Bunbury (Australie): wrecks yield up their secrets

Sharon Kennedy

Source - http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2014/05/20/4008269.htm?site=southwestwa

A ship is like the structure of a house and each of the timbers gives information, says archaeologist Ross Anderson

R1278477 17293908

Koombana Bay foreshore maritime archaeological survey and excavations in 2011. The stem post was badly damaged. (Ross Anderson)

Ross is one of the team from the WA Museum who excavated wrecks in a Bunbury car park in 2011.

R1278588 17293945

The digging areas are shown in bright pinks and greens

There are 13 wrecks in all in the Koombana Bay area. "We wanted to identify which ones they might or might not be." The Curator at the Department of Maritime Archaeology, Ross believes that the main remains found were those of the Annie M Young.  His hunch is based on the evidence gleaned from information gathered during the dig. Historical reports of the wreck, early photos and the physical description of the wreck all contribute to piecing the puzzle together, he says.

Next to the main wreck in the car park, other remains were noted to the west. These appeared to be broken pieces of ship, flotsam washed up on the beach from a vessel which had broken up. "We think that they were actually once below the water level and then as they were sand mining, the pieces were in the way and dragged clear." As Ross explains, the reason for the excavation was to identify what lies below the sands along Koombana Bay and to aid in their preservation. The entombed wrecks reveal plenty of information for those who know how to read them. For instance, metal fastenings reveal the percentages of copper and zinc used and therefore when the bolts were patented and used.

R1278594 17294027

The metal in the ship provided valuable clues as to the age of the vessel.

R1278595 17294066

Cross section diagram showing the placement of the iron knees which provided stiffening and strength to the ship which enabled it to take on more cargo.

Metallurgical tests show that, on the main wreck, the fastenings dated to post-1846.  "That was useful because we knew then that it wasn't one of the American whale ships that were wrecked there from 1840 to 1843.

R1278586 17293807

Waterline numbers from the stem post.

"Even measuring things in place will give you information about the size of the ship." Some knots might never be unravelled. "Because many of Bunbury's wrecks were built in northern Europe or America they're aften made out of the same sort of timber, like oak or fir, which can be difficult to differentiate. "The timber sample result came back as northern hemisphere."

Just a hunch

The Cingalee which was built in Scotland around 1873 or the Annie M Young built in Nova Scotia in 1863 both fit the bill for the main wreck. Ross leans to the latter as there is a record of it having an iron frame which this does. The Annie M was loading jarrah through Bunbury. The red wood was in demand all over the world for its hardness and resistance to attack from marine borers. From Bunbury, she was to head south to Vasse to take on smaller timber for New Zealand. "As the ship was sailing out of the harbour, the wind died. It was forced to anchor in an exposed position." A gale came up, Ross relates. Even her three anchors couldn't save her and the winds drove her ashore. While none of the artefacts that delight treasure hunters were found, the team were thrilled to uncover the stem post. The upright part of the keel at the bow, the stem post was marked with numbers above the waterline which enabled the captain to determine how the ship was laden. Numbers eight and nine were still attached to the wreck. "The numbers told us that there was between two and three metres of shipwreck in that sand, below what was old sand level of the beach. "It's a really valuable piece of information." The stem post can also reveal more about the size of the ship but dimensions were difficult to gather because the element had been shattered. The culprit might have been earthmoving equipment during sand mining in the 60s, Ross speculates. "There was also reference to people blowing up the wrecks to salvage the timber for firewood." Wrecks were a resource, he adds, with timbers scavenged for other ships or for firewood. There are no plans for further work on the wrecks, says Ross. The City of Bunbury has agreed to an exclusion zone to protect all the known sites. Also, the wrecks are protected under the 1973 Maritime Archaeology Act and are vested in the Museum.

More to discover

While work has finished on the car park wrecks, Ross hopes one day to again be fossicking in the Inlet sands.

R1278590 17293986

The Wollaston overlay shows a location for an American whaler

The reason is the wreck of the Samuel WrightThe mast of the Samuel Wright was used as a trig point from which to triangulate the surveying of Bunbury town. "We think Bunbury is unique as the only town in Australia to have its town planning scheme based on a shipwreck." On the last day of the dig, the team had time to check whether anything lay where the whaler was presumed to be. "There was some significant timber in that area so we think that might be the location."It would be lovely to excavate. It's a fundamental part of the history of Bunbury."

R1278597 17294103

Another of the Bunbury wrecks. The Norwegian timber carrying barque Solglyt of 1901 was found in 1973 when an opening was bulldozed from Koombana Bay to the Leschenault inlet..