South Australia’s oldest shipwreck found off Encounter Bay

Encounter Bay is now home to the state’s oldest shipwreck after maritime heritage experts made the discovery in Rosetta Harbor this month.

Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said experts had been looking for the wreck of the barque South Australian for many years.

“The ship was driven ashore in a storm on 8 December 1837 while anchored in Rosetta Harbor at Encounter Bay, but its exact location remained a mystery until this year,” he said.

“It was one of the early vessels acquired by the South Australian Company to bring free settlers to found the province of South Australia in 1836-37, making this a tremendously important part of our history.”

In a move to protect the historic wreck, the state government has enforced a 30-metre radius protected zone while archaeological work is done.

Department for Environment and Water’s senior maritime heritage officer Rick Bullers said historical records had indicated the wreck lay somewhere at the northern end of Rosetta Harbor.

“Previous searches, including magnetometer searches in the 1990s, failed to locate it,” he said.

“An archaeological team spent five days at the site searching with a magnetometer and metal detectors carried by SCUBA divers, snorkelers and walkers.”

Member for Finniss David Basham said the discovery was exciting news for Victor Harbor and the South Coast community.

“This discovery underlines the close links between Encounter Bay’s rich maritime history and the origins of the colony of South Australia,” he said.

“It’s wonderful to know we have this great example of our unique heritage just a couple of hundred metres off the coast in Encounter Bay.”

Curator of the Royal Australian Navy Maritime Archaeology at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Dr James Hunter, said the South Australian was an important part of the state’s maritime heritage.

“This is the first shipwreck recorded after South Australia was established as a colony,” he said.

“It is also believed to be one of the earliest recorded wrecks of a free-settlement immigration ship in Australia. All earlier immigration-related shipwrecks were of convict transports.”