20 November 1940: HMAS Goorangai … a tragic ending

20 Nov
November 20, 2013

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.

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

18 Nov
November 18, 2013

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.

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

15 Nov
November 15, 2013

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.
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14 November 1908: Falls of Halladale: a spectacular shipwreck

14 Nov
November 14, 2013
Falls of Halladale wreck site. Image Heritage Victoria

Falls of Halladale wreck site. Image Heritage Victoria

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

14 Nov
November 14, 2013

“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.

Compass Housing. Drawn by G. Hewitt 1989.

Compass Housing from Clarence, wrecked Port Phillip Bay. Drawn by G. Hewitt 1989.

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.

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13 November 1930: Maramingo … a snippet of history

13 Nov
November 13, 2013

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.

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Walking the plank of pirate archaeology

11 Nov
November 11, 2013

You may have seen the news recently about the archaeological excavations on the pirate Blackbeard’s ship and it got me thinking about this whole concept of “pirate archaeology”.

Any discussion on pirate archaeology has to start with defining a pirate; although whether you were called a pirate, a privateer or a buccaneer really depended on your point of view. Francis Drake was a hero and privateer in England and a despised pirate to the Spanish. Charles Ewen (2006) suggests calling them ‘terrorists’ provides a more modern equivalent today’s population can relate to. Pirate archaeology is a new discipline of underwater archaeology, and its growth has been helped, in part, by the discovery of Blackbeard’s ship in North Carolina.
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10 November 1905: a hero and a shipwreck

10 Nov
November 10, 2013
La Bella

La Bella

Today 108 years ago, La Bella hit a reef near Warrnambool along the south western coast of Victoria, Australia. La Bella was a four-masted barquentine iron and steel sailing ship built in Norway in 1883. Most of her working life however was spent in New Zealand and from 1902, the vessel was regularly carrying timber between Port Phillip in Victoria and New Zealand.

Good crew were difficult to find towards the end of the nineteenth century as experienced crews wanted to work on the new steamships and deckhands were hard to keep and control. The only previous time La Bella had been to Warrnambool in 1904, the crew had got drunk while the Captain was on shore and refused to do any work when he got back.
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Is underwater archaeology relevant anymore?

04 Nov
November 4, 2013

As a soon to be maritime archaeologist I’m struck by the debate about the relevancy of underwater archaeology … or rather the lack of consideration for the discipline’s place in our culture.

Of course I’m going to be on the side of the archaeology. I did, after all, leave my job to become a poor student at an age when most people are buying houses and settling down. Not that settling down has ever really been in my DNA. I was born to be interested and for mine underwater archaeology is interesting. What’s hidden beneath the water or on the edges of the land is fascinating. History, innovation, stories of romance, adventure, scandal and heroism can be found sheltering underwater and in the archives. Are these stories relevant to today? You already know my vote. These stories, these people are part of the fabric that makes us who and what and where we are. Without the past, we wouldn’t exist as we do. Underwater archaeology is an industry struggling. As the economic outlook continues its downward trajectory, it is the arts and the sciences that are beginning to lose momentum. Underwater archaeology must reinvent itself to stem the bleeding.
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Nautical Archaeology: where it all began

25 Oct
October 25, 2013

ina screen grab title

Movie review.

What better place to start a blog on maritime archaeology then with a review of the film of the story of the dig that started everything.
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