The Long Island Shipwreck Mystery
In Queensland’s Whitsunday Group is Long Island, coral fringed and still mostly covered by tropical jungle. Like any good tropical island it has legends of a mysterious shipwreck, incorrectly idenitified as the Valetta, lying out from a beach where Spanish coins and shards of Ming pottery have been found. On a hillside overlooking that beach 32 pound iron cannon balls, links of hand forged iron chain and lead musket shot have been found. Behind that palm fringed beach there was an ancient stone walled well (erroneously called “Flinders’s Well) that was there when the first British explorers arrived in the 1830's. Twisted through all that are Aboriginal stories about an ancient ship and some kind of battle between the Long Island Aborigines and the sailors from the ship. Like all stories that involve the possibility of any European arriving on the east coast of Australia before Captain Cook the Australia’s “History Establishment” discount all the legends and stories as rubbish and ascribe biblical status to only the most mundane explanations whilst ignoring all and any contradictory evidence.
But first a little geography and history on Long Island.
Long Island is situated in the Great Barrier Reef and is part of the Whitsunday Group of islands (not to be confused with another Long Island which lies a couple of hundred kilometers to the south in Broad Sound). Conventional history states that Captain Cook was the first white-man/European to see Long Island as he passed through and named the Whitsunday Island group in 1770.
Cook’s map shows the east side of Long Island quite accurately. However, as he saw only its eastern shores, he did not realize that it was an island and his map shows Long Island as being part of the mainland just north of Cape Conway.. It is uncertain when the British colonists of Australia first realized that Long Island was in fact an island but Cook’s map and Long Island’s non-island status remained on official Admiralty maps until the late 1840’s until Lieutenant Blackwood of HMS Fly noted in his log that he was surprised to discover that Long Island was an Island when he surveyed the Whitsundays in 1843. His new knowledge gradually filtered through onto the published maps which included the marking of an unidentified wreck there. Some people assert that Flinders stopped at Long Island during his famous circumnavigation of Australia and that he built the expertly constructed stone well there but a careful reading of his diaries, maps and other records shows that he did not pass through this part of the Whitsunday’s though he did stay some time on another “Long Island” further south near Proclamation: hence the confusion.
The members of the HMS Zebra, stopping in Happy Bay in 1836 also noticed the wreck in what is now called "Happy Bay" and they also mentioned the existence of the professionally built, and already ancient, stone well existing on Long Island when they explored the land around Happy Bay.
Long Island & Happy Bay
Long Island is, as the name implies, a long thin coral fringed Island covered mostly by dense forest, jungle and scrub with many tall hoop pine trees growing over its fertile but rocky slopes.Long Island's mountainous spine is steep and for most of its length the slopes run straight down into the clear blue water. Strangely while the rest of the island was covered in dense jungle, in 1846 the very northern end of Long Island, an area of about one hundred acres and immediately adjoining the ancient stone well, was almost completely clear of trees and scrub, covered by grassy slopes. This cleared patch of ground is connected to the rest of the island by a narrow sandy strip of land.
There is only one beach of any size on Long Island, this beach and the bay that encloses it is is partially enclosed by the once grassy headland and is now called Happy Bay where there is now a Club Crocodile resort.
Happy Bay Shipwreck on Long Island
Happy Bay faces west, towards the mainland, it is sheltered from most weather and has a sandy bottom, it affords excellent deepwater mooring and also sandy flats that are dry at low tide and covered by about two metes of water on the high tide. Happy Bay is not visible at all from the Whitsunday Passage so without prior knowledge of its existence no-one sailing past would know it was there (hence Cook made Long Island part of the mainland on his map which was still in use in the 1830's). Behind the beach at Happy Bay is the Island’s only large area of flat ground already mentioned, a strip of sandy soil not more than 300 meters wide and about twice that length. Those conveniently cleared, grassy hills immediately north of Happy Bay were perfect for farming or grazing and the first British to move into the area in the 1890’s immediately put sheep on them. When the sheep were removed and the Island declared a National Park the rainforest reclaimed those grassy hills in a few short years so that the entire area is now dense rainforest.
Mystery History Question One: How did the hills become grassy in the first place and who built the stone well?
It is around Happy Bay that Long Island’s shipwreck mystery revolves.
The first series of historically documented visits to Happy Island occurred in the first half of the 19th century (mostly British Navy ships passing through). The visitors discovered an old shipwreck half buried in the sands of Happy Bay. Now days there is nothing to be seen of the wreck but in 1836 when HMS Zebra stopped at Happy Bay the wreck was still very visible. The Zebra’s sailing master remarked:
“In the sandy bay was the wreck of a vessel of about 360 to 400 tons…( about the size of Cook’s Endeavor)…. She was built of teak.”
Another visiting British Naval officer noted that the wreck “appeared to be that of a man of war, the gun ports being clearly visible.”
(It is worth noting here that only a large "ship of the line" would carry 32 pound cannon due to the need for a structurally reinforced gun deck to support these massive cannon)
In 1843 a crew member of the HMS Fly recorded “….. it must have been a large brig or schooner (judging from) from the remains of the timber, which were quite decayed, it must have been here for many years at least.”
(It is worth mentioning here that teak is one of the most durable timbers from which to construct a ship. If the teak was “quite decayed” the shipwreck would need to have been there for a long while indeed a lot more than 20 or 30 years.)
Another report from 1843 mentions the wreck and that she had gun ports.
So there was an unidentified shipwreck in Happy Bay from the earliest recorded history.
As with most shipwreck mysteries there is also a treasure story and this is the case with the Long Island shipwreck where the first mention of treasure comes from Mr. Hugh Kean, the first British person to live on the Island after taking up the grazing rights to the Island about 1895. Some say he knew the wreck was there and took the grazing rights to gain exclusive access to the wreck; others suggest that he found the wreck and the associated treasure in the process of exploring his new domain. Which ever was the case he was soon examining the mysterious shipwreck in Happy Bay. It is widely reported that he recovered silver plate from the wreck after digging down into its holds at low tide; other reports say he discovered gold and silver Spanish coins on the beach and scattered up a slope near the wreck.
“Some in a worn state, some as if freshly minted.”
He attempted to excavate the remains of the partly buried hull, which was accessible at very low tides but as it was filled with wet, unstable sand he met with limited success. Kean believed that there was a significant treasure buried on a hill above Happy Bay. One story states that he followed a trail of coins up off the beach and into the hills and that the direction of the coins indicated one of the surrounding hills as the burial site for the treasure. Illness forced him to leave Long Island about 1898 and it appears that he died without ever finding the treasure or passing on which of the hills he suspected as the treasure’s location.
Treasure legends always attract attention and never die out, in fact they tend to grow in girth with age as people add their ten cent’s worth and patch little bits of information onto the story as either new information comes to light or to make the story more interesting in the telling (And while most people admit to the lure and excitement of gold and hidden treasure the mere mention of “treasure” or a “treasure hunter” sends your average archaeologist into a frenzy usually only seen when a priest confronts a servant of the devil). Despite the “establishments’” distain for the concept there have been several documented attempts to find the treasure over the last hundred years. One of these searches, mentioned in the 1940 edition of “Walkabout” magazine, uncovered two 32-pound iron cannon balls on the side of a hill above Happy Bay where they supposed Kean had been searching. Thirty-two pounds (about 15 kilos) is a very large caliber cannon ball which would have been fired from a cannon of over 4 meters in length. Such size guns were typical of the cannon carried on the Manila galleons and on the man-o’wars from various nations and much too large a gun for the average merchant ship which was usually only equipped with deck guns or a couple of nine pounders in the bows. These 32 pound cannon balls were left on display for a number of years at the small resort that used to operate at Happy Bay but the author’s research indicates that their location was lost when a larger “Club Crocodile” resort was built there in the late 1980’s.
As far as I am aware no attempt has ever been made by Queensland’s historians or marine archaeologists to identify the exact type of cannon ball or even the exact dimensions or other important characteristics such as weight, age etc. There appear to be no photos or any official record of these extremely interesting archaeological anomalies in our museums although their existence was well documented in the middle of the 20th century in numerous published articles. I wonder why nobody from the “establishment” ever did that?
The Long Island 16th Century Copper Coin
The most recently documented search for the fabled Long Island treasure was in the early 1980’s by Mr. Andy Peregrina, an amateur historian and confessed treasure hunter.
Mr. Peregrina spent several weeks exploring Happy Bay and the surrounding hills in 1980 with a metal detector. He located the remains of the old wreck, which by then had been completely buried by the sand, and notified the Queensland Museum of its location, which in turn resulted in the only official “dig” on the site. Around the site of the wreck he also found some fragments of old blue china and several other artifacts in the sands of the beach.
(Mr. Peregrina’s states that it was as a result of his work that the Queensland Museum undertook a thorough examination of the wreck in 1983 before it was lost forever under the sand and mud).
To his credit he also located and photographed the old stone well (Flinders’ Well), which appears to have been destroyed by the expansion of the Resort on the site. It also seems that his photographs of the well are the only ones in existence. Unfortunately they are not as detailed as one would desire.
However the most important discovery of Andy Peregrina was with his metal detector exploring the hills above Happy Bay. He focused on an area he called Vigilance Hill, the summit of a high hill to the north of Happy Bay which makes a perfect natural look out, affording 360 degree views of the surrounding seas.
He reasoned that the survivors of a shipwreck would have cleared the forest around the peak to make a permanent look out there and that therefore there might still remain some trace of their presence his detector could find. So with his metal detector he searched the top of the hill and surrounding ground.
He found a copper Spanish coin from the late 15th Century, a photograph of which is in his paper on the subject of the Long Island shipwreck held in the Queensland Library.
The coin was still in good enough condition to make out the embossing, Ferdinand on one side and Aragonum UH on the other.
In his book “ Romance of the Great Barrier Reef ” Frank Reid tells how at the beginning of the 20th century he was speaking with “one of the oldest Aborigines on Whitsunday Island who said that the strange hulk had been there when he was a child” (named Saturday). Saturday went on to explain that his mother had told him the story of the shipwreck was that “many years before the appearance of white men on these islands, a large sailing ship had come and bartered with them.” In the course of this bartering a fight broke between an Aborigine and one of the sailors and the Aborigine was stabbed and killed. The other Aborigines did not react immediately but that night discussed the event and decided that they must avenge their friend and so at midnight they silently crept onto the ship and murdered all on board. Eventually the ship drifted ashore and sank into the mud. (One could safely assume that the fight was over a woman or women of whom the Aboriginal men were usually very protective and for whom sailors were usually very desirous.)
Reid, who spent the early part of the 20th century roaming the Great Barrier Reef and its islands also reports that cannon balls had been found on the beach and confirms in his book that coins had also been found on the beach and the hills.
There is a body of opinion that the only shipwreck on Long Island is that of the “Valetta”, an Indian built ship that sailed between Calcutta, Hong Kong and Australia carrying opium, tea and other trade goods. This opinion is mostly based around a paper by a university academic named Sally May, though there have been other papers written on the subject.
All of the papers that support the theory of the Long Island wreck being the Valetta seem to deliberately ignore the express statement of the Valetta's Super Captain Captain D'acre who specifically states that the Valetta was wrecked on a beach near Cape Gloucester, a long way north of Long Island.
Apart from ignoring the Captain's statements most papers seem work hard to make the evidence fit the theory and to ignore any historic or archeological evidence that goes against the shipwreck being the Valetta.
The Valetta was sailing out from Sydney or Newcastle on the 10th of June 1825 with a load of coal bound for Manila then India to pick up a load of opium.
In the Sydney Gazette of 5th of October 1825 and 21st November there are a detailed descriptions, from the Valetta’s super captain, Captain D’Acre for those interested in reading his first hand account.
Basically and briefly on the 10th of July the ship was damaged by coral while at anchor one night south of the Whitsunday Passage near the Cumberland Isles. The rudder was badly damaged and there was a leak in the hull but the damage did not seem bad and after some serious pumping they got the ship “dry” after which they were able to keep her dry with only one pump working. They then spent 10 days effecting repairs, mostly to the rudder (they had a blacksmith and carpenters on board). Once the rudder was repaired they set sail again, on the 22nd, and were confident they would still be able to continue on their journey to India. It seems obvious they did not think the leak was serious but they did not know this was because a lump of coral was lodged in the hull, the next night, anchored near the entrance of the Whitsunday Passage heavy weather (mostly likely from the south) dislodged the coral and the ship began to take water in a bad way. All hands were to the pumps and the ship was run aground on a beach near Cape Gloucester. Here we come to a most important part of the report so I will quote Captain D’Acre’s.
“….. made sail for the first place that appeared sheltered, for the purpose of laying her on shore as the people could not possibly much longer continue at the pumps…….. after hard pumping for several days. Near Cape Gloucester we found a good harbour, and smooth water; landing everything we could, the ship was laid on the ground on a bed of mud and sand, the people being so fatigued they could not for another day have kept her free (of water).”
On the beach they worked repairing the ship for three weeks but although they had the equipment and materials to repair the ship their food supplies had been water damaged and soon they realized they did not have enough food to sustain them for the period it would require to repair the ship. Captain D’acre then volunteered to sail to Sydney in the ship’s long boat with ten others and arrange a rescue vessel. The trip to Sydney in the long boat took 21 days.
A careful reading of Sydney Gazette text shows immediately that the people who hold the shipwreck at Happy Bay is the Valetta have serious problems.
First and most obvious is that both Captain D’acre and the Sydney Gazette state very clearly on several occasions that the Valetta was aground on a beach near Cape Gloucester. In fact Cape Gloucester is about 100 kilometres north of Long Island whereas Cape Conway, named, mapped and known in 1825, is only about 15 kilometers from Long Island. Why would a person, skilled in sailing and navigation, give such inaccurate directions in such an important instant as providing the location of his shipwrecked friends. If the Valetta was in fact on Long Island the rescue vessels would never find them if they searched around Cape Gloucester. If the Valetta was on Long Island why would Captain D’acre not say, “They are on an island less than ten miles north of Cape Conway, at the entrance of the Whitsunday Passage. The island is shown as the south head of Port Molle.”
This is so obvious it beggars belief that anyone would suggest that the Valetta would be anywhere else but Cape Gloucester!
Next is the statement by D’acre that the ship began “leaking most alarmingly” at the entrance of the Whitsunday Passage then describes their relief at finding that “good harbor” near Cape Gloucester because the crew “could not possibly much longer continue at the pumps………. after hard pumping for several days.”
Now, as previously mentioned, Long island is about 10 kilometers from the entrance of the Whitsunday Passage whereas Cape Gloucester is about 100 kilometers north of that Passage. How could the crew be so fatigued by several days of pumping if they were only an hour or two away from their “good harbour” at Happy Bay? Whereas a ship wallowing with rising water in the hull could easily be expected to take several days to make the journey through the Whitsunday Islands to Cape Gloucester.
Another point against the Valetta being on Long Island is the fact that Long Island was not known to be an island in 1825. There was no knowledge of a sheltered bay, a beach or a safe harbor, actually anyone not knowing to the contrary would have expected to find nothing there but a steep rocky shoreline such as is presented by the east coast of Long Island. The captain of a badly leaking ship would not take the time go exploring when a potential safe harbor was shown on the map in the form of Cape Gloucester.
Also worth considering is the fact that Port Molle (of which Long Island forms a part) was marked on the maps in 1825 so the obvious locater direction would have been “on a beach in the south east corner of Port Molle.
I could go on and on listing the multitudes of obvious reasons why the evidence of the Valetta’s own captain supports the idea of the ship on Long Island not being the Valetta but I do not want to get too long winded in this.
I might just add a final interesting fact by that famous chronicler of Autralian shipwrecks, Jack Loney, who states in his books “Wrecks of the Queensland Coast” that the Valetta was successfully refloated and sank a year later off the Pelew Islands.
(At this point I would like to make a point in defence of Jack Loney. In a communication I had with one of the academics involved in the 1983 dig on the Happy Bay wreck this person disparaged Jack Loney (now deceased) and his work. Yet Jack dedicated much of his life to the study and documentation of shipwrecks associated with Australian waters and no single person has done as much for the preservation of the historic knowledge of Australian shipwrecks as Jack and I would tend to take his word on the subject before the word of an academic the bulk of whose time is spent figuring out how to get grants from the government or planning schemes for career advancement. Jack worked simply for the love of the subject of shipwrecks but, oh dear, he did not have a university degree!)
The refloating of the Valetta is the most obvious conclusion to the Valetta’s story and why her remains were never found on a beach near Cape Gloucester.
In 1825 there was an accute shortage of ships in the rapidly growing Australian colonies so that anyone with a half decent ship could expect to make a quick fortune. For these reasons ships were very, very valuable; particularly of ship of the size of the Valetta. In today’s terms it would be similar to owning a good sized cargo plane and be worth (in today’s money) in excess of $1,000,000. As the ship was not wrecked but merely holed, with a broken keel and run up on a beach in a safe harbour with ample supplies of timber growing nearby any small team of ship wrights could, with less than a couple of months work, have the vessel repaired and refloated.
In those days it was common practice to offer such wrecks up by tender or aution for salvage and this was the case with the Valetta. She was advertised for Auction in the Sydney Gazette described as:
“…. But little damaged and the Ship has been recently coppered with stout copper.”
and, again, her location was given as being:
“…. on the Beach, near Cape Gloucester.” (not a beach but the Beach)
The results of the auction seem to have been lost to history but the likely outcome would have been that someone would have purchased, repaired and salvaged the ship and either sold it for a handsome profit or put it to work around Australian waters.
Interestingly the Super Captain of the Valetta actually gives fuel to the idea of a mystery wreck on Long Island or even to a pre-Cook European settlement there (which in turn gives rise to the treasure stories) by statements he makes in a long letter he wrote. He talks about a secret plan, about an “old house” on one of the islands; he also writes: “Hodges (one of their associates) could have made six thousand pounds in 24 hours (a huge sum of money in 1827) if he had had the heart of a pigeon”.
He also states, “I have made some of the most important discoveries relative (to) our speculation.”
What had he discovered?
We’ll get back to the Valetta further on.
The Case for Shipwreck Survivors
Andy Peregrina maintains that there were survivors from the “mystery” Long Island shipwreck, that they established a small camp or settlement at Happy Bay, the grassy fields on the north end of the island, the stone well and the “old house” and “hall” described by D’acre were the result of these survivors. Were they survivors of a Manila Galleon carrying a vast treasure to the Philippines from Mexico or of a secret exploration vessel searching for Terra Australia? Were they ultimately wiped out in conflicts with the Aboriginal peoples of the Whitsunday’s as is hinted in the legends or did they mingle and become absorbed by those tribes?
Whatever the ultimate outcome, if they had treasure aboard they would certainly have buried their treasure somewhere near their camp and even if the Aborigines knew its location they would have been more interested in knives or axes rather than shiny but useless coins or (precious) stones. If there were survivors who remained near the wreck for some time there would be remains of their presence in the form of artifacts, the remains of building etc.
At the end of the last century I heard about the “mystery” wreck on Long Island when I was doing research on the Stradbroke Island Galleon after which spent over two years researching legends and historic material associated with the Long Island shipwreck to see if there was any relationship between that wreck and the Stradbroke wreck. (Andy Peregrina claimed the wreck was that of the V.O.C. ship Ridderschamp van Holland sailing out to Stradbroke Island after rescuing the Captain of that ship in a long boat in the East Indies. As a result of these claims I also studied all available material on the Ridderschamp and found nothing to support Mr. Peregrina’s theory) As a result of these studies though I discovered a cloud of controversy covered the identity of the shipwreck in Happy Bay. Some people (including the Queensland Maritime Museum) maintain it is the wreck of the Indian built opium trader the Valetta but just as many learned people argued against that position and my opinion, after reviewing all the available evidence, was that a body of evidence exists which strongly suggests that the wreck might not be the Valetta. If it is not the Valetta then what is it? To gain further insights into the situation I decided I should go to Long Island and check out things first hand.
In June 2003 I and my wife arrived at Long Island to inspect the site first hand. I walked out to where old maps indicated the remains of the wreck still lay buried under the sand and looked across at the low saddle between Humpy Point and the next hill to the east. It was in this area the cannon balls had been found. Some “experts” argue that the cannon balls had been salvaged from the Valetta by Aborigines and, for some unknown reason, were then dropped on the side of the hill when they got sick of carrying them? The trouble with this explanation, apart from the obvious question of why would Aborigines want to carry off a load of heavy iron cannon balls over a hill, is that anyone who had researched shipping armaments of that period (1827) would know that a ship of the Valetta’s size is entirely unlikely to be carrying 32 pound cannon, a gun that would weight several thousand kilograms and requires special structural features to be built into the ship’s hull to cope with the weapon’s recoil.
Also the cannon of a ship had to be balanced on either side of the vessel while big guns like a thirty two pounder were generally carried below decks and on the lower decks for the sake of the ship’s stability. The Valetta is reported to have carried 14 cannon, (though I don’t know the source of that information) a seemingly significant number of guns, but it can be assumed that most were small deck guns as merchant vessels rarely wasted storage space below deck by including a gun deck or gunports. If a ship was carrying one thirty two pounder then it would most likely have to be carrying two.
Another “expert” explanation for the presence of the cannon balls on the hillside was that a British Navy ship-of-the-line might have moored in Happy Bay and decided to practice cannon shooting at the hills. Again, a part from the fact there is no record of this occurring, there are a number of reasons why such activity is an unlikely explanation, highly unlikely; first, most real cannon action was ship to ship and so practice tended to be on finding the range and accuracy so was done at sea on open water firing at some floating object like a barrel rather than a hillside whilst at anchor.
Next is that cannon shot, powder etc. was expensive so Captains did not usually just blast away at a hillside for the fun of it. A further reason is that British Admiralty appears not to have known at least until the late 1840’s that Long Island was an island therefore there is no reason why a ship of the line or any high rated Navy ship, such as would be carrying 32 pound cannon, would have sailed through the maze of reefs, out of the charted channels, to reach Happy Bay, which they did not know was there. (Although Port Molle was visited briefly and marked on the maps in 1815 by Lieutenant Jefferys in the HMCS Kangaroo he did not discover or mark that Long Island was an island) Another reason is that cannon practice usually involved a broadside or at least all the cannon crew on one side of the vessel firing and usually firing several times to practice speed of reloading combined with accuracy and range. For a man-o-war a broadside would have resulted in a significant number of cannon balls hitting the hillside. The most reasonable theory therefore is that which is in harmony with the Aboriginal legends that say there was a conflict between the ship and the Aborigines and that deliberate shots were fired in anger at aspecific targets.
One of my plans while on Long Island was to do a thorough search of the hillside from Humpy Point to the saddle where the cannon balls were found to see if there were still any cannon balls there. Reading the literature it seemed that no one had actually ever done a systematic search of the hillside.
The next two days, as part of our “get familiar with the lie of the land” program we walked the established, well maintained walking tracks that wandered through the hills to the north and south of the resort, all of which is part of the Long Island National Park.
I was amazed how completely, in less than 50 years, the jungle had reclaimed the clear grassy hills that had been so well documented in the early 19th century. There was no doubt in my mind that these hills had been deliberately cleared and maintained for grazing, well before the British got to Australia. Some might argue that the Aborigines cleared the land with “fire stick” farming but in such a case some fire resistant trees always survive so that one sees a partly treed landscape. This was not the case with Long Island; the painting from the Fly clearly shows a treeless hillside. Also why just the north point of the Island, why not the whole lot? The answer is obvious, because of the narrow neck of flat land at Happy Bay; because of this bottle neck it is easy to fence off the north section of the island, only a couple of hundred meters of fence is needed, easily made from the timber of trees. We all know that all ships, Navy, Exploration, Traders carried livestock on board for fresh meat. Surely it is not a big jump of logic to see shipwreck survivors raising their livestock while they waited and prayed for rescue. Gradually they would expand their cleared pastures with axe and fire until the whole north headland is cleared and grassy.
After a few days of wandering it was time to focus on our task. We chose Andy Peregrina’s site, the lookout peak immediately north of the resort for our first effort. This spot cannot be reached by existing trails and requires a steep climb through thick rainforest. Climbing through the rainforest one disturbs many different creatures. Most common is the bush turkey, existing in great numbers, always scratching around in the leaf litter for insects and small animals. Occasionally we came across small wallabies who hopped off quickly into the scrub as we approached. Fortunately, because it was winter we did not see any snakes, always at the back of my mind when wandering around in the tropics of Australia where most of the world’s most poisonous snakes exist in great numbers. We spent two days searching around “Vigilance Hill” and the surrounding peaks and saddles. We found some amazing views and agreed with Andy P. that these peaks were perfect for placement of a permanent lookout. After two days of climbing, crawling and searching I was getting a bit disheartened then, in the afternoon of the second day, I saw a small, white, round shape beside a hole dug in the deep, fertile soil of the saddle between Vigilance Hill and the next peak, either by a bush turkey or some small marsupial. I bent down and picked it up, half expecting it to be a bit of light, dry, nicely rounded wallaby poo, but no, it was very, very heavy; lead. I bounced it in my palm, a fishing sinker? I looked closely for a hole and at first glance could not see one; it was pretty clean and must have been sitting on the surface for a while, also it was slightly flattened, but no hole. On closer examination I saw that there was also no mould mark, always present of fishing sinkers. It was not a sinker, the flattening was the result of high impact with the soil, it was a lead shot, fired from a musket, formed seamlessly, the old fashioned way, in a shot tower.
A blast from the past! A shot fired by a musket, at least 150 years ago. Fired at what? At a bit of potential food or was it fired in anger, part of the saga of the cannon balls? I stood where I had found the musket ball and looked around. I was in the lowest part of the saddle; there were only two places that the musketeer could have fired at sufficient angle to cause the ball to flatten so much.
I walked to the peak of the nearest hill searching as I went. At the peak was a pile of huge rocks, the obvious place for a man on lookout duty to sit. I sat there and looked around. I glanced down at the rock I was sitting on and in a crack in the rock my eye, now tuned to “round things” saw something. I reached down and brushed the leaves away and found another musket ball wedged in the crevice, this time in such perfect condition that it could only have fallen out of the pouch or pocket of the lookout sitting on the rocks. I gridded up the immediate area around the rocks and searched. In half an hour Jan and I had found four more balls, all in perfect condition. I could now be sure that the man on lookout had dropped or fumbled his pouch (or been speared from behind as he tried to load another round??) and scattered musket balls about the hilltop. In the deep leaf litter he had not been able to find them all (or he was dead) and so they lay these hundreds of years, impervious to the weather, waiting for someone to find them.
Of course finding these 6 brothers posed more questions than it answered, though it did confirm that their had been some kind of extensive, armed European presence back at least 150 years. Who were they? (I knew I now had to increase my knowledge of pre-19th Century firearms beyond its basic level and hopefully put a date or origin to the musket ball. Back to the Internet and the Library!)
I spent another day searching, desperate for something, like a coin, with a date on it or some other datable artefact, but found nothing more. Still this was the exact place where Andy P. claimed he found his dinaro!
Next on the agenda was the saddle and hillside east of Humpy Point where the cannon balls had been found in the 1930’s. As far as I could tell from my reading at least 4 cannonballs had been found, including one by two children, in 1939, actually half a cannonball sheared straight down the centre. The other half was not reported found so I thought, even half a 32 pound solid iron cannon ball would be a good visual target.
As usual we started the day with a buffet breakfast and then up the trail into the jungle again. Jan found a nice spot under an ancient giant fig tree growing out of a massive tumble of giant moss covered boulders, she took out her drawing pad and sketched happily while I cut a path west, parallel with the ridge all the way to the sheer cliffs at the end of Humpy Point. The first couple of lines were recon, familiarising myself with the terrain which was steep, rocky country. At Humpy Point I found a flat area of about a hectare, covered by trees now but seemed that it had been deliberately cleared and leveled in the distant past. Obviously where the “humpy” of Humpy Point had been. Who’s humpy, I wondered?
In this area I discovered a link of ancient, hand forged iron chain, again an artefact that was more than 150 years old but beyond that hard to date.
A tribe of huge white, sulphur-crested cockatoos lived in the big gums that grew on the steep north facing slopes, squawking and swooping in tight aerobatic loops through the trees. In patches where a tree had fallen and created a clearing multi coloured butterflies fluttered in the sunlight.
We called it quits at lunchtime and trudged back to out unit for a rest before feeding. After lunch Jan decided to stay at home and work on her sketches while I returned to the slopes. I decided to focus on two erosion gullies that flowed out of the saddle, near where some of the cannon balls had been found. I reasoned that things might have made their way into the gullies over the years the same way gold nuggets do.
It was about 4 o’clock when I noticed a shape protruding from the clay wall of the gully, I reached across, gave it a little wiggle and again the heavy weight of lead was in my hand. It was a small lead depth sounding weight, such as might be used by the longboat, sent out ahead of the main ship to sound a path through the maze of coral. What was it doing in the gully? It seemed unlikely it had been fired out of a cannon as part of a practice drill (as some of my colleagues might claim) and yet its presence in the vicinity of where the cannonballs had been found was thought provoking. It was a long way from the beach; it could only have been carried. Why had it been dropped? Was there a relationship between this and the trail of Spanish coins that Mr Kean is claimed to have followed up into the hills?
I stood in the gully and looked around. The saddle was about 80 meters uphill; the gully cut a meter deep gash in the hillside; the saddle was also the location of the old Aboriginal trail from Happy Bay to Fish Bay
Searching on the Internet placed me in contact with a member of a British Armaments Museum who on examining the images of the musket shot, their weight and dimensions declared that the musket balls were probably from the 18th century. A Spanish colleague confirmed that the style of the sounding weight was consistent with weights used in the Mediterranean for about 300 years up into the 19th century. All that was good but nothing that gave a firm date; only Andy Peregrine’s coin gave a date but copper coins could stay in circulation for hundred of years.
Reviewing all the evidence there can be no doubt that there are many mysteries to be solved on Long Island. It is important not to try to make the evidence fit the view of history currently preferred by the Australian History “Establishment” as all the papers currently published by that group do.
There are three possibilities that can explain the “mysteries” of Long Island.
The conventional explanation; that the wreck is the Valetta and all of the artifacts etc associated with the site are of that origin. (But then why did Captain Dacre say the wreck was near Cape Gloucester about a hundred kilometres north of Long Island when Cape Conway was only about 20 kilometres away from Long Island)
That the wreck is the Valetta but there was another earlier, still not found wreck, on Long Island or even in Happy Bay, which is responsible for most of the artifacts there including the “old house” described by Dacre, not to mention the well and the cannon balls.
3. That the wreck is not the Valetta at all and that the wreck of the Valetta is where its Captain said it was “near Cape Gloucester” and that the wreck is a much older wreck.
These are the questions that need to be asked and answered.
1. If this is the Valetta why is it described as having been a man of war with gun ports visible?
What ship fired the 32 pound cannon balls?
Who fired the musket while he was sitting on the top of the hill and why did he loose his musket balls?
How did a ship’s lead sounding weight end up on the side of the hill where the cannon balls were found?
What is the source of the Aboriginal legend about a shipwreck and a fight with the sailors?
What was it that Dacre discovered on his trip back to the Valetta?