Our Latest News

Easter safety is paramount for our parks and reserves

18/04/2019

The Parks and Wildlife Service encourages visitors and Tasmanians alike to get outdoors and get active - especially in our parks and reserves.More

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

17/04/2019

In time for Easter walking, PWS have been able to re-open a number of tracks.More

New Mt Mawson Shelter officially opened ahead of ski season

29/03/2019

The new Mt Mawson Public Shelter was today officially opened and will provide a new level of amenity for southern Tasmania's only ski field, as well as upgraded facilities for bushwalkers heading to the iconic Tarn Shelf walk in Mt Field National Park.More

Abandoned Vessels

The hulk of the former whaler
Derwent Hunter at Hobart
(Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)

Scattered around the coastline of Tasmania lie the remains of many rusting metal hulks and decaying wooden vessels; watercraft that once served as the workhorses of the maritime trades. Why were these vessels abandoned?

Some ships were discarded because they became 'nail sick' (worn out), some because they became technologically redundant, and others because the trades they had been engaged in simply disappeared. During the early twentieth century other factors, such as the growth of alternative communication and transport networks (rail, road and air) also led to downturns in maritime trade, and accelerated discard due to increased competition.

Current estimates based on historical and archaeological evidence suggest that at least 115 watercraft were deliberately discarded in Tasmanian waters between the years 1808 and 1997. This represents around 9% of the total believed to have been abandoned Australia wide during the same period. Tasmania is a particularly good case study because of the wealth of archival sources on the economic history of the state. It is well documented, for example, that trade in south-east Tasmania was highly seasonal, due to its dependence on fruit shipments, so that Hobart sometimes resembled a graveyard of watercraft. Similarly, when whaling voyages out of Hobart declined during the late 19th century a number of elderly timber hulks were left in the Derwent River.

Remains of the timber
steamship
Glenturk at Strahan

The locations of abandoned vessels fall into three main categories. There are deep water sites where watercraft have been scuttled in designated locations, such as off Betsey Island south of Hobart. There are ships’ graveyards in shallow, unused waterways – the best example being on the eastern side of Tamar Island, on the Tamar River, where 14 vessels were deliberately placed to increase water flow in adjacent river channels. Finally, there are abandonment sites where a much smaller number of craft or single vessels were discarded. Easily visited examples are located at Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula, along the foreshore of Strahan on the West Coast, and Otago Bay near Hobart (see our web page on the Otago).

Further Reading

Richards, N. and Nash, M., 2005. Unfit for further use: Watercraft discard in Tasmania (1808-1997). Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 29: 25-39. View as PDF [2.9MB].

Williams, B., 2005. The archaeological potential of colonial prison hulks: The Tasmanian case study. Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 29: 77-86. View as PDF[2.9MB]

Demolition of the former HMS Nelson at Shag
Bay in 1926 (State Library of Tasmania)

Aerial view of abandoned watercraft
blocking a channel of the Tamar River