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Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks


Parks and Wildlife Service maritime heritage officer Mike Nash and co-author Graeme Broxam are continuing to tell the fascinating story of Tasmania’s numerous shipwrecks with the release of a new publication, Tasmanian Shipwrecks Volume 1 1797-1899.

It follows on from two earlier books, Tasmanian Shipwrecks, Volume 1 (1797-1899) and Tasmanian Shipwrecks, Volume 2  (1900-1999), which were published in 1998 and 1999.

For Mike, this publication is the culmination of what he has learned from writing, co-authoring and editing a total of eight books since the 1990s.

Tasmanian Shipwrecks Volume 1 1797-1899 is far from a re-print of the earlier publication. It shows how the research and publishing worlds have changed with the advent of the internet and reflects the strong interest in Tasmanian shipwrecks and the demand for quality publications about Tasmania’s maritime history.

With the help of the internet, the authors have carried out much additional research. The digitising of Australian newspapers and other records has provided far more information since the first volumes were published.

“If you rely on one account you get a story, but if you look at another couple of accounts, you get a better picture about the event,” Mike said. “This book is more accurate (than the previous one), but there’s also more of a story, it’s generally more in-depth. Since then we’ve also located some of the shipwrecks that were in the previous editions, for example the SS Tasman and The Alert that came up on the West Coast. In addition, the Sydney Cove is now on permanent display at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston.”

 The latest publication is beautifully designed and produced, and features historic maps, many period photographs, paintings and artists’ impressions.

The shipwrecks reveal much about Tasmania’s and Australia’s history, including exploration, settlement and commerce. The haunting human toll of hardship and loss as a result of the shipwrecks is told with compassion.

Since the wreck of the Sydney Cove in 1797, more than 1,000 vessels have been lost in Tasmanian waters. Mike explained that there are spikes in the losses that reflect events of the time.

 “The greatest number of shipwrecks occurred in the 1850s when the gold rushes were on in Victoria. Because Tasmania was supplying a lot of goods, crops, timber and people, there was an enormous amount of shipping traffic across Bass Strait, with a resulting spike in the number of shipwrecks.

“Another spike occurred in the 1880s and 1890s on the West Coast, reflecting an increase in shipping associated with mining activity around Macquarie Harbour and Zeehan.”

Geography also plays a big role in the Tasmanian shipwreck story. King Island, in the middle of the approach to the notoriously rough Bass Strait, has claimed 60 ships, many of them large vessels from around the world.  

The barque Cataraqui was Tasmania’s worst shipwreck in terms of the loss of life. It was carrying 409 emigrants bound for Melbourne when it was wrecked in 1845 on the west coast of King Island during a howling gale. Only nine people survived.

“The wreck is only 40 yards off shore. You could swim out to it but with a big surf and no one able to swim, the toll of human loss was huge,” Mike said.

One of the most poignant shipwreck tales was the wreck of the cutter Resolution at Swansea on the East Coast in 1850.Thomas Large, accompanied by his wife and six children, had chartered the ship from Hobart to take plant and building materials for his planned brewery at Swansea.  Bad weather stranded the ship offshore from Swansea where it soon broke up. Thomas Large and his wife Mary survived but all six of their children, aged two to 14, died. They are buried at Swansea where a single gravestone marks their resting place.

“There are those epic ones but most of the wrecks are small timber cutters, schooners and ketches that did all the hard work around the coast. Some disappeared entirely; they just never came up again,” Mike said.

Mike has worked with the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) since 1987. The PWS is responsible for the administration of the Australian Government’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 in Tasmania. Every year the Australian Government supplies PWS with funds for a variety of maritime heritage projects.

Mike has been involved in many heritage projects during his career, including directing the excavation of the Sydney Cove shipwreck on Preservation Island, the survey of the ship building works at Sarah Island, surveys and excavations of whaling stations around Tasmania, numerous shipwreck surveys, the Coal Mines Historic Site and conservation of heritage buildings at Darlington on Maria Island and Low Head Historic Site, as well as many lighthouses.

Tasmanian Shipwrecks Volume 1 1797-1899 is published by Navarine Publishing and is available at all good bookstores. The publication was assisted with funding from the Tasmanian Government and the Australian Government through the Historic Shipwrecks Program.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

Tasmanian Shipwrecks features historic maps, many period photographs and artists' impressions.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

Maritime archeologists recording uncovered hull timbers on the Sydney Cove site.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

Artefacts recovered from the Sydney Cove site.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

The monument to the George III shipwreck victims at Southport Bluff.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

The gravestone of the six Large children at the Swansea cemetery.

Many fascinating tales in the new Tasmanian Shipwrecks

The timber structure from the Alert at Arthur Beach in 2003.