Under the peat of the 18 Mile Swamp on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland lie the remains of a mysterious shipwreck, built of European oak, known as the Stradbroke Island Galleon. In Queensland in the 19th century a few whites and certain Stradbroke Aborigines knew the shipwreck's location but over the years this important historic knowledge has been lost. Stradbroke oral history says that the shipwreck was a Spanish expedition exploring the edges of their Pacific domain and that the survivors of the shipwreck were helped by the Stradbroke Island Aborigines and, unable to return to Spain or Manila, the shipwrecked Spanish sailors were absorbed by Stradbroke's Aboriginal population.
Since the British settlement of Australia a number stories about mysterious pre-Cook shipwrecks in Queensland have circulated and a number of prominent Australian historians have questioned the claim that Captain Cook was the first European to discover Queensland. There is historic evidence that Captain Cook used Portuguese or Spanish maps such as recalled in the Dauphin, Dieppe, Vallard and Desceliers maps to aid his navigation of the Pacific and Australia's east coast. The final answers to these important historic questions are likely to be found in the shipwreck still preserved in the peat moss of the 18 Mile Swamp. Is it a lost Portuguese or Spanish exploration ship, a caravel or carrack? Or is it the wreck a Mexican treasure galleon, a Manila Galleon, carrying millions of pesos in silver and gold coin, shipwrecked on Australia's Queensland coast by some ancient storm now waiting in the 18 Mile Swamp to re-write maritime history?
Historic and archaeological evidence suggests this most mysterious Queensland shipwreck is likely to be either Portuguese or Spanish vessel shipwrecked whilst exploring Queensland's coastline.
If it is a Manila galleon or a V.O.C. ship there may be truth to the Stradbroke Island oral history of a vast treasure buried somewhere on Stradbroke Island, its location known by certain Stradbroke Aboriginal elders.
This website also dedicates space to other Australian archaeological mysteries such as Victoria's Mahogany Ship, the Gympie Pyramid, the Long Island "Spanish Galleon" shipwreck legend in Queensland's Whitsunday Islands, which Queensland maritime archaeologists incorrectly claim to be the 1825 wreck of the Valetta. We also look at other historic Queensland shipwrecks such as the Marloo and the Chang Chow hidden under the sands of Fraser Island and other sand buried shipwrecks such as at Suffolk Park near Byron Bay (which is reported to be a 16th century shipwreck); Inskip Point; Facing Island near Gladstone, and other places around Australia. We look at the Spanish helmet found in New Zealand. The 16th century lead weight found in an archaeological context in pumice strata deep under the sand on Fraser Island, which provides solid archaeological evidence for a Spanish shipwreck in Queensland as well as a pre-Cook maritime presence.
An aerial view of Swan Bay, Queensland, looking from the north. According to history one of the shipwrecks is somewhere in there
This page was last updated: March 15, 2015
The Legend of the Stradbroke Island Galleon
The ship above is more like a cog than a caravel but still not a galleon. In the immediate background could be a caravel with a high poop and forecastle. Did the Portuguese or Spanish reach Queensland in such a ship?
The image above is from a 1600 battle in the Philippines. The Manila Galleon San Diego is fighting several Dutch ships; part of a Dutch raiding fleet. Though larger the galleon was sunk with huge loss of life. Note the galleon has a high poop but no significant forecastle such as is described on Queensland's Stradbroke "galleon".
The first well documented "galleon" history comes when shipwright and timber getter Matthew Heeb discovered the burnt remains of a ship in the Eighteen Mile Swamp on Stradbroke Island in the vicinity of Swan Bay at Jumpinpin in the early 1890's (before the Jumpinpin breakthrough). He described it to historian Isabel Hannah and Queensland's Colonial secretary the Hon.George Appel (M.P.) as having a high poop and forecastle. It is likely that the remains pictured above represent very closely the type of ship that Heeb saw. Unfortunately since Heeb saw the shipwreck several fires have burnt over it reducing the "above ground" remains. In 1934 Jim Walker (a sailor and son of a boat builder) and two friends found the shipwreck again, after a fire had burnt through the !8 Mile Swamp during a drought. Fires had reduced the "above swamp level" structures of the shipwreck to just its heavy timbers, though there was enough of the shipwreck for Walker to confirm that the wreck was of a ship of about 90 to 100 feet in length (about 30 meters) and built of European oak. This would make it a ship of the size of Captain Cook's Endeavor, a ship of about 300 tonnes. Small for a Manila galleon but about right for a carrack or a caravel, favoured by Spanish explorers of the Pacific Ocean.
When Heeb found the shipwreck in the 1890's he removed over a hundredweight (about 60 kilos) of copper fittings from the land locked shipwreck. In 1934 there were still various artifacts still to be found by scratching around in the hull. Using an axe Jim Walker took an iron "roved" bolt.out of one of the ship's heavy timbers which was later traced by architect and "galleon hunter" Duncan McFee. The roved bolt and timbers were also sighted by representitives of teh Queensland Museum and the Maritime Archaeological Association of Queensland (MAAQ) when they interviewed Jim Walker before his death in the 1990's.
The Stradbroke Island Galleon Book
This book investigates the history of one of Australia’s most enduring maritime shipwreck legends. Only the story of Victoria's Mahogany Ship ranks as its equal in Australian maritime history. Many believe the existence of this historic Queensland shipwreck may ultimately provide archaeological and historic proof of early Spanish exploration of Australia.
The book documents the history of eyewitness reports, since the 1860's, of a mysterious oak shipwreck with a high poop and forecastle about 30 meters long, landlocked in Stradbroke Island’s 18 Mile Swamp. Queensland legend and local history generally situates the shipwreck near Swan Bay or Jumpinpin. Since the 1860's to the 1930's there were dozens of historically recorded sightings but today the exact location of Queensland's shipwrecked "galleon" is lost.
In 1989 Greg Jefferys, whilst doing a degree majoring in archaeology and history at the University of Queensland, began researching the history of the "galleon". He has now written a book and also published this website to support his book:
The Stradbroke Island Galleon
"The Mystery of the Ship in the Swamp "
This book documents the results of extensive historic and archaeological research into the Stradbroke Island shipwreck legend as well as his team's expeditions into the dangerous and almost impenetrable Eighteen Mile Swamp on North Stradbroke Island in south east Queensland.
The book includes recollections and written accounts of various people who saw the shipwreck, including noted Queensland historian Isabel Hannah, Queensland Colonial Secretary George Appel , Jim Walker, Dr Harold Young, Dr Eric Reye, Mathew Heeb, Moreton Bay Historian Thomas Welsby and other honest and reliable people who have reported investigating, seeing or visiting, the Stradbroke Island Galleon from the early days of Queensland's settlement.
The book is the result of extensive research into early Australian and Queensland maritime history and archaeology and uses many local and international historic resources including extensive investigation of Spanish maritime histories and historians including noted Spanish historian Professor Francisco Mellen, an expert on the history of the Pacific. Most of these non-Anglo Saxon history resource are either deliberately ignored or casually overlooked by "establishment" archaeologists and historians, defending the British biased status quo of Australian history that Cook, not the Spanish or Portuguese, were the first Europeans to discover Australia despite a mounting body of historic and archaeological evidence to the contrary.
The book also includes historic old maps of Moreton Bay, Stradbroke Island and Queensland; some of which show the actual location of the shipwrecked "galleon". There are images of artifacts located by Greg Jefferys and his team members Cliff Rosendahl and Brad Horton around Moreton Bay and Stradbroke Island which can be reasonably associated with the Stradbroke Island shipwreck. Many of these artifacts have been found in a archaeological context and have been proven to be of early Spanish or Portuguese maritime origins.
A DVD produced by team member, Dr. Cliff Rosendahl, documents the story of the search for the galleon. Included in this documentary are several interviews with "old timers" recalling the legend of the Stradbroke Galleon.
Galleon Facts and Artifacts....... There's more to the legend than just a good story; below are some of the artifacts associated with the history and archaeology of the Stradbroke Island Galleon
To the left is excellent example of a sailor's dirk was found in the hull of the Stradbroke Island Galleon by Dr. Harold Young in 1934. The silver coin found in 2007 was found very close to the reported location of Dr Young's wreck site. At that time in history Dr. Young was a Rover Scout. Using a map drawn by his Grandfather, who was an architect with a passion for Botany, Dr. Young and other Rovers found the shipwreck, the dirk and various other artifacts including coins, in the hull. Images of the Spanish dirk were examined by Prof. Francisco Mellen of Seville, Spain who stated that it was a typical Spanish sailor's knife used from the 17th to 19th centuries by Spanish and Portuguese sailors. The dirk and its history were held by Dr Young's son, Dr. Edwin Young until his recent death. The more detailed story of Dr. Young is in the book..
This Spanish or Portuguese brass walking stick head (right) was found in an erosion gully in an old Aboriginal campsite that was being cleared for a housing development on Lamb Island, Moreton Bay about 4 kilometers west of where Dr. Young found the sailor's dirk on Stradbroke Island. It was discovered by the mother of noted Queensland archaeologist Dan Rosendahl in an archaeological context in an Aboriginal midden. Dan Rosendahl states that Spanish museum experts, visiting the Queensland Museum, confirmed the artifact as coming from 16th or 17th century Spain. It was in an undisturbed strata of soil about half a meter deep. How it it get there ? Was it carried by a Stradbroke Aborigine or a Spanish survivor of the shipwreck? Moreton Bay history tells us the Stradbroke Aborigines regularly moved between the Ocean beach on the east of Stradbroke Island to the Moreton Bay Islands, depending on seasonal factors. The presence of this Spanish artifact in an Aboriginal midden gives credence to the oral history of a relationship between the shipwreck survivors and the Stradbroke Island Aborigines. Interestingly there is a history of the Stradbroke Island Aborigines helping shipwreck survivors.
Ancient Spanish lead weight found on Fraser Island, Queensland.
One of the most irrefutable pieces of archaeological evidence that Spanish or Portuguese ships visited Queensland's South East Coast comes from a lead weight found on Hook Point Fraser Island by W.T. (Bill) Ward from the Griffith University. Importantly the archaeological context of this find cannot be disputed though it is ignored.
Bill Ward is a geologist and he and a team from the University were auger drilling undisturbed sand in the dunes behind Hook Point, about 175 meters inland from the present day beach, for pumice samples when they found a lead weight at a depth of 2 meters. Importantly their digging was done 20cm at a time with each auger load of sand being carefully examined. Using this methodology they confirmed continuous strata in undisturbed sand. The lead weight was found in a sand strata with Loisels Pumice which has been independently dated as being between 520 to 590 years old. This methodology give the weight a solid archaeological context.
The Lead Weight.
The lead artifact is made of sheet lead which has been folded over on itself and then had a hole drilled through it for which purpose seems to have been to thread a cord or string through. It is 11 X 6 cm and weighs 121.6 grams.
The fact that it was found in a strata that was consistent with it being deposited on the beach some time in the 16th Century caused Ward to wonder greatly about its possible origins and eventually, using his connections in the geological fraternity, he was able to have the weight tested. Although the results were amazing and challenge Australian maritime history they have been quietly ignored by Australian marine achaeologists.
Naturally occurring lead deposits have an isotopic "fingerprint" which enables their sources to be definitely discovered. An international data base of these "lead fingerprints" exists. By having the lead artifact's isotopic fingerprint analysed ward was able to determine that the lead had been mined in either Haut-Allier mines in the Brioude-Massiac district or the Brouse, Rosier mines in Pontgibaud region, that is in the South of France or the North of Spain.
Lead contains a radioactive Isotope 210Pb which can indicate the time since it was mined provided the extraction occurred within the last fifty years. This test showed that the lead was older than 50 years.
Because the lead was found in undisturbed sand strata on Fraser Island in the close presence of a quantity of pumice stone Ward was able to use existing data bases on the dates of pumice to establish a date for when the lead weight was deposited on the beach at Hook Point. Ward used extensive cross referencing to establish that the lead had reached Hook Point no earlier than 1410 and no later than 1627.
What it means.
Here we have a lead artifact buried under 2 meters of sand, made from lead that has been scientifically proven to come from either the South of France or the North of Spain. It has been proved to come to Fraser Island between 1410 and 1627, mostly likely in the middle of the 16th century around the 1560's.
As we know that neither the French nor the British were in the Pacific at that time we must conclude that it was brought to the coast of Queensland, to Fraser Island by either a Spanish or Portuguese ship as both these nations acquired lead from the mines around the Spanish and French borders.
In the National Museum in New Zealand lies another one of those lovely archaeological anomalies that the Archaeology Fraternity love to ignore. An iron helmet, dated to 1580, typical of helmets worn by Spanish and Portuguese soldiers who were present in large numbers on any Iberian exploration vessel in the 16th or 17th century. (click here to visit New Zealand National Museum on-line collections)
Unfortunately at the time the helmet was found record keeping at the New Zealand National Museum was rather lax and so we have no exact record of the time and place of the Spanish helmet's discovery or the exact date of acquisition by the Museum. The museum's records seem to indicate that the helmet was found in marine mud during a dredging operation of Wellington harbor toward the end of the 19th century. The helmet seems to have come up in a bucket of maritime mud but the exact location and circumstances of the find were not noted by the museum at the time, much to everyone's present disappointment.
Even the New Zealand Musuem's famous forensic anthropologist Doctor Robin Watt can't say for certain what the "Spanish" helmet's origins are though, like most of his profession, he seems to prefer the safer, more conservative explanations, even if these oppose the Occam's Razor principle.
That is: if you find an ancient Spanish helmet in a N.Z. harbour the most likely explanation is that an ancient Spaniard dropped it there.
16th Century Spanish Soldier's Helmet Found in Wellington Wellington Harbor in about 1880.
The Spanish and English history of the exploration of the Pacific and the discovery of Australia are quite different. If you ask a Spanish Maritime Historian you will generally be told that there is little doubt that the Spanish, with their 400 years of Pacific exploration either sighted, landed on or mapped the east coast of Australia. Graciously the Spanish historian will probably also mention that the Portuguese probably did so as well. On the other hand an Anglo- Australian maritime historian will disagree with this Iberian version of history and maintain the claim that Captain Cook and Britain were the first to discover and map the east Australian coast, despite a growing body or historic and archaeological evidence that runs counter to this Anglo-centric view of maritime history.
Silver Coin Found on Stradbroke Island with date of 1597
On an expedition to investigate a WW2 sighting of the shipwreck in the 18 Mile Swamp by Cyril Broome, an RAAF pilot trainer, our group stopped for a rest on a sand spit that extends some way into the vast Stradbroke Island Swamp. The coin was found at this location, close to where a number of other wreck related artifacts have been found over the years, including the dirk pictured above.
The Stradbroke coin is silver though much corroded. About the size of an Australian ten cent coin the coin was originally suspected to be a Spanish one real coin but further examination by various experts determined it is an English silver coin.
Reals were made in denominations of 1, 2, 4 and 8 real coins or pieces. The silver 8 real coin is the famous "Piece of 8 " that pirate's parrots are known to squawk.
From the corrosion pattern it appears that the Stradbroke Island coin has been laying flat and undisturbed for many years. One side, which we assume is the up side is badly corroded and deeply impregnated with sand and shell grit while the other side, which fortunately has the date on it, is in better condition and the numerals of 1597 are visible.
The coat of arms visible below the date is similar to those used by both the Spanish and the English in the 16th century. The diameter is exactly the same as a one real coin but it might be that the Spanish and English had coins of similar sizes. We await expert opinion for final identification
The two sides of the same coin.
The coin face below was facing upwards about 3 or 4 inches deep in the Strabdroke sand and is therefore more corroded than the other side. For once a flip of the coin went in our favour!. Fortunately the side with the date was the protected side
Comments by English Coin Expert from Will Temple's Article in News.com.au
BASED on the image this coin is either a shilling or a sixpence dating from the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century, an independent expert from Cambridge University in the UK says.
Although wanting to see the actual object before officially confirming it as genuine, the expert was able to provide NEWS.com.au with detailed information including identifying the date stamped 1597.
“It looks like a typical corroded coin from a wreck,” the expert from Cambridge’s University’s Fitzwilliam Museum said. “If it’s genuine it appears to be a coin taken out of circulation in England between the 1670s and 1690s in the Great Recoinage.
“If it were the genuine object it does suggest a late 17th century wreck. It’s pre-Captain Cook by a long way.”
The expert said the coin appeared to have been fairly heavily clipped – a practice common for coins made of valuable metals of the period
He said silver coins of Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603, did not circulate in England after the recoinage that was aimed at curbing the clipping practice and counterfeit currency.
If found in an archaeological context in the UK the coin would be expected to have come from the 17th century and not later, he said.
From the image provided he was able to say the coin was dated 1597 and issued in that year or the next because in 16th century England the year began on March 25.
The Great Recoinage – when the clipped or fake coins were replaced with a fresh standard - dates from when the great physicist and famed discoverer of gravity Sir Isaac Newton was Warden of the Royal Mint responsible for investigating cases of counterfeiting.
The crime was treated as high treason punishable by death through being hung, drawn and quartered.
The comments above show clearly why the coin could not have come to Stradbroke Island any time later than the late 17th century. In terms of dating the coin's arrival on Stradbroke it is also important to place it in an Archaeological context. That is that it was found in undisturbed sand at a depth of between 2 and 3 inches and in an area where other artifacts have been found at similar depth and situation. These include an old but undated brass button, a crudely made lead weight, a very corroded sword blade and the sailor's dirk pictured above. All of these were found in areas very difficult to access and free from any modern rubbish with the exception of air fighter machine gun cartridges which dropped there from the air in WW2.
Only the coin has been dated but the other items are all indicative of a similar age. No doubt there were many more such individual artifacts scattered around the edge of the Swamp in the past but most of these have been lost due to the extensive sand mining of the Ocean dunes during the 1960's and 70's.
One of the interesting side issues that arises from the discovery of this little silver 16th century coin is the reaction of the Queensland Museum. Immediately we returned from Stradbroke Island to the mainland I phoned the the Queensland Museum and explained what we had found and where we had found it and volunteered to bring it in to the Museum to be examined and identified. Their reaction astounded me. They did not want to see the coin! Reason given? The museum is only interested in Australian coins. I explained again that the coin was found out in the Swamp on Stradbroke Island and that it is likely to be associated with the shipwreck reputed to be in that area. Still totally uninterested.
What does this tell us about our institutions?
For more information on how the coin was found go to the "Finding the coin" page.
A number of books have been written on this subject since British colonization of Australia but the most important and most credible is the work by Brigadier Lawrence Fitzgerald O.B.E. called Java La Grande; the Portuguese Discovery of Australia. Please take the time to have a look at the page I have dedicated to Lawrence Fitzgerald's book or seek out a copy in your local Library and read it. If you are seriously interested in the early exploration of the Pacific it is a must read book. (no I'm not selling it; yes it's out of print)
Extract from paper by Robin J. Watt 19th August 1983 National Museum of New Zealand Records pages 131-137:
"An iron helmet dated to 1580, and previously thought to be Spanish was found in Wellington Harbour sometime before 1904.....Its state of preservation suggests it was immersed in sea water for only a short time..... Further speculation is without foundation and therefore useless." This is typical of the lack of scientific integrity applied to any artifact which challenges the established views of British dominion over New Zealand and Australia. Even in his own paper Robin Watt quotes but ignores the advise of scientist S. Soylemezoglu from the DSIR "...it is feasible that the helmet could have lain in the harbour... in still, stagnant water or covered in mud..... for an unknown period of time......The type of pitting, wide flat, large and uneven, is typical of oxygen attack under seawater." In fact numerous iron artifacts from the Mary Rose survived over 500 years submerged in seawater in exactly this manner, covered in mud, yet, rather than investigate the problem further, Dr. Robin Watt and the Museum offer us the absurd explanations that perhaps the helmet might have been a modern ship's ballast that was tossed into the harbor or that "It might have been a souvenir brought out from England by an immigrant." (then tossed into the harbor???) Really Dr. Watt is that what you would call scientific impartiality or even common sense?
Bruny Island's Buried Treasure Mystery
The historic Tasmanian shipwreck of the sailing ship "Hope" occurred in April 1827 at Storm Bay near the mouth of the Derwent River. The Hope was on her way from Sydney to Hobart and is Tasmania's greatest buried treasure mystery. The shipwrecked "Hope" was reputed to be carrying the quarterly pay, in coin, for the 40th Regiment of Foot garrisoned in Hobart Town, in the new Tasmanian Colony.
The "Hope" was originally owned by Hobart's Cascades Brewery founder Peter Degraves. Peter Degraves sailed her from England several years earlier, bringing corn and saw milling equipment to the new colony. Once in Hobart he sold the sharply built ship to Captain Cunningham.
Captain Cunningham was well experienced in sailing in Tasmanian waters and often sailed between Tasmania and Britian in the Hope and other vessels. In the 1880's long lived Bruny Island resident Darcy Denne saw an Irishman searching for the treasure near Dennes Point (then known as Kelly's Point after Tasmanian whaling legend Captain James Kelly) on Bruny Island. For more than one hundred years since people having been digging up the beaches of Bruny Island and Hope Beach (so named for the shipwreck of the Hope) looking for the buried treasure of the shipwreck of the Hope. For more details on this and other Tasmanian Shipwrecks and shipwreck treasure stories such as the Britomart and the whaling ship George click here to go to the "Wreck of the Hope" page.
Above: a full scale replica of a Portuguese caravel, such a vessel was well capable of reaching and exploring Queensland's coastline
.Morton Bay or Moreton Bay
Over the years a number of people have pointed out to me that I am spelling Morton Bay incorrectly, that it should be spelt Moreton Bay, that is with an "e" however history shows us the 'e' is incorrect.
History tells us Morton Bay was named by Captain Cook when he passed by in the Endeavor in 1770. He named Cape Morton and Morton Bay after Lord Morton who was then the President of the British Royal Society. History shows, both on his maps (example on left) and in his journal, Cook clearly designates the correct spelling is Morton Bay not Moreton Bay. Likewise the correct spelling of Lord Morton's name contains no "e". Please join me in using the historically correct spelling of Morton Bay, if enough people do it eventually it may force a change?? (I'm not being obsessive am I?)
Stradbroke Island Aborigines and Moreton Bay
Of course Moreton or Morton Bay has an Aboriginal name which pre-dates White Australian history by about 6,000 years, that is Quandamooka. The Aboriginal name of Stradbroke is Minjerribah. The name of the Stradbroke Aboriginal tribe is Noonuccal. Please see our page on Stradbroke Island Aborigines to find out more about the history of Aboriginal connections with the Stradbroke Island Galleon story and also a small offering of the rich and very interesting Stradbroke Island Aboriginal heritage, an Aboriginal culture which still is alive and well today. The Stradbroke Aboriginal people have a unique place in Queensland history and in European / Aboriginal relations.
Cook's Map of Stradbroke Island & Morton Bay
The origins of the brass walking stick handle found on one of the Moreton Bay Islands, above, are clearly either Portuguese or Spanish. A study of paintings and sculptures from that period of Spanish history shows the style of the hair, beard and head piece are unique to 16th century Spain or Portugal. All confirmed by a Spanish museum expert visiting the Queensland Museum. Originally the eyes would have been inlaid with some substance such as turquoise.
Do you know any stories about the Stradbroke Galleon ? Do you know someone who has seen it or found something that might be associated with it? Please tell me by clicking the icon below so the stories can be recorded. Thanks.
Like the Stradbroke Island Galleon Warrnambool's Mahogany Ship is one of the enduring shipwreck legends of Australia which confounds conventional history.
Because the ship was built of mahogany this eliminates European origins for the ship though not European ownership. The British, the Spanish and the Portuguese all built mahogany ships in their Colonies. As a ship building timber a Mahogany ship is far superior to a ship build of traditional European timbers such as oak, larch, pine etc. as mahogany is much harder and does not rot as readily. Ships with mahogany hulls also resist the various ship destroying organisms that exist in the warmer waters around the tropics and Australia.
The Spanish and the Portuguese were both building mahogany ships in the 16th century in their South American colonies.
It is unlikely the mahogany ship is a British ship as such a shipwreck would have been recorded by the colonial authorities.
Painting of the Warrnambool Mahogany ship by T. Clarke circa 1860
An Artifact from a Spanish Galleon or a Portuguese Caravel found in Moreton Bay?
The New Zealand Spanish Helmet
Photographs by Dr Cliff Rosendahl
Moreton Bay or Morton Bay Cook's Map of Stradbroke Island and Morton Bay
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This Youtube clip is a short extract from the 60 minute DVD on the Stradbroke Galleon produced by Dr Cliff Rosendahl.
The clip shows several of the many artifacts associated with the galleon that have been found by various persons over the years and also gives some insights into the extensive historical research that has been undertaken.