Saturday, February 18, 2006


Jawbone may be from wreck


The Standard
February 15, 2006

A JAWBONE found on Port Fairy's East Beach last year could belong to a woman who died in a shipwreck more than 100 years ago, the Coroners Court has heard.

The bone, believed to be from a Caucasian woman, was found by 10-year-old Nicholas Nott while collecting shells with his younger brother last March.

The jawbone was taken to Melbourne Coroners Court for examination.

Pathologist Dr Michael Burke from the Coronial Services Centre and anthropologist Soren Blau from the Institute of Forensic Medicine said the bone most likely belonged to a woman aged in her mid 20s to 30s and showed no sign of trauma.

While no carbon dating has taken place Dr Blau and Dr Burke agreed the bone was at least 100 years old.

``The mandible showed evidence of bleaching and discolouration. The bone also had evidence of post-mortem breaks which had smooth edges consistent with being rolled in water,'' Dr Blau wrote in a statement tendered to the court.

The court heard that in the month before the discovery, weather along the coast was unusually rough with many wrecks along the East Beach uncovered for the first time in decades.

A Heritage Victoria spokeswoman said the conditions exposed a number of Port Fairy's historic wrecks.

Two new unidentified sites were reported at the time and a known shipwreck site of the Socrates built in 1821 and wrecked in 1843, in front of Port Fairy Surf Life Saving Club, were also uncovered.

Jenny Fawcett, a local history researcher and author of the book Captain Henry Wishart of Port Fairy Bay, said that while very few female deaths were recorded on Port Fairy Bay's 20 shipwrecks, the woman could have been on larger wrecksnearby, including the well-known Loch Ard, which sank near Port Campbell in 1878.

``She could have been on any of the larger vessels which went down between Moonlight Head on the Great Ocean Road and Portland,'' she said.

Ms Fawcett said bodies of women including Miss Margarete and Miss Annie Carmichael were still missing from the Loch Ard, which sank about 90 kilometres east of Port Fairy.

Coroner Paresa Spanos said the limited amount of evidence would make it difficult to determine the cause of death.

``The balance of evidence suggests it is a female showing no pre-death trauma... So it's likely to be someone involved in one of the shipwrecks,'' she said.

Ms Spanos will deliver her finding in the next two days.


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