Mysteries of the deep
By Jamie Brown
THERE'S nothing like a bit of shipwreck to fire the imagination.
When Ken Miles, of Evans Head, discovered a length of timber washed ashore on Airforce Beach last week he thought all his dreams had come true.
Sticking out of the worm-eaten hardwood were the heads of bronze spikes, no doubt made from copper alloy, because the recent washing by sand had polished them to a colour like gleaming gold.
"I was ready to buy myself a new car," said Ken, who spends most of every morning fossicking along the shore between Airforce Beach and Salty Lagoon.
Easterly gales and four metre seas just one week earlier had moved the timber, and it came ashore amid a mass of kelp. As well as the spikes, were the remnants of round timber fastenings or trunnels.
Together, the fastenings appear to date the artefact to the late 1800s, according to marine archaeologist Timothy Smith, of NSW Maritime Heritage.
One probable source of this mysterious find would be the Jesse Matilda, an 86-tonne, 26- metre, two-masted brigantine built in 1877 at Cape Hawke now known as Foster-Tuncurry. It was wrecked in an easterly gale on July 21, 1889. It first struck Cahors Reef and foundered, coming ashore on the sand between Airforce and Broadwater beaches.
Another possible source would be the two-masted schooner Pilot, 21 metres long, built in Scotland in 1845 and driven ashore near Salty Lagoon in 1874. It also struck Cahors Reef in a south-east gale, washing off and then drifting downwind.
Whether the Pilot is the wreck which sometimes surfaces just south of Salty Lagoon is another maritime mystery.
That wreck, measured accurately in 1976, is 17m long, with timber trunnels and iron spikes used to hold its timbers together.
But Timothy Smith, maritime archaeologist with NSW Maritime Heritage said vessels from that era used a composite of fastenings timber trunnels, iron spikes and copper or bronze nails, bolts and spikes. Another source might be the wreck of the Cahors itself, a steamship which sunk on the reef for which it is named on June 6, 1885.
When she ran aground on the exposed reef she filled quickly with water and sand and was eventually abandoned, the wreck being sold for ?500 and cargo for ?240.
During salvage work one man was drowned when lost overboard from SS Dione as she crossed the Clarence Bar. The boiler from that wreck still lies near the reef.