Tag Archives: archaeology

The Maritime Archaeology Collection: Part 2 Islands and Reefs

Written by Dr Maddy Fowler, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Following from Part 1 Shipwrecks, which detailed the 17 named shipwrecks represented by artefacts in the Museum of Tropical Queensland collection, Part 2 explores objects discovered at islands and reefs that are not ascribed to a known shipwreck. With the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s greatest ship-traps, lying off the Queensland coast, it is unsurprising that shipwreck material occurs on many of the islands, reefs and cays both there and further offshore in the Coral Sea.

In saying that, artefacts from the following locations may relate to vessels: Moulter Cay the ship Sapphire (1859); Great Detached Reef the ship Aerd Van Nes (1854); Polmaise Reef the barque Tambaroora (1879) and the barque Deutschland (1883); and Double Island Point the brig Missie (1866). Further research needs to be undertaken to determine how conclusive these identifications are.

Northern Great Barrier Reef

Island or reef name Number of records*
Torres Strait 6
Moulter Cay 12
Raine Island 198
Great Detached Reef 11
Cockburn Reef 14
Sir Charles Hardy Island 1
Wishbone Reef 8
Little Broadhurst Reef 1

Many of these artefacts, while not identified to individual vessels, are ship-related objects. These include parts of the ship such as fastenings (bolts, nails, spikes, staples, tacks), rigging (block components) and miscellaneous objects (ballast, planking). Other ship-related objects are ship’s furniture and fittings such as slate, brick, window glass, metal sheeting (copper and lead sheeting, hull sheathing), hinges, drawer handles, door fittings and locks and plumbing. Maritime-specific tools include navigational instruments like binnacle or compass components.

Although, some objects may not pinpoint a shipwreck, but rather relate to shipping mishaps or objects discarded overboard. This includes weapons and accessories such as ammunition (iron and lead shot), and domestic and personal equipment like food and drink consumption and storage vessels (earthenware, glass bottles, stemware, barrel hoops) and clay pipes.

Southern Great Barrier Reef

Island or reef name Number of records*
Heron Island 9
Polmaise Reef 20
Lady Elliot Island 34
Double Island Point 11

While most artefacts pertain to a submerged environment, some of those from islands actually represent island-based industries rather than shipwreck events or shipping mishaps. The largest site-specific collection, Raine Island, is an excellent example of this, used for convict labour (constructing the stone beacon), as a beche-de-mer fishery and for guano mining.

Given the remote location of many sites in the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea, the collection of these artefacts often occurred on the basis of which organisations were in the area. Queensland Museum (QM) maritime archaeology staff collected the majority of these artefacts, often with the support of volunteers from the Maritime Archaeology Association of Queensland (MAAQ), in the 1980s and 1990s, when QM was the State delegate for the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. In other cases, organisations such as the Queensland National Parks & Wildlife Service were responsible for their collection. The Raine Island Corporation field trips excavated the Raine Island collection. Individuals have donated very few artefacts.

Coral Sea

Island or reef name Number of records*
Mellish Reef 2
Dart Reef 6
Wreck Reef 3
Porpoise Cay 57
Whalebone Cay (Hope Cay) 1
Kenn Reefs 18
Observatory Cay 2
Bird Island 1

*The ‘number of records’ refers to the number of individual entries recorded against each island or reef in the Museum’s database. It does not quantify the number of individual artefacts, as some records relate to more than one object.

The records from islands and reefs make up 6% of the collection, compared to named shipwrecks. This collection reminds us that many of these fastenings or bottles, for example, lose meaning when removed from their context. The significance of these objects diminishes without accurate provenance. It is time to revisit these objects and connect them back to the stories of Queensland’s islands and reefs.

To learn more about the artefacts from the islands and reefs listed here, please contact the Museum of Tropical Queensland +61 (0) 7 4726 0600 or info.mtq@qm.qld.gov.au.



The Wreck of the Foam and the Queensland Labour Trade

Written by Dr Stephen Beck,  Honorary Officer (Volunteer) with the Cultures and History Program at Queensland Museum.

The wreck of the Foam provides amazing archaeological insights into the conduct of the Queensland labour trade, the process by which it operated and the effect of contact, trade and exchange between different cultures.   The Foam has the unique status of being the only known wreck on the Great Barrier Reef of a Queensland labour vessel that was actively engaged in the labour trade at the time of its demise.   Thus, the Foam, together with its wreck site, has provided archaeological insights into life on board a labour vessel, both for the returning Islanders and the European crew, at a specific time in the Queensland labour trade.
Continue reading The Wreck of the Foam and the Queensland Labour Trade

The Maritime Archaeology Collection: Part 1 Shipwrecks

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.
Continue reading The Maritime Archaeology Collection: Part 1 Shipwrecks

Collecting the Deep Past: Queensland Museum’s archaeology collection.

Written by Curator of Archaeology, Nick Hadnutt.

Queensland Museum is the custodian of a significant and extensive archaeological collection. The collection is so large it is divided into categories to enable better management, access and the application of expert knowledge to the collections. All together, these various collections comprise of hundreds of thousands of artefacts and occupy many square meters of storage. The collections are divided as follows: Continue reading Collecting the Deep Past: Queensland Museum’s archaeology collection.

The ‘bric-a-brac’ of war

Australia recently celebrated National Archaeology Week. During this time, Queensland Museum Curator of Archaeology, Dr Brit Asmussen participated in some Meet the Curator sessions with a focus on discovering the stories of authentic and faux archaeological artefacts collected by servicemen stationed in Egypt in the First World War.

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Hidden treasures of Begram

Begram is the site of one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in Central Asia in the 20th century. In 1937 and 1939 a large number of objects were found in two sealed-up rooms. The objects are from the 1st century AD and are believed to have been untouched until their discovery many centuries later.

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