Searchers find historic shipwreck
PM - Wednesday, 7 January , 2009 18:26:00Reporter: Annie Guest BRENDAN TREMBATH: Researchers are closer to solving an Australian maritime mystery; a team made up of 40 archaeologists, scientists and volunteers has confirmed a shipwreck found on the Great Barrier Reef is that of The Mermaid.
The Government ship sank in 1829 south of Cairns while attempting to deliver a dispatch to disband the fledgling Port Raffles community in what is now the Northern Territory.
The Mermaid was earlier used to chart northern Australian waters.
The curator of the Australian National Maritime Museum Kieran Hosty spoke to PM's Annie Guest from the site of the wreck.
KIERAN HOSTY: This morning one of our divers made quite an exciting find; they located a pulley sheave, it's part of the rigging of the ship, and on the pulley sheave there is quite discernable broad arrow mark, now a broad arrow is a government mark and they put it on all government property.
ANNIE GUEST: So you're 100 per cent confident now that…
KIERAN HOSTY: I am, I'm very very confident that we have the Mermaid site.
ANNIE GUEST: What is the significance of finding the 180-year-old wreck of the Schooner?
KIERAN HOSTY: The Schooner Mermaid, it was cutter originally, it was a one masted vessel, but the cutter of the Schooner Mermaid circumnavigated Australia charting the Australian coastline. It was filling in the gaps left behind my Matthew Flinders.
And so it was a very important link in establishing Maritime roots around Australia. Ironically it was, the vessel Mermaid was actually one of the vessels used by Phillip Parker King to chart the coast and quite ironically it was the vessel that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1829.
ANNIE GUEST: Well what happened to the Mermaid on June 13th in 1829 and what was the fate of the ship's crew?
KIERAN HOSTY: Again that's quite interesting; the Mermaid captain, he wasn't Phillip Parker King at the time, it was another man by the name of Nolbrow. Captain Nolbrow made the decision to sail too close to the reef, he was acting against the wishes of his junior officers and acting against the direction of the colonial government.
ANNIE GUEST: Why was that?
KIERAN HOSTY: The only accounts of the wrecking we have are from the junior officers and they accused Nolbrow of being drunk, they accused him of being irrational.
ANNIE GUEST: What was the fate of the crew?
KIERAN HOSTY: They tried to get the vessel off the reef, they deployed a kedge anchor and they tried to drag the vessel off over the site. That was another indicator that we do have the Mermaid because we've actually found that kedge anchor. And eventually the abandoned the ship. They were in the ship's boats for 11 days until they were picked up by another vessel.
ANNIE GUEST: There have been several failed attempts to find this ship, why has it been so difficult to pin down its location?
KIERAN HOSTY: The shipwrecks break up and their location becomes lost. The thing that we have here is that you can't use the device that actually provides a picture of the seabed because of all the coral bombies in the area, so we've been flying in divers and snorkelers every day to actually swim the area.
We've also been using metal detectors and magnetometers to try and pick up metal signatures. But all this takes a bit of time.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The National Maritime Museum's Kieran Hosty speaking to Annie Guest.