Divers revisit the Keilawarra wreck

Photographer Mark Spencer has revisited the 126-year-old shipwreck of the Keilawarra off the coast of Arrawarra. The ship's telegraph is still in the full-astern position.
Photographer Mark Spencer has revisited the 126-year-old shipwreck of the Keilawarra off the coast of Arrawarra. The ship's telegraph is still in the full-astern position. Mark Spencer

IT stands encrusted in marine life, as a stark reminder of the lives lost at sea in one of Australia's greatest maritime disaster.

For 126-years the telegraph of The Keilawarra, the 61-metre iron steam ship that sank near North Solitary Island has risen from the ocean floor suspended in the full astern position.

For photographer Mark Spencer, who revisited the 19th century shipwreck again at the weekend, the telegraph along with the ship's stern offers a haunting insight into the ill-fated voyage.

"The propeller shots I took also show the stern has dropped down over the propeller, such that the prop is now inside the stern," Mark said.

"This is an emotive area of the wreck because it was the area where people clung when the ship was sinking Titanic-like with the stern out of the water."

The Keilawarra was bound for Brisbane when it impacted with a smaller steamer, The Helen Nicoll on the night of December 8, 1886.

Historical accounts say "smoke from the funnels had partly obscured the view ahead, as both vessels maintained full steam."

In scenes later echoed by the sinking of the Titanic, the Keilawarra plunged into the depths just seven minutes after impact.

It took with it some 40 people, while the badly damaged Helen Nicoll limped back to shore.

The Keilawarra last made headlines in February 2010, after Mark Spencer revealed the ship's safe had been plundered by thieves, thought to be professional shipwreck salvagers.

Rediscovered in 73-metres off the coast of Arrawarra in 2000, the wreck was studied for 30 minutes by this latest dive team before their arduous two-and-a-half hour decompression ascent.

Mark Spencer will announce plans to conserve artefacts from the Keilawarra at a SURG (Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group) discussion at the National Marine Science Centre on June 6 at 6.30pm.

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Topics:  conservation shipwreck wooli

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