Dive Rating : Open Water
Launch site : St. Leonardís or Queenscliff boat ramp
latitude : 38" 12í14" south
Longitude : 144"43í16" east
Dive Conditions: The Clarence is currently undergoing further study. A protected zone has been declared around the wreck site as any boats anchoring directly over the vessel, could cause damage to the fragile hull. Although the site is currently closed to divers, it may be open to permit divers in the future.
Description : An early Australian built schooner used to transport livestock and cargo.
The wreck of the Clarence lies offshore from St. Leonardís in Port Phillip Bay. It is the best-preserved example of an early Australian built schooner found in Australian waters.
Shipbuilding began in Australia soon after European settlement in 1788, however, it was severely restricted during the colonyís early years. This was partly to protect Britainís monopoly on trade. It was also feared that convicts would steal the ships or develop the skills to build their own and sail to freedom.
In the 1820ís, shipbuilding began to flourish. Many small vessels were built on the banks of rivers, as well as in ports of NSW and Tasmania. Early records show that between first European settlement and 1850, 134 ships were built in Sydney.
Most ships were built by rule of thumb, without the benefits of models and plans. As a result, few records have survived and we know very little about the techniques used by early ship builders. Wrecks, such as the Clarence are therefore very valuable in providing evidence of ship construction and design dating back to the last century.
During the early 1980ís, the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria (MAAV) began searching for a number of shipwrecks in Port Phillip Bay. This involved research into historical records, old newspapers and charts and many hours of underwater searching. In 1982 they discovered the well-preserved wreck of the Clarence.
The Clarence lies on a sandy seabed in 4-5 meters of water. On a good day, the wreck is clearly visible from the surface.
The outline of the vessel is clear apart from the starboard side of the stern, which is buried. The port side of the old ship from bow to stern, and from keel to deck level is almost complete. The paired frames used as a framework for the hull can be seen poking out of the sand and outline the shape of the ship. At the time of its wrecking, the Clarence was used to transport sheep. Part of the Baltic Pine decking used to accommodate the animals can be seen at the stern and the hull.
Some very fragile pieces of leather and rope have been found at the wreck site. Other artefacts, which have been discovered, include a small glass deck light, ceramics and the shipís compass.
The Clarence was a 67-ton, two masted wooden schooner measuring only 50ft. It was built in 1841 on the Williams River in northern NSW. Excavation of the Clarence, carried out by the Maritime Archaeology Unit has shown that the ship was shoddily constructed. It was made from Eucalyptus timber and had makeshift fittings and fastenings. There was no copper sheathing to prevent marine creatures settling on the hull, instead it seems that a paste of calcium carbonate (lime) was applied to the hull.
Until comparisons are made with other early Australian built ships, it will not be known whether the Clarence was constructed roughly with little regard to detail or finishing or whether it was typical of vessels of that era. Obviously, new settlers, including boat builders had to learn how to use the hardwood timbers of the Australian forests and apart from materials salvaged from shipwrecks, traditional fastenings and ship riggings would have been in short supply Ė and some improvisation would have been necessary.
On 2nd September 1850, the Clarence was carrying a cargo of 132 sheep from Melbourne to Hobart when it ran aground in Port Phillip Bay.
The vessel had anchored for the night in Coles Channel near St. Leonardís when a fresh southwest to south-southwest wind blew up. At 9pm, the anchor cable broke and the Clarence was wrecked on a sandbar between Coles and West Channels, about two miles south of St. Leonardís.
After the wreck, there was a dispute over salvage rights between the vessels owners and Geelong residents who had rescued the cargo of sheep. The outcome of the dispute was never recorded.