WA Celebrates 50 Years of Shipwreck History

WA celebrates 50 years of shipwreck history

  • Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) shipwreck discovered 50 years ago
  • Find sparks ground-breaking protective legislation, research and conservation
  • Wrecks and artefacts key to exploring shared cultural heritage

Fifty years ago this weekend, a teenage spear-fisherman made the find of a life-time and changed forever how we view Western Australia’s maritime history, Western Australian Museum Chief Executive Officer Alec Coles said today.

Mr Coles said the discovery of the old Dutch shipwreck Vergulde Draeck, or Gilt Dragon, on April 14, 1963 was not only one of the most significant shipwreck finds in Australian maritime history, it was also the catalyst for WA to develop ground-breaking legislation to protect historic wreck sites.

Filled with silver coins and trade goods such as elephant ivory, the wreck was the target of looters before legislation to protect it was enacted, and the site placed under the care of the Western Australian Museum.

Four old Dutch shipwrecks from the 17th and 18th Centuries were discovered off the WA Coast in five years, leading to the creation of the Museum’s world-class maritime archaeology and conservation departments.  

“Fifty years ago a young man by the name of Graeme Henderson led the discovery of a sunken ship full of treasure, and instead of keeping it to himself, gave it to the WA Government so future generations of Western Australians would have the chance to explore our maritime heritage,” Mr Coles said.

“By giving the wreck site and its artefacts to the people, Mr Henderson also opened up the field of maritime archaeology in Australia, which brought about our internationally recognised Maritime Archaeology and Conservation Departments at the WA Museum.”

Mr Coles said the management and conservation of shipwreck sites along WA’s coast by the Museum, and the significant collection of artefacts on display at the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, gave Western Australians of all ages the unique opportunity to learn more about our shared cultural heritage with the State’s earliest explorers.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, Graeme Henderson will present three free lectures at the WA Maritime Museum on Friday, April 12, and the WA Museum – Geraldton on April 18 and 19. Registrations can be made at museum.wa.gov.au/whats-on/50th-anniversary-discovery-gilt-dragon-wreck

More information on the shipwreck is available from the WA Museum website: museum.wa.gov.au/maritime-archaeology-db/wrecks/id-786