Moreton Bay (Australie) : Queensland shipwrecks expose their secrets


Tony Moore

Source - 



Grace Darling ballast mound with hull planking. Photo: Supplied

Shipwreck experts have pinpointed the exact locations of 26 of Moreton Bay's 102 shipwrecks.

Until now, aside from visible wrecks, the location of many shipwrecks have been word of mouth among divers and boating families.

And those locations have shifted with the shifting sands and currents of Moreton Bay.


Wrecks of the Fairlight (at baack) and the Normanby on Moreton Island. Photo: Supplied

Queensland's Historic Shipwreck Survey is the first stage in a five-year study with the Queensland Museum trying to check locations of 1291 shipwrecks along the state's coast.

That number is likely to get to 1400 as the wreck locations are slowly confirmed.

However, throughout Queensland only 85 of the 1291 wrecks have been physically confirmed.


A QPWS Marine Parks Ranger inspects the wreck of the Aarhus. Photo: Supplied

After 12 months of research and first-hand location spotting by divers from the Department of Environment and Resource Management and the Queensland Museum, the locations of just 26 wrecks around Moreton Bay have been tied to exact positions.

"I suspect by the end of the year that number will be up to around 30," said Paddy Waterson, the archaeologist leading the survey.

At the start of Queensland's Historic Shipwreck Survey, the locations of just six shipwrecks could be accurately shown on charts.


An overview of the many wrecks located in Moreton Bay.

"We had six on Moreton Bay, and as it turned out some of those positions were not as exact as we'd hoped," Mr Waterson said. "So we've gone from having six exact and seven "sharp" positions to now having 26 that we have exact positions for."

Mr Waterson said it has been harder work that he imagined. "These wrecks come and go - in terms of visibility - because sand largely covers them up and then re-exposes them," he said. "Not to mention diving in bars is not exactly a good idea."

In Moreton Bay, there have been several exciting recent discoveries including the Grace Darling, only "confirmed" in late September, despite the schooner being "found" in the 1980s.

"It was a vessel which was built in the Manning River in New South Wales and started off doing a lot of trade between the Manning River and Sydney," Mr Waterson said. "It then started doing general freight from Mackay down to Brisbane." It carried coal and timber and was suited to the Queensland ports because it was quick, had a shallow draught and was manouverable.

But it came to grief in massive storm in 1894 on its way to Normanton and Croydon .

"It was carrying a cargo of coal, explosive and detonators, which is not the best combination and it made its way to Bulwer (Moreton Island) where the pilot station was," Mr Waterson said.

It stayed there for three days trying to ride out the storm.

"Eventually it was dragging its anchors and taking on water. The master had no hope of rescuing the vessel, so he basically ran the vessel aground to try and save the cargo and the crew," Mr Waterson said.

Help from two local divers; Mark Goulter and Ray Sinclair, helped Paddy Waterson's team finally confirm the location of the Grace Darling.

"It is just offshore from Bulwer in only about nine metres of water," Mr Waterson said.

"It mainly consists of a large ballast mound now, but there are large features and elements there and some ship's timber coming out of the ballast pile."

Mr Waterson the Grace Darling discovery was a good example of how the Queensland Shipwrecks Survey worked.

"We have members of the public come forward and we are able to add to the information that is there," he said.

Not all wrecks were caused by fierce storms, cyclones, or by striking rocks and reefs, Mr Waterson said.

Sometimes, the vessels were getting too old for their owners to manage and were deliberately scuttled in "ships' graveyards".

"Bishop Island and Fisherman Island were sites that became quite common for this and they eventually they became part of the land reclamation that became part of the Brisbane Airport," Mr Waterson said.

"But that was a large ships' graveyard where they just deposited quite a number of vessels over a long period of time."

Ships have also been scuttled off Redcliffe and off Moreton Island, he said.

"Even Queensland's first flagship, the Gayundah, eventually became a gravel barge and was sitting off Redcliffe there," Mr Waterson said.

"It was used to protect the beach. It was deliberately deposited there to protect it."

The Gayundah was scrapped in the 1950s and was grounded at Woody Point in 1958.

The shipwrecks of Moreton Bay show how the colony of Queensland has evolved, Mr Waterson said.

"When Queensland became an independent colony in 1859, it had just one lighthouse, which was Cape Moreton," he said.

"It has this torturous coastline, it has the Great Barrier Reef, it has offshore islands, it had poor navigation aids, they only had limited charts and they had extreme seasonal weather.

"Combine all those things together and couple it with the sheer volume of trade that was going on, you end up with this sort of scenario."

Mr Waterson said the location of Queensland shipwrecks tell the history of the state.

"You can't under stand why Brisbane City and other major cities are located where they are without understanding the importance of the maritime trade."

A ship is declared a historic wreck under the Federal Government's Historic Shipwrecks Act if it is more than 75 years of age. Except for the Centaur.

"They can be declared a lot younger than that, and the obvious one there is the Centaur, which is younger than 75 years," Mr Waterson said.

"But because of its clear and obvious historic significance the Federal Minister declared it."

More is being learned about many wrecks including the 1890 collision of the government steamer the SS Kate and the Burwah, where the Kate sank in 15 minutes after receiving a hole in its starboard bow.