Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Napier Broome Bay Cannon

From the late 18th century Macassans were visiting northern Australia. Each year a fleet of perahus arrived on the north-western and Northern Territory coasts to collect trepang. A number of these vessels were known to be wrecked but to date there has been little evidence found of wreckage. In 1916 two brass carronades were found on an island in Napier Broome Bay, by personnel from the HMAS Encounter. It was initially thought that these cannon were of Portuguese origin, which led to speculation that the Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to discover the Australian continent. It was also said that local Aboriginals performed a corroboree about these cannon. This depicted ‘...white men with skin like turtles and alligators’ that came in boats to the island, and fired the cannons. The reference to ‘skin like turtles was thought to mean that they were wearing armour, and thus were Portuguese or Dutch men. The islanders won the ensuing battle and captured the cannons, which is why they were on the island. The cannons have since been found to be Asian replicas of European cannon. There are many stories of clashes between Macassan and Aboriginal people which makes it likely that they were used by Macassan fishermen as shore defences when they made their camps and smokepits to process their trepang catches. They could also be from a wrecked perahu. It seems unlikely that such valuable articles as the cannon would be left behind, unless they were shipwrecked and unable to carry them anywhere else.

Associated Tribe Gamberre

Contact Evidence Possible

Type of contact Unknown

Location Carronade Island

Source European