Wreck yields more about nation’s shipbuilding

Flinders University maritime archaeology has helped reveal some more of the history of an early Australian-made timber shipwreck in Victoria.

Last month, Heritage Victoria partnered with the University’s annual maritime archaeology field school and the community-based Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria to investigate a wreck near Rye Pier on the Mornington Peninsula.

The wreck is a small Australian-built ship believed to be the Barbara which wrecked at Rye in 1853.

Barbara was built along the Tamar River in Tasmania by Joseph Hind in 1841 and operated as a lime trader in Port Phillip Bay.

The investigations revealed the wreck is a very rare example of an early Australian-built ship that will help to tell the story of Australia’s early shipbuilding industry

The University’s annual Maritime Archaeology Field School had 15 graduate and undergraduate students working alongside maritime archaeological professionals.

Diving archaeology students on site with Heritage Victoria research vessel Trim and Flinders University’s Tom Thumb stand by. Photo: Kevin Edwards, Flinders University.

The team comprised members from around Australia and the rest of the world, including USA, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and the Netherlands.

Flinders University Associate Professor in Marine Archaeology Wendy Van Duivenvoorde says measured drawings, photographs and underwater photogrammetry was used to record the wreck while a survey team mapped the surrounding land and seascapes.

“We also excavated small sections of the wreck that allowed us to document the construction methods and wood species used,” she says.

Heritage Victoria’s boat Trim was used to transport personnel and equipment to the wreck site, acted as a dive and safety platform for divers working on the site.


The wood, metal and fibre samples collected from the wreck have, so far, shown that the ship was constructed from different wood species of trees originating from the southeast (Victoria, New South Wales), northern Australia, and Western Australia as well as local Tasmanian blue gum.

“This is possibly the first time such a wide variety of timbers have been found in one Australian built vessel and indicates that early shipbuilders had developed a detailed knowledge of the properties of Australian timbers appropriate for shipbuilding,” Associate Professor Van Duivenvoorde says.

“The builders of Barbara also appear to have been willing and to access non-local materials for this ship.

“We are still waiting for the results from the metal and fibre analysis.”

All the data that was collected during this investigation will be included in Heritage Victoria’s records and added to the story of Australia’s history, Heritage Victoria says. A detailed report on the project will be compiled later this year.

Students measuring the ship’s sternpost. Photo: Maddy McAllister (Flinders alumna, now James Cook University / Museum of Tropical Queensland).
Posted in
College of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences