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    The Honourable Vicky Darling

    Mystery wreck uncovered by Yasi now has a name

    The Honourable Vicky Darling

    Friday, September 02, 2011

    Mystery wreck uncovered by Yasi now has a name

    The mystery of a 130-year-old shipwreck exposed near Cardwell in the wake of Cyclone Yasi has been solved.

    Environment Minister Vicky Darling said months of painstaking detective work had confirmed the identity of the wreck found on Ramsay Bay as the brigantine Belle, lost in January 1880 – and only uncovered earlier this year as Yasi unleashed its fury along Queensland’s northern coastline.

    “The Belle was wrecked while attempting to recover cedar timber that had washed ashore from another wrecked vessel, the Merchant and her final resting place was unknown - until now,” Ms Darling said.

    “The identification is based on a match of known records with the physical evidence - we are dealing with incomplete records and an incomplete wreck, so identification is based on probability.

    “But experts from the DERM’s Heritage Branch are satisfied that the Belle is the only likely contender out of the five vessels which are known to have been lost at Ramsay Bay.

    “This is the result of some incredible, painstaking detective work by our Heritage people and thanks to them an unknown part of our history has been identified, a mystery solved and the site will now be managed for all Queenslanders.”

    Locals Phil Lowry, David Pearson and Denis King came across the wreck after Yasi, reported the find and were careful not to disturb it.

    Principal Heritage officer Paddy Waterson said historic records for the five vessels known to have been lost in the bay were obtained from England and compared against information gathered on site.

    “The wreck was only partially exposed and the experts did not want to remove more sand unnecessarily in case it caused the remains to deteriorate more quickly,” Mr Waterson said.

    “Initial results were inconclusive so in June further investigations were conducted by archaeologists from DERM’s Heritage Branch and the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

    “The stern of the vessel had remained buried and it was important to examine that area to establish the length, as initial estimates were rather smaller than expected.

    “Damage, deterioration and probable historic salvage all affected the vessel’s remains and distorted the shape of the exposed outline.

    “Thanks to the additional work on the wreck, experts were able to determine the length of the vessel as approximately 100 feet and identify several new features.”

    While the Belle was a strong match, the investigation was further complicated by the historic records which indicated the Belle was largely made from timber that did not match the sample results.

    “That did throw us for a while because the records said the Belle was made from Juniper and the results were coming back as Larch - possibly a specific variety called Tamarack.

    “All the other results kept pointing to the Belle so we did some further research and found that Juniper is the local term for Tamarack on Prince Edward Island, where Belle was built.”

    Ms Darling said DERM experts would continue to carry out research on Ramsay Bay as part of the Queensland Historic Shipwreck Survey which is in the process of identifying the more than 1,000 vessels lying in Queensland’s coastal waters.

    “Every one of these ships is an irreplaceable archaeological site but in many cases the locations listed are imprecise and we know very little about their history.

    “In Moreton Bay, for example, we are carrying out further investigations on two wreck sites, to get more detail on the St Paul and Grace Darling, lost near Cape Moreton.

    “We’ve already mapped the St Paul using sophisticated side-scan sonar technology and expect to complete more detailed work on the Grace Darling within coming weeks.

    “Whatever the outcome of these investigations, thanks to public support for the Historic Shipwreck Survey we have already been able to update the Australian National Shipwreck Database.”

    Anyone with information or enquires about Queensland’s historic shipwrecks should contact the Queensland Government Enquiries Centre on 13 QGOV (13 74 68), or e-mail

    Background information

    • The Belle was built in July 1865 on Prince Edward Island, eastern Canada, and soon made its way to Australia.
    • It began operating out of Adelaide, frequently taking goods from South Australia to Newcastle in central New South Wales and returning with a cargo of coal
    • By 1872 it had been purchased by the South Australian Coal Company but was sold again three years later and began operating out of Melbourne, periodically bringing supplies to Far North Queensland and returning south with loads of cedar from the Daintree area
    • The Belle was eventually engaged by Messrs. Campbell and Thomas of Townsville, who had purchased the salvage rights for the cedar which had washed ashore in Ramsay Bay
    • In this dangerous and shallow bay two other vessels, the Charlotte Andrews and the Harriet Armitage, had already been lost attempting to recover the precious wood
    • The Belle was designed to operate in shallow waters and had a proven record in loading timber cargo from north Queensland
    • Like all sailing vessels, she was susceptible to shifting and sudden winds
    • When a gale blew up in January 1880, the Belle’s attempts to tack out of the bay proved hopeless and she was driven close to shore and wrecked.

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