Searching for Shipwrecks

Quiz | Updated 4 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.
livescience.com greek shipwreck
ancientgreece.co.uk 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.
jewelofmuscat.tv

1545

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

1622

Tryall, also known as the Trial, off the North West Cape, Western Australia.
English China Trader.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks
en.wikipedia.org Tryall

1629

Batavia, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks

1656

Vergulde, Draeck, Ledge Point, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks
en.wikipedia.org Vergulde Draeck

1712

Zuytdorp, near Shark Bay, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks

1727

Zeewijk, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia.
Dutch merchant ship.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks

1797

Sydney Cove, off Preservation Island Bass Strait, southern Australia.
Merchant sailing ship.
en.wikipedia.org Sydney Cove
parks.tas.gov.au 1736

1811

Rapid, Point Cloates, Western Australia.
American China trader.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks

1841

James Matthews, Woodman’s Point, Western Australia.
Ex-slave trader.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks

1872

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

1876

SS Georgette, off Redgate Beach Western Australia.
Coastal steamship.
museum.wa.gov.au shipwrecks
en.wikipedia.org SS Georgette

1878

Loch Ard, Mutton Bird Island, Victoria.
Clipper ship.
en.wikipedia.org Loch Ard

1912

Koombana, off Port Hedland.
Coastal passenger and cargo steamship.
en.wikipedia.org Koombana
en.wikipedia.org Port Hedland

1912

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

1915

Lusitania, Atlantic off Southern Ireland.
Passenger liner.
en.wikipedia.org RMS Lusitania

1941

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

1941

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

1941

HSK Kormoran, off Shark Bay Western Australia.
German raider.
findingsydney.com
en.wikipedia.org German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran

1998

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

Activity

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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