A pre Cook Shipwreck?

The Notorious built by Graeme and Felicite Wylie 
based on the legend of the Mahogany Ship.


For over 160 years the legend of a mysterious shipwreck along Victoria's so called Shipwreck coast has seized the public imagination. The existence of the ship has never been confirmed and it has not been sighted again since the 1880's. However amateur archaeologists and enthusiasts continue the search for the vessel. 

If found the Mahogany Ship could change the way we think about the discovery of our Great Southern Land. 

The first sightings of an old wreck in the area were recorded on January 18, 1836, when a party of three whalers from Port Fairy traveled to the mouth of the Hopkins River in search of seals. Their boat overturned and one man drowned. The two survivors walked back to Port Fairy along the coast. About halfway they discovered a ship wrecked in the dunes. They reported their find to Captain John Mills, in charge of the whaling station. He visited the wreck and described its "hard dark timber – like mahogany".

There were many wrecks in the area during this period but the unusual and distinguishing features of the Mahogany Ship were its distance from the water’s edge and its unusual construction. The last sighting of the mysterious dark timbers of the Mahogany Ship was during the 1880s. Many theories on the Mahogany Ship’s origin have been proposed.


The most popular and exciting of these argues that the vessel is of Portuguese origin and was wrecked in 1522. Very old Portuguese charts have since been discovered that depict Australia’s southern coastline as as far as Armstrong Bay, six kilometres west of Warrnambool. These charts suggest a Portuguese voyage to Australia in 1522. Some historians believe the Mahogany Ship was a Portuguese caravel captained by Christovao Mendonca, which was lost in the early 1500s.

Unearthing the Mahogany Ship could rewrite Australian history. But discovering the ship will be no easy task. The introduction of European pests and animals in the 1830's and 1840's caused destabilisation of the sand dunes. Massive sand drifts resulted, destroying the coast road and consuming large tracts of grazing land. These drifts are blamed for the disappearance of the Mahogany Ship. The true origin of the ship will remain conjecture until the wreck is rediscovered. Many have tried and failed. The State Government even offered a $250,000 reward to anyone who could find the vessel. 

Some researchers have speculated that the ship was a modified Chinese junk. They point to the reports that it was made of a 'dark wood' and was 'of an unconventional design'. There are claims that local Aborigines had a tradition that "yellow men" had at one time come from the wreck. 

In July 1999, shipwreck enthusiast, Mr Des Williams, discovered a sample of wood buried 3.1 metres under the sand dunes between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

It was identified by the CSIRO as Quercus species - White Oak. According to the CSIRO, "This wood is from a group of oaks and could have originated from the USA or Europe. It is a common shipbuilding timber." 

As Oak was a common shipbuilding material in colonial times other theories suggest that the Mahogany ship could be; 


* A sealing and whaling vessel. Historical records suggest that sealing and whaling activities were going on along the Victorian coast before official settlement of the area. Oak was a common ship building material used by sealers and whalers.

* There are a number of documented cases where convicts from Van Diemen's Land seized wooden vessels to escape across Bass Strait. The wreck may have been the remains of one such attempt.

* The wreck may have been from the 17th Century. The Dutch were sailing to the "Spice Islands" and many reached the Western Australian coast - it is even possible that one may have come to rest at Warrnambool. 

In September 2005 Mark Rawson, an amateur archaeologist, spoke at the Mahogany Ship symposium. "It was quite an interesting symposium... the general consensus was that there may well be more than one ship," he says.

Presented at the symposium was Dr Frank Conningham's research of Australia's early Constitution. His research suggests a Portuguese ship had been sighted off the coast, but had been disposed of by the British in a nearby swamp before 1850. There have been claims by eyewitnesses that a ship was seen after 1850.

This confirmed Mark's theories of more than one ship being sighted along the shipwreck coast in the 1800s. "We've come to the conclusion that they've probably seen different ships," he says.

There is further evidence of more than five ships being wrecked along the Warrnambool coast, "Which tends to suggest that they were all coming here for a reason. We have a vague suspicion that there may have been an old settlement there. It may explain why a number of ships have ended up on that beach," he says.

What does this new information mean for the Mahogany Ship digs?


"We have a vague suspicion that we know roughly were it is now. We have to do a little more investigation, but it basically means that we can now look in a different location that no one has ever looked in before," he says.

The legend of the Mahogany Ship has become so popular that a tourist walk has been created. Visitors can wander the Mahogany Ship Walking Track which follows the coast for the 23 kilometres between Warrnambool and Port Fairy. It passes the possible site of the Mahogany Ship and many other shipwrecks.


 The "Notorious" replica (pictured top)

The "Notorious" is a replica of a 15th century Caravel built by Graeme and Felicite Wylie which was launched in 2011. The inspiration in building the ship was directly influenced by the legend of the Mahogany ship. It was constructed in Warnambool area from recycled and reclaimed Monterey Cypress timber. It regularly visits major ports on the Australian coastline where you can inspect the ship for a small fee.


Watch the Mahogany Ship Documentary by Rob Simpson here;










Australia's only Megalithic site?

The Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Gympie "Pyramid" does not follow traditional Egyptian styles.

The Gympie Pyramid is not really a Pyramid at all but a sandstone terraced hill on the outskirts of Gympie in Queensland Australia. Since its “discovery” in 1975 by an amateur Australian archaeologist, (locals had known about the site for years) many theories have been put forward as to who or what built it. 

These theories range from Aliens, Atlanteans, Ancient Egyptian and Chinese sailors, Italian Winemakers, Swiss Horticulturists, to Polynesians.

Relics have been discovered in and around the “Pyramid” site including the stone “Gympie Ape” which some believe is the ape form of the Egyptian god Thoth, plus other unusual stone carvings including a crocodile and an Easter Island type head which some people use as evidence towards the ancient explorer hypothesis. 

Archaeological surveys of the site have been conducted by several researchers many concluding that there is no evidence that the site was constructed by ancient explorers. And the most likely explanation is that the terraces were built by Italian wine growers. 

 According to local Aboriginal legend the Pyramid goes back centuries but the local tribe makes no claim to it. 

It has even been suggested the pyramid was a place to be avoided according to Aboriginal lore.

 Archaeologist Greg Jeffery’s conducted a preliminary study of the site rejects such simple explanations. One of which simply being that no Italian families lived in the area at the time the Pyramid was originally discovered. He further points to why go to all the effort of terracing a hill when suitable flat fertile agricultural land was readily available. He also notes the majority of terracing appears on the south eastern slope. Ideally the northern slope would be the best aspect for agriculture.

Jeffery’s points to a possible Polynesian origin to the pyramid mystery, as the seafaring Polynesian race had the ability to reach Australia easily. 

“The Polynesians certainly has a tradition of terracing hills in the construction of forts and for religious purposes (Bellwood 1978) and many examples of these are found through out Polynesia. The god mounds of Tonga and the village fortresses of Rapaiti being just two examples. The stone wall structures on Rapaiti (Heyadahl 1958) bear quite a strong resemblance to the Gympie terraces.”

“Access to the area from the ocean would have been relatively easy via the Mary River although it is difficult to see why a people would travel so far up river, particularly if they were of seafaring tradition. 

The site is well located for a fortress commanding extensive and uninterrupted views of the surrounding flat terrain. The slopes are steep and easily defended. The unusually shapes boulders on the summit could easily be adapted to make excellent parapets. A permanent source of fresh water is available from a spring on the south west slope and fertile flat land watered by a substantial permanent creek exists in abundance at the base of the ‘pyramid’ to the east and south. 

The discovery of an Oceanic styled statue in a field nearby may lend support to this hypothesis.”

Local researcher Brett Green has dedicated countless hours trying to get to the bottom of the Pyramid mystery. His thoroughly researched CD ROM documents all of his findings, including debunking some of his own previous discoveries.

Today the Pyramid site is a shadow of its former self. During the media frenzy of the 70’s wannabe archaeologists and treasure hunters ruined many of the terraces in search for relics. One relic hunter even took to the site with a bulldozer. 

The Dhamurian Society are the current caretakers of the pyramid site and have commenced reconstruction of some the terraces. Unfortunately the Gympie Pyramid site is currently under threat of being destroyed due to possible land development and road construction.

Despite the various conclusions of several Archaeologists, the jury is still out on the Gympie Pyramid Mystery. 




Another pre Cook Shipwreck?

In 1989 Greg Jefferys, Australian archaeologist and historian, began searching for the wreck of a supposed Spanish or Portuguese galleon on Stradbroke Island QLD Australia. He believes that he is getting very close to finding the remains of the wreck. If found, this wreck could rewrite the history books of who "discovered" Eastern Australia.

The mysterious remains of the ship have been reported in 18 Mile Swamp, generally situated near Swan Bay or Jumpinpin. Over that time there have been dozens of reported sightings but still the mystery remains.

Jeffrerys points to the discovery of a Sailors dirk, a brass walking stick head, a brass button, a sword blade, a fishing weight and a corroded silver coin dated 1597 on Stradbroke Is as evidence of the existence of a Portuguese or Spanish Galleon buried in the 18 mile swamp.


Mr Jefferys claims he found the artifacts about 900m inland, suggesting the ship had gone aground hundreds of years ago and the island's sand had built up around it.


Rumors of Aboriginals "trading" with Spanish Coins and the subsequent circulation of these coins in the community also adds weight to his theories.


Other testimony includes: Aborigines "knew of shipwreck" for centuries.

 Frank Boyce, who lived there in the 1920s and '30s, was taken to the wreck by Aborigines after he saved the life of an Aboriginal woman who was drowning. And claims they told him they had been taking the gold over the years to pay for things in town.

A theory has been put forward that Captain Cook used secret Portuguese or Spanish maps to aid his discovery and navigation of the Pacific and Australia's east coast. Could the Stradbroke Island Galleon prove this theory?

Are the remains in the 18 Mile Swamp a lost Portuguese or Spanish galleon? Is it a Mexican treasure ship, a Manila Galleon carrying millions of pesos in silver and gold coin, that was shipwrecked on Australia's Queensland coast?

The Queensland shipwreck is likely to be of either Portuguese or Spanish origin although there is a slight chance it may be a VOC ( Dutch East Indies Company) shipwreck in Queensland.

If it was a Manila galleon or a V.O.C. ship there may be some truth to the stories of a vast treasure buried somewhere on Queensland's Stradbroke Island.



Matthew Heeb discovered the burnt remains of a ship in the Eighteen Mile Swamp on Stradbroke Island in the Vicinity of Swan Bay at Jumpinpin in the early 1890's (before the Jumpinpin breakthrough). He described it to Isabel Hannah and the honorable George Appel (M.P.) as having a high poop and forecastle. It is likely that the remains pictured above represent exactly the type of ship that Heeb saw. Unfortunately since Heeb saw the shipwreck in the 1890's several fires have burnt over it. In !934 Jim Walker and two friends found the remains again, after a fire had burnt through the 18 Mile Swamp and during a drought. 

The fires had reduced the "above swamp level" visible parts of the shipwreck to just its heavy timbers, though Jim Walker could still confirm that the wreck was of a ship of about 90 to 100 feet in length (about 30 meters). This would make it a ship of the size of Captain Cook's Endeavor or a ship of 350 to 400 tonnes. Small for a Manila galleon but large for a carrack or a Caravel.

When Heeb found the wreck in the 1890's he removed over a hundredweight (about 60 kilos) of copper fittings from the land locked shipwreck. In 1934 there were still various artifacts still to be found by scratching around in the hull. Using an axe Jim Walker took a "roved" bolt out of one of the ship's heavy timbers; Dr Harold "Boy" Young scratched around in the remains of the burnt out hull and found the fine dirk with an antler handle (mentioned above).

Mr Jefferys has recently accepted an offer from geophysics company UltraMag to do a free spectral analysis of the swamp. The scan, which normally would cost about $20,000, should detect the presence of any metals in the swap's vegetation.

If Mr Jeffery's theories are proven to be correct it will be interesting to see the reaction from history and archeology scholars. Will the history books be rewritten or will the truth be swept under the rug and be conveniently overlooked in Australian History texts?

Visit The Legend of the Stradbroke Island Galleon to purchase Greg Jeffery's Book and DVD on the Stradbroke Island Galleon Mystery