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Archival reference to Frankland Islands and Flora Reef

In July 1830, HMS Crocodile, whilst escorting a convoy of ships through the Inner Route of the Great Barrier Reef reported sighting the remains of His Majesty’s Colonial Schooner Mermaid on a reef six and half to seven miles east of Frankland Reef – present day Franklin Islands. (The Nautical Magazine, December, 1833, Australian Joint Copying Project PRO 6305, 6306)

 A further sighting of Mermaid related material was reported in the journal of Charles James Card (State Library of Qld, 2770-1) who landed on No. 4 Frankland Island with the crew of HMS Rattlesnake in June 1848. In his journal Card stated that he observed the forepart of wreck, reported to be off the Mermaid, on one of the beaches of the island.

 The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has in its collection (NMM G.262:6) an 1845 chart which has been annotated with the remarks ‘supposed position of the wreck of Mermaid’ south of Lat. 17s and  eight to nine nautical miles east of the Frankland Islands near present day Flora Reef. An extract from the chart is attached for your information.

 A copy of a later 1847 chart (Detailed Map of Dr Ludwig Leichhardt’s Route in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington” by John Arrowsmith) has recently been located in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales by Peter Illidge from Oceania Maritime. This different chart shows the position of the Mermaid lying in a similar location eight to nine miles east of the Frankland Islands.

All four archival sources place the position of the Mermaid four to five nautical miles south of Scott Reef and close to or on  Flora Reef.

Ongoing archival research has strengthened the hypothesis that when His Majesty’s Schooner Mermaid was wrecked on 13 June 1829 that the vessel stranded on either Flora or Maori Reef.


“…’at 10.30 the greater part of the reef to the northwards of us was dry, from the afterpart of the main chains we had at low six feet and under the bows not three feet, from an altitude taken at noon the latitude of the vessel was 17.7 degrees South, distant of the mainland at least six of seven leagues, and Cape Grafton [main headland just south of Cairns and opposite Fitzroy Island] to the northward and westward of us distance about 25 or 30 miles…”


Statement of Mr. Hastings, late Chief Officer of the Schooner Mermaid in The Report of the Board appointed by direction of His Excellency the Governor in Letter from the Humble The Colonial secretary dated the 7th and 13th Ultimo to enquire into the loss of the Governor Schooner Mermaid on the 13th June 1829 near Torres Strait (NSW State Records)


“On the morning of the 18 July weighed [anchor] from Bernard Group and followed the inshore track up to Frankland Reef and arrived abreast of their at 2 [bells ?] about this time we observed the wreck of the Colonial Schooner Mermaid on a reef nearly dry 6 ½ to 7 miles eastward of Frankland Reef …The weather was hazy and the land obscured so it was impossible to  ??? the reef and satisfactorily position other than by the log account…” 


‘…July 23rd proceeded by Middle Route up to Charlwood [?] Islands and observed the wreck of a large ship on its South side. Saw a small vessel undersail…anchored off in Latitude 13deg 21’ S and 143deg 37’ E…observed a salvage camp ashore…wreckers from Sydney working the Swiftsure …’


Remarks Book – HMS Crocodile

A.J.C.P. Hydrographic Department Misc. Papers

Vol. 108, Remarks Book 1829 – 1833

(Mitchell Library, N.S.W. MFM M 2321)


“On the morning of the 18 July we observed the wreck of the Colonial Schooner Mermaid on a reef nearly dry 6 ½ to 7 miles eastward of Frankland Reef…This reef is not laid down on any chart and indeed ??? ??? ??? to occupy ??? others were seen to extend some miles north and south…”


“The Mermaid struck upon above shoal, under easy sail, waiting for daylight. We were present at the investigation of her loss and it appears want of common precautions threw her on the bank and also no endeavour was used to get her off although it was allowed [at the court investigation] it might have been effected with ease…”


“Weather thick and hazy and the land obscured so that it was impossible to give this reef any satisfactory position other than by the log account from which the above is determined. Having closed the wreck sufficiently to observe she was deserted we resumed course to the northwards…”


July 23 1830 proceeded by Middle Route up to Charlwood [?] Chaumont [?] Islands and observed the wreck of a large ship on its South side. Saw a small vessel undersail…anchored off in Latitude 13deg 21’ S and 143deg 37’ E…observed a salvage camp ashore…wreckers from Sydney working the Swiftsure …’


“Sloop from Sydney had in a few days stripped the Swiftsure of everything valuable – as they had also done to the Mermaid…”


Hydrographic Observations Made on board H.M. Ship Crocodile, W. Montague Esq. Captain, on the East India Station 1830-1


A.J.C.P. Hydrographic Department Misc. Papers

Vol. 108, Remarks Book 1829 – 1833

(Mitchell Library, N.S.W. MFM M 2321)

Proposed Mermaid Discovery Project 2009

Working in partnership with the Museum of Tropical Queensland and Oceania Maritime it is the intention of the 2009 survey to continue on the work of 2004 expedition.


If the site of the Mermaid is not located on Flora reef it is further proposed that, depending upon weather, field costs and permit conditions that the survey be extending to take in Coates and Maori Reefs eastward of Flora Reef.  It is the intention of the project to confirm the location of the wreck and conduct a minimum disturbance archaeological survey of the site in accordance with a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority permit.


During the remote sensing surveys the positions of all significant anomalies will be plotted using GPS and assessed for archaeological significance. This assessment process will involve the measuring and plotting of all surface artefacts, the construction of a site plan and the photographic and video recording of the site.  


It is also the intention of the Mermaid Project to carry out inspections and surveys of three other shipwrecks in the vicinity, the wooden barque Naval Brigade (1875) at Frankland Reef, the wooden barque Merchant (1871) on Sudbury Reef and the wooden barque Deodarus (1887) also on Sudbury Reef.


If the wreck site of the Mermaid is located within the first eight to ten days of the expedition, the site adequately surveyed and its positioned plotted then it is proposed that the expedition vessel Spoilsport motor 120 nautical miles north to Endeavour Reef to survey the 1770 stranding site of HMB Endeavour.


Cautionary note

The small timber cutter, later schooner, Mermaid was wrecked on an unidentified reef off the Frankland Islands in 1829.


Whilst modern technology such as magnetometers, side scan sonar, metal detectors, aerial photography and hydrograhic survey information will greatly assist in the search for the Mermaid there is no guarantee of success. Timber vessels wrecked on top of coral reef platforms break up relatively quickly due to environmental factors, are often smeared across the reef and can become quickly buried under coral. Whilst the team may be able to locate the approximate location of the site the remains will be most likely be fragmentary.

Student participation

The Museum’s Visitor Services section has begun the process of seeking suitable students and teachers to take part in the Mermaid project.


The students and their teacher will be able to participate in most aspects of the field survey work and gain valuable insights into archaeological field practises. It is also proposed that the students produce a daily illustrated blog of the expedition, which along with other information, will be regularly uploaded to either the Museum webpage or to a dedicated webpage for the Mermaid expedition. 


It is the intention that this webpage be as interactive as possible, allowing the students, and other expedition members to not only respond directly to emails and public enquires but also participate in live interactive feeds, via satellite, from the expedition vessel to the Museum making the expedition as accessible as possible to the general public.


Kieran Hosty

I started diving in Western Australia in 1976 and after a few years of mucking around on shipwrecks joined the Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia in order to try and make sense of what I saw on the seabed. My love of diving and maritime history made me pursue a graduate degree in history and anthropology from the Western Australian Institute of Technology followed a few years later by a post graduate diploma in maritime archaeology from Curtin University also in Western Australia. After 18 months as an archaeological field volunteer I took up a position with the Maritime Archaeology Unit at the Victoria Archaeological Survey. I was the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Officer in Victoria for six years before coming to the Australian National Maritime Museum in 1994 to take up the position of Curator of Maritime Archaeology and Ship Technology. At the Museum I was responsible for the Museum’s maritime archaeology program as well as curating the Museum’s collection relating to convicts, 19th century migrants and ship technology. My expertise in convict related material was further enhanced, when I took up a temporary position as Curator / Manager of Hyde Park Barracks Museum for eighteen months in 2004 followed by a further 18 month contract at the Barracks where I curated an exhibition on the history and archaeology of convict hulks and another on the World Heritage listing of Australian convict sites. In 2012 my role at the Museum shifted focus when I became the Manager – Maritime Archaeology Program – reflecting an increased emphasis on the importance of the maritime archaeology program at the Museum. I have worked on many maritime archaeological projects both in Australia and overseas including the survey and excavation of the Sydney Cove (1797), HMS Pandora (1791) and HMCS Mermaid (1829), the Coral Sea Shipwrecks Project (sponsored by the SiILENTWORLD FOUNDATION and the ARC) and the hunt for Cook’s Endeavour in the USA. I'm the author of the book Dunbar 1857: Disaster on our doorstep, published by the Museum along with two books on Australian convicts and 19th century migrants published by McMillan.