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Good news, Hartz Mountain National Park and other tracks are open!


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Wreck of the Alert

The stern of the Alert on Arthur Beach

The 91 ton schooner Alert was built by W. Brown at the Bellinger River, New South Wales, in 1846. The vessel was registered at Hobart in 1847 and Launceston in 1853, primarily servicing the cross Bass Strait trade to Victoria and making at least 60 voyages on this route. After going ashore at Port Fairy, Victoria, in March 1854 the stranded vessel was sold to a James Cust and was subsequently refloated and repaired. On 22 August the Alert sailed for Launceston in ballast but bad weather and poor navigation found it on the west coast of Tasmania, some 200 kilometres from its intended destination.

Trapped by gale forced winds the master, Ambrose Drewitt, ran the schooner ashore on 25 August, south of the entrance to the Arthur River. The crew reached shore safely and three of the men walked northwards to seek help at the Woolnorth property near Cape Grim. The crew were subsequently taken on to Launceston, and despite reports that the Alert would be salvaged nothing appears to have come about. The hull of the vessel was reported to be lying on the beach in 1867 by shipwreck survivors from the Moyne, and again in 1871 by the crew of the fishing vessel Jessie.

The Site

hull of the alert

Close up of the hull showing
frames and inner planking

In October 2003, after weeks of high seas, the partly intact hull of a shipwreck was reported near the Arthur River. The location of the site and the size of the surviving structure identified the wreck as the Alert. A subsequent inspection recorded the remains of approximately one-quarter of the original hull structure lying above the high water mark on Arthur Beach.

The material consisted of the stern half of the keel structure with most of the portside framing and planking still attached. While the timbers were largely intact the sectioning of the structure enabled many details of the construction to be recorded as the wreckage was largely exposed above the sand (but has since been naturally reburied). Samples of timber taken from the hull showed that the schooner was built entirely from Eucalyptus species common to northern New South Wales. The hull was also sheathed with ‘Muntz metal’, a copper and zinc alloy.

Although there were around 630 ships built in Australia before 1850, only 17 of these craft have been relocated as shipwrecks. Archaeological work on two of these sites, the Waterwitch (1835-1842) and Clarence (1841-1850) indicated that these vessels were cheaply built and poorly equipped. However, the work on the Alert site has shown that the schooner was relatively well built, with large timbers, suitable fastenings and a metal sheathed hull. In this respect the fortuitous discovery and recording of the Alert has contributed to a more complete picture of early shipbuilding in Australia.

Further Reading

Coroneos, C., 1991. One interpretation for the short working lives of early Australian wooden sailing vessels in Victorian waters, Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 15 (2), 7-14.

The Australian-built schooner Alert (1846–1854) [PDF - 196 KB]. In Nash, M., 2004, The Australian built schooner Alert (1845-1854), Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 28.