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Mt Strzelecki walk back on track


Flinders Island's Mt Strzelecki walking track has received an upgrade which will improve the experience for walkers and visitors, as well as environmental management.More

New car park for Ben Lomond National Park


A new visitor carpark is now complete at Ben Lomond National Park. The car park will be opened to visitors and fully operational in the coming weeks in time for this winter's first major snow fall.More

Planned burn success on Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area sites


The Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area experienced significant wildfire events between January and March this year, yet there are still areas that require pro-active fire management for the protection and conservation of the area's values.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
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