Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Deadwater Wreck (unknown)

Reputed to be in Deadwater Wonnerup

Deadwater wreck

Location: Wonnerup Inlet
Chart Number: Aus 755 & WA 859
Protection: The site when found will be protected under the general provisions of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
Significance criteria: 4 & 7
There is much controversy regarding this wreck which was seen and described during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but which has now disappeared under the shifting sands of the beach berm which margins the Deadwater of the Wonnerup Inlet. The coastline at this point has changed considerably over the years. There is a possibility that at some stage the entrance (or possibly entrances) to the Deadwater were considerably deeper than they have been in historical times.
There are five eyewitness descriptions of this wreck:
Frank Thomas Gregory, 1861:
Recent Elevation of the Land.—Of recent changes of elevation there are but slight evidences. The numerous beds of oyster- and cockle-shells, just above the present sea level, of species still existent in the adjacent seas, tend to prove that there has been a gradual though slight upheaval of the coast since its first emergence from the ocean. To this may be added the fact, that the remains of a vessel of considerable tonnage have been discovered in a shallow estuary near the Vasse Inlet, and now quite shut out from the sea, which from its appearance, I should judge to have been wrecked more than two hundred years ago, during which period the land appears to have risen about two or three feet. This, together with the fact that, within the known limits of Western Australia there is not a single volcano, either active or extinct, nor any but slight evidences of volcanic agencies having been at work, goes far to prove that this portion of the Australian continent has undergone fewer changes than almost any other part of the world (Gregory, 1861: 482).
Leonard Worsley Clifton, 1876:
…it is evidently ancient and from the crutch of her boom, rings of the masts and a large grappling iron, found many years ago, near the wreck, which I have seen, she must have been a very large ship. George Eliot, then RM of Bunbury, and I together went to the spot some 30 years ago and the interest is that there is a sand hill of some height between her and the sea. I think that Mr. Eliot sent the crutch and the large fine fluked grappling iron, home. A large hemp hawser was dug out of the sand which had an encrustation of many inches thick round it, but the rope was so good that the finder used it to tie thatch on his house. I was informed by the late J.G. Bussell, J.P. that two ancient coins were found on the sand beach a few years ago, but failed in getting any further information (CSR 891/7, Worsley Clifton to the Colonial Secretary, 29 April 1876).
E.L. Grant Watson, 1910:
The ship was there alright, though not very much of her was above the surrounding swamp. At low tide we clambered aboard, the deck appeared to be intact, though all the hatches were full of mud, which had sifted in, tide after tide, and now probably filled every hollow space. The boat lay a good half-mile inland from the coastline, and a thick tangle of vegetation had grown into that region where the salt and fresh water met (Grant Watson, 1968: 75).
A further eyewitness account is given in the Port of Fremantle Magazine. Halls (1981) quotes Alfred Burt’s description:
The Deadwater was an almost landlocked pool and the old ship lay about half a mile from the shore on the landward side; there was a ridge of land between it and the sea beach. It stood two or three feet above the water and had a high stern built in the olden style.
Alfred Burt was a civilian draughtsman from Governor Weld’s staff who assisted Staff Commander William Edwin Archdeacon in coastal survey work in 1876. The Deadwater at Wonnerup was one of the areas surveyed, and Archdeacon noted that the sea in that area had receded ‘several chains’ since the first government survey, that by F.T. Gregory in 1846 some 30 years earlier (Halls, 1981).
The final description is by Edward Withers who lived and worked in the Lockeville area during the 1870s.
There used to be a wreck at the mouth of the Vasse River on the north side and when I worked at Lockeville I often saw the fluke of her anchor laying on the foredeck, it looked about one ton or more in weight but was about six feet under water. I do not think it was ever recovered as it would not have been of much value at that time (Withers, n.d.).
In the above descriptions the indication is of a large vessel, in three cases referred to as a ship, decked and with hatches, and of considerable tonnage. There has been speculation that the Deadwater wreck is the remains of the chaloupe, or longboat, from the French corvette Géographe lost on 5 June 1801, but none of these eyewitness accounts accord with an open longboat of the dimensions suggested in ‘Geographe’s Boat (1801)’ (see entry). It should also be noted that after the loss of the replacement longboat (built in Timor) in Bass Strait another longboat was built on the deck of the Géographe. Gregory also considers the vessel to have been wrecked more than two hundred years previously, rather than the sixty years before his paper was read at the Geological Society of London by one of its vice-presidents, Sir R.I. Murchison, on 22 May 1861.
There is also an entry in the diary of Henry Charles Prinsep dated 1 May 1869 in which he states:
Saw Reynolds [Joseph Gardiner Reynolds] who told me he had found the old ship in the Deadwater of Wonnerup (quoted in Halls, 1981).
Reynolds owned the property on which the wreck was supposed to lie, and as a consequence claimed a right to it when he learned that Thomas Bindloss had requested permission in 1876 from the Colonial Secretary to explore the wreck. Bindloss was successful in his request, but nothing is known regarding his success or otherwise in subsequently locating the wreck. In 1902 Reynolds also submitted a claim for salvage rights, which was granted. That Reynolds himself may have recovered some artefacts considerably earlier than his grant of salvage rights is suggested by a statement from George Julius Brockman just prior to his death aged 62 years in 1912 who claimed:
When a boy, I remember Mr Reynolds got relics from the wreck, knives forks and other things (quoted in Halls, 1981).
In 1902 Reynolds wrote in a letter to the Colonial Secretary that in 1860 he had ‘sent up all the iron work belonging to the wreck’ (quoted in Gerritsen, 1995), again suggesting that he had located the wreck and taken material from it.
There have been many searches during recent years for this wreck. People such as Thomas O’Brien and Greg Haywood worked together, other searchers included Rupert Gerritsen, Chris Halls and staff and students of the Maritime Archaeology Department of the Western Australian Museum.
Two cannon found in the 1970s were sometimes thought to be associated with the Deadwater wreck. These however are more likely to be the ones lost from the Grace Darling (see entry).
The discovery of the remains of the Deadwater wreck may solve one of the most intriguing mysteries to face maritime archaeology in Western Australia.
RARE (7)
The Deadwater wreck most probably pre-dates European settlement on the west coast, and is therefore of significance because of its age.
Bonnemains, J., Forsyth, E., & Smith, B., (eds.), 1988, Baudin in Australian Waters: The Artwork of the French Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands 1800–1804. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Coroneos, C., Smith, T. & Vosmer, T., 1990, Report on the Deadwater Wreck: in partial fulfillment of the 502 component for the Graduate Diploma in Maritime Archaeology, 1990. Unpublished manuscript.
Dedman, R., 1993, South-West by South: The Maritime Story of the South-West and Southern, Western Australia, Volume 1, from Discovery to Settlement. Self published.
Gerritsen, R., 1995, An Historical Analysis of wrecks in the vicinity of the Deadwater, Wonnerup, Western Australia. Report—Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum, No. 97.
Grant Watson, E.L., 1968, Journey Under the Southern Stars. Abelard-Schuman Limited, London.
Gregory, F.T., 1861, On the Geology of a Part of Western Australia. The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, Volume 17, Part 1. Longman, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, London.
Halls, C., 1981, Mystery Wreck of the South West. Port of Fremantle Magazine—Summer, 1981.
Henderson, G., 2007, Unfinished Voyages: Western Australian Shipwrecks 1622–1850. University of Western Australia Press, Crawley.
Ingleton, G.C., 1944, Charting a Continent: A Brief Memoir on the History of Marine Exploration and Hydrographical Surveying in Australian Waters from the Discoveries of Captain James Cook to the War Activities of the Royal Australian Navy Surveying Service. Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney.
Nelson-Broad, E., 2002, The Lockeville Legend. Limited Editions, Perth.
Western Australian Museum, Department of Maritime Archaeology, File No. 405/71—Bunbury wrecks.
Withers, E.H., n.d., Happenings Through the Years. Unpublished manuscript.

Ship Built

Ship Lost

When Lost unknown

Where Lost Reputed to be in Deadwater Wonnerup

Ship Details

Museum Reference

Unique Number 1654

Protected Unknown

Found N