Bunbury Whalers Dig

Departmental resources | Updated 10 years ago

Two whaling ships, the Samuel Wright and the North America lie 10,000 nautical miles from home, and located directly beneath a car park in south-western Australian city of Bunbury.

Their excavation reveals amazing stories about whaling in the Indian Ocean, shipwreck discovery and conservation, and the rich maritime heritage of Western Australia.

Western Australian Museum is leading the excavation with staff from the WA Museum Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Materials Conservation and a team of volunteer archaeology students from the Flinders University of South Australia and University of Western Australia, consultant archaeologists and members of the Maritime Archaeology Association of WA (MAAWA) plus the assistance of lecturers and students from the South West Institute of Technology, School of Surveying Bunbury who are assisting with the mapping survey.


  1. Magnetic and ground penetrating radar (GPR) anomalies on Lot 881 and Lot 882 were investigated and confirmed to be cultural features related to shipwrecks.
  2. The shipwreck site in Lot 882 is buried on the pre-1896 shoreline, and is therefore a pre-1900 shipwreck protected as a maritime archaeological site under the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973. It is identified as either the Annie M. Young (1876) or Cingalee (1887).
  3. Two sites consisting of detached sections of wooden hull structures from shipwrecks were located in Lot 881, and both appear to have been removed to their current position from the inter-tidal zone sometime during sand mining operations in the 1960s.
  4. The site located in Lot 881 Trench 1 is identified as detached hull side wreckage from either the 555 ton wooden sailing barque Midas (1872) or 875 ton barque Solglyt (1901). 
  5. The section of shipwreck found in Lot 881 Trench 2 is part of a ship’s deck, and is possibly detached wreckage from either the Midas (1872) or Solglyt (1901). 
  6. Not all magnetic anomalies on Lots 881 and 882 were able to be archaeologically tested within the eight day timeframe.
  7. A water probe survey conducted on the last day on Lot 882 located a cluster of solid wood targets at a depth of 5 metres in the area of the pre-1896 shoreline and concrete interpretation plinth. This plinth was placed in the position of the wreck of the Samuel Wright (1840) (Parks 1990: 166) and is likely to be the remains of a shipwreck.
  8. A GIS analysis using Reverend Wollaston’s tracing of surveyor Henry Ommaney’s map of Bunbury has provided an alternative possible location for the wreck of the Samuel Wright in Lot 881.
  9. At least two other shipwreck sites discovered during sand mining operations are recorded to lie within or nearby the study area, and remain to be positively relocated.
  10. Following the discovery of shipwreck sites in the 1960s during sand mining activities, they were reburied in tailings, which is evident in the sites’ stratigraphy as thin layers of clean sand and remnant mineral sands.
  11. Not all wooden shipwrecks will have a magnetic anomaly if they are wholly timber and copper-fastened, therefore future survey methodologies should incorporate a strategy to detect these wrecks.
  12. A photographic and GIS analysis to identify locations of shipwrecks in the study area used 1960s perspective and aerial photography to provide a possible location for the American whaling shipwreck Site K/ North America (1843) in Lot 882.
  13. The shipwrecks in the location of the pre-1896 shoreline on Lots 881 and 882, and in the North Beach reclaimed foreshore area generally, are a significant maritime heritage resource with regional, national and international significance. The wrecks have been buried as a result of coastal changes resulting from port development, and remain well preserved.
  14. An historical archaeological site was located outside the study area that is considered to be the remains of the 1841 Western Australia Company store.
  15. A whaler’s grave is recorded to lie within Lot 882, and as a buried feature is considered to be a potential heritage site.

Reports and publications

Koombana Bay foreshore maritime archaeological survey and excavations 21-28 November 2011

Executive Summary

This report provides the historical background, methodology and results of archaeological surveys and excavations carried out at Lots 881 and 882, Koombana Bay foreshore between 21—28 November 2011.  Three sites relating to shipwrecks were located, with descriptions and interpretation provided.

Post-excavation analyses of the sites included historical research, timber sample identifications, fastenings analyses, structural analyses, photographic analysis of perspective and aerial photography and reporting on the in situ materials conservation and environmental parameters for the long-term preservation of the sites. Survey results are presented in the form of site plans and GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping.

The main findings are that one shipwreck site on Lot 882is identified as being protected by the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973, and two sites on Lot 881 are identified as being parts of shipwrecks that may be protected by the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973. Recommendations are made for further work in the study area.

It is recommended that:

  1. A close-plot water probe survey should be conducted on Lots 881 and 882 to determine the presence of potential maritime archaeological sites that may be protected by the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973.
  2. The City of Bunbury continue to work with the WA Museum to investigate Lot 881 and 882 to locate maritime archaeological sites, and establish processes for their long-term protection and management under the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973 and local planning regime. Mapping of the sites and making provision for buffer zones will avoid unnecessary impacts to shipwreck sites by any future development of this area.
  3. The City of Bunbury should add all of the shipwreck and archaeological sites located so far to their Municipal Heritage Inventory to protect the sites, and inform future planning and management decisions.
  4. Copies of this report should be provided to the Bunbury Historical Society, City of Bunbury library and the State Heritage Office.

Download report - 60.1MB DOC - please note this document is 60mb in size.