Skip to main content

Western Australia Shipwrecks Museum

Submitted by Bethany on Thu, 11/21/2019 - 10:00

When we wandered around Fremantle on Sunday afternoon we were delighted to come across the Western Australia Shipwrecks Museum. We were even more excited when it was free to go inside and look around. This museum contains a plethora of information and artifacts about shipwrecks off the coast of Australia and we could have spent the whole day here and not seen everything! I will share with you some of the highlights. 

The fun started outside with this assortment of gigantic anchors lining the walkway to the museum. I don't know if these are real ones or merely replicas but it was incredible to see the size of them! The picture includes Joel for scale. 

Just inside the front door, there was a welcome sign that gets changed daily. We visited on November 17 so it shared information about everything that happened in shipwreck related history on that date. Turns out it was on this day in 1642 that Abel Tasman sighted land and it was named Anthonie Van Diemen's Land - later to be named Tasmania! Also on this day in 1996, 17 year old David Dicks, then the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo and non-stop, arrived back in Fremantle on board Seaflight. His round the world odyssey took 264 days. 

The museum was filled with artifacts and stories, so I can't share them all. But this photo contains pieces salvaged from one of Western Australia's most dramatic shipwreck survivor stories. "The Stefano, an Austro-Hungarian ship, was transporting a cargo of coal from Cardiff to Hong Kong with 17 crew, when on October 27, 1875, it wrecked on Ningaloo Reef south of Point Cloates. Only ten crew survived to reach the desolate mainland shore. After three months the group was struck by a cyclone, following which eight men died from thirst, exposure, and poisoning from eating toxic plants. The remaining two crew (16 and 19 years old) resorted to cannibalism to survive, before fortunately being discovered by local Yinikurtira people. The Yinikurtira nursed them to health over the next three months, and guided them to Northwest Cape. On April 18, 1876, Captain Charles Tuckey in his pearling cutter Jessie took the two survivors to Fremantle. After many years of searching, a WA Museum team discovered the wreck on April 19, 1998. 

In one room of the museum, they had what they called an active exhibit. Most of the time, when an exhibit is being prepared, all of the work takes place behind the scenes. In the backrooms of museums they excavate, research, and write succinct descriptions of everything on display. It is only when all of that work is complete that everything is moved to public display. Here, however, they want to share with public that ongoing work. So this display is still being worked on by museum staff and during the week you are welcome to come observe them and even ask questions as they work. 

One of the items on display in this room is an engine that was salvaged from the SS Xantho in 1985. It is the world's only known example of the Crimean War Gunboat engine: a type famous as the first mass-produced, high-revolution, high-pressure marine engines ever made. Despite spending over 100 years underwater, when the engine was released from its layer of rock and corrosion and dis-assembled, conserved, and re-assembled... it works! They tout this as the WA museum's greatest conservation feat. 

By far the coolest part of the museum, however, was this special display that was part of a ship actually reconstructed. It just goes to show the massive size of these ships. I can't even begin to imagine the scale of a project meant to bring these wrecks up from the bottom of the ocean! Again, I used Joel for scale, you can see him on the far side of the ship. 

And here is a picture Joel took from his direction, looking back at me. These wooden ships that sailed the world are really an incredible feat of engineering and human ingenuity. 

If you ever travel to Perth, Australia, you really must make a day trip to Fremantle. And if you make it Fremantle, well, you must spend at least a little time in this museum! 

XOXO, Bethany