
between itself and the mother country. Resources would be shipped to Britain in return for
its own manufactured goods (Bach 1976: 65). Such attitudes would have Australia as a
sole resource of Britain, a market for its goods and a source of cheap commodities.
The whale industry failed the NSW colony, because it did not bring in sufficient capital,
and the returns primarily went to British investors. It was wool that developed Australia’s
export market. Wool export grew to considerable proportions in a short period of time. In
1821 the colony exported 175,400 pounds, by 1850 this expanded to 41,426,655 pounds
(Bach 1976: 20). However, much of this export industry was controlled by British owned
and operated ships, continuing a damaging tradition of the removal of capital returns from
the colonies.
In addition to losing capital to a British controlled shipping industry the colony imported
much of its manufactured goods from Britain. Bach reflects that between 1821-1850
Australian international trade was ‘predominantly a British affair’ (Bach 1976: 55). In the
era following this domination, Britain remained a significant force in the competitive
coastal and international Australian markets. The E&A company, which owned and
operated the Australian, was owned by British investors. British influence was also felt by
the enforcement of British maritime law, and its impending restrictions on free trade.
At this time the Asian/Australia trade, which became the hallmark of the E&A company,
was in its infancy. Small but symbolic trade with the Indonesian archipelago and other
Asian ports, specifically China, had begun early in colonial history. As early as 1830 an
annual average of 1000 tons of shipping trade occurred between Australia and Java. By
1842 Java was exporting 16 million pounds of sugar to NSW (Bach 1976: 63). By 1846
Manila was exporting 10,000 tons of cargo to Australia. This included sugar, coffee and
cigars. In return Australia exported flour, cheese, butter and coal (Bach 1976: 63).
Additionally McCarthy refers to various pearling companies that were operating between
Batavia (Java), other parts of the archipelago and the West Australian coast (McCarthy
1996: 145). The E&A company began shipping operations in the area by 1873. Though
this is considerably later, the company was responsible for the development of new
markets at a considerably early period.
Restrictive British maritime law and practice. Bach explains that there were two major
British obstacles in international trade with the Australian colonies. First was the
dominance of the British East India Company that used influence and gained special
concessions to create a trade monopoly that restricted the business of other British ship
owners and trade companies (Bach 1976: 45-46). The second restrictive force was the
regulations of the British Navigation Act 1651 which banned non-British registered vessels
from trading with colonial ports. Blainey argues that this Act had a crippling effect on both
foreign ships and ports in need of supplies (Blainey 1966: 174). Bach acknowledges the
nature of these obstacles but suggests that in practice these was ignored, particularly by
American traders (Bach 1976: 46). Eventually the dominance of the British East India
Company dissipated, and the Act was repealed in 1849. This finally opened the door for
foreign companies and non-aligned British traders.
Rapid growth in the 1850s. The discovery of gold along the east of Australia in the 1860s
significantly changed the very nature of the colonies’ economic and social life. Bach
reflects that one of the first increases was that of population as new immigrants attempted
to make it rich on the goldfields (Bach 1976: 94). Agriculture also greatly increased with
the need to feed this growing population (Bach 1976: 94). Beyond indirect advantages the
very nature of coastal and international shipping changed dramatically. Parsons reflects
that with the discovery of gold in NSW and Victoria, the coastal and international shipping
activity of the Australian colonies greatly increased (Parsons 1981: 4). There was the
development of an extensive passenger service to accommodate the massive increase in
immigration and the constant movement of workers and families. Foreign imports
shipments were increasing, responding to the demands of a growing population. Freight
costs for back loading with export goods were low as shipping companies were desperate
for return cargo. Exports included wool, gold, coal and whale products, however these
never matched the import trade (Bach 1976: 95). Blainey argues that, nevertheless, the
high value of wool and gold made this imbalance an acceptable limitation to investors
(Blainey 1966: 144). Additionally, perhaps of more interest to the romantic than the
economic minded, this demand in efficient and reliable sea services saw the introduction of
the American clippers to Australian shores (Bach 1976: 96).
The development of the Suez Canal route. The traditional sea route between Britain and
Australia was what has been described as the ‘Great Circle Route’ (Blainey 1966: 180).
This consisted of vessels making their way from Britain south along the west coast of
Africa. Utilising the westerlies in low latitudes, ships made their way across the Indian
Ocean to southern Australia. The ships returned to Britain via the westerlies again,
remaining in low latitudes, passing Cape Horn. When one considers the geometry of the
planet, the route, in addition to utilising favourable winds, was shorter than a route along
higher latitudes.
The Suez is a narrow strip of land linking Egypt with the Sinai Peninsular. It was first used
in 1837 by a British captain, Thomas Waghorn, as a shortcut between the Mediterranean
Sea and the Indian Ocean, an alternative to the traditional route which passed the Cape of
Good Hope (Blainey 1966: 215). The P&O company was particularly dominant in utilising
this route, developing the overland pass and ensuring reliable steamship links on each side
of the land passage (Blainey 1966: 215). The canal was built in 1869 and remains a vital
sea passage today.
The creation of the canal introduced new services between the west and the east thus
increasing competition. The route favoured the steamship trade, being less about wind and
able to provide reliable coaling ports (Blainey 1966: 216). In turn this route allowed
companies to take advantage of the train services between the English Channel and the
Mediterranean, cutting days off the transport time (Blainey 1966: 216). By 1860 the Suez
route was the fastest mail service between Britain and Australia, this feat heavily
dependent on the contribution of the rail service link (Blainey 1966: 217).
The Suez Canal eventually became the dominant mail route between Britain and Australia
however it remained considerably limited until the development of vastly more efficient
compounding engines and the ability to create higher pressures of steam. This would alter
the extent of dependency on numerous coaling ports along the way. An increase in coastal
trade in Australia during the 1880s consisted of mostly traffic between the larger ports of
the colonies, for example Melbourne and Sydney, where the route was short and the
coaling ports numerous. International trade was still dominated by sail ships and would not
be challenged until the introduction of new steam related technologies (Blainey 1966: 221-
The mail roues to Australia an increase in Asian trade as a consequence. The mail route
between Britain and Australia through the Suez Canal had a number of shaky starts and as
a consequence alternative routes were suggested. One such route was a trans-Pacific route.
By 1880 the mail route between Britain and Australia, through the Suez Canal, took 48
days whereas via the Pacific Ocean it took 45 days (Bach 1976: 148). Companies were
formed to service this route however they failed and the permanent domination of the Suez
route was established.
The trade between Asia and Australia has been discussed earlier in this chapter and it can
be stated that the mail service between Europe and Australia through Asia greatly
increased trade opportunities. On a very practical level mail subsidies allowed companies
to spread into new areas and maintain trade services.
The Australian steam trade in the 1890s and the Eastern and Australian Steamship
Company. By the 1890s, the period in which the Australian came into service, steam was
controlling much of the inter-state freight and a substantial degree of the international
freight. In 1890 the world shipping market controlled by steam was a significant 60.7%.
However this was a peak year for steam (Bach 1976: 142). Bach also notes that in the
colonies by this time there was a general expansion and diversification of export goods,
such as the introduction of metal exports (for example tin, silver and lead), which joined
the already established gold export market (Bach 1976: 136).
This period also saw a greater degree of competition between rival steam companies.
Parsons describes the 1890s as a period of ‘hectic expansion’ (Parsons 1981: 6). A
passenger freight war had developed between companies over the more popular routes, for
example Melbourne to Sydney. There was also the emergence of a number of competitive
shipping companies, some formed by the amalgamation of originally independent smaller
companies. The major players in Australian costal shipping at this time were the Adelaide
Steamship Company, the Melbourne Steamship Company and the Australian United Steam
Navigation (Bach 1976: 189). Competition from foreign companies was also developing,
with German and French companies taking portions of the market (Bach 1976: 146).
The sheer number of steamships working the rivers and coastlines indicates that, in some
respects, this was a boom period for steamship trade both in Australia and the world.
However, there were a number of problems, not the least being conflict with attempts to
create overseeing bodies and committees. For example the issue of subsidies for mail
services led to a heated debate. Some parties argued that mail subsidies, of the kind
awarded to E&A by Queensland and then South Australia, supported inefficient
companies, and consequently took work from better performing competitors (Bach 1976:
In addition to regulation concerns, there were economic concerns. There was an overall
slump in international trade volumes between 1873-1898 (Bach 1976: 142). In turn there
was an imbalance between available tonnage and goods that needed to be transported. In
addition despite the diversity of goods being exported from the colonies, there remained a
significant imbalance between the export market compared to the larger import market
(Lewis 1973: 390). With regard to this latter problem the colonies needed high value
export goods to balance the market and reduce the cost of shipping generally. One such
market was frozen meat and dairy products.
The frozen food market included mutton, lamb, fruit and dairy products (Bach 1976: 177).
These goods reached Britain from the east coast of Australia, through the Torres Strait to
connecting services in Asia (Lewis 1973: 93). By 1896 more than 100 ships, including the
Australian, were equipped to deal with the frozen food trade (Bach 1976: 177). The E&A
had been established in trade with Asia since 1873 and so had the advantage of experience
and established connections. By 1910 Australia was earning 11% of its export income from
shipping frozen and chilled foods (Blainey 1966: 276). This market increased the
importance of these mail steamers as their ability to move cargo quickly and efficiently
was paramount.
2.6 A review of previous site visitation
Salvage and other activity (1906-1908). Following the initial stranding event a series of
salvage operations were conducted (see Section 2.4). In summary the salvage consisted of
the eventual removal of most of the internal fittings and non-perished cargo and the
removal of some heavier machinery (unspecified) prior to a failed refloating procedure.
The wreck no longer retains any substantial portion of its superstructure. The engine and
much of the other secondary machinery remains on the site, suggesting that the initial
salvors either decided against its removal or could not remove it. The winch located in the
stern, once used for the rear cargo hatchway, was used during these salvage operations. It
was repositioned on the deck and used to haul rescued goods. With the collapse of the aft
deck following this salvage, the winch now lies on the seafloor. It is unclear what
happened to the white lady Figurehead. It may have been removed with other fittings
during this initial salvage work, removed later, or perished over time.
In an attempt to refloat the vessel the breaches in the hull were corked and pumps worked
the bilge and cargo holds. The refloating attempts brought about a shift of the ship from its
original stranded position to lying with the bow facing in a N-NW direction. The
remaining wreck still retains this alignment. Buried sections of the lower hull may contain
evidence of the breaches and repairs that followed. In 1911 the wreck changed ownership
to a A.H. Albert (NTT&G 24 February 1911). It is unknown what work this new owner
conducted nor who were following owners over the years.
Salvage during the 1970s. Salvage operations on the wreck of the Australian were
conducted on a number of occasions during the 1970s. This was recalled by George Tyres
in an interview with the author in April 1998. Whilst George Tyres did not work the site
personally, he is familiar with the site and is a prominent Figure in marine salvage within
the Northern Territory. John Chadderton, now living in Western Australia, was contacted
in April 1998, by the author, and shared his experiences on working the site. It should be
understood that there is no reason to conclude that this account constitutes the complete
history of salvage since the initial 1906-8 work.
Mr Chadderton explained that he and Harry Baxter, now deceased, worked the site a
number of times to remove the copper alloy material for scrap metal sale. Mr Chadderton
claimed that at the time he was under the presumption that the ship was carrying a cargo of
copper and lead. Despite this mistake the wreck was still rich in copper alloy material.
The salvors decided to remove the condenser of the engine, a section of machinery made of
copper. A section of the port hull wall had collapsed to starboard over the engine, covering
it. The salvors used explosives to destroy the collapsed hull and separate the condenser
from the engine. In the process the engine was split, the low pressure cylinder breaking
away. The salvors tied the copper piping of the condenser into a bundle with the intention
of raising it. However due to poor weather conditions the bundle was not raised, and
remains on the site to this day. Mr Chadderton did sell the condenser itself for scrap metal,
according to him receiving $3.83 a kilo (1975). Mr Chadderton also claims that at the time
of his visit brass lanterns were visible across the site. These are no longer visible on the site
and their present location can only be speculated upon.
It is not known who removed the bronze propeller.
Operation Raleigh (1990). Operation Raleigh is a British-based organisation that runs
volunteer work projects around the world. In 1990 Operation Raleigh, in conjunction with
the then Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, visited the Australian. (The
Conservation Commission is currently titled the Parks and Wildlife Commission.)
The aim of this visit was to conduct a survey of the remains (Fig. 6.). The group was made
up of 14 divers and 4 additional support staff. The team visited the site for approximately
10 days. The original survey strategy was to lay out a grid system over the site. Due to time
constraints and the strong current this approach was abandoned. The revised strategy
involved focusing on three sections, the bow, mid-section and the stern, conducting a
survey using tape measures.
Fig. 6. Operational Raleigh site sketch. 1990
The cross section view accurately indicates the list to starboard of the bow and stern
section. Accompanying the survey results was a description of the biology of the site by
participant Steve Congreve. Mr Congreve’s report is filed at the MAGNT.
Following the survey work the team attached a buoy to the site. The buoy was inscribed
‘Op Raleigh, SS Australian, CCNT’ (Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory).
The buoy is no longer on the wreck, likely removed from its mooring by natural forces.
Regional survey of northern Cobourg Peninsula – MAGNT (1995). In 1995 the MAGNT
conducted an archaeological survey at Cobourg Peninsula. The survey involved the further
investigation of known submerged and land sites and the search for unlocated sites. The
search was conducted within designated areas, based on historical information and local
The team consisted of MAGNT archaeologists Paul Clark and Cos Coroneos, and
volunteers including archaeologists Silvano Jung and Mark Staniforth and magnetometer
expert Bob Ramsey.
The team conducted a brief survey of the Australian (Fig. 7). The site sketch records the
distinctive clipper bow. The capstan and bollards located at the bow are also indicated. The
site plan shows that there was a stack of cut timbers forward of the stern section. This is no
longer visible. The survey report is filed at the MAGNT and titled ‘Survey of the Maritime
Cultural Resource of the Northern Cobourg Peninsula’ (Coroneos 1996).
Fig. 7. MAGNT site sketch, 1995.
Site inspection MAGNT (1997). In November 1997 the MAGNT, in conjunction with the
NT Parks and Wildlife Commission, visited the site for a period of 10 days. The team
consisted of archaeologist David Steinberg, steamship expert John Riley and the rangers of
Black Point ranger station, Cobourg Peninsula. The aim of the visit was to conduct a nondisturbance
survey and develop sufficient understanding of the site to create a management
3.1 Introduction
In order to understand the archaeology of this site and appreciate its significance, it is
necessary to understand the Australian within the context of its design. This chapter is an
overview of the ship’s design, highlighting features which are indicative of the ships
function and of the period in which it was built.
3.2 Overview
The Australian was designed as a seagoing passenger and cargo steamship (Fig. 8). Its
gross tonnage of 2838 tons signifies that, in comparison to other seagoing steamships of
this period, it was a middle sized ocean-going steamship. Its cargo facilities included
chilled compartments for frozen goods. The hull was constructed of steel, a material lighter
and stronger than iron. Powered by a triple expansion engine and coal burning steel twin
double-ended boilers the steamship had a registered speed of 15 knots. The single screw
steamer could also be rigged as a schooner, the Captain taking advantage of sail assistance
propulsion in favourable conditions. The design of the ship was not altered over the course
of its working life.
The Australian could accommodate 100 first and second class passengers, with further
unspecified accommodation for steerage class. The local Palmerston press described the
ship as being ‘beautifully furnished’, equipped with electric lighting throughout, as opposed
to only the essential areas being provided for (NTT&G 31 July 1896). The Australian was
also designed with a distinctive clipper bow, a Figurehead of a white lady and a prominent
bowsprit. When fully rigged the Australian would have certainly appeared more the
graceful clipper than the steamer workhorse.
Fig. 8. The Australian. (Nichols Collection, State Library of NSW)
3.3 Sails and rigging
The Australian was a two masted fore and aft schooner. Fore and aft sails run with the line
of the ship, yet can be adjusted to respond to wind direction. Photographic evidence (Fig.
8) and ship plans (Fig. 9) show that the Australian did not have a square topsail, an
additional sail which gave further power by increasing the overall area of sail. This feature
may have been decided against because of the necessary extra rigging. Rather, the
Australian had one triangular sail on each mast, supported by a jib sail and two stay sails.
The shrouds and stays of the rigging were made of iron.
The sail plan of the Australian encourages questions as to the role of the sails on this vessel
and what concerns where taken into account when incorporating a sail plan.
Figure 9 suggests that the sails were not large in proportion to the vessel. The reason for
this may be related to the design of the vessel, it being unable to support the forces
associated with taller masts and larger sails. If this is the case then it indicates the limited
importance of the sail plan in the context of the vessel’s overall design.
Fig. 9. Sail plan of the Australian (adapted from plans: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich).
The choice of simple triangular sails on the main masts, as opposed to the more popular
and effective gaff sail, may have been based on ease of handling. A gaff sail required a
second boom to be attached to the masts. In contrast triangular main sails may be rigged
more easily, and could be stored around the throat of the mast or single boom. The
importance of ease of handling is most likely a correct explanation, also explaining the
absence of a topsail, as discussed earlier. However, following this explanation it should be
noted that the jib sail and stay sails would have supplied substantial force with the right
wind direction. Therefore the limitations of the small main sails were partially
compensated by the additional sails, which were effective and also simple to hoist.
Another role of the sails may have been to assist in stabilisation. The vessel was long and
narrow and drew a shallow draught. Its flat keel was compensated with bilge keels to
reduce rolling. The sails may have been hoisted to promote stability in rough sea
conditions. The sails would direct the momentum of the ship, and the vessel could rest on
the full sails, reducing the rolling from side to side. The masts may also have had a second
role, apart from supporting sails, that of supporting derrick structures, which were used as
cranes to haul cargo in and out of the holds.
3.4. The steamship’s structural design
The Australian had a length of 341.7 feet (104.15 metres) and had a gross tonnage of 2838
tons (Fig. 10). The deck design followed a standard pattern of a forward cabin, a saloon
and a rear raised deckhouse. The saloon was three stories high and contained the bridge
and accommodation for passengers. The ship contained four cargo holds, a fore-peak tank
and an aft peak tank. These tanks were used for storing fresh water the forepeak tank, the
larger of the two, could store up to 62 tonnes. The hull was divided by 6 bulkheads, each
lined with cement to increase its watertight capability and to protect it from deteriorative
forces. The bulkheads rested on a cellular double bottom.
Fig. 11.An example of cellular double bottom design (Passach 1977: 30)
The Australian was designed with a flat keel and twin bilge keels. The bilge keels were
fixed at the level of the bilge and ran the length of the ship on both the port and starboard
sides. They were directed at a 45° angle and were approximately 1.5 feet out from the hull.
The role of the bilge keels was to support the balance of the ship and reduce rolling. This
was particularly necessary for the Australian’s flat keel would have offered minimal
3.5. Machinery and systems
The triple expansion engine. The Australian was powered by a 3 cylinder triple expansion
engine capable of producing 400 nhp. To power this engine the ship contained two doubleended
boilers which could produce 175 psi of steam pressure. Figure 12 shows the profile
of a compound engine with condenser and crank.
Fig. 12. An example of a compound engine (Paasch 1977: plate 53)
The logic behind the triple expansion engine is that the steam is expanded in three
consecutive stages. In this case exhausted steam from a cylinder is used twice more,
creating a more efficient and powerful engine.
The boilers of the Australian fed steam to the engine. The steam would first enter the high
pressure cylinder and work the piston. Through the release of energy the steam would
expand and cool. This steam would then be channelled into the intermediate cylinder, built
with a larger diameter to accommodate this expansion in gas volume. The steam worked
the intermediate cylinder piston, would again expand and cool, and be fed to the low
pressure cylinder. The low pressure cylinder was larger again to accommodate the
increased gas volume. It is interesting to note that though the consecutive cylinders
differed in size the stroke remained 48 inches. This illustrates the need for the pistons to
produce the same force, keeping the movement of the crank regular and fluid. The engine
sat as one unit above the crank shaft. The piston rods from each cylinder would connect via
a connecting rod and work the single crankshaft.
From the engine the steam was channelled to the condenser, the role of which was to
condense the steam to water, to eventually be returned to the boilers. The surface
condenser could have functioned in two ways. Brass tubes may have run cool water
through a chamber containing the gas. The gas would then condense to liquid. The second
option was for the steam to be pumped through the brass pipes which would lie around a
water reservoir. Which of these surface condensers existed on the Australian is unknown
as the condenser has been removed from the site by salvors. Further investigation of the
remaining pipes may answer this design question. On-site investigation has concluded that
the exhausted steam reached the condenser through the hollow portside support column.
Following the condenser the water collected in a chamber located adjacent to the condenser
called the ‘hot well’. The rapid condensation of the steam created a vacuum in the
condenser which lead to the engine itself. This vacuum allowed the cylinders to work more
efficiently and saved fuel costs. A pump system, most likely powered off the main engine,
was used to remove the water from the condenser, to support the continuation of this
vacuum. The pump fed the water through a feed water filter before returning it to the
boilers. The role of the filter was to distil impurities, such as lubricating oils used in the
engine. From the filter the water was returned to the boilers.
The boilers. The Australian was equipped with a pair of coal burning double-ended boilers
and a horizontal cylindrical auxiliary boiler (Fig. 13). The auxiliary boiler, also coal
burning burning, most likely ran the winches, windlass and other secondary machinery. It
produced 55 psi of steam pressure, a substantial output for an auxiliary boiler of this
period. The double-ended boiler was a boiler with furnaces on each end. The advantage
was an increase in steam production whilst minimising the necessary use of space. The
double-ended boilers of the Australian could produce 175 psi of steam pressure.
The double-ended boilers rested on ‘knee plates’ shaped to accommodate the boilers. The
main boilers of the Australian were taller than the lower deck, therefore this deck was
absent in the boiler room. To compensate the boilers were secured to the inner hull wall
with stays. In some cases double-ended boilers shared combustion chambers. Further
investigation of the site may indicate if this is the case. It is also unknown if these boilers
were fitted with additional equipment, for example forced draught or superheating, which
increases engine power output by increasing steam production.
Fig. 13. An example of a double ended boiler (Patterson 1969: 240)
Figure 14 below gives a general impression of the stern section of a steamship similar to
that of the Australian. It indicates the location of the boilers, engine, propeller shaft, double
bottom and propeller. Above the engine and boiler room was the saloon house.
Fig. 14. The stern section of a similarly designed single screw steamship (Paasch 1977: plate 43)
The refrigeration system. There were three kinds of refrigeration systems being used by
the early 20th century: compressed air, ‘carbonic anhydride’ and ‘ammonia’. It is most
likely that the system used aboard the Australian was a compressed air system (Fig. 15).
Historical sources date the introduction of the ‘carbonic anhydride’ and ‘ammonia’ systems
later than the working life of the Australian (Guthrie 1971: 278 & Sothern 1923: 30).
The diagram shows the design of a closed air system, a particular compressed air system in
which the same air is recycled. It is possible that this system was in place.
The warmest air in the in the coldroom would rise. This air was drawn into the system
through a suction vent. The air entered the compressor unit where it was compressed to 50
pounds and thus its temperature rose to approximately 138°C. The air was then delivered
to the cooler unit. The air travelled through a series of pipes which were immersed in a
cool water chamber. The cool water, circulated seawater, lowered the temperature of the
air to near its own temperature, that of 25°-30°C if within Northern Territory waters.
Many closed air systems also had a drying unit. The drying unit would receive the air from
the cooling system, and dry it prior to expansion. This was done by passing it in tubes
close to the passage of air leaving the cool room. This further cooled the compressed air
and deposited moisture onto the surface of the piping. The moisture would be removed
through valves.
Fig. 15. Diagram of a closed air refrigeration system (Sothern 1923: 81)
The air then entered the expansion unit. This worked the compressed air through a piston,
the worked air expanding and cooling. This working piston contributed to running the air
compressor unit. Following this final process the air had been cooled to -32°C. The air
was then delivered to the cool room, circulated, and then following circulation would again
be drawn into the air compressor (Sothern 1923: 29 and Guthrie 1971: 278).
Air was distributed into the storage chamber through louvres (pipes with holes along its
length). The chamber was lined with charcoal to provide insulation. The air-cooled system
was bulky, and inefficient but relatively simple to run, and when necessary easy to
dismantle. Another drawback however was that the temperature could not be regulated
(Guthrie 1971: 278).
It was common practice to have two units working side by side, resting on the upper deck
above the cargo chamber (Sothern 1923: 30). The Australian wreck site has the remains of
two units. In conclusion it was a reliable simple machine that, unlike later systems, did not
involve dangerous toxic gases.
The windlass, winches and anchor machinery. The Australian was equipped with at least
four winches, one for each cargo hatchway. The winches were used to haul cargo, and may
have been utilised to raise and lower sails. Figure 16 below shows the design of a steam
driven winch, similar to those installed on the Australian.
Fig. 16. A steam driven winch (Paasch 1977: plate 61)
The steam driven windlass was larger than the winch, and used for larger lifting
requirements, for example driving the capstan and anchor crane. The capstan was used to
haul the anchors and control other heavy lifting tasks. The winches and windlass were
powered by the auxiliary boiler. Figure 17 shows the design of a windlass, similar to that
installed on the Australian.
Fig. 17. A steam driven windlass (Paasch 1977: plate 71)
The bower anchors were lifted onto the deck from the level of the hawse pipe by the
anchor crane. Photographic evidence shows davit supports were located on deck. These
were definitely used to control the unloading of boats, but may also have been used to
control placing the anchor on deck, as shown in Figure 18.
In regard to handling boats, davit structures were used aboard the Australian for both
transporting all boats and permanently securing some boats, the latter demonstrated in
Figure 8. There were 8 teak boats aboard the Australian some stored with davits and others
secured onto the deck and the roof of the saloon. Lloyds’ survey of the Australian in 1906
refers to 5 lifeboats and ‘three others’ suggesting that at that time these three were either not
up to standard or had an alternative designated function.
Fig. 18. Bow of a steamship with davit structure to hold anchor. (Paasch 1977: plate 23)
4.1. The significance of design
Introduction. This discussion attempts to place various technologies that were used on the
Australian within the context of the history of invention. It explores the technical
significance of the shipwreck and includes information regarding major changes in
steamship design. This chapter also includes a technical comparison of the Australian with
the Catterthun and the Brisbane steamship wrecks.
Technology is not born within a vacuum, but is influenced by economic, social and
political variables. For example McCarthy explains that the outdated technology that was
operational on the Xantho was present because of the inability of the owner to afford
improved design (McCarthy 1996: 79). Therefore the technology aboard was directly
related to the financial limitations on the business for which the vessel was used. This kind
of study, that draws together other themes of history, although warranted, is beyond the
scope of this document. Therefore this discussion stands as a brief review of relevant
technological change.
Sail propulsion. Many have described the transition from sail to steam as steam
superseding sail in an explosive revolution. However this was far from the case. The
eventual dominance of steam was a clumsy process marked by the eventual efficiency of
engines, the availability of coaling ports on the routes and the emergence of valuable
building materials such as steel.
The Australian was built late in this story, in a period when steamships controlled much of
the trade and transport market in the world, the remaining sail ships reduced to carrying
low value bulk commodities such as wheat. However the appearance of sail rigging on
board these steamships begs the questions: what was the role of sails on these vessels and
how were they adapted to accommodate their new restricted purpose? The adaptation of
sails for steamships, to reduce the limitations and maximise the benefits, was a creative
invention breaking free of the traditional role and design of sails (Gardiner 1993: 147).
The initial introduction of steam engines to sailing vessels, in the 1840s, has been
described as the development of the ‘auxiliary steamer’, using wind as the primary means
of propulsion (Gardiner 1993: 146). Its inefficient steam engine would be used only in
particular circumstances for example making way in restricted waters, propelling through
waters that have unfavourable or weak winds, in battle or in poor weather when additional
power would be beneficial (Gardiner 1993: 146). In contrast the ‘fully powered steamer’
used steam as the primary means of propulsion, perhaps equipped with some sail
capability. With the improvement of engine efficiency and performance over time the latter
became the norm.
The value of Gardiner’s distinction, which heralds the introduction of a distinctly ‘fully
powered steamship’ era, wavers when one looks at later steamships, some of which had
powerful reliable engines, yet retained heavy cumbersome sail rigging. An example of this
is the Black Prince of 1861 which, although it came before the introduction of highly
efficient compounding engines, was clearly meant to be a fully powered steamship (Fig.
Fig. 19. The Black Prince (Webster 1995: 11)
Complicating any simple distinction between sail and steam even further are vessels such
as the Great Britain launched in 1843 (Fig. 20). Heralded as an early example of modern
screw propulsion engineering, it finished its days as a cargo sailing vessel (Corlett 1990:
Fig. 20. The Great Britain (Corlett 1990:156)
From the beginning the advantage of a fully powered steamer carrying sails was a hotly
debated question (Gardiner 1993: 146). The arguments against the presence of rigging
were that the masts, spars and sails would produce wind resistance and contribute to dead
weight, and that working the rigging would require additional crew. These concerns were
not trivial in an aggressive cost driven industry. A popular judgement was that the
disadvantages of carrying sails outweighed the advantages of sails in case of engine failure
or as added propulsion (Gardiner 1993: 146).
Near the turn of the century, in the operational period of the Australian, the appearance of
sails on steamships could be seen as a holdover from an earlier period, when engines were
less reliable (Gardiner 1993: 118). However, the advantages of sails as a form of assistance
in poor weather, as a stabilising feature, or as an emergency precaution, could not be
ignored. It is also reasonable to argue that the appearance of sails on small passenger and
freight steamships, like the Australian, had a marketing value. The passengers would
expect the romantic appearance of masts and sails on a passenger ship. The clipper bow
and fanciful figurehead of the Australian was arguably for this purpose.
The use of schooner rigs on many small steamships, and brig and barque rigs on larger
steamships, was a practice that should be given close attention as an aspect of developing
steamship technology. These features were there for clear reasons the expense and labour
associated with rigs and sails dispute anything less. McCarthy argues that the schooner rig
on the Xantho (1848-72) served to maximise the use of wind power whilst taking wind
resistance and other factors into consideration (McCarthy 1996: 141).
Expanding on the notion of the schooner sail plan as an important technological response,
the sail plan of a steamer may affect other aspects of design. For example advances in
propeller shaft design allowed the propeller to flow with the wake of the ship whilst under
sail, as opposed to creating a strong drag factor. Therefore the schooner rig on the early
fully powered steamer was not technology in isolation, but was related to other design
The debate over including sails came to a head at the White Star Line which abandoned
sails altogether beginning with their ships the Teutonic and Majestic (1889-1890)
(Gardiner 1993: 118). In contrast the Germanic (1875), an earlier ship of the White Star
Line, illustrates the value of rigging on large steamships. It had compound engines that
gave the vessel 16 knots, yet it was regularly rigged as a four masted barque with a brailing
gaff at the mizzen mast. Here the captain utilised wind power to make time and save fuel
costs (Gardiner 1993: 149). The eventual loss of sail rigging on steamships is a separate
technological concern to the dominance of steam over sail. In conclusion the schooner rig
of the Australian played an important part in this saga, illustrating one variation of the
popular schooner rig found on many medium sized steamships of this era.
Triple expansion engines. It is not an overstatement to claim that the introduction and
popularity of the triple expansion engine significantly affected world shipping. It was less a
marked leap in invention, than the logical next step from the two stage compound engine.
Yet it became the accepted standard steam engine from the 1880s up to the introduction of
internal combustion engines. The continued popularity of these engines persisted after the
introduction of quadruple expansion engines and turbine steam engines. The introduction
of economical and efficient compound engines was one factor that allowed steam to finally
dominate the shipping market. Thus the engine on this shipwreck site is representative of
this popular engine type, a kind not highly represented in such good condition within the
Australian archaeological record.
The technology of the period was driven partly by the economic need to minimise engine
size and increase speed and efficiency. Gardiner reflects that the reasoning behind
compounding was that if temperature reduction could be minimised, there would be less
condensation which could be left behind in a single cylinder. This would increase the
efficiency of the next piston movement (Gardiner 1993: 106). In turn the lower pressure
cylinders utilised previously exhausted steam and so reduced energy wastage.
The first compound engines divided the process into two stages a high pressure and low
pressure stage. Experiments included varying the number and location of the low pressure
cylinders. Advances in compounding technology lead to the development of the triple
expansion engine, where the steam is utilised in three consecutive stages. The clear
advantages of the triple expansion engine were: the reduction in size of the engine by the
introduction of an intermediate cylinder to reduce the work of the larger low pressure
cylinder/s, a more even fluid mechanical motion and the reduction of stress placed on the
low pressure cylinder/s by the introduction of an intermediate cylinder (Guthrie 1971:
122). Like most developments in steam technology, the triple expansion engine was
introduced firstly to the rail service, then to the river boat service and eventually to seagoing
steamers (Guthrie 1971: 123).
The triple expansion engine became the accepted compounding engine amongst engineers
who appreciated the increase in speed and power, and reduction in fuel consumption. The
performance of an early steamer, the Aberdeen (1881), helped persuade ship owners of the
value of this engine type. The Aberdeen was built by Kirk at Napier and Sons, the builders
responsible for the Australian (Gardiner 1993: 107).
Triple expansion engines varied in design examples being the sister ships the Arawa and
the Tainui built in 1884 by Denny of Dumbarton (Gardiner 1993: 109). These vessels had
triple expansion engines with four cylinders, having twin LP cylinders. In turn the IP
cylinder was located above the two LP cylinders, shortening the length of the engine.
Invention beyond this kind of adaptation did not threaten the standing of the triple
expansion engine. Guthrie reflects that, though quadruple expansion engines were
introduced by the 1890s, they remained a feature of larger and necessarily faster cargo
ships (Guthrie 1971: 133). In turn less dramatic inventions took precedent with innovations
such as forced draught, steam cylinder jackets and superheating steam systems being
tested. In conclusion the triple expansion engine was the popular engine, not just for its
efficiency, but because of its relative simplicity and ability to perform well with minimal
maintenance (Gardiner 1993: 123).
Steel (and high pressure boiler design). Once good quality steel was consistently available
on a commercial level it became the dominant ship building material. Steel is lighter and
stronger than iron, therefore builders could make stronger and lighter hulls. The reduction
in dead weight was 12-15% (Corlett 1990: 199). This saving would be used to increase the
cargo capacity. Steel as a building material also revolutionised boiler technology. Stronger
steel boilers facilitated the creation of substantially higher steam pressures. These higher
pressures were the stimulus for the compound engine technology, a technology that was a
direct response to a marked increase in available steam pressures. These compound
engines were 60% more efficient in fuel consumption than their predecessors (Gardiner
1993: 9). Gardiner argues that it was the introduction of commercial steel, which in turn
led to the development of efficient compound engines, that ultimately brought about the
dominance of steam over sail in world trade (Gardiner 1993: 9).
The introduction of steel is particularly relevant to the Australian because the ship was the
first steel steamer of the fleet, and the engine, a small triple expansion engine, was
indirectly a product of the introduction of steel to marine engineering.
The introduction of steel in ship engineering began in the 1870s, and Corlett argues that
consequently iron died as the principal building material by 1880 (Corlett 1990: 201). The
production of steel began with the invention of the air-blown converter in 1856 by
Bessemer (Corlett 1990: 199). This apparatus blew cold air through molten pig iron
removing carbon and other impurities. This method was improved by Siemans with his
regenerative process (Corlett 1990: 199). Using either process also increased the melting
temperature of the metal, making it easier to fashion, for example, in the production of
large hull plates.
Initially steel was expensive to manufacture, and the production of a consistent quality was
difficult for some time. In 1877 steel cost twice the price of iron. By 1880 however, steel
prices were reduced to being 50% more expensive, and by 1891 steel was only 10% more
expensive than iron (Corlett 1990: 200). Lloyds first set standards for steel ship design in
1888, which limited the reduction of scantling from iron standards to 20% and set
standards on acceptable steel quality.
The advantages of steel as a material outweighed the disadvantages, primarily that steel
corrodes faster than iron, ultimately limiting the age of the vessel.
Refrigeration systems. The Australian had a compressed air refrigeration system a board.
The design of this kind of system is discussed in chapter 4. This was the earlier of the three
kinds of systems that dominated the frozen or chilled cargo trade which began in the
The alternative ammonia and carbonic anhydride systems both worked in a similar fashion.
The ammonia system worked by firstly passing ammonia gas through the compressor
where it was liquefied under pressure. It was then cooled by passing through a sea-water
cooling unit. From a connected receiver the liquefied ammonia was released to evaporate
into a brine cooler expanding and boiling off at a temperature below 0°F. The gas was then
recycled back into the compressor and the brine was circulated into the chamber as the
cooling agent. This allowed a more specific control on temperature, serving different kinds
of goods housed in different compartments. The CO2 unit worked in a similar fashion
however this gas was worked at greater pressures. These later systems were more efficient,
the temperature could be controlled, however both used potentially lethal gases (Guthrie
1971: 278).
4.2. The Australian steamship: a technical comparison with the Brisbane and the
Catterthun steamers
Introduction. The aim of section is to analyse the technology of the Australian by a
comparison with two other steamships, both of which are now historic shipwrecks. The
comparison is brief and is only a glimpse of the variations and technological differences
possible between steamers built for a similar function, in relatively similar periods. An indepth
comparison would require more information on each vessel and a larger sample of
steamships. The information used derives solely from Lloyds survey data.
There is an historical element to this comparison, as these three steamships were owned
and operated by the E & A, working a similar route. In turn the engine of the Brisbane was
built by Napier and Sons, the company which built the Australian.
A brief history of the Catterthun and Brisbane shipwrecks. The Brisbane was built in
1874 in Glasgow, by A & J Inglis, and the engine was built by Napier and Sons. It was
owned and operated by the E & A. The steamer worked a similar route to that of the
Australian, servicing ports on the south and east coasts of Australia, Palmerston (Darwin),
and ports in Asia. In October 1881 it struck Fish Reef, approximately 48 kilometres from
Palmerston. It was returning from Hong Kong carrying 14 passengers and a cargo which
included tea, opium, and rice. No one was killed in the accident, however attempts to
refloat the vessel failed.
The Catterthun was built in 1881 by Meers Doxford and Sons, Sunderland, England. The
ship was run and operated by the E & A. The steamer worked a similar route to the
Australian servicing ports on the south and east coats of Australia, Palmerston, and ports in
Asia. In August 1895 the ship struck an outcrop near Seal Rocks north of Broughton
Island, NSW. The ship had left Sydney heading north. It struck and sank, taking with it the
lives of 54 people. Almost a year after the disaster a salvage operation was conducted,
raising 7000 gold sovereigns.
Table 2. Technical comparison: Australian, Catterthun and Brisbane steamships
Feature Australian Catterthun Brisbane
Date Built 1896 1881 1874
Wrecked 1906 1895 1881
Material steel iron iron
Decks 2 decks 2 decks 1 deck and spar deck
Gross tonnage 2838 tons 2179 tons 1503 tons
Length 341.7 feet 302 feet 281 feet
Rigging fore and aft schooner f&a schooner & topsail f&a schooner & topsail
Propulsion triple expansion
engine: 26,43,70-48”
compound engine:
compound engine:
nhp 400 nhp 250nhp 250nhp
Knots capability 15 knots 12 knots 13 knots
Main boilers 175 psi 75 psi 70 psi
Auxiliary b 80 psi (horizontal) 55 psi (vertical) no
Ballast bottom cellular double bottom older style older style
Refrigeration yes no no
electricity yes no no
Thickness of bulkheads (6)7/16 inches (7) 7/16 inches unknown
Thickness of frames 3 ½ inches 3 inches unknown
Thickness of main
sheerstrake plate 13/16 (40) 13/16 (40) unknown
Discussion. The most noticeable differences between the Australian, the Catterthun and
the Brisbane, based on Lloyds survey information, are in steam production and nhp. The
steel boilers facilitated the production of higher pressures and the triple expansion engine
produced the markedly different power output. Other explanations, for example the size
difference between the ships, cannot account for these marked differences in output
Interestingly the steam and nhp output differences do not translate into a matched increase
in capable speed (knots). This may indicate that the increase in power output of the
Australian was designed to respond to the increased net tonnage or weight. In addition to
these differences there would be a further difference in coal consumption efficiency of the
Table 2 shows an interesting detail regarding the response of the triple expansion engine to
higher levels of steam pressure. The intermediate and low pressure cylinders of the
Australian’s engine are similar in diameter to the cylinders of the Catterthun and the
Brisbane. In turn the stroke size is the same in the case of the Catterthun and similar in the
case of the Brisbane. Therefore, it is arguable, based on this evidence, that the role of the
high pressure cylinder of the triple expansion engine was to respond to the higher pressure
produced by the steel boilers. Steam leaving the high pressure cylinder was then treated in
a similar fashion, in regard to cylinder diameter and varying levels of expansion.
It is also an interesting fact that the Australian steamer had a horizontal auxiliary boiler
able to produce 80 pounds psi, whereas the Catterthun has a vertical auxiliary boiler
capable of only 55 pounds psi. One explanation for this difference maybe that the
Australian ran secondary machinery that required more power, for example the
refrigeration units. A comparative study of the different roles of these auxiliary boilers may
yield interesting answers as to the way avaliable energy was managed on these early
Another difference in the design of these ships is that the Australian contained a cellular
double bottom ballast chamber. These chambers became the design norm, and therefore the
absence of this kind on the Catterthun and the Brisbane is an example of developing
Lastly, the Catterthun could be rigged as a top sail schooner whereas the ship plans suggest
the Australian could not. This difference demonstrates that within the tradition of schooner
rigs on steamers, there was further technological variation. The role of the square topsail,
as an accessory of fore and aft schooner rigs, was to increase the area of sail and thus
increase speed or power.
5.1. Site location
Fig. 23. Location of the site
Key location details.
Vashon Head, Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory
Nautical Chart: Aus 18 Port Essington – Australia North Coast
Scale: 1:75 000 at Lat 11°15′
Latitude: 11° 06.667′ (GPS)
Longitude: 131° 58.533′ (GPS)
Overview. The Australian shipwreck is located on Vashon Head reef, which protrudes
away from Vashon Head to approximately 1.5 nautical miles. Vashon Head is the western
entrance point to Port Essington. The mouth of Port Essington stretches 8 nautical miles
marked by Vashon Head at the west and Smith Point as the eastern marker. Port Essington
is located along the northern coastline of Cobourg Peninsula.
Cobourg Peninsula is located approximately 220 kilometres NE of Darwin. It extends from
northern Arnhem Land and forms the eastern border of Van Diemens Gulf. The peninsula
constitutes Gurig National Park and the surrounding water makes up the Cobourg Marine
At low tide Vashon Head reef is covered by approximately 5 metres of water therefore,
though a shallow reef, it remains submerged. At high tide the water is approximately 8
metres deep. Vashon Head is also the location for the remains of the wooden sailing barque
the Calcutta (1868-1894) (Coroneos 1996).
Vashon Head itself is a small peninsula approximately 3 kilometres wide. It is mostly
coastal swamp but also includes open forest and sand dune areas. There is a hill 48 metres
high 3.6 kilometres south from the tip of Vashon Head (Australian Pilot 1972:57).
Cobourg Peninsula also includes the remains of the failed British outposts Victoria
Settlement, Port Essington (1838-1849) and Fort Wellington, Raffles Bay (1827-1829).
5.2. Site formation sequence
The vessel ran aground on Vashon Head reef on 17 November 1906. The ship passed over
the reef and first struck a series of large boulders lying on the reef floor. The bow passed
clear over the boulders and the vessel first struck at its midships, the ship coming to a
standstill. The ship teetered, balancing on its midships, accounts describing that the vessel
tended to dip forward with the stern slightly raised. Immediately following the impact
cargo hold one, located in the forward section, flooded with water. The initial impact
caused considerable damage to the forward section of the bilge, historical accounts
explaining that there were at least three large holes or tears in the hull. Over the course of
the first evening the ship swung on this axis, the bow coming to rest in a NW direction.
The ship was described as being very unstable, the hull continuously bumping against the
reef floor (Fig. 22-1).
Over the first few days the ship developed a considerable list to starboard. The lower deck
sections were flooded by breaches in the hull and from water washing over the starboard
deck and then through the hatchways. Reports also indicate that the ship had begun to
buckle, suggesting that the keel, arguably the backbone of the ship, was giving way. The
stress placed on the keel would have been excessive, considering the continued battering
against the reef and boulders, the weight of the flooded vessel and the awkward balancing
of the vessel on the damaged midship area (Fig. 22-2).
In August 1907, as part of a failed refloating attempt, salvors briefly raised the vessel from
its sunken position. Prior to this some machinery was removed from the steamer to lighten
its weight. A winch was set up on the stern deck, its role being to pump water out of the
hull once the ship was afloat. Divers also inspected the extent of damage to the hull.
As the pumps were insufficient for the task, the vessel was relowered. At this time, there
was no report of a loss of any superstructure, the vessel described as being relatively
undamaged except for the obvious tears in the hull. Though reports indicate that the ship
was lowered again in the same location there is a suggestion that it was not lowered back
onto the bed of boulders. The salvors described its new position as on a bed of sand, with
the bow facing in a NW direction. Recent inspections show that the wreck does not lie
amongst boulders but on a bed of coarse sand.
By September 1908 reports indicated that once again the vessel was lying with a
considerable list to starboard. The extent of the list to starboard is described by the fact
that, at half flood tide, the sea would wash over the starboard deck and pour into the
hatchways. The level of water in the flooded lower deck would immediately respond to the
changing tide, indicating that the breaches in the hull were extensive. The saloon had been
described as appearing buckled with the midship area rising above the forward and aft
sections by a number of feet. This ‘hogged’ position suggests that, by this time, the main
keel had given way. Accounts also report that the stays and supports of the masts and
funnel were gone and that these features were also canting aft-ward at an acute angle.
Over time the masts and the funnel, the thinner and weaker of the deck structures,
collapsed to starboard, prompted in this direction by the lean of the vessel and the strong
NW winds. Today there is no evidence of the funnel however the masts are visible on the
site (Fig. 22-4).
Eventually the deck collapsed and material fell to the floor of the ship, retained in this area
by the hull walls. In his theory of iron ship disintegration Riley describes this process as
the ‘hull becoming a receptacle for fittings and artefacts as they fall’ (Riley n.d.: 1).
Following the loss of the deck structure, particularly the support of the bulkheads, the hull
walls eventually collapsed. Both sides of the hull collapsed to starboard, again influenced
by the vessels overall lean to starboard and the pervasive NW winds. The port side
collapsed onto the main body of material, covering amongst other areas a section of the
engine room. The starboard side collapsed further to starboard, to became deposited to the
right of the ship floor. Recent investigation has located examples of the starboard hull with
the inner frames still attached to the plates.
Without the support of the hull the bow and stern broke away from the keel. The bow fell
forward and to starboard. The stern is upright with a slight lean to starboard. The foredeck
has deteriorated and the bow, which rests on its starboard side, is a cavern attracting fish
life. Interestingly, the capstan and anchor crane remain partially positioned inside the bow
structure indicating that these features remained attached to the bow and collapsed with it,
as it broke away from the ship. Lying on the seabed aft of the raised stern section is a fan
pattern of deck plating. This indicates that, over time, sheets of the deck have broken away
and fallen to the sea floor.
Weakened by strong tidal current and the weight of the collapsed deck features, the lower
extremities of the hull flattened onto the sea floor. This returned the ship floor to a near
upright position as indicated by the upright position of the machinery. This hull is not
buried in the sand to its waterline, as would occur according to Riley theory, because the
ship rests on a hard reef that has only a minimal sand cover (Riley n.d.: 1).
Over time the lighter and thinner material that had collapsed onto the ship floor and
starboard of the site was swept away by prevailing conditions. This includes the remains of
the deck houses. During the process of structural collapse a portion of the ship floor and
ballast section has been pulled away from under the body of debris, making it visible for
inspection (Fig. 24-5).
Salvage in the 1970s contributed to changes to the site. Salvors used explosives to remove
the condenser. In doing so they demolished the port hull section that had collapsed and
covered the engine. The explosion or series of explosions also cracked the engine into two
pieces. The condenser was removed and the condenser pipes were collected into a bundle
but were not raised. This bundle of pipes remains on the site.
5.3. Site description
Overview. The shipwreck lies on a reef which protrudes from the coastline. This reef floor
is covered with coarse sand and at the location of the shipwreck the reef is without gullies
or pits therefore relatively flat. Historical accounts describe large boulders present however
these were not sighted in the vicinity of the shipwreck. The site is a home for a variety of
fish, for example snapper species, and a variety of plant life, for example fanning corals.
The remains of the ship are best understood as consisting of three main sections. These are
the bow, the midship-section which rests on the remains of the ship floor and the upright
stern counter. Small amounts of debris are located at short distances from this main body
of material, however in general these three sections constitute the shipwreck. The
superstructure and deck of the ship is gone and the hull has broken away to the sand floor.
The bow and stern counter have broken away from the keel of the ship. The bow rests on
its starboard side and retains much of its hull integrity and shape. The midship section
comprises the ship’s keel and floor. Resting on the ship floor is material originally from the
lower deck or that which has fallen from the upper deck as the ship collapsed. This
material includes the three boilers, a selection of machinery and ship design features such
as the propeller housing. Located in the aft portion of the shipwreck site, close to the
vicinity of the stern counter, are ceramic tiles from the galley or bathrooms, a brass
padlock and a bone, the remains of meat cargo. The preservation of the bone suggests that
it has only recently been uncovered.
The full length of the site, from the remaining bow to stern, is approximately 110 metres in
length with an average width of 8 metres. At high tide the shipwreck lies at a depth of 7-8
metres, which can fall at low tide to 4 metres. At low tide an upturned section of the bow
breaks the waters surface. Visibility varies greatly, at best reaching 4-5 metres, yet can be
considerably poorer. The poor visibility is partly produced by organic particles in the water
stirred up by the strong current and from land run off.
The shipwreck site demonstrates aspects of Riley’s theory on iron ship disintegration (Riley
n.d.: 1). As predicted the deck and bulkheads collapsed. The upper ship features collapsed
onto the remaining ship floor, the remaining hull walls acting as a ‘repository’. Over time
the hull broke away. Also, as predicted, the bow and stern sections have broken away from
the keel, these no longer supported by the ship’s hull. The ship is not buried to its waterline,
as the theory predicts, because the sand layer above the hard reef floor is too shallow.
A thin, dull-coloured layer of concretion and small hard corals’ cover the exposed ferrous
remains of the wreck. The concretion layer may partially buffer the surface from physical
abrasion, caused by strong tidal current and seasonal monsoon conditions. The shipwreck
is located in shallow highly oxygenated water.
The bow section. The bow has broken away from the ship and has fallen forward and to
starboard (Fig. 24). The bow at present still retains its rounded three dimensional form.
The upturned port side of the bow maintains all of its hull plating and displays a hawse
pipe, distinctive mould lines and a set of fairleads, the latter was used to secure the
bowsprit to the foredeck. Also attached to the structure, alongside the port side, is the
remains of the sheerstrake frame for the raised deck. Except for a small, forward steel
portion, the deck of the bow is absent creating a cavernous region, which is highly
populated by fish life. At low tide the rear port portion of the bow breaks the surface of the
Fig. 24. The remains of the bow (photo: J. Riley)
The forward section of the bow is exposed and one may trace the distinctive clipper shaped
bow. The bowsprit remains intact measuring 7.6 metres long. The wood is considerably
degraded though there was not visible evidence of burrowing worm damage. The bowsprit
is made of a round section of wood, formed square at the base, where it is still attached to
the remaining bow structure with square staples. The figurehead, that of a white lady, is
Located 5 metres to the west of the bow is a Trotman’s anchor standing upright and half
buried (Fig. 25). This may be the port bower anchor. A length of the shank and the stock is
exposed. An anchor ring or shackle also remains attached to the anchor through its eye.
The height of the exposed portion of the shank is 1.5 metres and has a diameter of 0.7
metres. The anchor ring has a diameter of 0.3 metres.
Fig. 25. The anchor in-situ (photo: J.Riley)
Much of the foredeck has collapsed leaving a swim-through into the interior of the bow.
All that remains of the foredeck is a small portion of steel decking, known as the deck
hook, which is fixed at the very peak of the bow. The head of the capstan and the top of the
anchor crane are deposited on the seafloor outside this cavern (Fig. 26). The legs of the
anchor crane and the shaft of the capstan still reach into the remains of the bow’s lower
deck section. Also protruding from the internal bow structure are the port and starboard
hawse pipes. The remains of the collision bulkhead are visible within the bow and this
probably contributes to much of the structure’s remaining strength.
Fig. 26. The capstan and anchor crane in-situ, located at the bow. (photo: J. Riley).
Two chain stoppers are visible one near the capstan and the other near the hawse pipes. A
set of twin head bollards are also present. The supportive frame of the bollards measures
1.15 metres by 0.35 metres and the diameter of the bollard heads is 0.35 metres. There are
a number of bollard sets throughout the shipwreck site, in varying sizes and degrees of
Resting against the rear portion of the bow structure is a steam driven windlass, the
starboard anchor chain locker and chain from the port anchor chain locker. The windlass,
no-longer secured to the foredeck, has fallen and now rests on semi-collapsed support
beams. Lying over the windlass is another collapsed support beam. Beneath the windlass is
the starboard chain locker which still contains a pile of chain, that has partly spilled out.
Leading from the chain locker to the winch are a set of pipes. These were the pipes feeding
the chain from the locker to the foredeck. Two lengths of chain still run through these
pipes indicating how the system worked.
Lying adjacent to the locker is a pile of chain corroded and fused into a shape which
appears to have been that of the port chain locker, now corroded away. Leading from this
pile of chain are also two pipes feeding chain length to the windlass above. The piles of
chain and the remains of the chain lockers rest aft of what appears to be the rear bulkhead
of the forepeak tank. From this bulkhead starts the length of the hull double bottom.
Forward midships: aft of the bow and forward of boilers. Between the bow and the stern
counter the remains of the ship follow the old line of the vessel, doing so because the
material rests on the remains of the keel and the ship floor. Between the bow and the main
boilers is a section of the shipwreck which comprises both nondescript girders beams and
steel plating and important examples of machinery and ship design.
Approximately 10 metres from the rear of the bow is the remains of the forward cargo
hatchway and its allied winch (Fig. 27). The winch sits upright and aft of the hatchway.
Partial exposure of floor beams indicates that these two features remain fixed together. The
upright position of the winch and hatchway suggests that at least the portion of deck, to
which they were fixed, fell down flat.
The winch is bordered by a raised frame, measuring 2.15 metres square. The winch itself
appears in good condition. Its overall dimensions are approximately 1.15 metres by 2.8
metres in length and is 1.10 metres in height. The warping ends (spools that work the chain
or rope) and the main piece, (part of the driving mechanism), are distinguishable and
visibly impressive features. There is a foot pedal reaching out into the water. The hatchway
is a rectangle of 2.50 metres x 3.60 metres. However, it is possible that these are not the
original dimensions. The raised frame of the hatchway is intact.
Fig. 27. The forward winch in-situ (photo: J. Riley).
Scattered along the length of the shipwreck are sections of hull plating and the remains of
the collapsed hull walls. Both the starboard and port hull sides collapsed in a eastward
direction due to the angle of the stranded ship and the direction of winds. These broken
sections show examples the outer hull plating and, on the opposite side, the frames and
side stringers of the hull’s scantling. Some of these broken sections are right angles, one
side showing the plating or internal frames of the hull wall and the other arm of the right
angle illustrating a section of deck with a pair of bollards still secured to its face. This
material is instructive in regard to technical design and is important in distinguishing the
shipwreck’s break-up sequence.
The most revealing remains of the hull are found along the port side of the wreck. Here a
significant portion of the ship floor and hull double bottom is exposed for investigation.
This section is approximately 70 metres long. This visible material allows one to
investigate the design of the ship floor, lower hull and the cellular double bottom. In turn
this section of the remaining hull is raised off the seabed to the extent that the port bilge
keel is exposed and can be studied (Fig. 28). The role of the bilge keel was to contribute to
ship stability.
Lying east of the forward midship section is the steel foremast. This lies at a 45° angle to
the line of the shipwreck, with the base of the mast lying closer to the stern of the steamer.
The length of this portion of the mast is 22.80 metres and has a diameter of 0.75 metres at
Fig. 28. The port bilge keel in-situ (photo: J.Riley).
its widest end. There is a cheek, approximately 12 metres along the mast’s length, as
measured from the base. No wire rigging was visible. A separate section of the foremast, a
length close to 5 metres, rests on the main body of wreckage and it appears by its thickness
to have been closer to the base than the longer portion.
Returning to the main body of wreckage there is a large twisted section of steel that was
once part of the deck. It is 18.30 metres long and begins 42 metres from the bow. It is a
narrow twisted length of steel deck that has bollards secured to its face. Supportive beams
remain fixed to its underbelly.
Just forward of the boilers are the remains of the engine room bulkhead. There is little
height remaining to this bulkhead however it is clearly visible from an aerial perspective
because of its thickness and the marked drop in height from the forward midship section to
the floor of the boilers. In the close vicinity of the bulkhead are the remains of the
ventilator system and the lifeboat davits.
The boilers. The three boilers of the Australian remain visually dominant features of the
site. They consist of two (twin) double-ended steel boilers and a horizontal steel auxiliary
boiler. Each face of the larger boilers was equipped with three furnaces, each measuring
0.4 metres square. Many of these furnaces still have doors that open and close. As is
common on steam shipwrecks that have been underwater for a considerable period of time,
only the boilers themselves remain, the surrounding smoke box, uptake funnel and all other
additional structures are gone. The boilers rest on supportive seats referred to as ‘boiler
bearers’. These remain intact and still support the boilers in position. The auxiliary boiler
measures approximately 2.2 x 2.2 x 2 metres. A section of the top plating has corroded
away exposing the inner stays and fire tubes. Returning to the main boilers the position of
the furnaces indicate that they are orientated close to an upright position. The port boiler
rests 65 cms to the rear of the starboard boiler indicating that some movement has
Figure 29 shows one side of twin double-ended boilers. The number of hatches and the hull
bottom are incorrect in relation to the Australian, however it remains a general guide. Take
note that the boilers are supported by stays that are connected to the hull. Within the
Australian these stays were particularly necessary to support the boilers, because the lower
deck was absent in the boiler room to accommodate the size of the main boilers.
Fig. 29. Frontal view of similar boilers, a general guide (Paasch 1977: 44)
The engine room and machinery. Aft of the auxiliary boiler is the area that once
constituted the engine room. Various machinery remains intact and visible for inspection.
This includes the engine (in two parts), dynamo, twin refrigeration engines, two water
filters and a section of the main crank. The feed water filters would filter oil and other
impurities from the condensate produced after expansion in the engine, prior to its return to
the boilers. Sothern argues that refrigeration units were stored on deck however the
position of these units suggests otherwise in the case of the Australian (Sothern 1923: 30).
The engine has been damaged by salvor’s explosives in the 1970s. There was also no
evidence of the twin bilge pump system, which was positioned in this area (ship plans:
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich).
The engine lies on its side with the low pressure cylinder detached and resting 0.6 metres
away (Fig. 30). Once intact and upright the engine was cracked into two pieces by salvors
explosives. The tail rod of the low pressure cylinder is protruding from the roof of the
cylinder. The high and intermediate pressure cylinders do not have protruding tail rods,
indicating that in contrast these pistons are in the down position. This indicates further
internal damage as these two pistons should be in contrasting positions. The circulating
pump, the condenser and the support column of the condenser have been removed from the
engine by salvors. The condenser pipes remain present on the site, tied as a bundle. In
addition to the break of the engine into two segments, a support column of the engine that
once led to the condenser is gone.
The high and intermediate cylinders constitute the smaller section of the engine, the low
pressure cylinder being substantially bigger (Figs 30, 31). Inspection of the engine has
indicated that the exhausted steam from the low pressure cylinder valve chest was routed
through the hollow cast iron port support column to be fed into the condenser. This is an
adaptation in design to save valuable space.
Fig. 30. The low pressure cylinder section of the propulsion engine in-situ. (photo: D.Steinberg).
Fig. 31. The high and intermediate pressure cylinders section of the propulsion engine in-situ
(photo: D.Steinberg)
The remains of the water filters, dynamo and twin refrigeration machines appear in good
condition. The outer surface of these still remain intact. These surfaces are covered in
small hard corals and a thin layer of concretion. In particular the dynamo illustrates much
of its design with the driving shaft and cylinder still intact and clearly visible (Fig. 32).
Further investigation may indicate if the dynamo pulley was fitted for belts or ropes, this
distinction in design highlighted by Guthrie (Guthrie 1971: 277). The remains of the
refrigeration systems show the flywheels, once powered by the cylinder of the expansion
unit (Fig. 33). As part of the refrigeration process the working of a cylinder was to expand
and cool the steam.
A small but significant example of teak upper deck planking is located near the remains of
the engine room. This is located 2.4 metres aft of the auxiliary boiler. This planking is
nearly hidden from view, found underneath debris and partially covered by sand which
may have protected this wood from a substantial degree of deterioration. Each plank
measured to a width of 0.22 metres.
Fig. 32. The dynamo in-situ (photo: D. Steinberg).
Fig. 33. A refrigeration unit in-situ (photo: J. Riley).
The stern section including propeller housing and the mizzen mast. Further aft, beyond
the engine room, is the remaining stern section. This is dominated by an upright portion of
the hull constituting the stern counter with a portion of the extreme aft hull walls and deck
still attached. Other features include the propeller housing (with propeller shaft), the stern
winch, a spare propeller hub, davit structures and the mizzen mast.
The steel mizzen mast is located east of the ship floor. It still retains its original length of
approximately 22 metres and similar to the fore-mast it rests at a 45° angle to the line of
the shipwreck. Located 2 metres forward of the mizzen mast are the remains of two
ventilator chambers, resting side by side, creating a ‘shotgun’ type appearance.
Also located east of the ship floor are sections of hull, found scattered on the seabed. These
examples show the outer plating on one side and the remains of the frames and side stringers
on the other. In this area are a number of brown square ceramic tiles, arguably from the
galley or bathrooms. They are approximately 60cms by 60cms in length. These tiles are
clearly visible and are threatened by potential salvage. Also located was a small brass
padlock. This was located nearer to the propeller housing and was half buried in the sand.
The propeller tunnel is a distinctive feature of the aft portion of the shipwreck. It runs from
the remains of the engine to eventually disappear into the aft peak tank, having an overall
length of approximately 12 metres. The propeller shaft within the tunnel is off-set to port to
allow a person to enter and perform maintenance or repairs. A water pipe also runs the
length of the housing parallel with the shaft. Lying over the shaft tunnel are the remains of
lower deck support beams.
Resting just forward of the stern section lies a winch. Historical accounts suggest it was
used to run salvage work initially following the stranding. Close to the winch is a ladder,
still connected to the stern section. The remaining ladder is approximately 2 metres long
and was originally a ladder leading from the lower deck area to the upper deck. Where the
propeller shaft disappears into the remains of the aft tank, one can see a spare propeller
The stern itself stands with a minor list to starboard. It still remains structurally intact
because it gains significant strength from the remaining steering column. Hull plating
remains attached however a substantial degree of the deck floor is gone. This has exposed
the tie-plates and deck beams. The hull plating curving around the raised counter has fallen
off, and is lying on the sand in close proximity.
The steering mechanism is partially intact and the rudder is turned fully to starboard past
its stops. The bronze propeller has been salvaged as have the bronze blades of the spare
hub. In correspondence dated December 1997, Riley has stated that normally the propeller
could not have been removed without removing the nut and withdrawing the shaft.
Therefore he argues that the propeller was removed using explosives to shatter the hub. A
small excavation would be necessary to expose the area and prove this argument.
Artefacts. The site has a number of significant relics, most obvious is the collection of late
19th century machinery. Smaller items include the ceramic tiles, the bone (remains of
cargo) and the brass padlock. Investigation of the bone remains may indicate butchering
In a telephone conversation in April 1998, John Chadderton stated that when he visited the
site in 1970, the brass lanterns were visible. This is possible, however initial salvage work
following the stranding was extensive and items such as these were more likely collected
and sold at public auction (NTT&G 28 August 1908).
5.4 Site deterioration
In addition to the aim of recording the visible remains of the shipwreck in 1997, effort was
made to both document the condition of the remains and identify the environmental
variables which affect their condition. From this, inferences have been made as to the
process of site deterioration and to what visible signs of deterioration will be seen in the
near future. It must be noted that neither a conservator nor marine biologist accompanied
the fieldwork team. Also, no measurements were taken of marine or environmental
conditions, only observations. Therefore, these conclusions are not extensive and further
study is recommended.
Three processes that promote the deterioration of this shipwreck are corrosion, physical
abrasion and structural stress, the latter from strong tidal current, winds and seasonal
cyclonic conditions.
Corrosion is a complex subject and corrosion rates are unique, not just for each shipwreck,
but items scattered across each shipwreck. However, basic rules in regard to environmental
variables can be followed and these suggest that the Australian is undergoing rapid
corrosion. The Australian is located in shallow constantly flushed seawater suggesting that
the dissolved oxygen rate is high. It is located in tropical water where the seawater
temperature and the salinity level are high (salinity in tropical waters – Pearson 1987:
17).These factors increase the rate of corrosion (Pearson 1987: 74-76). The vast majority
of the remaining material is steel, which corrodes faster than other metals such as copper
alloys and iron, supporting the notion that rapid corrosion is occurring. The long term
corrosion rate for mild steel in seawater is 0.11 mm/year (Pearson 1987: 77). Lastly the
corrosion of the bow and stern sections, in particular, are increased by differential aeration,
caused by an interface between the air and water environment. Therefore, in conclusion, it
can be argued that the Australian is undergoing rapid corrosion.
Two factors which may assist the partial protection of the metal from corrosion are the
presence of a concretion layer and fouling assemblage. A concretion layer may reduce the
rate of corrosion by creating an enclosed local environment with unique conditions
between the metal’s surface and the sea (Pearson 1987: 77). A fouling assemblage may
also act as a buffer between the metal’s surface and the outside environment (Pearson
1987: 14). However, Pearson cautions against any quick conclusions stating that the
presence of lifeforms attached to surfaces may, in contrast, increase the rate of corrosion
(Pearson 1987: 14).
The site also experiences physical abrasion by the sandy bottom which act as a scouring
and abrasive agent. This is precipitated by a strong tidal current. The site also suffers
structural stress from current action, which is amplified by the ongoing corrosion which
weakens the structure.
Obvious signs of site deterioration in the future will be the dramatic collapse of the bow
and stern sections. The machinery will suffer ongoing loss of surface detail and will
breakdown where they are presently located. The boilers and machinery, being distinct
from other material, will remain intact for some time due to their thickness. An
unpredictable factor is cyclonic activity which has the potential to cause immediate and
extensive damage.
5.5 Environmental conditions
Climate and weather. The annual cycle includes two major seasons, the Wet season (Nov-
April) and the Dry season (May-October). The Wet season is associated with high rainfall
and cyclonic winds. The Dry season is associated with calmer wind conditions and drier air
From April to September the South East Trade Winds dominate the area. These winds are
also referred to as the South East or the Eastern Monsoon. The winds develop from a east
to south-east direction. Within 30-35 miles of the coastline the winds are relatively calm
and this period is associated with generally fine weather (Australian Pilot 1972: 16).
From December to February the West Monsoon Winds dominate the area. It is a period
identified with cloud, rain and thunderstorms, especially at its onset. The winds and
general conditions are variable going from calm hot days to periods of rain and strong
squalls. During this time, including the transitional period between February and April,
cyclones and cyclonic depressions can develop.
Tropical revolving storms (cyclones), appear between December and May with February
and March the period of maximum frequency. On average one or two appear in the
Arafura and Timor Sea each year. The rotating winds can reach 50 knots, and occasionally
in gusts up to 85 knots. They do not stay in one location for long, usually less than 12
hours, however the degree of destruction possible in that time is immense (Australian Pilot
1972: 17).
The temperatures experienced at Cobourg Peninsula are high throughout the year, on
average between the low 30s (C°) and high 20s (C°). It is the high levels of humidity
during the Wet season that can make working outdoors extremely uncomfortable. In the
Dry season humidity levels are on average 60 %. During the Wet season, particularly
during January, February and March, humidity levels reach an average of 75% (Northern
Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission 1993b: 13).
The average annual rainfall in Cobourg Peninsula is 1,350 millimetres. The rainfall is
highly seasonal, with approximately 95% occurring between November to May. Episodes
of rainfall can be intense, for example the highest rainfall in one day recorded at Cape Don
was 217 millimetres (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission 1993b: 13).
The marine environment. Vashon Head reef is covered in a bed of coarse sand and rocks.
The floor is also scattered with large boulders. The reef floor is relatively flat without
gullies or pits.
The mean sea surface temperature in summer is 29 (C°).
The mean sea surface temperature in winter is 25 – 26 (C°)
The mean salinity surface value in summer is 34 parts per thousand.
The mean salinity surface value in winter is 35 parts per thousand.
(Australian Pilot 1972: 12)
On the northern coast of Cobourg Peninsula the tide flows from east and south during the
flood tide and flows from west and south during the ebb tide (Australian Pilot 1972: 57-
58). The reef is not exposed during the low tide period. The tidal range in the Cobourg
Peninsula region is approximately 3 metres, less than that experienced in Darwin (Northern
Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission 1993b2: 14).
In general the direction of the currents respond to the seasonal changes in monsoon and
wind. During the West Monsoon Period ( December-March) the current flows in an E NE
direction across the Arafura Sea. During the SE Monsoon Period ( April-November) the
current flows in a W SW direction across the Arafura Sea ( Australian Pilot 1972: 13). The
mean current strength in this region is 1/2 knot along the north-coast of Cobourg Peninsula
(Australian Pilot 1972: 57). However this average is not reflective of what can be
experienced. The varying strengths of the monsoonal winds directly affects the strength of
the current. Additionally, in local areas, the strength of the current can be affected by the
geography of the coastline.
The sea and swell in this region are low to moderate throughout the year. Isolated strong
conditions are possible during tropical storms and cyclone periods. The cyclone period
corresponds with the Wet season (November-April) however it is most prevalent during
January, February and March. The Australian site does not experience strong wave action.
6.1 Preamble
One role of this management plan is to assess the significance of the site. A significance
assessment is crucial in the development of a management program. An assessment
functions as a position from which decisions regarding management can be reached. As an
analytical process it allows one to reflect upon a site in a new light.
The criteria used in this assessment were developed from two suggestive sources. The first
is the information detailed in the Burra Charter. This charter is a guide developed for the
management of cultural places, and has been adopted by ICOMOS (International Council
for Monuments and Sites) Australia (Marquis 1994). The second resource was the
‘Guidelines for the management of Australia’s shipwrecks’ (Australian Institute for
Maritime Archaeology 1994). This was developed by the Special Advisory Committee of
the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA). These sources are suggestive
not prescriptive.
The assessment is divided into two sections. Firstly the site is assessed under each of the
criteria and these are then summarised in a clear and brief synopsis referred to as the
Statement of Significance.
6.2 Criterion 1 – Historic significance
Significant in the evolution and pattern of history. Important in relation to a figure, event,
phase or activity of historic influence.
The Australian is historically significant. It contributed to coastal trade between
Palmerston (Darwin) and more populated areas of Australia and contributed to early
international trade between Australia and Asia.
In regard to coastal trade between isolated Palmerston and Australia the history of this
vessel’s working life has a strong bearing to the colonial themes of isolation and distance.
In terms of international trade the cargo of the Australian illustrates that national export
markets were diverse but in their infancy. In turn, with refrigeration capabilities, this
steamer was involved in the booming export of chilled and frozen goods. This industry
introduced a much needed export market and significantly changed our economic
relationship with Britain.
The Australian functioned as an immigration vessel to Australia from China, whilst being
worked by a Chinese crew. This occurred during a period of national debate over non-
European immigration and non-European labour in Australia.
6.3 Criterion 2 – Technical significance
Significant in possessing or contributing to technical or creative innovation.
The Australian is technically significant because it illustrates innovative and important
developments in the history of invention. The technical significance of the shipwreck is
increased with the good condition of its remains.
The shipwreck presently demonstrates a number of machines that date to the end of the
19th century. These include double-ended boilers, twin refrigeration units, a triple
expansion engine, winch, windlass and a dynamo (which produced lighting).
The refrigeration units are a specialised technology that appeared at the turn of the century.
It was the first kind (but not first model) of cargo refrigeration systems and its kind is no
longer represented in contemporary vessels. It demonstrates a technological achievement
that appeared at the end of the 19th century and which significantly changed the economic
market of the time. The triple expansion engine is in good condition. This kind of engine
revolutionised the role and status of the steamer by making these vessels substantially
more powerful and efficient.
In addition to individual machinery the remaining construction features of the ship
contribute to the technological significance of the shipwreck. The Australian still maintains
its clipper bow which was an aesthetic feature of considerable creative value. The role of
the clipper bow was to impersonate the long curved bow of the memorable golden clippers
of yesteryear. Another important design feature is the cellular double bottom hull. This hull
type was, in that period, an important advancement in hull and ballast design.
6.4 Criterion 3 – Social significance
Related to a contemporary community’s sense of identity or is of particular significance for
cultural, social, religious, aesthetic or spiritual reasons.
The Australian has little social significance to the Northern Territory. The shipwreck was
used by the then ‘government in residence’ as a case in argument for additional
navigational beacons along Cobourg Peninsula. Yet this appears to be the only official
reference to the shipwreck and little mention of importance is found in other sources. In
conclusion the ship does give insight into the trading practices of the settlement and the
employment of Asian maritime crews in Australia. However this does not have direct
relevance to the contemporary Northern Territory community thus does not have a
particular social significance.
6.5 Criterion 4 – Archaeological significance
Concerned with the research potential of material remains
The Australian is of archaeological significance because the site presents an opportunity to
investigate various technologies and design features as found on a late 19th century
steamer. In turn there may be evidence of early salvage and refloating attempts. The scope
for archaeological research is large with this shipwreck because the remains are in good
condition and they are exposed for investigation.
As the superstructure of the ship is gone, and little evidence of personal belongings or
cargo have been located, the archaeological significance of the site rests in these interests
of ship construction, machinery and evidence of early salvage and refloating.
Of particular archaeological value are the remains of machinery including the triple
expansion engine, double-ended boilers, windlass, winch, cargo refrigeration machinery
and dynamo. The engine and refrigeration units were significant technological
developments of their time, and are not common in the Australian Archaeological Record.
These features are in good condition, and further investigation would uncover details about
their design.
The archaeological value of the shipwreck includes the remains of construction features
such as the cellular double bottom and the clipper bow. The clipper bow was an innovative
feature which is not greatly represented in the Australian Archaeological Record. These
design features remain in good condition and are exposed, therefore easily investigated.
Archaeological research may also investigate the evidence of early salvage and attempts to
refloat the ship. This work is well documented historically and a comparison of this
account with the archaeology of the site may yield significant results.
6.6 Criterion 5- Scientific significance
Concerned with the research potential through repeated measurable results.
The Australian shipwreck is of scientific significance because it may contribute to studies
in insitu conservation. In this regard the Australian experiences the unique tidal and water
temperature conditions of northern Australia therefore can contribute data on the
preservation of shipwrecks that are located in this environment. The Australian is also
abundant in marine life, therefore is a good case-study for research into the chemical
reactions between the material remains of a shipwreck and the marine environment.
6.7 Criterion 6 – Interpretative significance
Concerned with public recreational and educational values.
The Australian is of particular interpretative significance. It is an excellent recreational
asset and interpretation aimed at divers should be provided. The material remains are
visually exciting for a diver and are interesting from a technical point of view. In turn the
site is abundant in marine life. Therefore divers would benefit and appreciate interpretation
aimed at site visitation.
As the site is located within the Cobourg Marine Park there is the opportunity for site
interpretation to be incorporated into a wider program. In terms of the wider community
who do not visit Cobourg Peninsula, the history of the steamer and the images of its
remains are excellent material for the interpretation of Northern Territory history.
6.8 Criterion 7 – Degree of significance rarity
Concerned with the uncommon or exceptional.
The Australian is of rare significance because it exhibits machinery and ship design that
are not well represented on shipwreck sites in Australia. This includes the refrigeration
units and the clipper bow (steamer version). These features are rare both because of what
they are and because of their condition.
6.9 Criterion 8 – Degree of significance representative
Concerned with the typical or characteristic. Significant in representing the characteristics
of a class of cultural items.
The Australian is representative of the machinery and construction associated with a late
19th century steamer. The shipwreck displays propulsion machinery, cargo storage
machinery, boat deck machinery and individual features such as the propeller shaft and
anchor. As this shipwreck shows a range of construction and machinery features from a
class of steamer it is therefore considered as representative of its kind. However the
representative significance of this shipwreck as a class of steamer is lessened because
much of the superstructure and the hull is gone.
6.10 Statement of significance
The Australian is historically significant because of its role in facilitating coastal trade
between Palmerston and other ports in Australia and in facilitating early international trade
between Australia and Asia.
The Australian is also historically significant because it was used as a Chinese immigration
vessel and was worked by a Chinese crew. Therefore the history of this steamer contributes
to our understanding of the history of Australian immigration and Chinese labour at a time
of national debate over non-European immigration and non-European labour.
The Australian is the most intact wreck of a steamer located in the Northern Territory and
can offer a great deal of archaeological information regarding ship construction and
machinery as found on late 19th century steamers. The variety of machinery and ship
construction remains, which are in good condition, deem this shipwreck as representative
of a class of steamer. Evidence of early salvage and refloating will offer a further level of
archaeological data.
The remains of the refrigeration machinery (used in cold cargo storage) demonstrates a
technology that markedly changed Australia’s export market and most noticeably changed
Australia’s economic relationship with Britain.
The Australian is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
7.1 Preamble
This section discusses the issues that are relevant in the management of this shipwreck.
These issues have been decided upon following research into all relevant matters. A policy
addressing each issue is included. These are the recommended MAGNT policies on these
issues, for this particular shipwreck. These policies guide the discussion.
As discussed in chapter 1 the recommendations have been reached via a four stage process.
The Statement of Significance highlights the archaeological and technical significance of
this shipwreck. Therefore the following policies, position on relevant issues and the
following recommendations have a strong bias towards addressing this matter. This
translates to a program with an emphasis on conservation, protection and interpretation.
7.2 Management of the Australian through provisions stipulated in the CMPPM.
Policy. The involvement of other government bodies in the management of an historic
shipwreck should be encouraged. A management program must not compromise the
fundamental principles of site protection as stipulated in the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
Issue. The Australian is located within the Cobourg Marine Park and so the plan of
management for the marine park may include provisions for the protection and
management of this shipwreck. The CMPPM has a role in instigating controls because the
site is located within the marine park boundaries. Therefore an important aim of this
shipwreck management plan is to clearly indicate the role of the CMPPM in relation to the
The role of the CMPPM is stipulated in the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land,
Sanctuary and Marine Park Act 1998 (NT). This legislation identifies that one concern of
the plan should be:
‘the preservation of the sanctuary and/or marine park in its natural condition and the
protection of its special features including objects and sites of spiritual, biological,
historical, palaeonto-logical, archaeological, geological and geographical interest…’
(Part IV: e).
The role of the CMPPM in regard to the management of the Australian shipwreck is to
contain provisions that promote public access to the site whilst protecting the physical
remains. The plan also has a role in offering partial logistic and financial support to a
conservation program. The plan must also ensure existing forms of public information
about the shipwreck are promoted, and that shipwreck information is included, where
appropriate, in general interpretation dealing with the park.
The particular provisions that will ensure that the CMPPM achieves this are laid out in the
recommendations of this report.
7.3 The preservation of material remains – from natural forces
Policy. A shipwreck management program must contain provisions for the establishment
of a conservation program. In brief, the role of a conservation program is firstly to identify
the condition of the remains, secondly to identify the environmental variables in the local
environment that affect the condition of the remains and thirdly to identify the chemical
processes occurring on the surface of the remains and the role of fouling assemblages in
site preservation. The conservation program should be ongoing, involving monitoring of
the site over time and include the implementation of strategies to reduce site deterioration.
A conservation program will approach the issue of natural deterioration from a calculated
strategic position.
A conservation program should be based on an assessment by a conservator.
The preservation of the remains is linked to this shipwreck’s archaeological and technical
Issue: Environmental Assessment. An environmental assessment of the site by a trained
conservator has not been conducted nor have any site preservation initiatives been
implemented. As part of the site inspection in 1997 the issue of site deterioration was
investigated (see chapter 6.4). In summary the site is undergoing a high rate of corrosion
and undergoes physical abrasion and structural stress.
An environmental assessment by a trained conservator should be conducted on the site and
a conservation program needs to be implemented. The assessment should include an in situ
corrosion study. The program should include ongoing site monitoring which will record
changes in the site over time and should also involve the implementation of protective
Issue: Site Monitoring. Site monitoring should be conducted annually by staff of the
MAGNT and rangers of the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission. The following is a
guideline for this monitoring. If a conservator is made avaliable and specialised equipment
made accessible site monitoring should be more advanced. Guidelines for site monitoring:
Recording the condition of remains
· visible signs of structural stress or collapse
· visible changes in the surface of the relics e.g. loss of fine detail, density of concretion,
changes in the colour of the concretion.
· recent cover or exposure of items
· if possible, an in situ corrosion study (measurements include extent of graphitisation,
pH, redox potential, dissolved oxygen, salinity)
Recording environmental factors
· measurements of current (force and direction)
· water temperature (surface, depth, profile across site)
· wind (speed and direction)
· changes in fauna and fouling assemblages
· water sample (materials in suspension)
· scouring of sand bed around items
· salinity
Evidence of human impact include:
· structural damage caused by boats, anchors and anchor chain
· the removal or disturbance of relics
· presence of fishing lines, hooks and boat anchors
7.4 The preservation of material remains – from human threats
Policy. The shipwreck is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act . Under this
legislation it is illegal to interfere with, damage or remove an historic shipwreck or related
items. The protected status of the shipwreck defines the MAGNT stance on protection
against human threats.
Issue: Salvage and looting. The Australian has been partially salvaged. This first occurred
in the early history of the stranding, but more relevant to management issues the site was
salvaged in the 1970s (see chapter 3.6)
The shipwreck is vulnerable from those that may collect the copper alloy material for scrap
metal value. This places all copper alloy remains under threat including the brass
condenser pipes. Brass lanterns have not been located but may be buried on the site.
The remains of the shipwreck are also under threat from souvenir hunters. All features are
arguably vulnerable from this threat. Those features under the greatest threat, because of
their individual appeal, are the ceramic tiles, the anchor and recognisable features of the
machinery such as handles and gauges. Though lanterns, personal belongings and other
valuable items have not yet been located, they may be buried, therefore discovered by
One effective response to salvage and looting is an education program that raises people’s
awareness of the significance of our historic shipwrecks.
Issue: Accidental interference whilst diving. Damage could be caused by divers who are
unaware of appropriate wreck diving practices. Divers could handle, move or accidentally
damage the material remains because they do not know that interference is illegal under the
Act. Divers may also accidentally knock fragile material with fins, tanks or their bodies
whilst swimming amongst the remains.
Therefore divers need to be made aware of the appropriate diving practices expected when
visiting this site. This includes the idea of a ‘look but don’t touch’ policy and a request that
divers pay keen attention to their diving, so as to not accidentally damage material.
Issue: Anchoring on the site. Visitors drop their anchors onto or drag their anchors across
the remains of the shipwreck to moor over the site. Anchors dragged across or dropped
onto the Australian cause damage to the remains. Therefore anchoring on the site is
interpreted as interference and damage to an historic shipwreck, interference and damage is
illegal under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
In addition to specifically anchoring ‘tying off’ to the exposed remains of the wreck also
causes interference and damage. Therefore ‘tying off’ to the remains is interpreted as illegal
under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
The destructive effect of anchoring directly onto a shipwreck has been documented in other
cases. The Clonmel, located in Victoria, has been damaged by boat anchors, this being one
reason why a protected zone was declared around the boiler (Anderson 1998:27). The
Zanoni, located in South Australia, has been damaged considerably by anchors (Jeffery
1995). Also the Pandora, located in Queensland, has been damaged from boat anchors,
this being a concern stipulated in the site’s draft plan of management (Gesner 1994).
Issue: Boat manoeuvring. The boilers, stern section and bow section of the Australian are
close to the surface of the water, the bow and stern breaking the surface at low tide. A boat
being manoeuvred around the site may accidentally collide with the remains and cause
major structural damage. Therefore a boat collision with the remains of the Australian
would constitute interference and damage with an historic shipwreck, both acts illegal
under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
The most effective way to deal with this issue is for public education which promotes
caution whilst manoeuvring around the site.
Issue: Fishing. Fishing is currently permitted on the site. The first concern regarding
fishing is that fishing line, weights and hooks may become entangled around the remains
of the wreck. These objects are not part of the original remains of the shipwreck and
therefore threaten the archaeological integrity of the site.
A further concern, of a legal nature, is that the entanglement of fishing line, weights and
hooks may constitute ‘interference’ as stated in the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
The most effective way to deal with the entanglement of fishing equipment is for public
education which promotes the preservation of the site and instructs on methods of
accessing the site without causing damage. Evidence of human disturbance should be
monitored as part of a monitoring program.
7.4 Protective legislation
Policy: The most effective method of challenging destructive behaviour in regard to the
preservation of historic shipwrecks is to educate people about their importance and frailty.
However, working in conjunction with this, an historic shipwreck should be protected
under effective legislation. The Australian is currently protected under the Historic
Shipwrecks Act.
A management plan for an historic shipwreck should review the possible ways that the
protective legislation can be made most effective. This is not a call for harsher restrictions
but a reference to applying the legislation most effectively. It is also important to
investigate complementary forms of protection. This may mean recognising the location of
the shipwreck within, for example, a marine park or expand on the significance of the
shipwreck and protect the site for those reasons.
Issue: Enforcement of the Historic Shipwrecks Act. An obstacle in the effectiveness of
the Historic Shipwrecks Act within the Northern Territory is that at present there are no
effective inspectors under the Act. Although members of the police force are automatically
inspectors under the Act, they are located at a great distance from the Australian shipwreck
and have other duties. Therefore it is advised that inspectors under the Historic Shipwrecks
Act be trained.
Issue: The Australian shipwreck as a site of natural significance. A later
recommendation (no. 21) deals with research into the natural significance of the
Australian. This is an appropriate recommendation for this plan of management. The local
natural environment in which a shipwreck is located and the fouling assemblages that
make a shipwreck its home have direct bearing on issues of site deterioration and
conservation. Therefore aspects of this shipwreck’s natural environment are of paramount
concern. In turn a shipwreck can create a unique local environment for fauna and flora to
thrive and this has a bearing on defining the site’s significance and issues of research and
interpretation. These three concepts are fundamental concerns of this report. Therefore this
plan of management must recommend the need for further understanding of the site’s local
Research may indicate that the site is of natural significance and should be protected as
such. It is the role of this plan to outline how this issue could be incorporated into the
management of the site.
There are no provisions within the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and
Marine Park Act to identify the site as an aquatic reserve or equivalent. However access to
the site maybe be controlled under provisions of the marine park plan of management.
The protection of historic shipwrecks under complementary legislation, which takes into
account the significance of the site as a unique natural habitat, is not unprecedented. The
Yongala, located in Queensland and the Clan Ranald, located in South Australia, are
protected under natural conservation legislation (Appendix 2).
7.5. The impact of development
Policy. A management program should record the impact that development has had on the
condition of this shipwreck in the past. A management program should also include an
evaluation of present threats to the preservation of the site from development.
Issue. There are at present no known plans for development in the vicinity of the
Australian. Therefore there will be no impact by development on the preservation of the
shipwreck in the near future.
At present there is a pearling company operational at Port Bremer, a significant distance
from the location of the Australian. Recently a private investor has opened a seasonally
operated fishing charter service at Cape Don, the most western point of Cobourg
Peninsula. This is also a significant distance from the location of the site.
7.6. Site identification for passing traffic
Issue. This shipwreck is not an obstacle to boat activity. It is not located within a shipping
channel. The shipwreck rests on a shallow reef, which is clearly marked on the nautical
charts of the area. Therefore passing boats should navigate clear of the reef, regardless of
the presence of the Australian.
The shipwreck is partially exposed at low tide, when the bow and stern structures break the
waters surface. At high tide the bow, boilers and stern sections are visible from the surface
of the water (Fig. 34). There is no fixed buoy or marker on the site. There are also no signs
at boat launches in the vicinity which indicate the location of the Australian.
7.7 Visitation to the Australian
Policy. Visitation to the Australian should be encouraged.
Issue. The majority of visitors to the site are either anglers or divers, the later using either
scuba or snorkel equipment. The majority of people who visit the site reach the shipwreck
on privately owned vessels. Figure 35 shows a typical visit by divers with a yacht in the
background and an inflatable dingy to accommodate divers.
Fig. 34. Aerial photograph of the Australian the bow, boilers
and stern are visible (photo: NT Parks and Wildlife
Commission 1998).
Fig. 35. Visitors to the site, 1997 (photo: R. Marshall, 1997).
There are no data which give visitation numbers specifically for the shipwreck site.
However visitation to the site is related to visitation to the marine park, as visitors to the
site are registered as guests of the marine park. Therefore information regarding marine
park visitation is of indirect value.
Visitors may enter from land, sea or air. Many drive through Gurig National Park to reach
the marine park, camping in the designated areas. Others stay on their water crafts, and
others again are guests at the Seven Spirits Bay resort, located in Port Essington. All
visitors to Gurig National Park and the marine park must gain a permit, and a limited
number of permits are issued each year. Administration of visitors to both parks is
controlled at Black Point ranger station, located on the east coast of Port Essington.
Gurig National Park is visited on a seasonal basis, the tourist season being the Dry season,
occurring between May and September. A management policy to restrict the number of
visitors each season has been implemented. Figure 36 indicates the regulated seasonal
visitation to Gurig National Park.
Fig. 36. Seasonal visitation to Gurig National Park (NT Parks and Wildlife Commission).
Figure 37 indicates the number of visitors to the Park between 1991 to 1997. It shows that
the number of visitors each year was approximately 1000 people and there has not been a
significant increase between 1991 and 1997.
Fig. 37. Annual visitation to Gurig National Park (NT Parks and Wildlife Commission)
There are no commercially operated recreational fishing or recreational diving charters
based within the area of the shipwreck site. This does not discount the possibility that they
enter the area from elsewhere.
How popular the Australian is to fishers visiting the marine park is unknown.
The remains of the Victoria Settlement, located within Port Essington, is also a popular
destination for visitors who have access to a boat. Black Point is also the base for
commercial hunting safaris.
number of annual visitors
1071 1103
1007 1022
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
number of people
seasonal visitation
0 0 0 0
165 149
0 0
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
number of visitors
Malcolm Sinclair, manager of Seven Spirits Bay Resort, was contacted and he stated that
the resort does visit the site as a fishing spot with guests. Mr Sinclair also stated that the
resort is planning to develop a diving program, which will include the Australian. He was
sent information regarding the management of historic shipwrecks.
Visitation: a visitors registration scheme. It is a recommendation of this report that a
registration system be introduced as a means to collect information about site visitation.
Prior to visitation visitors would contact the Black Point ranger station and indicate that
they are proceeding to the site. This is not a means of controlling who visits, but only a
non-obtrusive method of monitoring site visitation.
The information gathered from registration would include boat registration, the skipper’s
name, number in the party and planned activities. Depending on the advice of the rangers,
who are most familiar with visitation to the area, this information may be gathered over the
radio. This is not a difficult approach in regard to logistics nor is it intrusive, because
visitors to Gurig National Park and the marine park are required to register with the ranger
station regardless. The benefits of this approach are:
· rangers will be able to gather information without having to visit the site
· it is an opportunity for the rangers to distribute interpretation and site access literature
and for visitors to access other forms of interpretation on the shipwreck based at the
· registration, as a means of collecting visitation information, is an effective yet nonintrusive
· participation in a formal registration process will affect the behaviour of visitors when
on the site.
7.8 Interpretation material on the Australian
Policy. The dissemination of information about the shipwreck should be widespread,
catering for those that will access the site directly and for the general public. Interpretation
should promote an awareness of the shipwreck’s significance and of the need to preserve it.
Issue: brochure. A brochure on the Australian was produced in June 1999. It includes a
site plan and information about the history of the ship. It also states that the site is
protected and what this means in regard to site access. Distribution of this brochure has
begun, and should continue.
Issue: display. The MAGNT has gained permission from the Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary
Board and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission to produce a display panel on the
shipwreck and house it at the Black Point ranger station. Traditional owners have approved
the plan and have contributed information for the display. A display was installed in
September, 2000.
7.9 Artefacts and records
Policy. Artefacts that came from the Australian shipwreck are protected relics under the
Historic Shipwrecks Act. Therefore the management of this shipwreck should include an
inventory of all known recovered material.
Issue: artefacts. The MAGNT has not raised material from this shipwreck. The location
of raised material is unknown. Salvors who attempted to raise the condenser for scrap
metal worked the site in the 1970s. They reported that there were brass lanterns visible but
they did not take these as they were focusing on the condenser. An inspection in 1997 did
not locate lanterns. Items that are visible on the site and have been singled out as being
vulnerable are ceramic tiles, the padlock and the bone (remains of cargo).Interpretive
material should note that relics recovered from the Australian are protected under the Act.
Issue: records. Copies of the ship plans and the Lloyds survey data remain in the
possession of the MAGNT. These were supplied by the National Maritime Museum,
Greenwich , England.
7.10. Research
Policy. Research that will enhance an understanding of the historical and archaeological
significance of this shipwreck should be encouraged. Research that explores other areas,
for example the natural significance of the site, should also be encouraged as these expand
and develop our understanding of the overall significance of the shipwreck.
8.1 Preamble
The implementation of management policy is subject to the resources available. At present
the Maritime Archaeology and History section of the MAGNT has one permanent member
of staff. Funding for the management of the Australian is currently restricted to
Commonwealth funding through the Historic Shipwrecks Program. The recommendations
take these financial and personnel restrictions into account by retaining a strong focus on
the role of the marine park plan of management and that of the rangers of the NT Parks and
Wildlife Commission.
8.2 Preservation of material remains from natural forces
Recommendation 1: that an environmental assessment of the Australian be conducted in
the near future. This should include an insitu corrosion study. From these results it will
then be possible to develop a conservation program that takes a range of variables into
account (see chapter 8.31). The CMPPM should stipulate the need for a conservation
program and offer partial logistic and/or financial support.
Recommendation 2: that following an environmental assessment a conservation strategy
be designed and implemented (see Chapter 8.31). The CMPPM should stipulate the need
for a conservation program and offer partial logistic and/or financial support.
Recommendation 3: that the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission
instigate an ongoing site monitoring program to monitor changes in the site over time (see
Chapter 8.31). The CMPPM should stipulate the need for this program as part of its
commitment towards a conservation program.
8.3 The preservation of material remains from human threats
Recommendation 4: that select rangers from the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission
whom work at Gurig National Park be trained as inspectors under the Historic Shipwrecks
Act (see Chapter 8.41).
The CMPPM should indicate approval of this proposal.
Employees of the MAGNT should not be appointed inspectors under the Historic
Shipwrecks Act. The value of appointing Museum staff as inspectors is questionable
because the distance between the museum and the shipwreck site means that staff could not
participate in ongoing surveillance. It is also not in the museum’s interest nor capacity to
function as a compliance agency.
Recommendation 5: that the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission
establish a visitor registration system to collect information on site visitation as part of the
visitor monitoring program for the CMP. This should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 6: that anchoring directly onto the shipwreck be prohibited as a
provision of CMPPM. This restriction should include using the bow or stern as a mooring
fixture, when these features are exposed at low tide (see chapter 8.32).
At what distance a boat can anchor in relation to the shipwreck would need to be
An alternative mooring system may need to be established.
Recommendation 7: that certain items be recovered as they may be stolen. These are the
ceramic tiles, the remains of the bone cargo and the brass padlock (see chapter 8.9).
Recommendation 8: that fishing that does not involve anchoring on the site be permitted.
Therefore trolling and drifting should continue to be permitted (see chapter 8.3).
8.4. Interpretation
The following are recommendations regarding interpretation material for the general
Recommendation 9: that an education package be made available at the Black Point ranger
station. This package will be a resource for the rangers. It will include a prepared lecture
with slides and video footage. There will also be an education program for young children
developed with a marine-maritime theme. This should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 10: that information be placed at the boat launch and jetty at Black
Point. This will indicate that it is illegal to interfere with, damage or remove an historic
shipwreck or related items. This should also include information regarding the prohibition
of anchoring on the site. This recommendation should be reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 11: that the brochure on the shipwreck be widely distributed, in
particular made avaliable to visitors at the Black Point Ranger Station. This should be
reflected in the CMPPM.
Recommendation 12: that there be a consistent inclusion of information about the
shipwreck in publicity and publications dealing with the recreational and historic resources
of Gurig National Park and the CMP . This should be reflected in the CMPPM.
8.5 Archaeological Research
Recommendation 13: that further non-disturbance survey work be conducted to increase
our overall knowledge of the site. Particular attention may focus on the midship area.
Recommendation 14: that the machinery and important aspects of ship construction be
recorded in greater detail. Aspects of ship construction include the propeller housing,
cellular double bottom and the clipper bow.
Recommendation 15: that further survey work include the search for evidence of salvage
and refloating repairs.
Recommendation 16: that a small excavation in the stern section be conducted to reveal
how the propeller was removed during salvage.
Recommendation 17: that a probe survey east of the exposed material be conducted to
indicate the extent of buried material.
Over the course of the vessel’s deterioration material was deposited east of the length of the
shipwreck. This occurred due to influence from wind and tide and the lean of the ship. The
location of galley tiles and the masts east of the main body of material support this.
Recommendation 18: that a detailed comparison between the technology and archaeology
of the Australian and similar steamer wrecks be conducted.
Historical and archaeological comparison will increase our understanding of varying
technology and design. It is important to go beyond recording the remains of technology
on individual sites. Comparative studies can form a basis for asking more probing
questions that relate to the role of finance, function, invention and design trends in the
construction of these historic streamers. The Australian is an excellent case-study for this
because of its value in demonstrating various technologies. Also comparative work may
contribute to site formation modelling.
8.6 Historical research
At the time of this report the following research directions distinguished themselves as
important. Other topics of historical research may develop in the future.
Recommendation 19: that records relating to the Australian, whilst it was at ports other
than Darwin, be collected. This may include customs and port authority documentation
from outside of Australia.
Recommendation 20: that the experiences of ethnic or foreign crews on early Australian
steamers be investigated, using the Australian as one example. The Australian had a
Chinese crew, visited Asian ports and brought Chinese immigrants to Australia, all during
a time of national debate over non-European immigration and non-European labour.
8.7 Scientific Research
Recommendation 21: that research into the natural significance of this site should be
encouraged by both the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission. One
example of this kind of work is a marine biological survey of the site (see chapter 8.10).
This recommendation should be reflected in the CMPPM.
9.1 Established policies
The delegate of the Historic Shipwrecks Act in the Northern Territory is the director of the
MAGNT. Therefore the director has the delegated authority over the management and
protection of this site.
Activity that will result in disturbance of the remains must have prior approval from the
delegate of the Act and, in some cases, the Minister. In turn some proposals regarding site
management can only be actioned following approval from the Minister, for example the
declaration of a protected zone under the Historic Shipwrecks Act.
The management of this shipwreck must abide by the standards as laid out within the Burra
Charter and as upheld by AIMA.
Funds to manage this site should be canvassed from different organisations and
departments. The Historic Shipwrecks Program may contribute on a project by project
basis, but does not offer funds for ongoing running costs.
9.2 Objectives
That the CMPPM identifies the role set out for it in this report in relation to the
management of this shipwreck.
That the CMPPM repeat the practical recommendations offered in this report that relate to
its role in the management of this shipwreck.
That the MAGNT and the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission continue to work together
conducting shipwreck inspections, regional surveys and instigating shipwreck management
10.1 Establishment of the parks
Gurig National Park and the Cobourg Marine Park are located approximately 220
kilometres north-east from Darwin. Combined the parks occupy an area of 4,500 square
kilometres. Gurig National Park occupies 2,207 square kilometres and includes most of the
Cobourg Peninsula and some of the surrounding islands. The marine park extends around
the coast of Cobourg Peninsula enclosing 2,290 square kilometres of surrounding waters.
Conservation principles were first introduced into the Cobourg Peninsula region in 1919
when Cape Don was declared a reserve. In 1924 Cobourg Peninsula was declared a
reserve. In 1981, with the enactment of the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land and
Sanctuary Act (NT), Gurig National Park was established, under the management of the
Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary Board.
The marine park was declared under Section 12 of the Territory Parks and Wildlife
Conservation Act 1983(NT) to be managed by the then Conservation Commission (NT). In
1995, when the Cobourg Aboriginal Land and Sanctuary Act was amended to become the
Cobourg Aboriginal Land Sanctuary and Marine Park Act, the board became the
management authority for both the Cobourg Marine Park and Gurig National Park.
The marine park is managed under the provisions of both the Territory Parks and Wildlife
Conservation Act and the Cobourg Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Park Act.
The land remains under the ownership of the traditional owners and is leased to the
government to facilitate a national park. The Sanctuary Board is made up of eight
members, four of whom are nominated by the Northern Land Council from amongst the
traditional owners of the region. The other four members are nominated by the NT
Minister for Conservation. The NT Parks and Wildlife Commission is responsible for the
management of Gurig National Park and the marine park. The management of the fish
resources within the marine park is administered by the Fisheries Department of Primary
Industry and Fisheries (NT). In 1998 a committee, the Cobourg Fishery Management Area
Advisory Committee, was formed to facilitate development of a fishery management plan
under the Fisheries Act 1999 (NT) and to contribute to the development of the Cobourg
Marine Park Plan of Management.
The board manages the marine park as a multiple-use park providing for the protection of
the ecology whilst facilitating reasonable recreational and commercial use of the resources.
A plan of management for the marine park is currently being prepared by the NT Parks and
Wildlife Commission, the board and traditional owners.
10.2 The maritime archaeological resource of Cobourg Peninsula
Despite an extensive history of maritime activity in Cobourg Peninsula, only minimal
archaeological work has been conducted. Historical evidence indicates European presence
in the area dates back to early Dutch exploration in the 17th century (Mitchell 1994: 58).
The area received a substantial degree of early colonial shipping activity related to the
failed settlements of Victoria (1839-1841) and Fort Wellington (1827-1829) both located
along the coast of Cobourg. Once the settlement of Palmerston was established Cobourg
Peninsula became situated on a route linking this settlement with communities, outstations,
missions and businesses in Arnhem Land. In a similar fashion it formed part of a
route that connected Palmerston with coastal trade in Australia.
The area was also a destination for Macassans and European and Japanese pearlers and
trepangers. The maritime history of Cobourg Peninsula also includes the long and
continuous history of coastal occupation by Aboriginal peoples.
Contact scenarios in Arnhem Land had seen the sharing of maritime technology, for
example the Aboriginal adoption of the Macassan outrigger. Known sites that are not
specifically European nor Aboriginal include Macassan trepang processing and base-camp
sites. There may be evidence of Japanese, Torres Strait Islanders and others non-European
pearlers and trepangers dating from the early to mid 20th century.
The extent of specifically underwater survey work conducted in the Cobourg Peninsula
area prior to this work is limited to the 1995 regional survey, a brief survey based within a
small geographic region (Coroneos 1996). In this survey items believed to be the remains
of the Calcutta (1868-1894) were located on Vashon Head reef (Coroneos 1996).
10.3 Reasoning behind the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s involvement in sitemanagement
Various recommendations of this plan deal with the involvement of the NT Parks and
Wildlife Commission in site management and relate to the marine park plan of
management. This section summarises the range of this involvement and offers an
explanation for this arrangement.
Relevant recommendations:
· Recommendations 1, 2 and 3 which deal with conservation.
· Recommendations 4, 5 and 6 which deal with human disturbance.
· Recommendations 9, 10, 11, 12 which deal with interpretation.
· Recommendation 21 which deals with scientific research.
Reasoning behind this arrangement:
The shipwreck falls within the jurisdiction of the marine park.
It is advantageous that site protection and other management issues be managed through
the CMPPM, particularly considering the practical limitations of the Historic Shipwrecks
The Rangers of the park have an inherent interest and concern for this shipwreck as it is an
historical asset of the marine park.
In regard to logistics and geography, the Rangers of Cobourg Peninsula are the most
logical choice for monitoring and other aspects of ‘hands on’ site management .
The NT Parks and Wildlife Commission adhere to the guidelines for the management of
historic places as established within the Burra Charter (Marquis 1994). Therefore there is
no distinction in the standards each organisation holds in the management of historic sites.
Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology. 1994. Guidelines for the management of Australia’s
shipwrecks. Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Inc. and the Australian Cultural
Development Office: Canberra.
Anderson, R. 1998. P.S. Clonmel conservation plan. Heritage Victoria: Melbourne.
Australian Pilot Volume 5, 1972. Hydrographer of the Navy: New South Wales. Bach, J. 1976. A
maritime history of Australia. Thomas Nelson Limited: Melbourne.
Blainey, G. 1966. The tyranny of distance. Sun Books: Melbourne.
Campo, J. à 1991. From far neighbour to good friend. The birth of the Java Australia Line. The
Great Circle. Journal of the Australian Association for Marine History 13(1): 1-20.
Corlett, E. 1990. The iron ship: the story of the Brunel’s SS Great Britain. Conway Maritime Press:
Coroneos, C. 1996. Survey of maritime cultural resources of the northern Cobourg Peninsula
(draft). Unpublished Report, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory: Darwin,
Foley, C. 1982. Reef pilots: the history of the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilot Service.
Banks Bros. & Street: Sydney, NSW.
Government Resident. 1907. The Government Resident’s Reports, Northern Territory Archives:
Darwin, Australia.
Gardiner, R. 1993. The advent of steam: the merchant steamship before 1900. Naval Institute Press:
Great Britain.
Gesner, P. 1994. Management plan: HMS Pandora. Maritime Archaeology Section: Queensland
Museum, Brisbane.
Guthrie, J. 1971. A history of marine engineering. Hutchinson: London.
Hardwick, G. 1983. The Eastern and Australian Steamship Company Limited. The Log. Quarterly
Journal of the Nautical Association of Australia Inc. 16(1), Issue 71, new series.
Harlow, S. 1997. Tin gods: a social history of the men and women of Maranboy. Historical Society
of the Northern Territory: Darwin, Australia.
Hume, R. 1975. Clyde shipbuilding: from old photographs. B.T. Batesford Ltd: London.
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Northern Territory Library [Title of file: ‘The Australian ship’. Title of folder: The wreck
of the Australian]: Darwin, Australia.
Jeffery, B. 1995. Zanoni (brochure). State Heritage Branch, Department of the Environment and
Natural Resources: Adelaide, South Australia
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Issue, 1963.
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of Queensland Press: Brisbane, Australia.
Marquis, P. 1992. The illustrated Burra Charter. Prestige Litho: Brisbane, Australia.
McCarthy, M. 1996. SS Xantho: towards a new perspective (an integrated approach to the maritime
archaeology and conservation of an iron steamship wreck). Unpublished PhD thesis, James
Cook University: Queensland.
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western Arnhem Land. Unpublished PhD thesis, Northern Territory University: Darwin.
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ISBN 07310 3024 9, Heritage Office: Sydney, Australia.
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1.1 Maritime archaeology
Maritime archaeology is a branch of Archaeology that deals with the study of our maritime
past through material remains. What constitutes maritime history and what constitutes
relevant material remains should be defined in the broadest sense. To have a restricted
definition of Maritime archaeology, for example, a discipline concerned only with the lives
of sailors or dealing only with the classic shipwreck, only limits research and fails to see
the interconnectedness between disciplines.
Shipwrecks as archaeological sites can offer essential information that is not obtainable
from historical documentation. As a simple example McCarthy (1996: 22) cites two steam
shipwrecks, the Hansteen and the Xantho. During the course of their working life both of
these ships were transformed in design. The original ship plans would not show this
evolution in design. Also highlighting the limitations of available historical information is
the fact that much of the maritime records available to the researcher were written for a
particular purpose or in a particular style which is limiting in what they illustrate. These
records may indicate events but fail to illustrate the detail to inform on themes that maybe
considered significant in contemporary academic discourse, for example the role and status
of women or minority groups.
A shipwreck is only one kind of maritime archaeological site. The remains of submerged
planes and flying boats, for example the Catalina wreck sites located in Darwin Harbour,
are also relevant. The Japanese submarine, the I-124, located north of Darwin in the
Arafura Sea, is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act. Furthermore the scope of
Maritime archaeology is not restricted to sites located in the water. The archaeology of our
maritime past also includes land sites such as jetties and wharfs. Associated with the Dutch
shipwreck, the Zuytdorp (1712), located in Western Australia, are a series of survivor
camps found in the surrounding cliffs. Other kinds of land sites, for example, dockyards
and whaling stations, are also applicable. Therefore maritime archaeologists study a wide
range of material remains to develop a better understanding of the past. Lastly, one should
recognise that maritime history does not exist within a vacuum, but is one theme extracted
from the larger picture of Australian history. Therefore the study of the material remains
from maritime archaeological sites can contribute to our understanding of larger themes,
for example, the history of industry, economics and social development in Australia.
1.2 The Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwrecks Program
This report was funded by a grant from the Historic Shipwrecks Program. The Historic
Shipwrecks Program was administered by the Department of Communications and the Arts
until November 1998. Following this, the program was transferred to the Department for
the Environment and Heritage. This program embodies a national commitment to protect
and conserve historic shipwrecks and associated material. An important focus of this
program is the development of public interpretation material. The program also encourages
a commitment by other government departments to the protection and preservation of this
cultural resource.
1.3 The management of historic shipwrecks
The distinction of a site being ‘historic’ tends to refer to the implementation of protective
legislation. However, the term historic could also be used to signify that a site has
historical or archaeological significance. A site may be declared historic under
Commonwealth, State or Territory legislation. Each historic shipwreck should be managed
through a program designed specifically for the particular conditions relating to that case.
Within each State or Territory there is a delegate for the Historic Shipwrecks Act. This
person may work within a museum environment, for example the MAGNT, or a State or
Territory government heritage body, for example Heritage South Australia. Although each
organisation would approach the management of historic shipwrecks from a unique
position, there exists common standards which are adhered to.
In the case of shipwrecks protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act the Historic
Shipwrecks Program does provide grants to fund work, however alternative funding should
be canvassed. Sources of alternative funding could include State or Territory governments.
The delegate may also work with other departments in an ongoing site management
program. Local councils may also contribute to the management of sites by, for example,
funding interpretative or conservation work.
A management program must encompass a wide range of policies and issues. A review of
all the details of a management program is beyond the aim and scope of this document,
however a brief overview will demonstrate the kinds of issues that are relevant. A
management program should include:
· the implementation of a conservation program
· the identification of human threats to the site and the implementation of protective
· a policy and strategy to disseminate information about the site to the public
· encouraging responsible public access to the site, and interpretation initiatives which
may also enhance the visitors’ experience
· a research program
· the management of raised artefacts this includes an inventory, a conservation report
and addressing concerns of ownership.
1.4 The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
This section explores practical aspects of the Historic Shipwrecks Act, it should not be
taken as a comprehensive review of the legislation.
Which shipwrecks are protected under this Act? This legislation has jurisdiction over
those shipwrecks located within Commonwealth water. Commonwealth water is defined as
that water beyond the low water mark to the edge of the Continental Shelf. It does not
include river systems, lakes or harbours.
Those shipwrecks that are 75 years old or more are automatically protected under the Act.
This includes shipwrecks that have not yet been discovered. The 75 years is a rolling date,
meaning that with time shipwrecks will eventually become automatically protected.
The Act also contains a provision for the protection of shipwrecks that are located within
Commonwealth waters but are younger than 75 years. The Minister may declare a
shipwreck of any age protected under the Act. An application to the Minister would
include an assessment of the significance of the site.
A shipwreck need not be located within water to be declared an historic shipwreck. A
shipwreck that is located partially or fully out of the water may still be protected. This
includes the whole or parts of a shipwreck that may have been recovered or relocated.
What is defined under the Act as illegal behaviour? The Act states it is illegal to interfere
with, damage or remove a historic shipwreck or related items. A protected site may also,
because of particular circumstances, have a protected zone declared around it.
So what are the practical restrictions in regard to recreational access to an historic
shipwreck? Historic shipwrecks may be visited and enjoyed by the public. The policy for
visitation is ‘look but don’t touch’. Handling or moving material or disturbing conservation
equipment could be considered interference with a site. Therefore a diver may take
photographs and video of the wreck. Also a diver visiting an historic shipwreck has a
responsibility to practice competent diving protocol so as not to interfere or damage
material through negligence.
This policy also relates to other activities on the site for example boat handling. A boat
anchor should not be lowered onto a historic shipwreck as this may cause damage. This
also applies to the handling of the boat itself, which may collide with or drift against the
remains. Therefore responsible boat handling is essential.
Does this Act cover material related to a shipwreck and does it pertain to other kinds of
water related structures? This Act provides for the protection of material associated with
an historic shipwreck. This includes material that is in close proximity to the site, or has
been moved or recovered. If an article or section of the ship has been removed from the
water or relocated to State or Territory waters it remains protected material under the Act.
If an item is found and it is believed to be associated with a historic shipwreck, it is
considered protected under the Act.
This Act does cover other sea-based craft, for example submarines. The I-124, a Japanese
submarine wreck located in the Northern Territory, is protected under the Act. However
the Act does not address the protection of other water related structures such as jetties or
wharfs. These sites may be protected under relevant Commonwealth, or State or Territory
What is a protected zone? Within the Act is the provision for a protected zone to be
declared surrounding an historic shipwreck. A zone is declared by the Minister when there
is an agreement that additional protection is necessary. The zone is of a prescribed size and
the Act lists the kinds of activities that are not permitted within it. In summary a protected
zone may not be entered without a permit. A permit may be issued to a recreational dive
group, for one visit or valid for a period of time. Therefore a protected zone does not
necessarily restrict all public access. The conditions of access for a permit holder may
depend upon the public access policies tailored specifically for that site.
What is the status of material that was recovered prior to the Act or prior to the
introduction of the 75 years automatic declaration? Material that was recovered prior to
these restrictions are still considered protected historic relics. The Act states that a person
in possession of an historic relic must notify the relevant authority. When the automatic
declaration was introduced some delegates instigated an amnesty period, when a person/s
could declare material without prosecution. In some cases a compromise was developed
where, following the register of the relics, people were able to maintain custodianship.
However strict protocol regarding the transfer of custodianship was established.
What occurs if a member of the public discovers or knows of an historic shipwreck or
related items? A person who discovers an historic shipwreck is obligated to inform the
Minister of its location as soon as is ‘practical’. An individual that knows of the location of
an historic shipwreck or historic relic, or knows a person who has this information, is also
obligated to inform the Minister. In short it is an offence to withhold information regarding
the location or possession of an historic shipwreck or historic relic.
Over the years public recognition and awards have been given to people who had
discovered and declared historic shipwrecks.
Under what circumstances may a historic shipwreck be disturbed or material raised?A
permit or permission must be obtained before an historic shipwreck or related items may
be disturbed. This includes individuals or organisations who may have ownership or
custodianship over a shipwreck site.
How are the restrictions and penalties of the Act enforced? The Act lists indictable
offences, which are offences that require an appearance in a court of law. The penalties are
not minor. This reflects the weight of an offence committed under the Act.
The Act contains the provision for the appointment of inspectors, whose role is to facilitate
the implementation of the Act. The inspector is delegated certain powers to investigate and
halt a crime under the Act. Members of the police force are automatically inspectors.
Is other legislation applicable to the protection of shipwrecks and related items?
Shipwrecks located within State or Territory waters also may be protected under State or
Territory legislation. In the Northern Territory eight shipwrecks are protected under the
Heritage Conservation Act 1991(NT), all located within Darwin Harbour. Shipwrecks may
also be protected under complementary legislation. For example the Yongala shipwreck,
located in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks
Act and protected under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. A shipwreck may also be
regarded as significant by influential organisations yet not be protected as such. For
example, the Young Australian, located in the Daly River in the Northern Territory is on
the National Trust register.
Under the Commonwealth’s Navigation Act 1912, if a person discovers a wreck, they are
obligated to inform the appropriate authorities. If located within Commonwealth waters the
person must inform the Receiver of Wrecks, the Surveyor Manager of the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority.
1.5 Other relevant legislation
Navigation Act 1912 (Commonwealth). Person/s who discover shipwrecks or related
material in State, Territory or Commonwealth waters, are required to notify the Receiver of
Wrecks. The Receiver of Wrecks for material located in Commonwealth waters is the
Surveyor Manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (Commonwealth). Includes provisions to limit the
sale or transfer of custody or ownership of cultural heritage to an overseas person or the
importation of material protected under foreign legislation.
Judiciary Act 1903 (Commonwealth). The court of a State or Territory is invested with
jurisdiction over offences committed against the laws of the Commonwealth. This means
that offences committed under the Historic Shipwrecks Act may be heard in the courts of
the Northern Territory. In turn an offence committed against the Act in the Northern
Territory may be heard in a court of another State or Territory.
Heritage Conservation Act 1991 (NT). This is the heritage legislation of the Northern
Territory. An application must be made to the Heritage Advisory Committee and the
Minister for Conservation for a site to be declared protected under this Act. The
Ellengowan (1866-1888), located in Darwin Harbour, is one of seven shipwrecks protected
under this legislation. Terrestrial sites Fort Wellington (1827-1829) and Victoria
Settlement (1839-1841) located at Cobourg Peninsula within the vicinity of the Australian,
are protected under this Act.
Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land, Sanctuary and Marine Park Act 1996 (NT). This
Act details the establishment of Gurig National Park and the Cobourg Marine Park. As a
feature of the marine park the Australian historic shipwreck is protected under this
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (Commonwealth). This Act deals with heritage
sites and related items located within a national park. Permission from the Commonwealth
National Parks and Wildlife Service must be obtained prior to any disturbance of these

Shipping in the 19th century

Once the extent and nature of the world’s oceans was established, the final stage of the era of sail had been reached. American independence played a major role determining how the final stage developed.

To understand why this was so, it should be appreciated that Britain’s North American colonies were vital to its merchant marine, for they formed a major part of its trading empire as customers for British goods. Under mercantilist economic doctrine, colonies were intended as a source of raw materials and as a market for manufactured goods produced in the metropolitan country. Maine, New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were rich in naval stores and timber for inexpensive hulls, masts, and spars. And the Navigation Act as amended also granted to the merchant fleets in British North America a monopoly on the transport of goods and passengers within the British Empire. When the United States became independent in 1783 the former colonies were rigidly denied access to the British metropolitan and colonial markets. The substantial trade that had tied Boston to Newfoundland and the British West Indies was severed, leaving the Americans to find an alternative trading system as quickly as possible. New England and the Middle Atlantic states, where there were significant fleets of sailing ships, turned to the Atlantic and Mediterranean islands as well as to Mauritius and to China. In this way, the merchants in the American ports created direct competition to the British East India Company. In doing so, they needed ships that could sail in the Far Eastern trade without the protection of the British navy and that could operate more efficiently and economically than those of the East India Company.

The British East Indiamen were extravagantly expensive to build. Contracts for their construction were awarded by custom and graft. Captains were appointed by patronage rather than education or professional qualifications. And the journeys to Canton (Guangzhon), China, from England in East Indiamen were slow in a trade where fast passages were of value, for example, in guarding the quality of the tea being carried. American merchants were fully aware of these failings of the company and its ships. They set out to gain a foothold in the trade through innovations, particularly after the East India Company’s monopoly in Britain’s China trade was abolished in 1833.

British shipping remained rather stagnant after the development of the East Indiaman in the 17th century. The Dutch became the innovators in the second half of the 17th century and maintained that status until the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. The British East India Company was paying £40 a ton for ships whereas other owners paid only £25. In the 19th century American shipbuilders studied basic principles of sail propulsion and built excellent ships more cheaply. They also studied how to staff and operate them economically. The Americans began to see that even larger ships (that is, longer in relation to breadth) could carry more sail and thereby gain speed and the ability to sail well under more types of winds. For perishable cargoes speed meant that these fast ships reached British and European markets before those of their competitors and with a product in better condition.

In the 25 years after 1815 American ships changed in weight from 500 to 1,200 tons and in configuration from a hull with a length 4 times the beam to one with a ratio of 5 1 /2 to 1. The faster and thus shorter journeys meant that the shipowner could earn back his investment in two or three years. The Mayflower had taken 66 days to cross the Atlantic in 1620. The Black Ball Lines’ nine-year average as of 1825 was 23 days from Liverpool to New York City. Twenty years later Atlantic ships had doubled in size and were not credited as a success unless they had made at least a single east-bound dash of 14 days or less.

The culmination of these American innovations was the creation of a hull intended primarily for speed, which came with the clipper ships. Clippers were long, graceful three-masted ships with projecting bows and exceptionally large spreads of sail. The first of these, the Rainbow, was built in New York in 1845. It was followed by a number of ships built there and in East Boston particularly intended for the China-England tea trade, which was opened to all merchant marines by the late 1840s. Subsequently the Witch of the Wave (an American clipper) sailed from Canton to Deal, England, in 1852 in just 90 days. Similar feats of sailing were accomplished in Atlantic crossings. In 1854 the Lightning sailed 436 miles in a day, at an average speed of 18 1 /2 knots.

By 1840, however, it was clear that the last glorious days of the sailing ship were at hand. Pure sailing ships were in active use for another generation, while the earliest steamships were being launched. But by 1875 the pure sailer was disappearing, and by the turn of the 20th century the last masts on passenger ships had been removed.

What's in the jug?

The amphorae were stored in five layers within the ship's hull, leading researchers to estimate as many as 6,000 ceramic jugs may have been aboard when the ship succumbed to the depths. It's also estimated that the Fiscardo and Roman ships like it were capable of transporting "up to 400 tons of cargo to ports throughout the Mediterranean and beyond."

And there's an even more interesting layer to this ship-cake: they might be able to tell what was inside of the amphorae, and how old the ship itself was. Based on the dimensions of the jugs, the Fiscardo has been dated to "sometime between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D."

As for what's inside, we'll have to wait and see, but Ferentinos reports some of the amphorae may still be sealed. "However, even if the amphorae are opened, by taking a sample from the inside wall of the amphorae you can find with what they were filled by determining the DNA of the absorbed material in the wall."

Place your bets, and hope we find out before another millennium passes by.

Shipwrecks Found in Greek Waters Tell Tale of Ancient Trade Routes

Amphorae are seen at the sea bottom at a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 15, 2018. Picture taken September 15, 2018. Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities/Handout via REUTERS

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Idyli Tsakiri FOURNI, Greece, Oct 11 (Reuters) – Archaeologists in Greece have discovered at least 58 shipwrecks, many laden with antiquities, in what they say may be the largest concentration of ancient wrecks ever found in the Aegean and possibly the whole of the Mediterranean.

The wrecks lie in the small island archipelago of Fournoi, in the Eastern Aegean, and span a huge period from ancient Greece right through to the 20th century. Most are dated to the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras.

Although shipwrecks can be seen together in the Aegean, until now such a large number have not been found together.

Experts say they weave an exciting tale of how ships full of cargo travelling through the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea met their fate in sudden storms and surrounded by rocky cliffs in the area.

“The excitement is difficult to describe, I mean, it was just incredible. We knew that we had stumbled upon something that was going to change the history books,” said underwater archaeologist and co-director of the Fournoi survey project Dr. Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation.

The foundation is collaborating on the project with Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, which is conducting the research.

When the international team began the underwater survey in 2015, they were astounded to find 22 shipwrecks that year. With their latest finds that number has climbed to 58, and the team believe there are even more secrets lying on the seabed below.

“I would call it, probably, one of the top archaeological discoveries of the century in that we now have a new story to tell of a navigational route that connected the ancient Mediterranean,” Campbell told Reuters.

The vessels and their contents paint a picture of ships carrying goods on routes from the Black Sea, Greece, Asia Minor, Italy, Spain, Sicily, Cyprus, the Levant, Egypt and north Africa.

The team has raised more than 300 antiquities from the shipwrecks, particularly amphorae, giving archaeologists rare insight into where goods were being transported around the Mediterranean.

“Ninety percent of the shipwrecks that we found in the Fournoi archipelago carried a cargo of amphorae.

“The amphora is a vessel used mainly for transporting liquids and semi-liquids in antiquity, so the goods it would be transporting were mostly wine, oil, fish sauces, perhaps honey,” archaeologist and Fournoi survey project director Dr. George Koutsouflakis from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, said. Fish sauce from the Black Sea region in antiquity was an expensive commodity, he added.

They were particularly excited by amphorae they found originating from the Black Sea and north Africa in shipwrecks from the late Roman period, as it is rare to find cargo from these regions intact in shipwrecks in the Aegean, said Koutsouflakis.

Bad weather is the most likely explanation for why the ships all sank in the same area, he said. The region experiences lots of sudden, fierce squalls and is surrounded by rocky shores.

Fournoi was a stoppover point for ships to spend the night during their journey.

“Because there are narrow passages between the islands, a lot of gulfs, and descending winds from the mountains, sudden windstorms are created.

“It is not a coincidence that a large number of the wrecks have been found in those passages…if there is a sudden change in the wind’s direction, and if the captain was from another area and was not familiar with the peculiarities of the local climate, he could easily end up losing control of the ship and falling upon the rocks,” said Koutsouflakis.

In later times Fournoi was considered a pirate’s haven, said Campbell. Pirates were drawn to the area by the abundant flow of vessels laden with rich cargo. Although weather was believed to be the primary reason for the sinkings, piracy may have contributed in some cases, he said.

The condition of the shipwrecks vary. Some are well preserved, others are in pieces after the ships crashed on the rocks.

“We have wrecks that are completely virgin. We feel we were the first ones to find them, but they are in very deep waters – at a depth of 60 meters. Usually from 40 meters and below we have wrecks in good condition. Anything above 40 meters has either lost its consistency or has been badly looted in the past,” said Koutsouflakis.

The survey team discovered the shipwrecks from sightings by local sponge divers and fishermen.

Fournoi is made up of 20 small islands, islets and reefs between the larger Ikaria, Patmos and Samos islands. The population does not reach more than 1,500, mainly located on the main island of Fournoi.

The team, which includes archaeologists, architects, conservators, and divers, want to create a centre for underwater archaeology in Fournoi for students, as well as a local museum to house their finds. (Writing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios Editing by Hugh Lawson)

The 25 Coolest Shipwrecks In the World

Grab your scuba gear, because we're about to go deep&mdashunless you suffer from thalassophobia.

Humans are really good at sinking ships. So good, that the United Nations estimates that there are three million wrecked along the ocean floor. So we've rounded up 25 ships that wow us, make us scratch our heads, or even experience submechanophobia, a fear of fully or partially submerged manmade objects.

Location: Red Sea (near Egypt)

The Giannis D went by many names before it sunk. At first, the cargo ship was built as the "Shoyo Maru" in Imabari, Japan in 1969. It was eventually sold in 1975 and renamed "Markus." Then it was sold again in 1980 to the Dumarc Shipping and Trading Corporation in Piraeus, Greece, and renamed the "Giannis D."

Its last voyage departed from Rijeka, Yugoslavia, in 1983, carrying lumber bound for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Here's how the ship took on water and sunk, according to The Red Sea Project:

"On 19 April 1983 the ship was in transit in the Straits of Gubal, which is a rather narrow shipping lane before reaching the open waters of the Red Sea. Once on course for open water, the Captain turned over the helm to one of his junior officers and retired to his cabin to rest. Soon afterwards he was rudely awakened by the sound of his ship running aground. It appeared that the Giannis D had drifted west of her set course and ran aground at full speed on the northwest edge of the Sha&rsquoab Abu Nuhas Reef."

Today, the ship lies at the bottom of the Red Sea in three sections. The crumpled bow is about 10 meters below the surface.

Location: Tobermory, Ontario

Big Tub Harbour is the place to be if you're a diver. Just about three hours northwest of Toronto, the body of water is home to over 20 shipwrecks. It's sort of like the Bermuda Triangle of Ontario, Canada.

It's hard for photos to do this one justice, but the star shipwreck is easily "Sweepstakes," a Great Lakes Schooner built in 1867 in Burlington, Ontario. In its heyday, it weighed 218 gross tonnes and was 119 feet long.

In the summer of 1885, Sweepstakes was hauling coal near Cove Island by Tobermory when it somehow sustained hull damage. It was towed to Big Tub Harbour for repairs, but it was too expensive. All the valuables were stripped, and then she was sunk.

Luckily, you needn't be a diver to experience this ship in real life. Boat tours with glass bottoms routinely take tourists to visit the wreck, which lies close to the surface of the water in Big Tub Harbour. Of course, it's also a destination for divers.

Location: Lake Michigan

Ten years ago, Diver and maritime history buff Bernie Hellstrom came across two schooners that had collided and sunk into the depths of northern Lake Michigan more than 140 years ago. This happened when he was looking for shipwrecks and a depth sounder on his boat (an ultrasonic instrument used to measure the depth of water under a ship) detected an object that was over 200 feet down at the bottom of the lake.

Hellstrom later went back to the site with a custom-made camera and discovered two ships, the Peshtigo and St. Andrews, about 10 feet apart from one another. The ships had collided back in 1878, but it was thought that they had sunk in Lake Huron.

Location: Key West, Florida

Not all shipwrecks are accidents.

The U.S. Navy originally used the USNS General Hoyt S Vandenberg as a military troop transport and missile-tracking ship during World War II. In 1983, the ship was officially retired.

It was intentionally sunk in May 2009 to serve as an artificial coral reef. The ship went down 140 feet, leaving about 40 feet of clearance between the wreckage and the surface of the water. The ship formerly weighed 17,120 tons and was 522 feet, 10 inches long.

Location: Solomon Island

To call this guy a shipwreck would only be half-true since it's only half sunk in the Solomon Islands. The former cruise ship had a nasty run-in with an uncharted coral reef back in 2000 that left it in a permanent lean-with-it-rock-with-it pose.

A few salvage companies have taken interest in the ship only to find that it was ransacked of most of the goods during the Solomon Islands's Civil War between 1998 and 2003.

Location: Niagara Falls

The next time you're feeling lazy, just move your attention to this ship, which didn't move for literally 101 years until November 2019. This iron scow, unofficially named the "Niagara Scow," is a boat that two sailors nearly steered over the falls back in 1918.

Fortunately, they were rescued, but the boat remained. In fact, officials thought the boat was lodged for good.

&ldquoI thought it would be there for all time,&rdquo David Adames, chief executive of the Niagara Parks Commission, told The New York Times. &ldquoThe wreck has been out there for 100 years. It&rsquos just part of the Niagara Falls story.&rdquo

It moved 160 feet downstream after a storm surge caused winds in excess of 50 miles per hour.

Location: Chuuk Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia

Coming in at 450 feet long, the ship&mdashwhich Mitsubishi built for shipowners Toyo Kaiun back in 1938&mdashwas used as a liner in the North American run and later carried cargo like raw silk, cotton, jute and flax.

Just a year before Pearl Harbor, in 1940, the Imperial Japanese Navy took over the Fujikawa and converted it into an aircraft ferry, complete with stern guns salvaged from old military ships. In September 1943, an American submarine, Permit, hit the ship with a torpedo. By the following year, the ship was back in service again until it was hit by yet another torpedo, this time launched by a strike bomber attached to a carrier group that included the USS Monterey and Bunker Hill. It eventually sunk in Chuuk Lagoon.

Chuuk Lagoon, itself, was considered the strongest Japanese stronghold in the Pacific during World War II, so there are a number of other wrecks across the atoll. In 1971, oceanologist Jacques Cousteau released a television documentary on the area and its remains, which quickly became a diving destination.

Location: Namibia

For the non-diver, the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck along Namibia's Skeleton Coast, a graveyard of wrecked ships, is a treat. Though, it's one you'll likely never see in-person because it's nefariously hard to get to it in the first place: you need a license and a guide with a special vehicle to go visit it and even then it's typically only accessed from the air.

In 1909, the ship hit land while stuck in a cloud of thick fog. Now, it lies nearly a mile inland.

Location: Scapa Flow, Scotland

In June 1919, during the first World War, the German fleet was destroyed by the Royal Navy near Scotland's Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The boats were to be surrendered and disarmed: they were being used as gambling chips in Paris while peace talks ensued.

After having been interned for a few days, the ships began to stink. They were not meant to be lived on. Most of the men were vacated from the ships, leaving a skeleton staff to run them. Not knowing that an armistice had been extended and thinking that Germany and the Allied Powers were about to go back to war, the German Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, ordered that all the ships be scuttled, or intentionally sunk.

Location: Bermuda

Built in England in 1864, then launched to sea three years later, the HMS Vixen was a behemoth gunboat whose hull was completely covered in teakwood, which is popular on today's boat decks. Supposedly, the boat was the slowest ironclad vessel in the Royal Navy.

Whether or not that's true doesn't matter, just the outcome&mdashafter sea trials, the Vixen and her sister, Viper, were considered too slow and were deemed unseaworthy. They were each towed to Bermuda in 1888 to serve as defense ships. By 1896, the ship's machinery and engines had all been removed and Vixen was used to block a narrow channel off Daniel's Bay to prevent torpedo attacks. In the process, friendly boats were also shooed off.

Today, the bow of the HMS Vixen sticks out of the waters it's submerged in. It's a protected wreck, now, meaning you must have a permit to scuba dive inside or take anything, though snorkeling is allowed. Glass bottom boat tours also frequent the site.

Location: Oregon

Along the coast of Oregon, you can see the ghoulish shadow of the Peter Iredale wreck at sunset. If that's too spooky, the day works, too&mdashthis thing is definitely not going anywhere.

The ship was formerly a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by the British company Iredale & Porter. In 1906, the ship was leaving Santa Cruz, Mexico and heading to Portland, Oregon to pick up wheat headed for the United Kingdom when a storm hit. It instantly became a tourist hit.

Location: Palau

While the more well-known World War II ship graveyard is Chuuk Lagoon, Palau is also home to 60 wrecks of its own, perfect for the sightseeing diver as many are relatively close to the ocean's surface.

Iro Maru, which was nearly 470 feet long, sank in 1944 during what was known as "Operation Desecrate 1," a prep mission the U.S. Navy made before overtaking Papua New Guinea. The ship is wrecked in the upright position at 120 feet below the surface at its deepest.

Loads of fish and corals have covered the wreck and made it into a home, but there is also live ammunition strewn about the deck, still, so divers should use caution if they're heading to the lower parts.

Location: Cayman Islands

The USS Kittiwake, a former submarine rescue ship, was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in the British Cayman Islands. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and was decommissioned on September 30, 1994. Throughout its 49-year tenure, the 251-foot ship accompanied subs during sea trials and during missions where the crew would practice underwater rescue missions.

While many of its stories are still considered classified information, one of the Kittiwake's best-known stories came right after the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. The Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard were on a massive search for the space ship's black box and it was the Kittiwake and her crew that eventually found it at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Location: Sleeping Bear Dune, Lake Michigan

The James McBride was launched in 1848 on April Fool's Day. Nine years later, she took a journey to the Manitou Islands, carrying a cargo of wood. On a return trip to Chicago, the ship encountered a gale and was driven to the shore near Sleeping Bear Dune and was abandoned to the elements&mdashher owner, John Stafford, had little concern as the ship drove more profits than his initial investment of $4,000.

Location: Iceland

Known as the "Milkmaid" in English, the Melckmeyt is the oldest known shipwreck in Iceland, found just off the coast of the tiny island, Flatey. It sunk as part of a smuggler's run gone awry. The wreckage wasn't discovered until 1992. The 108-foot ship was covered beneath 40 feet of water.

Since then, archaeologists have gone nuts studying it, even creating a virtual reality diving experience to commemorate its 360th birthday.

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

The Vasa, a 17-century Swedish ship, sunk on its maiden voyage out of the Stockholm harbor. In 1628, it sunk right before the eyes of onlookers. It was supposed to be the most technical ship ever built in Sweden, but instead it ended up an engineering disaster. The gun deck was far too heavy and had been built by someone with no experience on ships.

Because the water is so cold and poor in oxygen, worms did not eat up the entire wooden ship. When it was rediscovered and raised in 1961, it was about 95 percent intact. The remains are held at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

Location: Australia

Formerly a luxury cruise ship&mdashand then converted into a World War I hospital ship&mdashthe SS Maheno went into action in 1915, transporting casualties between Sydney and Melbourne. Eventually, the ship was called to the United Kingdom, where it carried patients from France to England.

In July 1935, the Maheno was purchased by an Osaka shipbreaker but never made it. The towline was severed in half during a cyclone about 50 miles off the coast. Today, it's rusting on the beach, but visitors cannot visit the wreck as it's extremely dangerous.

Location: Lanai, Hawaii

Known as "Shipwreck Beach," this spot in Lanai is known as a hazardous location for ships. With strong trade winds and big channel swells, it's not altogether surprising that over a dozen ships have been intentionally and unintentionally grounded here.

The YOGN-42, shown in this video, is a World War II-era fuel tanker. It's the main attraction at the beach as it's not even fully covered by water. From afar, it actually looks like it could be a regular boat docked near the shore. Since steel was scarce, the ship was built of ferroconcrete&mdasha frame of metal mesh or steel-alloy rebar to which a concrete mixture was added in layers.

Location: Sydney, Australia

The SS Ayrfield, a former cargo freighter built back in 1911, is just one of four abandoned ships haunting Australia's Homebush Bay. Once a former home of industry, Homebush Bay was contaminated and then revamped into a suburb. The boats are reminders of the Bay's industrial past, but only the SS Ayrfield is overgrown with trees.

Location: Navagio Beach, Greece

Beached within a cove where many tourists still gather today in Greece, a smuggler's boat looks like an art installation or an otherwise welcome guest. Beachcombers take photos in front of the shipwreck and set up their towels next to it for the day. Prior to becoming a permanent statue on this beach, though, the Panagiotis was run by smugglers carrying cigarettes and booze. Trying to escape from authorities, the ship crashed right into the cove in 1983.

Location: Bikini Atoll

Situated about 30 hours worth of travel from the closest airport in the Marshall Islands, an 880-foot aircraft carrier is sunk in Bikini Atoll, a nearby coral reef. A 1946 nuclear test blast sunk the ship.

Location: Bermuda

Formerly operated by the Navy and built in Pennsylvania in 1943, the Hermes is the most famous shipwreck in Bermuda thanks to its complete structure. At 165 feet long, it's not a massive wreck, but its location is convenient for free divers, given that it's situated upright in 80 feet of water. The ship is mostly clear of marine growth, though many damsel fish have made it their home.

Location: Larnaca, Cyprus

This roll-on/roll-off ferry was meant to take ships to sea, but instead met its fate beneath the clear waters in Larnaca bay in 1980 on her maiden voyage. The ship was headed from Malmö to Syria, but never made it. As the ferry got closer to Greece, it began listing to port. A computer malfunction was allowing excess water to be pumped inside the ballast tanks. The problem eventually went away and it continued its journey.

When the water began seeping inside once more, the captain was ordered to take the ship out of Larnaca Harbor in case it sunk and could harm other ships. That night, it sank. The ship was loaded with 100 trips, which are all still loaded on its back. The ship is viewable from above the water, as it's only between 50 and 140 feet below the surface.

Location: Oahu, Hawaii

The Sea Tiger originally carried 93 illegal Chinese immigrants, but now rests just a quick boat ride away from Waikiki Beach. This boat was intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef in 1999. Since then, it's become overrun with sea life like moray eels, green sea turtles, and squirrelfish. The boat's depth comes in from 80 to 127 feet.

Location: Palos Verdes Peninsula, California

The Dominator was a freight ship that hit the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1961 after sailing through a thick patch of fog. The wreckage is typically above the water line, making this ship accessible for non-divers.

To see this rusting hulk, start at Lunada Bay and walk north to Palos Verdes Point which is just under a half mile away.