• Helen Avaient

Western Australia Shipwrecks Museum

The WA Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle is housed in the convict built 1850s Commissariat building. Restored in the 1970s, entry is free and donations are welcome.

The Museum is a wealth of shipwreck valuables. Hundreds of relics from ships wrecked along the Western Australian coastline are on display here. I spend several hours wandering through the museum, and found so much valuable information here as well as enjoying looking at the artefacts.


One of the most impressive rooms in the museum is the Batavia gallery. In 1629 the Dutch ship Batavia struck a reef off the Coast of Western Australia. Of the 330 people on board around 268 made it two nearby islands. What followed was horrific mutiny, murder and mayhem. Only one third of the original number survived and the mutineers were eventually hung by authorities.


In 1963 the wreck of the Batavia was found. Much of the ship was salvaged and original remaining timbers from the Batavia have been reconstructed here. An extensive treatment and restoration process was undertaken after the timbers were recovered in the 1970s and it is the ship’s actual stern that we can see here. I was amazed at how large each piece of wood was. These are large, heavy blocks of wood, not thin planks.

A video on the recovery is interesting viewing in the museum. One of the murder victim's skeleton is on display in the Batavia Gallery, along with a replica of the portico façade the ship carried. The façade was to be used as a grand entrance to the city of Batavia. Many other artifacts recovered from the Batavia are on display, from large cannons to inkwells and to a replica of the original Pelsaert’s journal – which documented the horror of the Batavia mutiny.

Terra Australis (Latin for South Land) was an imaginary continent before the 17th century. Early Greeks and Romans had a theory that the world was round and that a continent must be in the southern hemisphere to balance with the land masses in the north.


Dutch sailors had been sailing the west coast of the Australian continent since the 17th century. It was less dangerous and quicker to sail to the East Indies by using the currents and the westerly winds known as the Roaring Forties, rather than sail along the African Coast.

In October 1616 Dirk Hartog landed at Shark Bay and left behind a flattened pewter dish. It was inscribed with details of his journey. In 1697 another Dutch sailor – Willem de Vlamingh, sailed here, discovered the Hartog plate and replaced it with his own. This plate is on display here. De Vlamingh also named the Swan River and Rottnest Island.

There is an impressive display of maps from the 17th century on display here that details various stages of exploration.


A map of the Indian Ocean by Jacob Aertsz 1630-1640 shows the western coastline of Australia. A later map drawn in 1660 of Holland Nova (New Holland) by Pieter Goos shows more of the now explored coastline.

In 1642-43 another Dutch Sailor, Abel Tasman sailed and was the first European to discover the southern island off the Australian mainland, and New Zealand. He named the Australian island Van Diemens Land after his sponsor, the East Indies Governor Anthonie van Diemen. It wasn’t until 1854 when convict transportation ceased that people felt the need for a new name not associated with the convict past. They changed the name to Tasmania, after Tasman. The sea between Australia and New Zealand is also named after Tasman.


The gallery includes charts, documents and books from the early explorers in addition to coins, lace, cannons, maps, and pottery recovered from these early shipwrecks.


Below is a saltglaze stoneware Beardman jug from the Vergulde Draeck 1656, a copper cauldron from the Batavia 1629, various recovered coins and other cased displays.

The gallery's floor is built from wooden blocks made of jarrah, a local Western Australian timber crucial to the development of the State. These formed part of the Museum’s original convict-constructed building. You can see the jarrah floors in the picture on the far right above.


Tracings of Indigenous depictions of sailing vessels, from Walga Rock near Meekatharra in Western Australia are hung on the walls here.

The museum is located at Cliff St, Fremantle. Paid parking is available near the entrance, and it is a short five minute stroll from the Fremantle train station. The museum is open 9am - 5.30pm, 7 days a week.

Stairs connect the bottom and top floors, as well as a lift guests can use, making access easy. The museum is suitable for all age groups.


http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/shipwrecks/





Happy Travels!


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