Saturday, March 11, 2006


Archaeologist cool on Mahogany Ship claim


The Standard
By Matt Neal
March 10, 2006

A NEW book has debunked the Mahogany Ship legend, saying there was no evidence of a Portuguese landing near Warrnambool in the 1500s.

The Federal Government-commissioned Great Southern Land was written by historian and archaeologist Michael Pearson.

It suggests the Portuguese theory is an ``interesting story'' but nothing more.

``I say, `Show me the evidence','' Dr Pearson said.

``There are certain possibilities, always, of earlier discovery but until I actually see some evidence which is convincing I'll say `That's an interesting story,' but I'm not going to go there.

``It's a fascinating debate and there's a lot of evidence put forward but (there's) a lot of counter-evidence as well,'' the Canberra University adjunct professor of cultural heritage management said.

Mahogany Ship Committee chairman Pat Connelly said it was not the first time the Portuguese theory had been dismissed.

He said the idea, popularised by Kevin McIntyre's 1977 book The Secret Discovery of Australia, attracted critics right from the start.

``Only a year or so after the book came out, P. L. Coleman, an oil engineer with a long-standing interest in Australian history, had an eight-page article in the Victorian Historical Journal questioning aspects of McIntyre's argument,'' Mr

Connelly said. ``Despite decades of intensive searching there has been no sign of caravel timber preserved beneath sandhill or beach, no artefacts unearthed to back up The Secret Discovery of Australia, no cannon, no ship's fittings, not even
minute traces in suspension of metals, such as lead or copper, which do not occur here naturally.

``But by the same token it has not been disproved.'' Dr Pearson said much of the Portuguese theory was based on the so-called Dieppe maps, which Mahogany Ship enthusiasts claimed to be of the Australian coastline.

``Whether the Dieppe maps demonstrate a detailed mapping of the coastline by the Portuguese remains an unproven and, on the balance of probability, an unlikely proposition,'' Dr Pearson said.


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