Volume 16 Number 08
From the President
On Saturday the 8th of September I gave a talk at ‘Bush to Beach’, The Annual Royal Western Australian History Conference of Affiliated Societies, of which MAAWA is a member. The talk covered the history of an American whaling ship, built in 1836, which was on its second voyage to the south seas in 1844, when it was caught in a gale and driven onto a sandbank between an island and a point of the mainland.
Whilst researching the history of the ‘Cervantes’ I discovered that the ship was named after Miguel de Cervantes, the famous author of the novel Don Quixote, written in 1605.
The island near the wreck was named by J W Gregory while he was surveying the coast in 1847, in the schooner ‘Thetis’. He reported that the wreck was still visible above water at that time.
I also have the pleasure of being our speaker at the next meeting this Tuesday 18th September, to give some background into the rich history of shipping and early life on the Swan River. We will then have some discussion on how to approach our next big research project, mapping the many heritage objects on the Perth river system, such as jetties, boat sheds, swimming baths, and so on.
Look forward to seeing you all there at 7:20!
New Maritime Museum Exhibition
The Art of Science: Baudin's Voyagers 1800-1804
Baudin’s ships embarked from Le Havre carrying an impressive group of scientists. Lavishly funded by Napoléon Bonaparte, their agenda was the discovery and study of natural sciences.
Exhibits include Baudin’s chronometer, beautiful coastal profiles, hand drawn maps, and Baudin’s personal journal from France’s National Archives. Paintings and drawings by Baudin’s artists were created on the shores and off the coasts of Australia capturing some of the first European views of the coastline, Australian animals, landscapes and very first portraits of Aboriginal people.
Return to Australia: Freycinet 1818
Discover the science and stories behind this amazing journey as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of Freycinet’s return to Western Australia in the Uranie. Other than his official obligations, he had a secret motive—to retrieve the pewter plate erected there in 1697 by Dutch mariner Willem de Vlamingh.
profiles, hand drawn maps, and Baudin’s personal journal from France’s National Archives. Paintings and drawings by Baudin’s artists were created on the shores and off the coasts of Australia capturing some of the first European views of the coastline, Australian animals, landscapes and very first portraits of Aboriginal people.
Paul Murray Story in The West Australian
Paul published a great story last week (05/09) about the 1942 wartime sinking of the ‘Koolama’ by the Japanese. He also explained how the ship is not protected under the state’s outdated wreck legislation, and how MAAWA is preparing a submission to the WA Government, pushing for reform. Your help will be needed to promote this! We have republished his article below.
WA's Past at Risk of Sinking
Raymond Theodore Plummer knew he was in trouble when the first Japanese flying boat attacked the State ship Koolama just before midday as it steamed up the Kimberley Coast, heading for Darwin.
Plummer, known as Bluey, was a civilian passenger on the ship which was also carrying soldiers and work release prisoners to the northern port. All 180 were unaware that Darwin had been hit by the first air raid on the Australian mainland the day before, February 19, 1942.
While it was built for the WA Government’s state shipping service as a coastal freighter, MV Koolama had already seen active service. In January, after the outbreak of war with the Japanese, she had taken members of the 8th Division to fight in what was then the Dutch East Indies.
In the 11.30am attack on the Koolama, off Cape Londonderry, the first Japanese plane flying from Ambon, where some of those troops were sent, dropped three bombs wide of their mark. But, three Kawanishi flying boats returned around 2.30pm as Plummer was taking cover below. One bomb tore through the timber deck and its tailfin struck his skull as it sped by, eventually exploding in the engine room.
Plummer was knocked unconscious after the fin ripped out a piece of his skull, exposing part of his brain and tearing away skin from the back of his head to his nose. Who else could say they were directly hit by an airborne bomb and lived?
To cut a long story short, Captain Jack Eggleston decided to head the sinking Koolama to shore. All aboard were evacuated through crocodile-infested mangroves under further Japanese aerial attack. One of the crew sewed Plummer’s scalp back on before he was taken in a pearling lugger to Drysdale River Mission, and later to Darwin. He survived 40 operations and lived into the 1980s.
But there’s more. By March 1, Eggleston and 18 crew members got the Koolama afloat and the next day they limped into Wyndham harbour. Most of the ship was unloaded of its much-needed cargo of war supplies, but at 7am on March 3, eight Japanese Zero fighters made sustained strafing attacks, and the Koolama had to be abandoned. At 4.45pm she rolled onto her starboard side and sank.
What a yarn. What an amazing piece of WA history.
There’s still more. In 1946, a workforce of around 100 men tried to refloat the Koolama and got her about 15m out from the wharf where she sank again, and still lies in the Cambridge Gulf channel, about 3.7m under the water at low tide. But strangely, while WA has a proud tradition of protecting its maritime archaeological history, the important wreck of the Koolama is not covered.
In 1973 WA was a world leader in legislating to protect local underwater cultural heritage. Over the years however, the Maritime Archaeology Act has become outdated and inconsistent with international conventions and federal laws. The Koolama is inside the three-mile state waters limit, so it is not protected by the Federal Historic Shipwrecks Act. The WA law only protects wrecks from before 1900. To that extent it is inconsistent with the Federal Act which covers wrecks after 75 years — in line with a UNESCO convention — and so technically could now apply to the Koolama if it was in a different location. And while the federal act has an exemption clause that allows maritime infrastructure sites “younger” than 75 years old to be declared as historic, based on their significance, the WA law does not. Similarly, some World War II flying boat wrecks in Roebuck Bay at Broome are not protected under either law.
The Maritime Archaeological Association of WA, formed in 1974, is about to ask the McGowan government to make the WA law compliant with new legislation going through the Commonwealth parliament. WA is the only state or territory that does not align with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, and the association says this will impede plans to ratify the convention as part of a new federal UCH bill.
The association — a group of divers and historians interested in WA’s rich underwater heritage — is concerned that there are many more archaeological sites that fall outside the laws. For example, campsites and structures built by the survivors of the Dutch ships Batavia, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk are not protected under the 1973 WA Act, even though they are associated with an historic ship covered under federal law. And some underwater archaeological sites, such as a convict-built fence in the Canning River and other convict-built infrastructure now in reclaimed land on Perth’s foreshore, fall outside the law because they lack such an historic ship link.
The association also wants the law to take into account some of the peculiarities of history that were not anticipated in the 1973 legislation, such as the inscription emblazoned on a big boab tree at Careening Bay, in the Prince Regent River area of the Kimberley, by the crew of a British cutter in 1820, nine years before WA was colonised. Explorer Lt Philip Parker King’s cutter was pulled up on to the beach for 10 days for repairs and to collect fresh water. His sailors left their mark — ‘HMC Mermaid 1820’ remains visible on the uninhabited coast.
The association wants all “blazes, graffito, rock engravings, cairns, survey markers and inscriptions” to come under blanket protection as “sites of historic interest associated with maritime exploration or historic contact”.
Another sign of the neglect of the law is that fines under the act have lost their deterrent value. The state penalty for knowingly destroying valuable maritime archaeology is only $2000, compared to the penalties under federal law, which are $50,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a corporation.
The fact that much of this history is often out of sight for many people should not limit its importance.
Scientists Have Found a New Way to Keep Shipwrecks in Shape
Step one: acquire magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles.
by Matthew Taub (via atlasobscura.com)
A watercolor painting of the iron cannons that make the ship’s preservation tricky.
Nearly 500 years after sinking, the celebrated Mary Rose warship has wind in its sails once more. Scientists from the University of Glasgow, the University of Warwick, and the Mary Rose Trust have devised a method for removing agents of rot from the ship’s body, offering shipwrecks everywhere a brighter future. Their research was presented today at an American Chemical Society conference in Boston.
Mary Rose served Henry VIII in three wars against France over a period of more than 30 years. The precise reason for its sinking in the Solent strait is disputed, but the sole eyewitness account maintains that a strong wind blew while the ship was mid-turn. On July 19, 1545, hundreds of men drowned aboard this oaken icon of Tudor naval culture, while approximately 34 survived. In the following weeks, a hired crew of Venetian salvagers endeavored to recover the ship, but to no avail. The best that divers could do, a few years later, was to scoop up some of the anchors and weapons on board. (The guns on the ship were valued at over £1 million in modern money, and the kingdom couldn’t let that kind of cash go to waste.)
The wreck then lay submerged and undiscovered until 1836, when a group of fishermen caught their nets on bits and pieces. To much fanfare, divers brought up artifacts such as guns, jugs, and even the mast until 1843, when the loot was thought to be exhausted and Mary Rose was scheduled for demolition. Though that demolition never took place, concurrent demolitions of other wrecks led many to believe the ship had been destroyed, and Mary Rose faded once more from divers’ eyes. It wasn’t until 1971 that the ship was rediscovered and proper excavations were undertaken.
The deteriorated ship on display.
As it turns out, four centuries of submersion isn’t so great for wood. During that time, bacteria lodged in the ship and produced hydrogen sulfide, which then reacted with iron ions—from cannons, for example—to produce iron sulfide. When the ship was pulled from the depths, these sulfides reacted with oxygen to form destructive acids.
Arduous conservation efforts have been ongoing since the ship was lifted out of the water in 1982. For years, preservationists countered the harmful sulfides by applying a supplement known as polyethylene glycol (PEG) to the hull, which prevented the wood from shrinking and cracking. But while PEG proved effective enough to keep Mary Rose on display, it was just a band-aid—it failed to do away with the catalyst driving the ship’s deterioration.
The researchers have begun applying the treatment to wood from Mary Rose, explained lead researcher Serena Corr from the University of Glasgow, but they first tried it out on the next best thing: oak soaked in iron solution. The team, Corr added, is currently developing versions of this treatment that can be safely applied to other materials found in the wreck, such as leather and rope. Until then, you can still see the ship and its artifacts in all their oxidized glory at the Mary Rose Museum on the Portsmouth Dockyards.
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Direct from the archives of the Maritime Archaeology Association of Western Australia.