Thursday, May 11, 2006


Kangaroo Island Shipwreck Shelter Survey


Flinders Faculty
May 2006

The aim of this project is to locate and document the archaeological remains of two early shipwreck mariner relief stations located at Cape du Couedic and West Bay on Kangaroo Island . During the 19 th century maritime trade and traffic was expanding rapidly along the South Australia coastline. As such, shipwrecks, cargo loss, and loss of life increased. Lifesaving stations were erected along the south coast and on Kangaroo Island in an effort to decrease these maritime disasters and aid in the recovery of shipwreck survivors and cargo. Records indicate that as early as 1899 shipwreck shelter huts were erected on the west end of Kangaroo Island . These stations were not manned but were simply a shack built of corrugated iron, wood and stone. They contained enough supplies for shipwreck survivors to sustain until further help arrived. Items such as bread, meat, water, blankets, rockets, etc. were stored inside. A notice board was posted outside declaring the supplies were only for shipwreck survivors and that the nearest settlement was X miles away in a particular direction. Instructions were included on how to open the stores and fire the rockets. It is not certain if any shipwrecked people ever used these shelter huts as there are no mentions of this in historical documents thus far.

The project crew included Jennifer McKinnon, Jason Raupp, Claire Dappert, Ian Moffat, and Andrea Smith. On 7 April 2006 the crew arrived at Kangaroo Island and set up headquarters at the Flinders-Baudin Research Center at Rocky River (Flinders Chase National Park). The first order of business was to visit Cape du Couedic and West Bay to assess the survey area. Both of these areas posed physical challenges; Cape du Couedic proved to be a difficult terrain due to the rocky landscape and dense scrub, and West Bay consisted of steep sand dunes and thick vegetation.

After inspecting the survey areas the team determined the best plan of action was to return and conduct systematic pedestrian surveys in areas identified as having high probability. These high probability areas were based on viewsheds of shipwrecked sailors and rescue crews on land. Historic photographs were also used to identify the locations of these shipwreck shelter huts.

Two pedestrian surveys were conducted at Cape du Couedic. The first survey was conducted west of the lighthouse. One area of probability included a square pit cut into the limestone bedrock. This feature was of interest due to the regularity of the square shape and the cut walls, and was unlike any other feature in the survey area. Additionally, the approximate size of 2m x 2.4m wide and 25-40 cm deep is similar to the assumed size of the historic shelter.

The second pedestrian survey was conducted east of the lighthouse. Several cultural features associated with the lighthouse were located including a number of sand borrow pits and sheet midddens. One possible shipwreck shelter location included a deposit of degraded iron sheet metal scattered across an area of approximately 6.5 m square. According to historic photographs, iron sheet metal was the material used in the construction of the Cape du Couedic shipwreck shelter. Based on the results of the pedestrian surveys, it was determined that a magnetometer survey would be conducted over the square limestone feature area. The magnetometer survey was conducted and results are currently being processed.

One pedestrian survey was conducted at West Bay . The topography of West Bay is quite dramatic and active as the sands shift with each season creating and eroding small sand dunes near the surf zone. Using a historic photo of the shipwreck shelter we began the pedestrian survey in an area which allowed for several prominent features of the bay and rocks to align. A small area on a higher, less active dune was chosen to conduct a magnetometer survey. The magnetometer survey was conducted and results are currently being processed.

Overall, the project was a great success. Several possible locations of the historic shipwreck shelter were identified and it is hoped that the magnetometer surveys may provide information about the locations. Thanks to the crew for working so hard!

This research was funded through a Flinders Faculty Research Maintenance Grant.


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