Maritime Archaeology

In October 1902 using a hard hat and suit, a Benedictine Monk named Father Blundell, conducted one of the earliest underwater archaeological surveys, with a study of a crannog in Loch Ness. These crannogs are man-made islands, on which dwellings were constructed, but which have long since disappeared. There are over 350 crannogs scattered throughout Scotland, some of which are currently being studied. One of them dates back to 595BC.

Since 1902 and the invention of the aqualung in 1943, many underwater sites and shipwrecks have been relocated throughout the world. Many of these sites have been discovered by accident and some through years of research and diving, initially in a search for treasure, and later as serious archaeological investigations.

Some of the most well known discoveries around the world are:

  • Wasa which sank in 1628, recovered in 1961,
  • Mary Rose which sank in 1545, recovered in 1982,
  • Atocha which sank in 1622, rediscovered in 1985,
  • Batavia which sank in 1629, recovered in 1976,
  • Pandora which sank in 1791, rediscovered in 1977,
  • Sirius which sank in 1790, surveyed between 1983 & 1988.



Of the 2000+ shipwrecks around New Zealand's coast, around 150 have been relocated, either through research or by accident. Most of these wrecks have been subjected to raids by divers for the odd relic or for their treasure.

As far as MAANZ is aware, the only shipwrecks or underwater sites that have had any sort of archaeological techniques applied to them, are:

  • ENDEAVOUR. Ship. This vessel became un-seaworthy and was stripped and abandoned in Dusky Sound, in October 1795. Although she was abandoned, she is recognised as being New Zealand's first shipwreck. Research into this vessel has been done in the past, some by Kelly Tarlton. This research led to the discovery of two of the ships guns, which were lost when they were being transported by raft to the shore at the time of the vessels abandonment. These guns were salvaged by Kelly Tarlton in 1984 and a report was completed following the research conducted by Sarah Kenderdine and Angela Boocock, who are both maritime archaeologists.


  • HMS BUFFALO. Ship. This vessel was wrecked in a storm at Mercury Bay on 29 July 1840. The remains of this vessel were surveyed by a team led by Bill Jeffery, a maritime archaeologist with the State Heritage Branch of the Department of Environment and Planning in Adelaide, Australia.


  • L'ALCEMENE. Corvette. Wrecked off Kaipara on 3 June 1851. This wreck has been studied by Kelly Tarlton and later by a combined Tarlton and Noel Hilliam survey. Noel Hilliam is the Director of the Dargaville Museum.


  • WHALE BOATS. Two whale boats were deliberately sunk in Lake Waikaremoana in 1869. A survey was conducted by Major Tony Howell in 1981 as part of an Army exercise and a comprehensive report was submitted to the Historic Places Trust. One whale boat which was removed in 1960 was still included in the report. At that time it was noted to be in poor condition. The whale boat remaining underwater continues to receive occassional surveys.
    (David Churchill's whale boat comments updated in May 2016 by Tony Howell, with editorial updates by Rex Johnson.)


  • TAUPO. Steamer. Sank off Mayor Island on 29 April 1881.


  • MARTHA. Barque. Became a hulk and sank at Tauranga in 1882. Kelly Tarlton conducted a preliminary survey to identify this site for the Historic Places Trust.


  • PA SITE. Doctor Roger Grace (Marine Biologist), submitted an article for the New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter (Vol.29, No:3, September 1985), about a drowned Pa site in Lake Okataina in the Rotorua District. It is believed that the site became drowned as a result of the Mount Tarawera eruption in 1886.