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Protecting our historic shipwrecks
Elm Grove (1863-1876) Timbers from the barque Elm Grove lie in the entrance to Miranda Creek, Wilson’s Promontory. Carrying a cargo of timber and coal from Newcastle to Adelaide, the Elm Grove was blown ashore in a gale and seven of the nine crew were drowned. The remaining two survived for three days on shellfish, crabs and limpets until they were rescued.
This Information Leaflet tells you how Victoria cares for its historic shipwrecks and how you can help preserve them.
Where shipwrecks are found and why they are important
Victoria has a rich and varied collection of shipwrecks. Sunken submarines, steamships and ferries are just some of the impressive wrecks to be found scattered in our waters. A silent fleet of ships lies scuttled in deep water off Port Phillip Heads in the Ships Graveyard while the hulls of wooden sailing ships support spectacular marine life on the seabed. The remains of small ships and large sailing vessels also rest along our coast. Some of these sites are remarkably intact, while others are more fragmented. These historic sites provide a unique and unparalleled wealth of historical, technical, social, archaeological and scientific information about Victoria’s maritime heritage. Many are popular diving sites and offer a unique experience to divers.
Heritage Victoria’s role
Heritage Victoria administers both the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The majority of Victoria’s shipwrecks are protected by a 75-year rolling date or by individual declaration. Heritage Victoria is the agency to contact for any permits for access to protected zones or proposed investigation or disturbance of shipwreck remains. Heritage Victoria’s maritime heritage program involves intensive research, site survey work and the active promotion of shipwrecks through underwater trails, pamphlets, books and exhibitions. Exhibitions and land-based trails allow non-divers to learn about and experience Victoria’s maritime heritage.
How many shipwrecks are there in Victorian waters?
There are believed to be about 700 historic shipwrecks in Victorian waters. Only about 30 per cent of these have been found and explored, most of which are recorded on navigation charts. Many wrecks await discovery in less popular dive spots, or in the deep waters off the coast. Shipwreck sites are most often found by recreational divers, but are increasingly found as a result of development activity, such as installing telecommunications cables and pipelines, or through channel dredging and fishing activities.
What should I do if I want to explore a shipwreck?
Most wrecks have historic status under the legislation and some particularly significant historic shipwrecks are designated as protected zones. These are usually sensitive sites of high archaeological value and the no entry zone stops diving and boating within a designated distance around the wreck. It is important that you check whether a permit is required before exploring a shipwreck or investigating any relics which may have washed out from shipwrecks. Permits are issued by the Maritime Heritage Unit of Heritage Victoria.
What is a protected zone?
In Victoria there are six protected zones in Port Phillip Bay, one in Bass Strait off Cape Schanck, and one near Port Albert on the east coast. These are all, with the exception of the William Salthouse and the SS Alert, off-limits to diving, fishing and boating. Recreational divers can apply for a permit to visit the William Salthouse (1841) in Port Phillip Bay, and the SS Alert (1893) in Bass Strait (technical divers only). When boating in the West Channel you should look out for the piles with a yellow cross mark (special marker) indicating the locations of the Clarence (1850) and Joanna (1857) protected zones. Protected zones vary in size. It is important to steer clear of these zones because the fragile wrecks within them could easily be damaged by a careless anchor drop or by fishing and diving activities. The Cerberus (1926) at Black Rock has a series of yellow buoys indicating the extent of the protected zone, and signs on the jetty and beach showing the boundary of the zone.
Loch Ard (1873-1878) Another of Victoria’s shipwrecks heavy in loss of life, the Loch Ard drifted ashore in fog while nearing the end of a voyage from England to Port Phillip. Only two of the 54 crew and passengers survived the tragedy Above: The Minton Peacock, from the Loch Ard disaster, now at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum. Right: Diving at the wreck site.
The Clonmel (1841) at Port Albert has a isolated danger mark pile. The Will o’ the Wisp (1853) zone at Swan Island is not marked but the zone is in a controlled defence area. The William Salthouse protected zone near Pope’s Eye. Port Phillip Bay, is only marked on navigation charts. The positions of all these zones can be found on Navigation charts, Notice to Mariners or by contacting the Maritime Heritage Unit.
What should I do if I find a shipwreck or shipwreck relic?
If you find a shipwreck when diving, or if you are undertaking operations that unexpectedly uncover a shipwreck, do not disturb it any way. Unless the shipwreck is very well known, you should assume that its position is yet to be officially recorded. You should immediately inform the Maritime Heritage Unit so that its staff can inspect the site. Finders are welcome to take part in the inspection. If you find a portable relic exposed on or near a shipwreck, contact the Maritime Heritage Unit if you think it requires special attention. Under the Heritage Act, finders of shipwrecks or associated relics are eligible to receive a special award.
How should I treat a shipwreck or shipwreck relic?
You should treat all shipwrecks and relics with respect and care. Access is allowed to all wrecks – other than protected zones – and the accepted code of look-but-don’t-disturb applies to ensure their long-term survival. Actions by divers that may damage a shipwreck include careless finning, poor buoyancy control or grabbing hold of fragile structures in current. If an anchor gouges a shipwreck, the wreck will be vulnerable to accelerated corrosion or deterioration. Rather than anchoring on a shipwreck, boat operators should use shot-lines to mark the wreck site and assist divers in orientating themselves.
Hurricane (1853- 1869) Marine life abounds near what remains of the wreck of the Hurricane which was lost in the South Channel after apparently scraping rocks near Point Lonsdale. No lives were lost and most of the ship’s cargo and fittings were recovered. Considered a shipping hazard, the wreck was blasted in 1960s.
Launceston (1863-1865) Diver with plate from the wreck of the SS City of Launceston which sank with no loss of life after a collision with the SS Penola in Port Phillip Bay.
How can I help preserve shipwrecks and relics?
If you believe that a shipwreck or relic is being damaged by the environment or human interference, you should immediately contact the staff at the Maritime Heritage Unit. The following factors affect the stability of submerged shipwreck remains: • changes in temperature, sea salts or pollution levels; • introduction of different marine life and growth; • increased oxygen levels including trapped air pockets from divers’ exhaust bubbles; • seabed changes such as sand scour, or channel widening; • mechanical damage, abrasion by rocks, sand and falling cliffs, and human interference. Heritage Victoria keeps a close watch on the condition of very significant shipwrecks. However, your participation in reporting what is happening on all wrecks is important to help us to preserve Victoria’s shipwrecks and relics. For example, the effects of corrosion and storms can cause the hull parts of shipwrecks to break apart and drop away, leaving the wreck exposed to further damage. Your photgraphs and observations can assist the unit in monitoring the condition of shipwrecks and deciding whether it is possible to do anything to prevent further damage. Reports of unauthorised activity on wrecks are also valuable.
Are some shipwrecks more important than others?
The majority of wrecks are protected and Heritage Victoria recognises that some have special significance. Some are so important that they receive a great deal of careful management attention and may undergo special stabilisation, archaeological investigation or promotion.
Should the existence of all relics be reported?
Relics, even if they were removed from wrecks long before they were historic, are still protected. You should contact the Maritime Heritage Unit, even if they are broken items that have been washed up on a beach a long way from a wreck.
For more information contact Heritage Victoria: (03) 8644 8800 or www.heritage.vic.gov.au
SS Cheviot (1870-1887) Underwater remains of the engine of the SS Cheviot which became one of Victoria’s worst maritime disasters when it lost its propeller shortly after leaving Port Phillip Heads. It was blown ashore near Point Nepean with the loss of 37 lives.
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