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Rob Simpson's Warrnambool Shipwreck Sites


There are two sites between the Australian towns of Warrnambool and Port Fairy that I feel are worthy of archaeological investigation. This article links to my video about Site 1 and explains Site 2 in detail. I have put all dates of activities at Site 2 in bold so that they can be easily found.
Site 1 is in the hummocks (sand dunes) half way between Gormans Lane and The Cutting (an inlet from the sea to an inland lake). My reasoning is explained in a documentary. Here is the link: Quest for the Mahogany Ship.
Site 2 is in the hummocks one kilometre (.62 of a mile) east of The Cutting. Click on this link to see a very short video of the site.

There is also a 2018 Los Angeles documentary called Expedition Unknown - Mahogany Ship. 

In my opinion "The Mahogany Ship" is a popular collective title for several shipwrecks stranded in the Warrnambool hummocks that were observed in the nineteenth century. Witnesses didn't report that they were constructed of mahogany, but several mentioned the colour of mahogany. The Mahogany Ship is therefore probably not merely one shipwreck, but several shipwrecks that were stranded inland, and they were unlikely to have been built of mahogany. However I am not suggesting that the term "The Mahogany Ship" should be abandoned.
Reading academically reputable books about the Mahogany Ship makes it clear that there were probably at least three inland shipwrecks in the 11 kilometre wide hummocks area. All were covered by windblown sand and lost by the late nineteenth century.
Discovery of Site 2
I discovered Site 2 on 18-01-09. I was accompanied by my son James. I was immediately struck by the obvious symmetry of the large complex of sand and grass covered shapes looming above ground level. They are unlikely to have been created by nature. This was reinforced by further investigation.
On 19-01-09 I returned with my camera and made the video.
Aerial archaeology using Google Earth
For this purpose I don't use Google Maps which is for finding streets. It is much better to use the Google Earth program – free online.
The ghostly outline of the structure can be seen on Google Earth:
I have drawn yellow lines for clarification.

It is not the familiar shape of a ship, but it is symmetrical. The image is quite typical of traces of buried structures found by this method. See the many articles about aerial archaeology online. Aerial archaeology is not to be confused with mere aerial photography which is taking photos from the air of objects that are completely recognisable at ground level, such as buildings or archaeological sites that have already been excavated.
The centre of the object, according to Google Earth, is at 38°21'05.17" S, 142°22'47.86" E.
Once found, click on View/Historical Imagery and slide the pointer to the extreme left. This gives an image made in 2004.
Drought and aerial imagery
I have now realised why it may be that the older aerial images of both sites show the outlines of the buried objects more clearly. Much more vegetation covers the sites now than in 2004. Certainly, comparing my 2009 movies with my 2015 movies taken at identical places makes it very clear that there is a much thicker covering of vegetation in 2015.
There is a Wikipedia article called 2000s Australian Drought at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_Australian_drought
It says: "By 1995 the drought had spread to many parts of Australia and by 2003 was recognised as the worst on record."
In my opinion the 2004 images on Google Earth show more sand and therefore the outlines of what might be concealed beneath; and the more recent images show the vegetation that has grown since and covered the sand.
I am not dismayed that the more recent images don’t show the outlines and that the older images do. Different conditions, lighting and methods of photography can give quite contrasting results.
Matching of the shapes with the Google Earth outline
I visited it again on 30-10-14 with an associate. The object was to ascertain whether the outline that can be seen on Google Earth does in fact match the striking geometrical shapes that can be seen on the landscape. We used three different GPS devices – all of which gave similar results. We found that the shapes are indeed in the same place as the Google Earth outline.
Investigation of geometrical alignment
The associate and I returned on 1-11-14 to investigate whether the northern and southern sections are in geometric alignment and therefore might be two parts of one object. It is difficult to judge from the side (where the video was shot) because a hummock seems to have formed over the centre of the object. However standing on the hummock makes it possible to view the two visible sections on either side. Their alignment strongly suggests that they are sections of one large object.
I also took more photos and movies – particularly of Tower Hill in the distance.
Measurement of length
The associate and I visited it again on 15-4-15. Our aim was to measure the shapes – particularly to see whether the length is 180 feet as on Google Earth. This was confirmed, although the ruggedness of the terrain made measuring difficult. I do not claim that the measuring exercise is necessarily perfectly accurate - given the wildly undulating topography.
We returned on 16-4-15 to take more movie clips and photos. I noticed something that had not been obvious before – that there is in fact a symmetrical prow shape (covered in sand and vegetation) where a prow appears to be lacking on the Google Earth outline. The "prow" was measured as 20 feet long.
Therefore, as best as it is possible to gauge, the shape is about 200 feet long if the hypothetical prow is included. We did not measure the width due to the sheer difficulty of working there. But measuring it on Google Earth, the width at the widest point is about 100 feet.
The vessel seems to be unexpectedly large – but then fact has a way of being stranger than fiction!
Near the south end an irregular feature can be seen within the structure. It gives the impression that a large mast has fallen across the object on an angle. It can also be seen clearly on Google Earth. However I am not prepared to claim that it is a buried mast without proper evidence.
19th Century anecdotal evidence – Mrs Manifold
Mrs Manifold's evidence about the Mahogany Ship says (among other things) that it was "strangely designed and constructed". This evidence is second hand and relayed through others. Different versions of it appear in various books about the Mahogany Ship.
19th Century anecdotal evidence – Mr Mason
Mr Mason's evidence includes the information that "her general appearance bespoke a very slight acquaintance of the builder with marine architecture". Both of these witnesses therefore claimed that the vessel they saw was not shaped like a normal ship.
19th Century anecdotal evidence – Captain Mills
It is compatible with the famous and often repeated evidence of Captain Mills:
Well to the eastward of Gorman's Lane. Proceed eastward along the beach till you bring the point of land on which the old iron church stood in line with the highest point of Tower Hill Island. The wreck would be almost in a straight line with those objects, well in the hummocks.
The innocent sounding word "almost" suddenly becomes crucial – it is in fact almost in a straight line with those objects as my photos and movie clips show! A sighting that is truly in line with those objects ends about three kilometres to the east – where it is much more difficult to see them. It seems unlikely that Captain Mills intended one to proceed along the beach that far! Please note that the Mills evidence is second hand and relayed through a contemporary acquaintance. It is to be found without variation in many books about the Mahogany Ship.

Tower Hill from the site. The old iron church was just to the right of the peak. It is sometimes called "Tower Hill Island" because it is nearly surrounded by lakes - not because it is in the sea. 

The old iron church.

19th Century anecdotal evidence – Mr Saul and his son
It is quite possibly compatible with the Saul's fence evidence.
A letter from Saul's son on 28th April 1909 states: I cannot give you the exact time, but I think it must be 40 years ago, he erected a fence for the Warrnambool Borough Council across the hummocks, about three-quarters of a mile east of Gorman's Lane. When he came home after completing the contract he informed me that he came across an old wreck high up in the hummocks, and I believe he said it was to the eastward of the fence but I cannot say the exact distance. It was within a half mile of the fence and nearly buried in the sand.
"About three-quarters of a mile" plus "within half a mile" is about 1.25 miles or less. According to the Google Earth ruler, the site is 1.28 miles east of Gormans Lane. The vagueness of the evidence makes it possible that this could be the object that Mr Saul saw – perhaps from a distance and without using an accurate method of measurement. If it was "nearly buried in the sand" by about 1869, whatever is left could be deeply buried by now.
The Lieutenant Stanley Locality Plan of 1872
The site is in the same place as the black cross on the Lieutenant Stanley Locality Plan of 1872 that appears in books about the Mahogany Ship. It is a hand drawn map, so of course the details are not absolutely precise. The map bears the inscription:
The Mahogany Ship
Locality Plan, enlarged from Lieutenant Stanley's Admiralty Chart, 1872
Approximate position of wreck marked X
A line has been drawn from the highest point of Tower Hill Island to the cross. The line almost transects the point of land on which the old iron church stood. (I have altered the cross to make it larger as it was rather lost in other features of the drawing when the size of the picture was reduced.)
Conclusion
I believe that the symmetrical shapes above ground level are likely to have built up over a human made object. Surely it would be a seagoing vessel – although it is not the usual shape of a ship. There is anecdotal evidence that people in the nineteenth century saw a shipwreck of unfamiliar design in the Warrnambool hummocks.
In my opinion the site is worthy of archaeological investigation. I cannot, of course, judge how much of the original object might survive today. In my opinion (and in the opinions of my supporters) action should be taken to prevent further deterioration.
RECENT INVESTIGATIONS
October 25, 2016 – Ground-penetrating radar
A GPR company scanned the site, assisted by some associates. The exercise was difficult to conduct due to the extreme ruggedness of the territory. With such a large site, it was not possible to scan in fine detail during one day. The equipment was dragged and pushed - with difficulty - over the shapes. This was done in lines several metres apart.
There are no results for the northern section due to technical issues.
Seventeen objects were detected under the surface on or near the southern half at a shallow depth of about one to two metres. Deeper investigation was not attempted.
It was not possible to understand the nature of the objects.
I am very grateful to those who enabled this project - thanks so much.
February 15, 2017 – investigation with a two metre archaeology probe
The associate and I returned with a GPS device and an archaeology probe to try to find the objects. I had entered the latitude and longitude of each object into the GPS device. The device can then recreate the position – but not always with perfect accuracy. We also had marking stakes.
We were unable to find anything. The exercise was not aided by the extremely rugged territory, unpredicted heat and very strong winds. The probe got stuck in the hard sand with monotonous regularity. I returned exhausted and overheated, and had to go to a local hotel for a giant ice-cream sundae!
February 16, 2017 – more investigation with the archaeology probe
Weather conditions were not a problem. We continued to try to find the objects but were unable to do so. At the end we did find something that seemed to be wood rather than metal or rock nearly a metre below the sand – but were too exhausted to dig by then. It was not at a coordinate found by the GPR. It might only be compact sand.
March 16, 2017 – more investigation with the archaeology probe and an auger
The auger consists of half a dozen extensions, each about 1½ metres long.
The associate and I went to the site intending to drill some deep auger holes. But unfortunately, that was not to eventuate. It was a very windy day, making negotiating the site more difficult than usual. The sand was blowing to the extent that in some places it looked like snow on the vegetation.
We spent a long time pushing the archaeology probe into the ground, with the idea that if we couldn’t find something at two metres, the work of putting in deep auger holes might be self-defeating. Despite doing a lot of work with the two metre probe, nothing seemed to be touched. This could be because any remains of an object would be deeper than two metres. It seems that all we have found is very compact sand. As usual, the probe kept getting stuck.
Eventually, unable to get any clues from the probe, we decided to try the auger. It took some time to decide on a likely place to start. The site is about 1,000 square metres.
Using the auger was tough going indeed as the sand is very compact and the auger kept getting stuck all the time. Progress was unexpectedly slow and we only managed to make one auger hole that was two metres deep.

November 2 and 3, 2017 – Los Angeles movie studio scout and producer

A Los Angeles movie studio that makes documentaries about world mysteries is going to do an episode about the Mahogany Ship. I travelled to Warrnambool to show a scout and a producer the site. We had a very happy time!

November 12, 2017 – Los Angeles movie studio crew

The Los Angeles movie studio spent the day at the site filming. They were at Warrnambool during the week filming material connected with the Mahogany Ship. The documentary will be shown on American TV during 2018.


Some of the film crew assembling near the site.

January 15 to 17, 2018 – investigation with auger 

Two associates and I drilled with an auger in 7 places at the site. We drilled to depths of 2 to 4 metres. Unfortunately we were not able to strike anything solid. 
In the near future
We know, from the GPR equipment readings, that the site is at least 12 metres above sea level, and somewhat higher than that in some places. We also know that up to 15 metres of sand has blown onto the Warrnambool hummocks since European settlement, because European snail shells have been found at that depth. We also know that plastic – invented during the 20th century – has been found more than 3 metres below the sand in the same vicinity as the site. It seems likely that any remains of a seagoing vessel would be found at a much deeper level than three metres. We can conclude that investigation at a deep level is now needed. 


July 4, 2018 – deep ground-penetrating radar (GPR)
This was done by Jason Brewerton of GPR Imaging Solutions. Jason was assisted by me and an associate. He was extremely competent and knowledgeable, and did a most thorough job! The data is currently being processed and analysed.


Jason Brewerton at the site with the ground-penetrating radar equipment.

Rob Simpson
The west arm. It disappears into a hummock.
I do not believe that sand dunes form at random
in the shape of the symmetrical inner ribs of a sailing ship.

Standing on the same arm, taken from the south
after the site became more overgrown with vegetation.

I cannot believe that such symmetry occurs
naturally in sand dunes. The arm on the left is
the same arm as in the previous  two photos.

The hummocks
Walking into a Warrnambool sunset after a day at the site.