Patrick Baker: Exploring the James Matthews

Video | Updated 1 years ago

The James Matthews was a colonial ship that was wrecked in 1841, about 8 or 9 km from the Fremantle Maritime Museum, at Woodman Point.

The ship was carrying a group of settlers coming out from the United Kingdom. They were, quite literally, as Patrick Baker points out, ‘on the doorstep of their new home’ when the ship sank.

The wreck was discovered by a group of sport divers who had an interest in underwater heritage. Mike Pollard, the group’s leader, had been researching various wrecks and had read about the James Matthews. The ships’ story sparked his interest and Mike and his team began a search for the vessel. They discovered it in 1973, and from that point on Graeme Henderson, the curator of Maritime Archaeology at the Western Australian Museum, began the excavation and extensive study of the James Matthews.

The settlers had brought many domestic items with them for their new lives in Australia, which makes it a fascinating wreck to explore. It is easy to imagine the people that were aboard the ship as we still have access to their personal belongings. These, along with the wreck itself, were carefully recorded and measured by the Department of Maritime Archaeology team.

One of the artifacts found at the wreck site were a set of chess pieces. The de Burgh family lost many things when the ship was wrecked, but Henry de Burgh recorded in his diary, which we are lucky to still have, that he spent a lot of time playing chess on the voyage.

Other objects found were irons, bottles, plates, pipes, a telescope, vases – these items gave the archaeologists an immediate connection to the people that were abroad the James Matthews. Every day, Pat would take new photographs that intimately recorded the wreck site of the James Matthews, which gives us, and generations to come, great insight into the story of the ship. This highlights the important role that underwater photography plays in the preservation of our maritime heritage.