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Dossier: Shipwrecks of the Roaring 40’s

About the project

In a remarkable ten-year period from 1971–1981, seven European shipwrecks off the Western Australian coast were investigated by a newly formed group of archaeologists and conservators at the Western Australian Museum. These historic events placed Australia at the forefront of maritime archaeology globally, and led to Western Australia enacting the world’s first underwater heritage legislation, followed by the Commonwealth in 1976.

From 2014 until 2016 the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project titled "Shipwrecks of the Roaring 40s" (LP130100137) aims to make a significant contribution to our understanding of Europeans active in the Indian Ocean and our region during the 17th and 18th centuries through the unique window into the past provided by these maritime archaeological sites. To accomplish this we will return to shipwreck sites excavated over 40 years ago to examine how approaches to maritime archaeological sites have changed over time in terms of both new research questions and new technologies.

Beacon Island

When the VOC ship Batavia was wrecked on Morning Reef in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos islands in 1629, Beacon Island was the main island where the survivors reached and lived on. It was the closest large island to the wreck and was reasonably easy to access. Importantly, much of the material that could float over the reef would end up close to the island. The island had no water, but as it was winter, the survivors appeared to have no difficulty surviving on rainwater. Read more>


On the morning of the fourth of June 1629, the VOC retourschip Batavia was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, off the coast of Western Australia. The shipwreck was a prelude to an extraordinary tragedy. The commander, Francisco Pelsaert, all the senior officers, some crew and passengers, (48 in all), deserted 268 people on the ship and on two waterless islands, whilst they ostensibly went in search of water. Abandoning this fruitless search on the mainland coast, they then made their way to Batavia (modern Jacarta), to obtain help; taking, in all, 33 days to get there. On arrival, the high boatswain was executed on Pelsaert’s indictment, for outrageous behaviour before the loss of the ship. The skipper, Adrien Jacobsz, was arrested, again on Pelsaert’s word, for negligence. Read more>


All relevant links:

Dossier Oceania