Wreck Site Discovery

Discovery of the Batavia Wreck Site

The wreck of the Batavia was only discovered 300 hundred years after the tragic wreck on Morning Reef near Beacon Island. In 1963, the first successful excavations were conducted on Beacon Island, where 17th century Dutch artefacts were found in association with human skeletons. These finds confirmed the hunch that the island had been Batavia's Graveyard and led to the discovery of the wreck on nearby Morning Reef. Later in that year, a team of civilian and military divers conducted the first underwater excavation of the wreck.

Towards the end of their expedition they also excavated several areas on Beacon Island and did a reconnaissance of the stone structures on Beacon and Long Islands. Unearthed in the sandy interior of the island were more burials and the remains of the survivors camps.

The discovery of the shipwreck site on Morning Reef led to systematic archaeological research and recovery of parts of the ship and its cargo. Further research related to the Batavia has involved the analysis of artefacts and human remains discovered on Beacon Island .

The actual Batavia ship excavation commenced in 1972 and has been one of the largest and most ambitious maritime archaeological projects undertaken by the Western Australian Museum. In the four seasons of fieldwork, the stern section of the ship was completely excavated, leaving a small section of the bow area of the site unexcavated, for study at some point in the future.

This was one of the first excavations undertaken by the Department of Maritime Archaeology and many of the techniques used by the Department were pioneered on this site.

It is not an ideal site to carry out detailed and exacting archaeological recording. The site is extremely exposed and often dangerous to work. The weather and sea conditions are impossible to predict with any certainty, therefore there was never any guarantee that on the following day one would be able to work on the site. In fact, the ratio of days when one could dive to days when it was impossible to dive was quite high (1:3). However, a considerable amount of archaeology was possible in spite of these difficulties.

Diver approaching a large submerged anchor

One of the first items that led to the discovery of the Batavia was the anchor.
Image copyright WA Museum