Kimberley Region Historic Shipwrecks and Maritime Heritage Project

Research Projects | Updated 1 decade ago

large waves on the Kimberley shoreline
WA Museum staff at the Kimberley
Image copyright of WA Museum

The Maritime Archaeology department is involved in a Commonwealth funded desktop project to identify shipwrecks for the proposed National Heritage Listing of the Kimberley.

A report was supplied to DEWHA (Commonwealth) on the significance values of the Kimberley Region historic shipwreck resource in May 2009. There are approximately 350 shipwrecks reported as lost in the Kimberley region, of which positions of only 15 are known. The desktop analysis is considered Stage 1 of the Kimberley investigation. Stage 2 will involve a remote sensing and physical survey of sites in the Bonaparte Archipelago.

Archaeologists will join the Aquatic Zoology Department which has been sponsored by Woodside to undertake field surveys in this region. While this project is a direct result of the recent National Heritage Listing nomination of the Kimberley region it is also a State Government priority following the proposal to locate an LNG hub at James Price Point.

There are 64 vessels reported lost between Broome and the mainland coast directly south of Carnot Bay (Cape Bertholet) and another nine lost somewhere off the north west coastal pearling grounds. The majority comprise pearling vessels (luggers, ketches) dating from the 1860's onwards and none of these sites have been physically located.

Many of these vessels were lost in the periodic cyclones which proved devastating to fleets working the pearling grounds. If given enough warning of a coming tropical storm, most ship masters would have sailed for the mainland to seek shelter in many of the creeks and discrete anchorages along the Dampier Peninsula. As such, while we can anticipate that some shipwrecks may occur in deep water, it is highly probable that many sites will be found in shallow water coastal areas.

Similarly, the inshore waters north of Broome extending through to the Lacepedes have historically known pearling beds, some of which are still in use today.

And: Marine Life of North Western Australia: