This page draws mostly on the research done into the mahogany ship by the late, great Jack Loney, a man without peer in the domain of Australian shipwreck research. Jack published a small booklet on the history of the Mahogany Ship which, as far as I can tell, represents the only serious published attempt to compile the historical facts on the Mahogany ship in the 20th century. Things were different in the 19th century when the realm of Acedamia was not such an exclusive and dogmatic domain. Thus in 1891 Joseph Archibald wrote about the mahogany ship in "Notes on an ancient wreck near Warrnambool" for the Royal Geographic Society of Melbourne and in 1910 Geo. Gordon McCrae also wrote about the mahogany ship in a piece called "Ancient Buried Wreck at Warrnambool." Warrnambool's Mahogany ship has been a part of local folk lore for nearly 200 years and still managed to avoid serious investigation by Australia's academics. At one point in time the Victorian State government offered a $250,000 reward to anyone finding the mahogany ship but even this did not stimulate a truely scientific search.
According to Jack Loney the first recorded mention of the Mahogany Ship was in 1836 when three men chasing a seal in a small boat were swamped and washed onto the beach. One of the three men was drowned and the other two were forced to make the long walk back to Port Fairy. In the process of this walk they discovered the remains of the ancient shipwreck, now known as the Mahogany Ship, well back in the sand dunes almost opposite Tower Hill. When they eventually reached Port Fairy they reported the loss of their friend and the discovery of the ancient shipwreck.
The fact that all stories of the Mahogany ship have the shipwreck well back in the sand dunes can be used as a means of determing the time when the ship was wrecked on the beach. Coastal dunal progression, whereby the beach and sand dunes move forward, toward the ocean, can be measures and a rate per annum calculated. By using historic records of the distance the mahogany ship was from the beach it will be possible to figure, quite accurately, when the mahogany ship was wrecked on the beach. Of course the best way to date the Mahogany ship is to find it!
June 18 1890
The Mahogany Ship
To the Editor of the Warrnambool Standard
SIR, - Reading Mr. Bennett’s letter in the Standard, June 7, on the ancient wreck, Mr. Bennett states he used to ride along the beach 44 years past. Say that was the year ‘46 that was the last year I saw the wreck. Several of her timbers were visible, some of them 12 or 15 inches above the surface of the sand, and some three feet above the sea level.
If Mr. Bennett was so often, in those days, riding on the hummocks and beach, strange he should miss such an object. A wreck on the beach is the first thing that draws the attention of the person. Mr. Bennett states, as far as he could ascertain, that Allen and Temple broke up a very old wreck in about the same place as the search was made on the 5th of June. It is well known that I am no stranger to the neighborhood of the ancient wreck. Let me state that east of Mill’s Reef, and for miles east of Gorman’s Lane, there never was a wreck torn up or demolished to the knowledge or memory of the white man. There were several wrecks on the beach west of Mill’s reef, strewed along the beach up to the old Thistle, and several portions of wreckage on Mill’s Reef in the early part of the forties, but we all knew how and where they came from. If Messrs. Connors, Doherty and Joyce ever saw the wreck she will be all the easier discovered, as I know the oldest colonist of the three did not land in the colony until well up in the fifties. The said parties should call on the promoters of the search and give the gentlemen all the information in their power. On the third of this month I visited the neighbourhood of the ancient wreck. Captain Mill’s bearings are as near as possible, according to my memory. On the scene of the wreck ... [remainder of sentence unreadable in original article]
The Captain’s brother, the undaunted Charles Mills’, could go to the said wreck in the dark of the night. I would advise all parties willing to spend a few hours in search of the relic, to keep well within the bearings. The expense of a five eight iron rod, five feet long, would be no great burden to visitors, for the purpose of boring in the sand. Who knows who might not be the lucky person to strike the hull? What an honour for the first that strikes the relic. His name will be on record while the world is a world. When founded she will be, I would bet my life to a shilling, not more than eighteen inches below the surface. I would suggest, if there was a reward, say £10, for the discovery, it might be the means of bringing her to the surface.
The residents of Warrnambool could soon raise the cash.
I am, &c.,
Laang, June 11th 1890
June 3 1890
At various times the attention of the public has been drawn to two wrecks which are lying buried in the sand on the shore near Warrnambool. They are both interesting relics, and if the stories told of them are true, they are closely associated with the discovery and settlement of this part of the continent (states the Argus). One of the vessels is supposed to be an old Spanish or Portuguese galleon which visited the southern seas very many years ago, presumably shortly after the discovery of Australia, and was wrecked on the coast between Warrnambool and Port Fairy. It is stated in letters which are now in the possession of the Government that the existence of this interesting relic of a by gone age first became known in the early days of the colony, when two men who were walking along the coast from Hopkins river to Port Fairy were astonished to find the wreck of an ancient vessel, well in towards the shore and almost covered over with sand.
The aboriginals, when questioned as to the date of the wreck, stated that it had always been there, but they had a tradition as to some “yellow men” having at one time come among them, but from whence they knew not. The wreck was seen in 1843, and also four years later by Captain Mills, then living a few miles from the spot, and it is still believed to be there, but has become entirely covered over by the sand drifts until not a part of it is visible. The other wreck lies in Lady Bay, and is declared by some to be the Enterprise, a small vessel in which the late Mr. J. P. Fawkner, the founder of Melbourne, came from Tasmania to Port Phillip. As regards the wreck of the supposed Spanish galleon, the Inspector –General of public works (Mr. Davidson) has suggested to the Government that a small sum should be expended in putting sounding rods into the small hummocks which exist on the coast near Warrnambool to search for the vessel.
The wreck of the Enterprise is covered by 3ft of sand, and lies midway between the ebb and flow of the tides, and Mr. Davidson suggests that nothing should be done until November, as the tides are usually low then, and the condition of the wreck could be better ascertained than now.
April 1 1876
A local curiosity is referred to by Mr John Mason, of Belfast, in the following letter to the Argus:-
"Sir,-Riding along the beach from Port Fairy to Warrnambool in the summer of 1846, my attention was attracted to the hull of a vessel embedded high and dry in the Hummocks, far above the reach of any tide. It appeared to have been that of a vessel about 100 tons burden, and from its bleached and weather-beaten appearance, must have remained there many years. The spars and deck were gone, and the hull was full of drift sand. The timber of which she was built had the appearance of cedar or mahogany. The fact of the vessel being in that position was well known to the whalers in 1846, when the first whaling station was formed in that neighbourhood, and the oldest natives, when questioned, stated their knowledge of it extended from their earliest recollection. My attention was again directed to this wreck during a conversation with Mr M'Gowan, the superintendent of the Post-office, in 1869, who, on making inquiries as to the exact locality, informed me that it was supposed to be one of a fleet of Portuguese or Spanish discovery ships, one of them having parted from the others during a storm, and was never again heard of. He referred me to a notice of a wreck having appeared in the novel Geoffrey Hamlyn, written by Henry Kingsley, in which it is set down as a Dutch or Spanish vessel, and forms the subject of a remark from one of the characters, a doctor, who said that the English should never sneer at those two nations - they were before you everywhere. The wreck lies about midway between Belfast and Warrnambool, and is probably by this time entirely covered with drift sand, as during a search made for it within the last few months it was not to be seen.
The Mystery of Victoria's Mahogany Ship
yet another mystery shipwreck, this time made of mahogany and buried under the sand dunes near Warrnambool, Victoria ( see Google Earth Map below)
Below are some letters referrring to the Mahogany Ship in the 19th Century Press
Where were Mahogany Ships Made?
With the possibility of the Mahogany Ship being of Portuguese origins military map maker Brigadier L. Fitzgerald O.B.E., author of "Java la Grande" and serious investigator into early Portuguese exploration of Australia's coast line, launched a study into the feasibility of locating and recovering the remains of the mahogany ship using a combination of modern technology and historical resources. Since then several attempts have been made following the principle outlined in his study but to no avail. An important question to consider is where were ships made of mahogany? What nations on Earth made mahogany Ships?
Mahogany is indigenous to most Central American counties including Brazil and was used by both the Spanish and the Portuguese to build ships as early as the 16th century. In 1780 the British captured the Spanish 80 gun Man of War "Gibraltar" (see Chambers Edinburgh Journal). The Gibraltar was a ship built of mahogany and when she was broken up, though one of the oldest ships afloat at that time, her timbers were found to be as sound as the day she was built.
Mahogany ships do not rot.
Even though mahogany is indigenous to the Americas the Spanish, the Portuguese and then the English soon began planting mahogany in their Asian colonies so that mahogany soon became a major plantation timber there. It was used for ship building and also for furniture. Mahogany is still used for building ships and furniture in Asia.
It is worth noting that if the Warrnambool shipwreck is indeed made from mahogany this factor in itself defines the origins of the ship, as ships made of mahogany must necessarily have been made in the Americas or Asia (including India in the definition of Asia) as this is where, historically, ships of mahogany have been made. Ships out of Europe were made of oak, or combinations of spruce, larch and various species of pine. This is not to say the mahogany ship would not have been built in the Americas or Asia by Europeans. In fact this is the most likely explanation.
We know that the English had mahogany ships made in India. The Portuguese may have had mahogany ships made in Timor. The Dutch ( VOC )may have had a mahogany ships made in the Dutch East Indies. The Spanish made ships of mahogany and teak in the Philippines. All of these nations had the naval expertise, political motive and colonial positioning to explore the coastline of Terra Australia in a ship built primarily of mahogany. If the Warrnambool shipwreck is made of mahogany then it is almost certainly of Spanish or Portuguese origins.
'Cover-up' deepens Mahogany Ship mystery
By Stephen Cauchi
September 20, 2005
IT'S a mystery that will not go away. Was a Chinese or Portuguese ship wrecked on the Warrnambool coast before British settlement in 1788 and, if so, where are its remains?
The latest "Mahogany Ship" theory is that the British came across the wreck of a Portuguese ship after Australia was settled, and then dismantled the wreck to prevent an Australian land claim by the king of Portugal.
Amateur historian and Canberra mathematician Doctor Frank Coningham stumbled across a document in the National Library in Canberra indicating the British government had paid men to bury the ship.
The parliamentary papers, dating from 1849, could no longer be found in the National Library, Dr Coningham said. Anyone wanting to look at them might have to travel to Britain.
He found the document in the 1980s while researching a book on Australian independence from Britain.
Not many people knew of his discovery, although the news had spread over the years. He said the document, British Parliamentary Papers — Colony of Australia, was published by the Irish Free Press about 1849.
Painting of the Mahogany ship by T. Clarke circa 1860
Old Map Showing Approximate Location of Mahogany Ship
Approximate location of mahogany ship according to historic maps & reports
The gold star on the google earth map below shows the location of the mahogany ship according to the above map
A Map drawn in 1911 showing the approximate location of the Mahogany Ship.
Who first Found the Mahogany Ship?
The Mahogany Ship; What is it and what would finding it mean for Australian history ?
In a nutshell the Mahogany ship is the remains of an ancient shipwreck, built of mahogany, reported to lie in the sand dunes behind the long beach west of Warrnambool. The fact that the mahogany ship was first officially noted in 1836 as already being an ancient shipwreck only about 40 years after the First Fleet arrived in Australia implies that the mahogany ship was wrecked before British settlement of Australia which in turn implies that another sea faring nation, most likely the Spanish or the Portuguese, had explored the East coast of Australia long before Captain Cook.
Mahogany, like teak, is a very hard wood and does not rot as rapidly as oak, pine and other European timbers (see accounts of eye wittnesses below).
The fact that the mahogany ship is reported as having a hull made of mahogany implies that it is a ship of non-European origins, which again implies that the Portuguese or Spanish, who both had colonies in Asia from the 15th century, 300 years before Cook sailed the Pacific, explored the Australian coast.
If the Mahogany ship is found and can be proved to be pre-Cook and belonging to either Spain or Portugal the claims that Cook used stolen Spanish or Portuguese maps to navigate the Pacific and to find Australia's east coast, which claims have been circulating in Australian history circles for nearly 200 years, would suddenly be proven. This would mean that the entire history of Australia would have to be re-written and the perpetual, Anglo-centric claim that Captain James Cook was the world's greatest navigator would have to be dropped in favor of a Spanish or Portuguese navigator.
Below is a collection of historic material, including old maps, relating to the mystery of the mahogany ship.
August 10 1929
The Mahogany Ship:
A Memory of Warrnambool.
It was Kipling who proclaimed the power of scent over sound and sight to bring to mind forgotten memories. The cold type of modern newsprint can be equally effective. A small paragraph in the Camera Supplement on June 22, referring to the "Mahogany Ship", carried my mind back to many happy days spent among the wind-swept sand dunes near Warrnambool, days when, armed with wooden swords and blessed with vivid imaginations, we scoured the hillocks for traces of the long lost wreck and its treasures.
Every mound had to be probed to ascertain whether it hid from our sight the hull of a Spanish galleon; every piece of driftwood suggested a mahogany spar; pieces-of-eight, golden candlesticks, and bejewelled swords were all within the bounds of boyhood's possibility. That we found nothing daunted our enthusiasm not at all. Every Saturday came as a fresh opportunity for search, and menial tasks performed, off we would go, sometimes as buccaneers, sometimes as less bloodthirsty explorers, sometimes as unfortunate castaways, doomed to years of solitude on a desolate island.
What was the foundation of our faith? What made this story of a "Spanish" or "Mahogany Ship" common talk among our elders? In 1836 while two men, themselves wrecked, were walking along the beach they came upon the half-buried remains of a vessel high up among the sand dunes, midway between Warrnambool and Belfast (now Port Fairy). Arriving at Belfast, at that time a tiny whaling station, they reported their discovery to Captain J.B. Mills, to whom we owe much of our information with regard to the vessel. The captain, who was afterwards harbour master at Port Fairy, immediately visited the scene of the wreck, and took a sight-bearing, which placed it east of Gorman's Lane, about six miles from Warrnambool, and well up among the hummocks. Twice later he stood upon the deck. Once he tried the edge of his knife upon its timber. "The claspknife glanced over it as if it were a bar of iron", he said.
As an old sailor, the ancient appearance of the vessel impressed him immediately, and later observers testified to the foreign build. Captain Mason in a letter to "The Argus" in 1876 declared that she appeared to him to be a vessel of a model altogether unfamiliar to him and at variance in some respects with the rules of shipbuilding so far as known to himself.
About 1847 the wreck was lost sight of, but at intervals of a few years it seems to have appeared from its hiding place beneath the shifting sands. It was visited by a score or so of people, till 1880, when it disappeared beneath the dunes for the last time.
"A Marine Jack-in-the-Box"
What distinguished this from any other of the many wrecks that lie along our coast? Apart from its "Jack-in-the-Box" appearances and disappearances, what sets this case above the ordinary? The evidence is scanty, but extraordinarily perplexing.
Its unusual build has already been referred to. Added to that, all who saw the vessel agreed that it lay well inland, the distances given varying from 100 yards to 400 yards. How it got there we can only surmise. Did the vessel come ashore so long ago that in the intervening years the sea receded and left it far up in the sand hills, or was it hauled up the beach by some mighty wave caused perhaps by a convulsion of the neighbouring Tower Hill volcano? Even the latter possibility places the time of the wreck before white occupation of this country, for we have no record of such a disturbance.
Other points are interesting. The incident of Captain Mills's clasp-knife raises the question of what timber was the vessel built? Early settlers in the district had tales of old whalers huts floored with mahogany, a wood which it was believed was to the Spanish shipbuilder what oak was to the English. Spanish and Portuguese coins have been picked up round about Warrnambool. The local aboriginal tribe had legends of the coming of "yellow men" in the dim past. In 1836 natives apparently 70 or 80 years of age stated that they could not remember the wreck of the vessel occurring. It has always been there, they declared.
Buccaneer or Trader
So the riddle remains. Was it Spanish buccaneer or Dutch trader; treasure-laden, or empty derelict; 17th century or 19th? It is an interesting subject for speculation and one which has already formed the subject matter of two novels by Australian writers. It is likely that it will ever remain an unsolved riddle, but the hope that springs eternal in the breast of man as of boy will yet send me to poke about the sunlit, windy sand-dunes for a sight of that ancient vessel.
It is certainly there; who will find it?
Below and right are images of the same mahogany ship. This is a replica of Columus's Santa Maria which is generally described as a caravel in historic material such as Columbus's journal. Obviously the original ship was not built of mahogany. In the case of this replica the ship builders, being Portuguese went for a mahogany built ship, using Brzilian mahogany, because of the incredible durability of mahogany, a mahogany built ship just does not rot!
The ship in these images is a fully functional mahogany sailing ship. It is a caravel and is 70 feet long which is close to the size reported for Victoria's mahogany ship
Below: Image of a real mahogany ship
For the 21st century shipwreck researcher there is an excellent on-line resource of newspaper articles about the mahogany ship to be found at :
The mahogany ship has been the subject of significant media interest for almost 150 years. There have been many newspaper pieces written about the Mahogany Ship other that period.
To the right and below is a piece from Melbourne Argus of August 10 1929 titled:
The Mahogany Ship:
A Memory of Warrnambool.