Huge effort to bury St Leonards wreck in time

Divers at the Clarence wreck, off St Leonards 
Photo Andy Viduka

By Joanna Carson - Bellarine Times

A team of underwater archeologists are working against the clock to get a wreck they have just uncovered off St Leonards reburied. But there’s plenty of method to the seeming madness, according to project spokesman Dr Mark Staniford, of Monash University.

The team of around 60 is working from Queenscliff and St Leonards to reveal the secrets of 164-year-old coastal trader the Clarence, which sunk off the Swan Bay coast while transporting livestock from Hobart to Melbourne.

Luckily the crew and even the sheep were rescued, and there is no treasure in the traditional sense on board the Clarence, but for Mr Staniford and his team on the Australian Historic Shipwreck Protection Project, it is a precious piece of our history. The schooner is one of the earliest known examples of an Australian-built schooner.

“We can learn a lot about early building methods and we have already found things we didn’t expect, like a wooden bottomed leather bag, that would have belonged to a crew member. They add to our knowledge and to the story,” he said.

Instead of bringing the wreck to the surface and opening it up to further decay, ground breaking x-ray and modelling technology will be used to recreate the team’s findings electronically in 3D, before the ship is safely reburied where it could survive thousands of years more, Dr Staniford said.

“It’s one of the ethical dilemmas that we have, which shipwrecked material to bring up and which to x-ray and put back. Removing artefacts comes with its own burden,” he said.

The Clarence, which was rediscovered in the 1980s, had been well preserved for years, but changes to depth of sand on the seabed had resulted in it being more exposed in recent years, and it has suffered some damaged from boat anchors.

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