Pre-Cook shipwreck challenges history

Dargaville Museum president Don Elliot has reason to be excited – a new discovery means the Dargaville museum may hold remains of the oldest known shipwreck in New Zealand.

By Petrice Tarrant - Marlborough Express


A new discovery about a sunken shipwreck in the ferocious Kaipara Harbour graveyard might rewrite New Zealand's history books.

At Dargaville Museum's annual meeting, dendrochronologist Jonathan Palmer revealed the preliminary results of a paper he has been working on for more than three years, which suggests New Zealand's oldest shipwreck is no longer a sealing supplies vessel called the Endeavour, which sunk in 1795, but is a ship buried off the Pouto coastline in 1705.

The paper has been submitted to the Royal Society of New Zealand and will hopefully be published in one month.

Shipwreck finder Noel Hilliam had developed a theory that the ship Cecillia Maria had travelled down from Portugal, stopped in Indonesia for repairs and made it to New Zealand where it was claimed by the unforgiving west coast.

With a piece of the wreck stored at his house, Hilliam teamed up with Palmer and various other professionals from universities in New Zealand and Australia to carbon date the timber samples.

When the team discovered that more of the remains had been stored at the museum since 1982 things sped up quickly, Palmer says.

The teak and tropical lagerstroemia wood samples from the ship have been carbon tested by Waikato Radiocarbon Dating laboratory director Alan Hogg at least five times.

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New Zealand shipwreck museum

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