Searching for Shipwrecks

Quiz | Updated 6 years ago

Often shipwrecks are found by accident but sometimes they are discovered after long and painstaking research of historical records.

The accidental discoveries are usually shallow water shipwrecks found by divers. This is typical of wrecks discovered off Australia’s west coast in the 1960s and 1970s after the invention of Scuba. Many of these ships were traders heading for the Spice Islands to the north of Australia.

When the maritime spice trade from Europe began, the ships hugged the coast of Africa after rounding the Cape of Good Hope before setting out across the Indian Ocean. This route was slow and dangerous with the chance of attack by pirates along the African coast and light winds near the equator making for slow progress.

In 1611 Dutch captain Hendrik Brouwer discovered a quicker and more dependable route to the East Indies. After leaving Cape Town he sailed down to latitude 40° south and met the strong westerly winds (the Roaring Forties) that drove his ship swiftly across the Indian Ocean. This maritime freeway took months off the voyage but added the danger of running into the forbidding west coast of Australia where the outlying reefs were waiting to trap any unfortunate ship that strayed too far east.

The discovery of HMAS Sydney (II) and HSK Kormoran was the result of exhaustive research over many years both in Australia and overseas. But because the search area was in deep water many kilometres off the coast, the search had to wait until the invention of a deep water searching tool that could economically scan hundreds of square miles of ocean floor up to 5 kilometres deep.

With the development of side scan sonar primarily used in the search for oil and gas, and the use of ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), deep-water wreck hunting became a possibility.

Shipwreck Timeline

Wrecks in Australia and Around the World

Here are a few of the many thousands of shipwrecks that have been discovered over the years in oceans around the world. With each wreck a website is provided that can be a starting point for your research.

c. 350 BC

Greek Cargo ship, off Chios and the Oinoussai islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. greek shipwreck geography challenge

c. 860

Unknown Arab China trader, Belitung Island, Indonesia. Discovered in 2000.
A replica of the Arab trader, Jewel of Muscat, has been constructed in Oman and was launched on 18 October 2009.


Mary Rose, in the Solent near Southsea south coast, England.
Henry VIII’s favourite warship .


Tryall, also known as the Trial, off the North West Cape, Western Australia.
English China Trader. shipwrecks Tryall


Batavia, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship. shipwrecks


Vergulde, Draeck, Ledge Point, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship. shipwrecks Vergulde Draeck


Zuytdorp, near Shark Bay, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship. shipwrecks


Zeewijk, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship. shipwrecks


Sydney Cove, off Preservation Island Bass Strait, southern Australia.
Merchant sailing ship. Sydney Cove 1736


Rapid, Point Cloates, Western Australia.
American China trader. shipwrecks


James Matthews, Woodman’s Point, Western Australia.
Ex-slave trader. shipwrecks


SS Xantho, Western Australia.
Subject of the Western Australian Museum's Steamships to Suffragettes exhibition. shipwrecks Xantho


SS Georgette, off Redgate Beach Western Australia.
Coastal steamship. shipwrecks SS Georgette


Loch Ard, Mutton Bird Island, Victoria.
Clipper ship. Loch Ard


Koombana, off Port Hedland.
Coastal passenger and cargo steamship. Koombana Port Hedland


Titanic, North Atlantic, south east of Newfoundland.
Passenger Liner. RMS Titanic


Lusitania, Atlantic off Southern Ireland.
Passenger liner. RMS Lusitania


Bismarck, Atlantic Ocean, 380 nm south of Cork, Ireland.
German Battleship. German battleship Bismarck


HMAS Sydney (II), off Shark Bay Western Australia.
Australian warship.


HSK Kormoran, off Shark Bay Western Australia.
German raider. German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran


Sydney Hobart yacht race.
5 yachts sank off the east coast of Australia. 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race


Choose one of the ships from the Shipwreck Timeline and do some research to find out more about it. Here are some questions to start you off.

  1. What type of ship was it?
  2. Where was the ship going?
  3. What was its cargo?
  4. Who discovered the wreck and how was it found?
  5. What artefacts were found on the wreck site?
  6. What do these artefacts tell us about the ship and the people who sailed in it?
  7. Where are the artefacts now?


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