By Terry Cantwell & David Muir
Commonwealth authorities are investigating the theft of precious relics from a Victorian shipwreck.
Maritime explorers, Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE), discovered the SS Glenelg in June 2009 after a two-year archaeological search. They found a wealth of historical items including: plates, cutlery, and unopened champagne bottles.
On a subsequent mission to the site in January this year, the divers noticed that many of the artefacts were missing. As only a handful of people know the site’s exact coordinates, SOE Team leader Mark Ryan is baffled and very disappointed.
“We have no idea who could have done this, the site is fairly remote. At this stage we can only speculate. It’s wonderful to discover these lost ships, and to reconnect relatives with their past, but this makes me question whether the work we do is worthwhile. This is grave robbing,“ the maritime explorer said.
The Scottish-built steamer sank in Bass Strait during a ferocious storm in March 1900. 34 people drowned, but three crewmembers made it to shore at Marlo after 50 hours in a lifeboat, in what remains one of Victoria’s worst maritime tragedies.
The crime has upset the families of those who died on the steamer. An angry Gordon Fyfe, great-grandson of Glenelg Chief Engineer, condemned the thieves.
“I felt gutted. I had recently dived the ship, but the exhilaration of that event has been absolutely dashed. These items are reminders that real people ate, drank and ultimately died that day so long ago. Without the artifacts, the wreck is just a lump of steel,” the Canberra man said.
Thelma Mauldon, second-engineer, Arthur Mauldon’s relative, is also appalled.
“A lot of people’s resting places have been violated. What sort of world do we now live in? she said.
While the AFP is conducting enquiries, Heritage Victoria has instructed Southern Ocean Exploration to transport all remaining items to a safe location. SOE researcher Martin Tozer explained:
“We need to protect what is left. The Glenelg relics belong to all Victorians. These people have stolen our history.” Mr Tozer said.
The Commonwealth Government has now declared the site a Protected Zone, which restricts public access to the wreck. Offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 and a five-year prison term.
Contacts | SOE: Mark Ryan | SOE: Martin Tozer |
Footage: Channel 7, Southern Ocean Exploration, Whitewater Documentaries, Mick Whitmore.