Discovery of SA’s oldest shipwreck

  Last updated July 13, 2018 at 12:25 pm


Flinders University archaeology has helped locate and explore the site of South Australia’s oldest shipwreck at Encounter Bay near Victor Harbor.

The recently exposed timbers of the old vessel at Encounter Bay. Photo courtesy Tim Zapor (from Silentworld Foundation website).

The barque South Australian was driven ashore in a storm on 8 December 1837 while anchored in Rosetta Harbor at Encounter Bay, but its exact location remained a mystery until this year.

Diligent underwater investigations by a collaborative team, including Flinders University maritime archaeology students and academics, were part of renewed investigations earlier this year.

Magnetometer searches in the 1990s failed to locate the wreck site but the pilot project between April 16 and 20, comprising new magnetometer searches and metal detector surveys by SCUBA diving, snorkelling and walking, led to the discovery.

Project partners include the State Government heritage branch in the Department for Environment and WaterSilentworld FoundationAustralian National Maritime MuseumSouth Australian Maritime Museum, and the MaP Fund with support from Heritage Detection Australia and MineLab.

Flinders archaeology students Maddy Chandrasekaran and Tim Zapor during this year’s field trip at Encounter Bay.

South Australian was one of the early vessels acquired by the South Australian Company to bring free settlers to South Australia in 1836-37, making it an important part of our state’s history.

It is the first shipwreck recorded after South Australia was established as a colony, and also believed to be one of the earliest recorded wrecks of a free-settlement immigration ship in Australia.

In a move to protect the historic wreck, the State Government has enforced a 30m  radius protected zone in Rosetta Harbor while further archaeological work is done. Investigators are due to meet at the SA Maritime Museum this week to start planning further research.

With support from the Maritime Archaeology Project (MaP) Fund, adjunct Associate Professor Mark Staniforth says Flinders University students Maddy Chandrasekaran, Adeena Fowke and Tim Zapor were among those who helped on the project.

This important find continues crucial work being done in Marine Science and Underwater Archaeology at Flinders University, which includes diving at the Star of Greece wreck at Port Willunga for the past 20 years.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Star of Greece being built in Belfast, and 13 July is the 130th anniversary of its sinking just off the beach at Port Willunga, in a violent storm that lashed the coast in 1888.

A program of Star of Greece commemoration events has been planned from Thursday to Sunday this week.

Star of Greece Wreath Laying and Plaque Dedication Ceremony, commemorating the 18 men who died when the vessel sank, will be held at Aldinga Uniting Church, Old Coach Road, Aldinga, at 10am on Friday 13 July.

Paul Simpson, author of the book Star of Greece: For Profit & Glory (2017) will deliver a presentation at Aldinga Library, at 2pm on Friday 13 July, talking about the tragic events that unfolded on the fateful day when the ship sank. This is a free event but bookings are essential.

Two 90-minute guided Heritage Walks will be leaving from Star of Greece Café Car Park at Port Willunga, at 10am on Saturday 14 July, and 10am on Sunday 15 July, presented by Healthy Active Lifestyles Onkaparinga and the Willunga Branch of the National Trust of South Australia.

At 2pm on Sunday 15 July, author Paul Simpson will talk about his book followed by a dramatic rendition of the shipwreck story, drawn primarily from the inquest held at the time. This is a free event at the Aldinga Institute presented by the Willunga Branch of the National Trust and STARS (Southern Theatre and Arts Supporters).

A Star of Greece Exhibition also is being presented at Aldinga Library until Friday July 27, featuring artefacts and art about the wreck that have not previously been exhibited publicly, sourced from the SA Maritime Museum, Willunga Branch of the National Trust of South Australia and private collectors.

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