Archaeological diver surveying the site of the Mermaid, Xanthe Rivett 2009
Archaeological diver surveying the site of the Mermaid, Xanthe Rivett 2009 Xanthe L. Rivett

Several recovered artefacts from wreck to go on display

A MISSING piece of maritime history, discovered off the coast of Gladstone this year, is about to go on display in the Australian National Maritime Museum.

An expedition team discovered the resting place of the Royal Charlotte, a 471 ton wooden three-masted ship which was wrecked on Frederick Reef, 450km north-east of Gladstone, while on passage to India with soldiers and their families in 1825.

The Wrecks and Reefs photographic exhibition will display images by Cairns-based photographer Xanthe Rivett and several recovered artefacts from the museum's recent diving expeditions.

The expedition to find the Royal Charlotte was launched from Gladstone marina in January.

Artefacts on display include a lead scupper from the wreck.

The striking underwater photographs show the dive team at work, using their specialist survey equipment of metal detectors, magnetometers and sonars along with their coral-crusted finds, which included the 5m-long Admiralty pattern anchors from HMS Porpoise, an iron cannon from the Royal Charlotte, and a glass decklight from Mahaica.

Expedition leader, museum curator and maritime archeologist, Kieran Hosty, said the 40-odd images would feature four Australian shipwreck sites and the unique marine life and environment of the coral reefs.

"It has been an extremely successful four years of exploration, with each of the wreck sites providing a great deal of information about convict and troop transportation, maritime trade between Asia and Australia, and our strong shipbuilding links with India," Mr Hosty said.

Incredibly, few lives were lost at these shipwreck sites with surviviors' camps established on small sandy cays, later named Porpoise Cay (Porpoise survivors) and Observatory Cay (Royal Charlotte suvivors), which the expedition team also surveyed.

In addition, the images reveal the amazing marine and bird life of the reefs including white-tipped reef sharks, Blue Linckia sea stars, Parrot and Clownfish, Hermit crabs and Booby birds as well as table, brain, mushroom, whip and staghorn coral formations in the shallow crystal clear water.

The Australian National Maritime Museum archaeology program is supported by the Silentworld Foundation, the University of Sydney and the Australian Research Council.

Wrecks and Reefs will be on display from 29 November 2012 to 3 March 2013.

Admission is included with the Museum's Galleries & Exhibitions Ticket: Adult $7, Child $3.50, Family $17.50.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, in Darling Harbour, is open from 9.30 am to 5 pm daily.

All enquiries (02) 9298 3777 or visit

Other expeditions

  • 2009 - A team located the wreck site of HM Colonial Schooner Mermaid, which ran aground on Flora Reef some 40km south of Cairns in 1829.
  • 2010 - The team visited a remote reef system 400km east of Gladstone called Wrecks Reef and surveyed the 10-gun Royal Navy sloop HMS Porpoise and merchant ship Cato which had both run aground on the uncharterd reef while travelling in convoy in 1803. Onboard Porpoise at the time was the famous marine surveyor and explorer Lieutenant Matthew Flinders who was returning to England to report on his cirumnavigation of the Australian mainland. In addition, the team surveyed the merchant ship Mahaica, a 300-ton two-masted brig, wrecked on the reef in 1854.
  • 2013 - The museum's expedition team plans to return to the Great Barrier Reef in early 2013 to search for the Indian-built, 555-ton, three-masted Fergus(s)on which was wrecked with 170 British troops onboard near the Sir Charles Hardy islands in 1841.

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