THE WA Museum’s maritime archaeology department has pinpointed the location of a Tasmanian-built timber steamship that sunk southwest of Garden Island in March 1900.
The SS Cambria had left Fremantle on her way to southern ports when a southwest gale and heavy seas forced Captain Colstadt to seek shelter at Rockingham.
A heavy swell threw the 28.7m, two-masted vessel onto a reef, breaking its propeller and causing it to take on water, eventually sinking with its masts and funnel still showing in reasonably shallow water.
Luckily the crew of eight clung to the rigging overnight before launching a lifeboat the next morning and making it safely to an island beach – with the ship’s cat also saved from disaster.
They then found some old sails and rigged the lifeboat, sailing back to Fremantle that afternoon.
Captain Colstadt had his licence suspended for six months after a constable from Fremantle Water Police visited the wreck site and reported the vessel lying in 4m of water and cargo washing up on Garden Island.
The department’s assistant curator, Ross Anderson, said the wreck was first found in the early 1960s but it was not reported until 1992 and it could not be found again.
The Maritime Archaeological Association of WA had also tried to locate it in the late 1980s, but was unsuccessful.
Covered in kelp and weed, the wreck’s vertical iron boiler was found by WA Museum divers in a clear patch of sand last November.
An excavation found timber, a small piece of coal and iron, confirming the ship’s hull remains buried beneath it.