Written by Dr Maddy Fowler, Museum of Tropical Queensland
As the recently appointed Senior Curator Maritime Archaeology, I have faced the challenge of familiarising myself with the maritime archaeology collection, predominantly housed at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The HMS Pandora artefacts are justifiably the most well-known of this collection, due to both their international value and significance, and their substantial quantity. The collection, however, also includes artefacts from at least 16 other named shipwrecks located across Queensland’s coast and rivers. The maritime archaeology collection can therefore be seen as a cross-section or a sample of the total shipwreck resource in the State, and a brief analysis of these sites can inform significance and research potential.
|Vessel name||Year built/launched||Type of vessel||Gross tonnage||Registered port or owner||Built||Primary employment|
|Aarhus||1875||Iron barque||691||J.H. Christiansen||Hamburg, Germany||Transport, general cargo|
|Annie||1843||Wooden brig||645||Peterhead, Scotland||Quebec, Canada||Transport, general cargo|
|Brinawarr||1890||Wooden single screw steamer||119||Sydney, Australia||Shoalhaven, NSW|
|Cato||1799||Wooden ship||430||London, UK||Stockton, England|
|Channel Rock Lightship||Marine Department, Brisbane||Port services|
|Coolangatta||1843||Wooden brigantine||88||Sydney, Australia||Shoalhaven, NSW||Transport, cedar cargo|
|Foam||1882||Wooden schooner||164||Maryborough, QLD||West Cowes, Isle of Wight||Transport, indentured labour|
|Gothenburg||1854||Iron single screw steamer; barque||737||Melbourne, Australia||London, UK||Transport|
|Maida||1857||Wooden barque||519||Moulmein, Burma/Myanmar||Coal hulk until 1930s|
|Mecca||1872||Iron single screw steamer||Sunderland, England||Sunderland, England||Transport, immigrants|
|HMCS Mermaid||1816||Wooden schooner||84||London, UK||Calcutta, India||Transport, ore cargo|
|HMS Pandora||1779||Wooden ship||516||Royal Navy||London, UK||Naval defence, prisoners|
|HMS Porpoise||Captured 1799||Wooden ship||308||Royal Navy||Spain||Naval defence|
|Scottish Prince||1878||Iron barque||850||London, UK||Aberdeen, Scotland||Transport, general cargo|
|Thomas King||1826||Wooden barque||346||London, UK||London, UK||Ballast cargo|
|Valetta||1821||Wooden ship||317||Calcutta, India||Calcutta, India|
|Yongala||1903||Iron single screw steamer||Adelaide Steamship Co.||Newcastle upon Tyne, England||Transport|
The majority of ships represented in this collection were built in the 19th century. Pandora, Porpoise and Cato are therefore particularly significant for their pre-1800 construction. Many ships were built in the UK; however two, Coolangatta and Brinawarr, were built in Shoalhaven, New South Wales. Of the 2,786 colonial-built vessels wrecked in Australian waters, and the 271 that have been relocated (Nash 2004:95), published archaeological surveys are only available for 15 of these (Davison 2014:9). Coolangatta is particularly significant as it falls within the ‘early’ period of Australian wooden sailing vessels (Coroneos 1991:7). The collection represents both wooden- and iron-hulled vessels powered by sail or steam. Gothenburg, however, is a rare example of an early iron vessel – also barque-rigged – as the transition from wooden to iron shipbuilding only intensified in the mid to late 1800s.
Interestingly, only one of the ships, Foam, was registered to a Queensland port at the time of its loss (although, Channel Rock Lightship was owned by the Queensland Government). In addition, the port of origin or planned destination of roughly one-third of these ships for the voyage on which they wrecked was overseas, including the USA, UK, and a number of locations in the South Pacific, East and Southeast Asia and Oceania. This highlights the remarkable cosmopolitanism of vessels travelling in Queensland waters, particularly during the 19th century. This diversity is represented further through the people travelling on-board these ships, such as the South Sea Islander indentured labour on Foam and Chinese immigrants on Mecca.
|Vessel name||Year wrecked||Location of wreck||Port of origin||Destination||Cause of loss||Number of records*|
|Aarhus||1894||Smith Rock, off Cape Moreton||New York, USA||Brisbane, Australia||Foundered||41|
|Annie||1853||Cockburn Reef||Hobart, Australia||Singapore||Stranded||3|
|Brinawarr||1918||Pioneer River, Mackay||Foundered (cyclone)||65|
|Cato||1803||Porpoise Cay, Wreck Reefs||Sydney, Australia||Batavia/Jakarta, Indonesia||Stranded||11|
|Channel Rock Lightship||1899||Channel Rock, near Cape Melville||Violent storm (cyclone)||8|
|Coolangatta||1846||Tweed River||Brisbane, Australia||Tweed River, NSW||Broken up, gale||1|
|Foam||1893||Myrmidon Reef||Dungeness, QLD||Solomon Islands||Stranded||227|
|Gothenburg||1875||Old Reef, entrance to Flinders Passage||Darwin, Australia||Melbourne, Australia||Stranded||3|
|Maida||1900 (possibly 1949)||Bishop Island, Moreton Bay||Burnt and dumped||2|
|Mecca||1878||Mecca Reef, Torres Strait||Hong Kong||Sydney, Australia||Foundered||68|
|HMCS Mermaid||1829||Flora Reef, Great Barrier Reef||Sydney, Australia||Port Raffles, NT||Stranded||32|
|HMS Pandora||1791||Pandora entrance, Great Barrier Reef||Tahiti||Portsmouth, England||Foundered||5500|
|HMS Porpoise||1803||Porpoise Cay, Wreck Reefs||Sydney, Australia||England||Stranded||10|
|Scottish Prince||1887||Southport bar, Stradbroke Island||Glasgow, Scotland||Brisbane, Australia||Stranded||55|
|Thomas King||1852||Cato Reef||Sydney, Australia||Manila, Philippines||Stranded||5|
|Valetta||1825||Long Island, Whitsunday Islands||Sydney, Australia||Manila, Philippines||Deliberately beached||10|
|Yongala||1911||Off Cape Bowling Green||Brisbane, Australia||Townsville, QLD||Foundered (cyclone)||68|
*The ‘number of records’ refers to the number of individual entries recorded against each shipwreck in the Museum’s database. It does not quantify the number of individual artefacts, as some records relate to more than one object.
The majority of ships also wrecked in the 19th century. All 17th-century shipwrecks in Australia occurred on the western coast. Pandora, as the Museum’s only 18th-century example of shipwreck is comparable on the east coast with the loss of HMS Sirius in 1790 at Norfolk Island. Maida, Yongala and Brinawarr wrecked in the 20th century; however, the absence of Second World War shipwreck artefacts is conspicuous. The majority of wrecks are also located at sea, with Brinawarr and Coolangatta being the only riverine examples. Recent investigations into river and lake networks (particularly in NSW and SA) are beginning to redress the lack of archaeological knowledge regarding Australia’s navigable rivers. Of those ships wrecked on the coast, the majority stranded on reefs foregrounding the impact the Great Barrier Reef has had on shipping casualties in Queensland waters. It also reflects the archaeological bias in shipwreck investigations towards those accessible within recreational diving limits. Channel Rock Lightship, Brinawarr and Yongala were all wrecked due to cyclones, again revealing the unique conditions which hampered maritime activities on the Queensland coast. This collection is therefore characteristically ‘Queensland’, however exposes the State’s role in global maritime systems.
If you are interested in learning more about the artefacts from the shipwrecks listed here, please contact the Museum of Tropical Queensland +61 (0) 7 4726 0600 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Look out for The Maritime Archaeology Collection: Part 2 Islands and Reefs blog coming soon.
Australian National Shipwreck Database http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/historic-shipwrecks/australian-national-shipwreck-database
Coroneos, C. (1991) One interpretation for the short working lives of early Australian wooden sailing vessels in Victorian waters. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 15(2):7-14.
Davison, L. (2014) Picking up the pieces: The story of a shipwreck. Master’s thesis, Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Adelaide.
Nash, M. (2004) The Australian-built schooner Alert (1846-1854). Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 28: 91-96.