Cyclone Yasi

Mystery shipwreck unearthed in north Queensland

The Hinchinbrook shipwreck

By Tony Moore - Brisbane Times

The discovery of a 19th-century shipwreck in north Queensland has highlighted the ever-present threat of tropical cyclones in the region.

The remnants of a 30-metre longboat have been unearthed at a beach on Hinchinbrook Island after Cyclone Yasi battered the state in February.

It is believed the wrecked vessel has been buried deep below the sand for more than 130 years.

Ironically, it was another cyclone which likely led to the wreckage being there in the first place.

Queensland government shipwreck expert Paddy Waterson said Cyclone Yasi had removed about 30 metres of sand from Ramsay Bay on Hinchinbrook Island exposing the top "two or three inches" of the old ship.

The wreck was discovered in late February by Ingham fisherman Phil Lowry.

Shipwreck experts in London and Melbourne have been contacted for advice on timber samples in a bid to narrow down which vessel has been discovered.

Three ships were wrecked in Ramsay Bay while trying to recover a load of cedar washed ashore from a ship called The Merchant, which was destroyed during a cyclone in March, 1878.

The logs were bought at a salvage auction by Townsville firm, Campbell and Thomas, who employed the three ships to bring in the cargo.

Unfortunately all three were lost in poor weather: the Harriet Armytage in 1879, the Charlotte Andrews in 1879 and the Belle in 1880.

"The Merchant broke up quite heavily," Mr Waterson said. "It struck a reef out from Hinchinbrook Island. It was carrying a load of cedar which was what a lot of the non-indigenous people in the area were after."

Locals suspect the wreck might be the smaller of the three ships, the brigantine, Belle.

"The brigantine is a little bit smaller, so they tend to be able to work in these sorts of waters a little bit easier," Mr Waterson said.