Archaeologists dive into exploring old shipwreck at Whitianga

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After more than 180 years resting in Whitianga Harbour, the HMS Buffalo shipwreck will be explored by archeologists.

A painting of the wreck of the HMS Buffalo by G Jackson.

A painting of the wreck of the HMS Buffalo by G Jackson. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This weekend a team of divers and archeologists will descend on the remains of the ship, which was built in India in 1813.

The teak vessel was used as a British naval storeship and to transport convicts to Australia, before it sank in a gale at Whitianga on Coromandel Peninsula in 1840.

Maritime Archaeologist Kurt Bennet, who is the leading the project, said the shipwreck was covered in sand when Australian archeologists looked at it in 1986.

In recent years, the sand has been scoured away, exposing most of the hull.

Bennet said this offered a golden opportunity to learn more about the construction of the ship.

“We don’t have many archeological examples of this type of ship that are easily accessible for research.”

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The team is planning two dives lasting 1.5 hours in total.

“We will be taking thousands of photos very slowly across the ship.

“We want to make sure we’ve got overlap on each photo and then we put all those into specialist software and that creates a 3D model.”

The ship is about 50m offshore in fairly shallow water.

The divers could face challenges from waves that create “a washing machine at low tide,” Bennet said.

The researchers are working with Mercury Bay Museum and Ngāti Hei iwi, which has connections with the long lost ship.

“Their people helped survivors off the ship and buried one of the sailors who lost their lives.”

Local businesses have boosted the researchers’ funds and they were awarded a scholarship from the Australiasian Institute for Maritime Archeology.

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