September 17, 2023

Museum Review - West Australia Shipwrecks Museum

G’day, it’s Megasilverfist again. I was recently in Freo1 on a business trip and had time to stop by the place’s main attraction, Cicerello’s “the home of fish ‘n’ chips” the West Australia Shipwrecks Museum.2

The main building, originally a commissary and one of the first British building in Australia
Type: Shipwreck museum
Location: Fremantle, Western Australia3
Rating: 5/5, A great trip through the history of Australia, the development of naval technology, and the techniques of underwater archeology disguised as an already impressive collection of salvaged artifacts and period accounts of shipwrecks.
Price: Free with a recommended donation of 5 AUD (~3 USD)

During the age of sail, vessels frequently crashed against the many shores and reefs off the west of Australia. And in the modern day diving is a popular hobby in WA with many divers donating time the museum-associated Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia. As a result the museum has a massive collection of salvage which it uses to illustrate the story of (European) exploration and settlement of WA as well as various advances in naval technology.

In fact it has enough, that attempting to do a fair summary meant I was multiple hours and pages in before I finished talking about the first wreck that wasn’t even important enough to get it’s own gallery instead of a spot in the entrance hall. So instead I am going to due a tragically short summary, and include my segment on the first wreck as a teaser of a possible wreck by wreck series which I would love to do but am very much not promising because I thought I was going to finish this entire thing in about an hour like with my last review.

Wrecks provide us with a timeslice of what was happening in ship construction and usage at a given point in time. Supplementing archaeology of the wrecks themselves to period documentation of why the voyage was happening to begin with and how people reacted to the wreck gives us enough context to start getting serious insights into the wider society the ship was from.

The Shipwrecks Museum does an incredible job of leaning into this to the point where if I get around to the wreck by wreck review I plan on addressing the period views on the theology of state sponsored torture, Dutch rapier fencing, early modern liability law, metallurgy, the development of the Swedish artillery industry, and tacky faux classical architecture in the same post.4

The museum is well presented, aesthetically pleasing in design, and puts a lot of effort into accessibility both for wheelchair users, the vision impaired, and people with other sensory issues. If you are anything like the typical reader of this blog you will enjoy visiting.

The entrance gallery lays out the “archaeological mystery” of a wreck that was discovered by spear-fishers and whose bell (atypically) did not have the ship’s name.

Successive displays show increasingly identifying artifacts in order of their recovery as well as information on the recovery process, and various written sources that they were referenced against. Allowing visitors to follow the process of identifying the ship as being (spoilers) the American China trader Rapid. This turned out to be a major discovery, as the economic importance of American China traders was already well documented, but their design and other characteristics were not. Thus the crew’s personal effects and ship’s fittings on display at the museum and the in situ hull survey performed by affiliated divers significantly advanced marine archaeology.

1 bean: For those who don't speak Australian, this is slang for Fremantle, a subdistrict of Perth.

2 I also did Cicerrelo’s and was quite pleased with the chowder.

3 The name of a state though as it covers the entire western third of Australia it as basically interchangeable with west Australia.

4 One post per wreck is starting to look optimistic.


  1. September 17, 2023Rolf Andreassen said...

    underwater areology

    Underwater study of the planet Mars? ...possibly 'arcology' was intended?


  2. September 17, 2023Anonymous said...

    Underwater arcology, that actually sounds pretty cools.

  3. September 18, 2023megasilverfist said...

    Sorry this is a bit unedited I banged it out while I was still traveling since I suspected I'd be busy once I got back. Hope people like it anyway.

  4. September 18, 2023bean said...

    I should have caught those. Fixed now.

    And yes, I liked it quite a lot.

  5. September 18, 2023megasilverfist said...

    Thanks Bean. "shores and reefs" was meant to be shoals and reefs but basically all the shoals are also reefs so I think this works better.

  6. September 21, 2023Alexander said...

    Donating time > donating items to?

  7. October 04, 2023megasilverfist said...

    "Donating time > donating items to?" That one was correct though maybe a bit clunky. They volunteer time to museum expeditions.

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