Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Survey of Wrecks, Frenchman Bay, Albany

Author/s A. Boocock, R. Bower, C. Coroneos, R. McKinnon and G. Marshall

Year of publication 1990

Report Number: 50

The remains of at least three vessels are known to lie within Frenchman Bay, Albany. This bay, therefore, played a significant role in the history of the port of Albany. From previous Western Australian Maritime Museum surveys of these wrecks, and local knowledge, the identities of two of the vessels have been confirmed, with continuing debate over the number and identification of vessels lying along Vancouver Beach.

A management plan for these both fully and partially submerged cultural resources is compiled. In order to do this, an attempt was made to locate the known wrecks, with the intention of surveying each to assess its condition and significance, to determine threats to the wreck, both natural and cultural, and to confirm identification where necessary.

Despite systematic snorkel, SCUBA and probe searches, the Rip, Fanny Nicholson and Runnymede, were unable to be located due to the winter build-up of sand in the bay. Only the Elvie was exposed. Lying in the intertidal zone, this oil-lighter associated with the early 1900s whaling industry, was excavated by mechanical means and shoreward profiles measured. Conservation samples of the lower timbers were collected. A water probe was used to measure additional profiles as the excavated sand was washed back into the hull, and a series of photographs taken of the beach ward ribs protruding above the sand, allowing a photomosaic to be compiled of the visible remains down to the mid-tide level. From infonnation received from a Frenchman Bay resident, the remains of an iron vessel, later identified as a pre-1912 water-lighter, were found 15 metres offshore along Whalers Beach. A survey of this virtually buried vessel was carried out under difficult conditions, resulting in the completion of a site plan with profiles, and a photomosaic of the bow section. Selected areas were excavated to aid in clarification of the site.

As a result of the futile searches for the Rip, Fanny Nicholson and Runnymede, no immediate conservation and management procedures can be implemented. Their periodic burial is likely to provide adequate protection. Both the Elvie and the unidentified water-lighter are also virtually buried, with no immediate threats to either. These two vessels (one wooden, the other iron) are of considerable historical and archaeological significance as they are examples of a type which was considered'mundane' and 'ordinary' during their effective working lives. Although lighters played an important role in the functioning of the Albany port, little is known of their constructional details. These two wrecks along Whaler's Beach provide an opportunity for the study of such.