The Legend of the Stradbroke Island Galleon
Mysterious Shipwrecks Beneath Our Beaches
A number of mysterious and unidentified shipwrecks lie buried deep under the sands of the beautiful and popular beaches of Queensland’s south east coast and the north coast of N.S.W.
Protected from the damaging effects of the weather and human interference many have laid buried under the fine white sands, which in many places are more than fifty metres deep, for hundreds of years.
Once or twice in a century the top sections of one of these uncharted wrecks are exposed for a day or two by the waves of extreme storms, these exposures give rise to local legends, legends strangely ignored by Queensland maritime archaeologists.
What is the identity of these wrecks? Where did they come from? What does their existence mean to Australian History? Why do our governments and academics ignore their existence? How did they end up on our coast and what forces buried them deep in the sand?
These are important questions which have profound implications for Australian and even global history for it is likely that a number of these shipwrecks came to the Australian coast well before Captain James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia (probably using secret Spanish maps). It is likely that some of the survivors of these shipwrecks were European and that they claimed Australia for their sovereign nation before Cook claimed it for the British Crown and it is also likely that some of the survivors lived with and inter bred with the local indigenous population thereby influencing their culture and gene pool.
In this short piece of work I will deal very briefly with these questions by discussing three examples of these mystery shipwrecks that I have personally investigated. The reader might like to note that I am currently writing a book called “The Cook Conspiracy” which will deal with these and related issues in much greater depth. At the bottom of this page are several case studies of mystery shipwrecks that lie buried under beach sand and are being ignored by the Queensland Maritime Archeaologist because??? Well you make up your own mind.
The Pacific Currents
The first obvious question is how did all these “mystery shipwrecks” end up under our beaches? Why are they here and not on the beaches of New South Wales or the east coast of Victoria?
Well first I should point out that whilst the “beach buried mystery wreck” phenomenon occurs occasionally on beaches all around the world it has an extreme frequency of occurrence in a region that encompasses an stretch of beaches from the northern rivers region of North N.S.W. beginning around the Evan’s Head / Byron Bay area up to a little north of Fraser Island in Queensland. The reason for this is simple. If you inspect the map above you will see that there is a massive sub equatorial ocean current which sweeps west across the Pacific Ocean just below the equator then turns south through the islands of Fiji then across the Tasman Sea to where it terminates against the Australian coast between Ballina and Fraser Island. It was this same current that was used by the La Balsa expedition to cross the Pacific from Peru ending just off the beach at Ballina in a balsa raft in 178 days unaided by motors and with only a token sail in 1973..
The Spanish used the sub-equatorial current to make the journey from Mexico to Manila and it was also used by explorers from other nations of the Pacific to make that westward crossing of the Earth’s largest Ocean although they tended to follow the current westward until they reach Guam.
However should any ship be damaged by storm or becalmed or meet some other fate which made it unable to steer or be in control of its own course then that current could easily carry the ship at a steady rate of knots toward that section of the Australian coast we are interested in; even if all on board were dead. Once the ship reached the coast it would be washed ashore and, if the shore it reached was a sandy beach with deep sand, the action of the waves would quite rapidly bury the ship under the sand somewhere between the high tide mark and the low water.
To understand how this burial process occurs I suggest you go down to the beach and stand on the edge of the water where the waves can wash around your legs. If you stand there for just a few minutes you will find yourself slowly sinking into the sand. In a similar way these shipwrecks bury themselves under the beach.
In this way the beaches of the south east coast of Queensland have become the burial grounds for numerous shipwrecks, a number of them have been identified and well documented because they occurred in historic times but under the sand, amongst the known wrecks, are also an unknown number of possible pre-Cook shipwrecks. Ships that might be from Europe, Asia or even South America.
In 2002, at a meeting with top EPA officers, facilitated by the then Pemier's secretary Darrell Brisky, I offered to do a magnetometer survey (at no cost to the government) of all of the relevant S.E. Qld beaches and hand the results over to the government so that an accurate map of those mysteries that lay beneath our beach might be made. The Offer was point blank refused. I wonder why?
This shipwreck was uncovered after a storm in 1976. Between Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point. Its identity is still disputed. I say its the wreck of the Saint Magnus, a timber sailing ship built in Scotland in 1856 and sunk in a gale with the loss of all hands in 1875. In 2002-3 it was exposed again by beach erosion. Hoping to save it from the souvenir collectors and firewood gatherers I offered to retrieve it from the beach and organize its preservation but the Queensland Government's EPA refused my offer so now its beautiful heavy timbers are now taken for fire wood or benchtops when ever they re-appear.
It is one of the:
Exposed in 1973, part of a deeply buried "mystery" wreck at Orchid Beach on Frazer Island. What was believed to be a cannonade by Queensland University in centre.
The same wreck found in 2002 using Ultamag's magnetometers and expertise. It was nearly two metres below the sand and water table. The "cannonade's" position has shifted in the intervening 30 years but the timber beam is still intact
The South Pacific Equatorial Current terminates on the south Queensalnd Coast
The Mystery Ships: Case Studies
LIst of known, unidentified, sand buried ships in the South East Queensland & Northern New South Wales region from South to North. (This list does not include several other unidentified and possible pre-Cook wrecks which are known to me but are not buried under sand.)
Evans Head (Air Field Beach)
Suffolk Park (Broken Head Beach)
Southport Beach (north of Spit)
Jumpinpin (Probably destroyed by sand mining activities)
Eighteen Mile Swamp
Morton Island ( Near White Rocks)
Rainbow Beach (Sunshine Coast)
Hook Point (Fraser Island)
Orchid Beach (Fraser Island)
South of lighthouse on north tip of Fraser Island
Facing Island (Near Gladstone)
Happy Bay Long Island (Whitsundays)
Carravel Creek Hinchenbrook Channel (near Cardwell)
Coconuts and Currents
One of the many interesting things that one finds walking along Main Beach on Stradbroke Island is an abundance of coconuts which have been carried thousands of miles by the same Ocean currents which are responsible for dumping ships on our beaches. As you see in the diagram above the currents sweep down from the Equator through a number of island groups including Fiji. In doing so they carry anything that floats along with them to be dumped on Queensland's South East coast, between Frazer Island and Stradbroke Island. Finding a coconut on a beach south of Stradbroke Island is very rare. Unfortunately they have traveled so far and been in the water so long they are almost always rotten when opened. As you can see from the expression on my son Shaun Jefferys' face, the smell is not very pleasant!
The Facing Island Shipwreck.
(or "Another case of the Queensland EPA burying its head in the sand.")
Off the coast at Gladstone, forming Gladstone's harbor in much the same way that Stradbroke helps form Moreton Bay, lies Facing Island, and on Facing Island lies another one of those mystery shipwrecks that the Australian Archaeological fraternity ignores, desperately hoping it will get washed away or burned for firewood (like the St Magnus) before someone actually discovers what the vessel is. But we have to go back to the middle of the 19th century to understand the long story associated with this shipwreck. There are bronze cannons, dates carved into rock, the remains of an old settlement, government cover-up, attempts by the local Maritime museum to solve the mystery and yet more government obstruction.
Here's how the story begins: (under construction)
The Suffolk Park Shipwreck
The beach in from of Suffolk Park, between Broken Head and Byron Bay, is a long white strip of sand much like on Stradbroke Island; and like Stradbroke Island it has been sand mined and like on Stradbroke Island the sand miners uncovered the remains of a ship long buried in the deep sand. That is the Suffolk Beach shipwreck.
The first Discovery of the Suffolk Park shipwreck was in 1965 when it was uncovered by sand miners who removed a number of objects from the shipwreck including wooden pegs which were carbon dated in the early 1990's as being from between the years 1450 to 1660.
However a marine archaeologist from the N.S.W. governments Department of Heritage, David Nutley, denied the wreck could be pre-Cook, claiming it was simply an 18th or 19th century shipwreck (even though he had never seen it, does this sound familiar?) that there was no record of
When the carbon dating results and associated controversy were publicised in local newspapers a team from the New England University at Armidale, including archaeologists and physicists volunteered to locate the shipwreck with magnetometers and do an excavation to solve the problem.
One of the sand miners who had seen the mysterious shipwreck offered to show them the approximate location and in a few hours, using their magnetometers, the team from the University, led by physicist Dr Owen Stanely (Geophysical Research Institute, University of New England) had found the buried shipwreck. It was then only a matter of waiting for an appropriately low tide to do the dig and establish the exact age and origins of the vessel.
Using tide charts a day was picked and all was prepared when suddenly the government intervened and the University team of fully qualified archaeologists was prohibited from proceeding from a very simple excavation which would have solved the mystery of the Suffolk Island shipwreck completely.
Why would anyone stop an excavation by qualified archaeologists that would solve a mystery of this magnitude? Here might be a shipwreck that pre-dates Captain Cook by at least a couple of hundred years. A shipwreck of profound historic importance. An excavation which required only the pumping off of a few cubic meters of sand on a beach which had been totally sand mined only 20 years earlier so the work would have no environmental or cultural impact, but had the potential to solve this great mystery. So why was it stopped? Who stopped it?
Interestingly the carbon dates for the wooden peg fit neatly with the dates for the lead weight found on Fraser Island and the silver coin found on Stradbroke Island. Coincidence? I think not.