HMS Investigator Anchors

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HMS Investigator Best Bower Anchor
HMS investigator anchor.jpg
The Best Bower Anchor, dropped from HMS Investigator by Matthew Flinders. The recovered anchor is on display at the South Australian Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide.
MaterialWrought Iron.
SizeLength: 4,230 millimetres (167 in),
mass: 1,230 kilograms (2,710 lb)
Created1795 (Henry Rudd, Monkwearmouthshore, Co.)
Discovered1973, Middle Island, Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia
Present locationSouth Australian Maritime Museum
HMS Investigator Stream Anchor
Investigator's stream anchor.jpg
MaterialWrought iron
SizeWidth: 1,570 millimetres (62 in), Height: 2,500 millimetres (98 in), Depth: 300 millimetres (12 in), Mass: 400 kilograms (880 lb)
Discovered1973, Middle Island, Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia
Present locationNational Museum of Australia

The HMS Investigator Anchors are the two anchors that Matthew Flinders jettisoned from HMS Investigator on the morning of Saturday 21 May 1803 in order to avoid running aground on Middle Island in the Archipelago of the Recherche on the south coast of New Holland (now Western Australia). In 1973, the anchors were located and recovered by members of the Underwater Explorers Club of South Australia (UEC). The recovered anchors became the subject of an ownership dispute between various governments, particularly those of South Australia and Western Australia due to their historic significance as artefacts of a major voyage of European exploration. The dispute was resolved with the ownership of the anchors going to the Australian Government who subsequently gifted one of the anchors to the South Australian Government. The pair of artefacts is also known as Flinders' Anchors.


The outfitting of HMS Investigator in early 1801 prior to her departure from the United Kingdom for Terra Australis included five bower, two stream and two kedge anchors. An additional bower anchor was included in stores sent to Port Jackson.[3]

HMS Investigator departed Kupang in Timor on 8 April 1803 to sail to Port Jackson where she arrived on 9 June 1803. The object of the voyage was to seek medical aid for the members of the crew who were suffering from dysentery and fever, and seek repairs to the sloop. Flinders' intention was "to stop a day or two" at the Archipelago of the Recherche for "the purposes of procuring geese for our sick people, seal oil for our lamps, and a few casks of salt from the lake on Middle Island." HMS Investigator arrived on the evening of 17 May 1803 and anchored on the north side of Middle Island between the island's north east point and Goose Island in the area known as Goose Island Bay.[4] The visit to Middle Island also allowed the burial of the sloop's boatswain, Charles Douglas, who died on 18 May 1803, to take place on dry land.[5][6]


Flinders discovered, on departure during the morning of Saturday 21 May 1803, that HMS Investigator was in danger of being driven aground on Middle Island by a freshening breeze before the sails could be loosed. This danger was mitigated by using the sloop's spare anchors to hold it in place. However, Flinders needed to abandon the best bower anchor, a stream anchor, and a quantity of cable in order to safely depart from the bay. Instead of recovering the two anchors, HMS Investigator continued towards Port Jackson with the intention of retrieving these at a later time.[5]

The discovery and recovery[edit]

Doug Seton, an information officer at the South Australian Museum found out about the loss of the anchors in 1969 during a conversation with Robert Sexton, a friend and a well-known South Australian maritime historian. Seton then commenced a four-year desktop study to identify the likely area in which the anchors could be found.[7]

In 1972, Seton, a scuba diving enthusiast, planned an expedition to find and recover the anchors with the assistance of the following fellow members of the UEC - Terry & Helen Drew, Peter & Rosalie Koch and John Summers, the following residents of Esperance - Don Gulvan, Don McKenzie and Tony Moore of Cape Arid Farm, and with the support of the following sponsors - BP, a boating business known as Lawton Agencies and the Adelaide newspaper, the Sunday Mail.[7][8]

The expedition departed Adelaide on 26 December 1972 for Esperance. Later that day, the expedition was postponed due to a vehicle accident north of Port Wakefield which resulted in Terry and Helen Drew being hospitalised, their vehicle being destroyed, their boat being damaged and the two occupants of the other vehicle being killed.[9] Terry & Helen Drew would later re-join the expedition to witness the recovery of both anchors.[10]

The expedition resumed and arrived at Middle Island on 4 January 1973. After a week of rough weather, the search commenced on 11 January using a manta board constructed from driftwood and other materials. The best bower anchor was discovered by Peter Koch in 15m deep water on 14 January. After reviewing his desktop research, Seton re-organised the search and found the stream anchor about 9 metres away from the best bower anchor, several hours later.[8] The news of the discovery was announced on 15 January.[11]

As pre-arranged with the then Commonwealth Department of Shipping and Transport, the lighthouse supply tender, MV Cape Don, arrived on 19 January to lift both anchors off the seabed and conveyed them to Fremantle for conservation.[12][13][14]

Dispute over ownership[edit]

As soon as the news of the discovery of the two anchors was announced, a dispute erupted over who was the owner of these artefacts. The protagonists were the governments of Australia, South Australia and Western Australia. The Australian Government argued that it was in the national interest for it to own the anchors, South Australia argued the significance of the anchors as a part of the sloop that charted most of its coastline, while Western Australia argued that the anchors were found in its waters. The dispute was resolved when the Australian government took ownership of both anchors in April 1973, with the best bower anchor being subsequently gifted to South Australia.[15][16][17][18]


In 1974, after completion of the conservation process at the Western Australian Museum, the anchors were handed over to the Australian Government. The best bower anchor was officially presented to the South Australian Government on 1 March 1974 and was immediately placed on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.[10] In 1986, it was transferred to the collection of the then newly created South Australian Maritime Museum.[19]

The stream anchor was retained by the Australian Government for the possible inclusion in the collection of a proposed national transport museum.[18] This anchor was subsequently added to the collection of the National Museum of Australia.[2]


Flinders in 1801

The Collection statement prepared by the South Australian Maritime Museum for the Best Bower Anchor advises the following:[1]

Matthew Flinders was the first to chart the then uncompleted coastline of South Australia and use the name Australia for the continent. The anchor is one of the few remaining physical relics linked to Flinders' exploration of the southern coastline and one of the earliest relics of European presence in South Australia.

The Collection statement prepared by the National Museum of Australia for the Stream Anchor advises the following:[2]

This collection highlights one of the important voyages of discovery and the naming of Australia by Matthew Flinders. Flinders circumnavigated Australia and confirmed its island status after many years of conjecture and uncertainty.


The positive public response to the successful UEC expedition was a major driver in the creation in 1974 by Seton and others of a dedicated amateur maritime archaeology organisation, the Society for Underwater Historical Research (SUHR).[20][21] Many of the approaches used by the UEC during the expedition such as seeking major corporate sponsorship, engagement with both political leaders and local communities, and the pro-active use of print and electronic media were continued in the work of the SUHR, particularly on projects concerning the Loch Vennachar and Water Witch shipwrecks.[22][23]

The recovery of the anchors and their connection to the voyage of HMS Investigator is commemorated in the inclusion of the best bower anchor and the outline of the Australian continent on the SUHR emblem.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "HM Sloop Investigator anchor". History SA. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Stream anchor from Matthew Flinders' ship the 'Investigator'". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  3. ^ Geeson, N.T. and Sexton, R.T.; (1970), 'H.M. Sloop Investigator', pages 293-294, in Mariner's Mirror, v.56, no. 3, Society for Nautical Research, London, pages 275-298.
  4. ^ Flinders, Matthew (1966). A voyage to Terra Australis undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802 and 1803, in his majesty's ship the Investigator, and subsequently in the armed vessel Porpoise and Cumberland schooner. With an account of the shipwreck of the Porpoise, arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and imprisonment of the commander during six years and a half in that island. By Matthew Flinders Commander of the Investigator. In 2 volumes with an atlas. Volume 2. London: 1814 [Facsimile Edition, 1966] printed by W. Bulmer and Co. Cleveland row, and published by G. And W. Nicol, booksellers to his Majesty, pall-mall. G. and W. Nicol. p. Book 2, Chapter 10. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b Flinders, Matthew. "Log of the Investigator, ADM55, Log 76, 14 Mar 1803 to 10 Jan 1804". British Atmospheric Data Centre. p. 32. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  6. ^ Green, Jeremy; Souter, Corioli; Baker, Patrick (2001). "Department of Maritime Archaeology Visit to Middle Island, Recherche Archipelago, Esperance, 29 April–4 May 2001, Report–Department of Maritime Archaeology Western Australian Maritime Museum No. 154" (PDF). Western Australian Maritime Museum. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Team of divers hooked on anchor". The Sunday Mail. 24 December 1972. p. 17.
  8. ^ a b Seton, Doug (1973). "The search and recovery of the Investigator anchor, a 4 page brochure whose publisher is not identified and which was viewed at the State Library of South Australia, Call No. 909.096576 S439b". Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  9. ^ 'Three more killed: Holiday road toll now eight', The Advertiser, 27 December 1972, page 1.
  10. ^ a b "SA gets anchor". The Advertiser. 2 March 1974. p. 4.
  11. ^ 'SA divers trace old anchors', The Advertiser, 16 January 1973, page 3.
  12. ^ 'Anchors aweigh!, Must come to SA', The Sunday Mail, 21 January 1973, page 128.
  13. ^ 'The return of Flinders anchors', BP Shield International, October 1973.
  14. ^ ’Flinders anchors’, Fremantle Cockburn News, 6 February 1973
  15. ^ ’Keep Anchors here’, The Esperance Advertiser, 12 January 1973.
  16. ^ ’After 170 years the battle begins for Flinders’ anchors’, The Australian, 16 March 1973.
  17. ^ ’Let’s pull together to keep anchors’, The News (Adelaide), 26 March 1973, page 15.
  18. ^ a b "SA succeeds in claim to anchor". The Advertiser. 14 April 1973. p. 3.
  19. ^ 'Last 'voyage' for ship's anchor', The Advertiser, 9 October 1986.
  20. ^ Brock, A.E., 1977, 'The Society for Underwater Historical Research of South Australia', In Green, J. (Ed.), 1977, Papers from the First Southern Hemisphere Conference on Maritime Archaeology, Perth, Western Australia, Oceans Society of Australia, Australian Sports Publications, Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 114.
  21. ^ O'Donnell, I.; (2001), 'Sport Diving on South Australian Shipwrecks', Soundings (2nd series), Vol. 2 No. 4 (October–December 2001), Society for Underwater Historical Research, Port Adelaide, SA, page 9. However, the founding year is stated as being 1975 rather than 1974.
  22. ^ Marfleet, B. & Hale, A.; (1977) 'Logistics of Loch Vennachar Expedition 1977', Annex A (4 pages) in Loch Vennachar Expedition Report, Society for Underwater Historical Research, North Adelaide, SA.
  23. ^ Jeffery, W.F., (1987), The Water Witch Wrecksite, A Report on the Identification, Survey & Partial Recovery of the Wrecksite, Department of Environment & Planning, Adelaide SA, page xi.
  24. ^ 'Second Annual Report, September 1976', pp.2, in Cowan, David (editor), (2007), The Society for Underwater Historical Research – Publications 1974-2004, Society for Underwater Historical Research, Port Adelaide, SA.

Further reading[edit]