City of Launceston wreck turning 150!

How do you celebrate the anniversary of one of Victoria’s most significant shipwrecks? The City of Launceston was magnificent in its hey day … and it’s still magnificent despite the fact it’s spent almost 150 years resting at the bottom of Port Phillip. These days, the Spirit of Tasmania carries passengers and other goods between Tasmania and Melbourne. On the overnight passage, you can watch a complimentary movie, have a drink at one of the ship’s bars, a bite to eat and a stroll around the deck. But did you know that there has been a ferry carrying passengers in luxury across Brass Straight since 1863?


A shipwreck discovered … and inspected

Here in Victoria we have roughly 630 recorded historic shipwrecks, but only about 250 have been located and surveyed. Despite the missing 500 wrecks, getting the chance to inspect a newly located one doesn’t happen every day. But lately, erosion along the Victorian coast has seen some areas of coastline lose up to two metres of sand … not so good for the beaches but excellent if you want to relocate some long lost shipwrecks.


Photogrammetry, maritime archaeology and a marine toilet!

I’m sure every archaeologist has their dream discovery, their pet mystery to be solved that will make their name and riches will follow. I have a few; discovering a treasure ship, overflowing with gold, that disappeared centuries ago, or discovering Amelia Earhart’s plane and proving it through archaeology.

But sometimes life throws you a few interesting curve balls and instead of Spanish gold or aviation mysteries, my first ever investigation as a maritime archaeologist has turned out to be a toilet!


20 November 1940: HMAS Goorangai … a tragic ending

It had been bad weather for two days. For the past week, HMAS Goorangai, had been scouring Bass Strait for sea mines laid by German raiders. At night, unable to see the mines in the dark, the minesweeper returned to the safety of Port Phillip Bay. But the weather on this night was making mooring at Queenscliff increasingly difficult and the crew of HMAS Goorangai got the vessel ready to make a run across the Bay to Portsea to seek better shelter.

At 8.37pm, 20th November 1940, as the 223 ton HMAS Goorangai crossed into the main shipping channel of Port Phillip Bay, the minesweeper was sliced in half by the 10,346 ton troopship HMAT Duntroon. Goorangai sank in less than a minute killing all 24 crew.

But the tragic story of the sinking of HMAS Goorangai really began five months earlier.


18 November 1844: Sally Ann and Elizabeth caught in a gale

Almost 170 years ago today on the 18th November 1844, a gale wreaked havoc along the coast near Portland, in south-west Victoria. According to Noel Learmonth, writing in the Portland Guardian in 1949: the heaviest south-easterly gale in early days occurred on 18 November, 1844. The fact the gale was still being written about over 100 later in a place that was well-known for its gales makes you realise how bad this one must have been. That night, there were four boats anchored in the bay. Minerva and Mary managed to ride out the storm but Sally Ann and Elizabeth didn’t make it.


15 November 1861: Prince of the Seas: a clipper ship burnt

The mid-nineteenth century was the time of the large, American clipper ships. Beautiful, sleek, slippery-quick; these vessels raced across the oceans bringing prestige (and money) to whoever could get to the other side of the world quickest.

Prince of the Seas was built in 1853 by James Smith and Son in St John New Brunswick, destined to be a member of the White Star line. White Star and the Black Ball line were the two main shipping companies involved in the cutthroat Liverpool to Melbourne run. Prince of the Seas was a relatively minor player in the race to break records and make money. Better remembered is the Black Ball line’s Lightning, which travelled from Melbourne to Liverpool in a record 64 days and is considered one of the fastest clipper ships ever built. Red Jacket, owned by White Star, gained fame by taking only 13 days to get from New York to Liverpool. Empress of the Seas was thought to be one of the finest fitted out ships of its time and was also fast, needing only 66 days from Liverpool to Australia. The rivalry and competition was fierce. Winning was everything.


14 November 1908: Falls of Halladale: a spectacular shipwreck

Imagine sailing half way around the world, living on a windswept ship for almost four months and at last the only thing standing between you and your destination of Melbourne is the dreaded Eye of the Needle. Threading the Eye meant navigating through the narrow channel between the islands of Bass Strait and finally sailing precisely through the constricted entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It was the most treacherous part of the entire journey and many ships never made it, encountering the reefs and cliffs of Victoria’s southwest coast through bad weather, bad navigation or a deadly combination of both.

One of the most spectacular shipwrecks that occurred on this part of the coast was the loss of the 4-masted iron barque Falls of Halladale. The vessel had left New York with a £50,000 general cargo of tins of benzine, railway iron, roof slates and sewing machines nestled in the holds.


A fine line: a non-artist’s perspective of archaeological drawing

“We need to draw that up.” Six words guaranteed to cause some archaeologists to break out into a cold sweat while others quietly high five the universe. I am an automatic entrant into the former group. I am, to put it bluntly, graphically challenged.

As computer programs are becoming increasingly more powerful and easier to use, the art of hand-drawn archaeological illustration may not be as appreciated as it once was. Considering my drawing ability (or lack of), you would think that I would be an advocate for the use of computers to render images and site plans. However, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a good hand drawn archaeological image. My own attempts have been limited to anchors, cannons and random bits of driftwood. While my drawings will never win any awards, each drawing has given me a deeper understanding of the subject I’m trying to draw and a broader sense of the aesthetics behind what I’m trying to produce.


13 November 1930: Maramingo … a snippet of history

On this day in 1930, the 250-ton ketch Maramingo ran into rocks on Gabo Island. The ship was carrying timber from a sawmill in Mallacoota when it was blown onto the island and completely wrecked. The six crew members were marooned on the island and the timber cargo lost. Fortunately the Gabo Island lighthouse keeper carried extra supplies for such an emergency. The wreck made the newspapers around the country, with newspapers as far afield as Western Australia and Queensland reporting the bare bones of the story in 100 words or less.