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Week 09 Shipwrecks

[ View the related 'Weekly Post': Week 09 Shipwrecks ]

[ View the related 'Weekly Post': Week 09 - to sea at last ]

The United Nations estimates that there are more than 3 million shipwrecks in the world. The reasons ships become wrecked are varied, including poor weather, low visibility, navigation errors, underwater obstacles, mechanical problems, ship maintenance issues, poor design, improperly stored cargo, warfare, piracy, mutiny, sabotage and fire. Imagine the emotions onboard a vessel before it is ‘committed to the sea’.

This week the John Pirie discovers the remains of a shipwreck.  We read how Captain Martin salvages a spar from the wreckage but leaves the rest behind because there is no room left on his decks. This week we take a closer look at this vivid reminder of the dangers and risks involved in journeys at sea.


Artist representation of the ship John Pirie

Representation of the ship John Pirie by the artist John Ford. South Australian Maritime Museum collection

Inquiry Questions:

On April 27th the John Pirie encounters the remains of a shipwreck. How do you think the passengers and crew would have reacted to this sight?

What is a spar and why would Captain Martin salvage it?

What do you think might have caused this shipwreck in 1836?

Research Topics:

Research shipwreck sites in Australia and around the world.

What situations could cause a ship to become wrecked and how has this changed over time?

What techniques do maritime archaeologists use to discover and examine shipwreck sites?

How can shipwrecks help us to learn about the past and benefit us in the future?

What are the laws regarding shipwrecks? How is ownership determined?

Historical Skills:

Chronology, terms and concepts

Create a chronology or time line of when shipwrecks have occurred in Australian waters. Are there any particular time periods where more shipwrecks occurred?

Explore the concepts of archaeology, marine or maritime archaeology, artefacts, preservation, conservation and site in the context of historical investigations.

Historical Questions and research Choose a shipwreck off the South Australian coast that you have heard of or read about?Develop questions that could be investigated by a maritime archaeologist.
Analysis and use of sources Consider how a site such as a shipwreck or archaeological dig can be used as a source for historical information. What factors could influence the accuracy and reliability of such information?
Perspectives and interpretations

Consider this statement:

Captain Martin was stealing when he took the spar from the remains of the ship.

Explore this concept from different perspectives:

Captain Martin, passengers on the John Pirie, an archaeologist, a survivor from the wrecked ship or the family of someone who drowned when the ship was wrecked.

Explanation and communication Plot shipwreck research on a world map. What techniques can be used to show when the shipwrecks occurred and compare shipwreck events over time?

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Find out about the work that a maritime archaeologist does. What qualifications, skills and experience are required to be a maritime archaeologist? What other names are used to describe this job?  Try these activities.
  2. Create a tool kit for a maritime archaeologist to use in their work. Include objects and instructions for their use.
  3. Archaeologists often use a grid system to record where artefacts and objects are located on a site. Test your grid and coordinates skills.
  4. Write two newspaper reports. The first will report the events leading up to a ship disappearing at sea in 1836. The second report will tell of the discovery of the shipwreck 175 years later by maritime archaeologists.
  5. Imagine you are in charge of safe traffic at sea. Design a campaign to try and reduce the number of shipwrecks at sea.

What if?

What if Captain Martin had noticed human bones amongst the shipwreck remains? How would this have impacted on his actions?

What do you think?

Consider this statement and form your own opinion:

Shipwrecks are important and should be preserved.


Stay Tuned

Next week we will again catch up with Captain Morgan, in the grey of the evening. We will read about his latest sighting. What do you think he has spotted?

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>Representation of the ship John Pirie by the artist John Ford. South Australian Maritime Museum collection.

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