In January this year marine archaeologists from the Australian National Maritime Museum located the remains of the Royal Charlotte, wrecked in 1825. The ship had brought convicts to Sydney, and was en route to India with a contingent of British troops and their families when it ran on to a reef during a gale approximately 450 kilometres off the Queensland coast.
Now the team is attempting to repeat their success, with a search in March due to try to locate a similar vessel, the 555-tonne ship Fergusson, also bound from Sydney to India and in convoy with two other ships when it was wrecked in 1841 near the Sir Charles Hardy Islands on the Great Barrier Reef.
The passengers – 170 rank-and-file of the 50th Regiment of Foot – and crew were subsequently rescued and the Fergusson remained on the reef as a warning of the peril of approaching the reef about 60 nautical miles from Fair Cape.
Maritime archaeologist Kieran Hosty said they had ”a cross on the chart” of the possible location of the Fergusson. ”Where we were looking for the Charlotte there were only two known wrecks but this area was a notorious wreck trap with over 30 vessels known to have been wrecked in the vicinity,” he said. ”We may find something but whether we can then say it is the Fergusson is another matter.”
Previous expeditions to the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef uncovered the schooner HMCS Mermaid (in 2009), and the Porpoise and the Cato (both 2010) – all part of the trade route between England, Australia and Asia, carrying cargo such as coal and timber, troops or convicts.
The museum’s Wrecks and Reefs exhibition, which opened on Thursday, contains over 40 images by Cairns-based photographer Xanthe Rivett and several recovered artefacts from the museum’s recent diving expeditions, including part of a bilge pump from the wreck of HMCS Mermaid (1829), a block of coal from the wreck of the Cato (1803) and a lead scupper from the wreck of the Royal Charlotte.
”The exhibition is a summary of the Museum’s maritime archaeology in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef to date,” Hosty said.