Diving Endeavour – Archaeology on New Zealand’s Furthest Frontier
By Dr Matt Carter
Dr Matt Carter is a marine archaeologist who has combined scientific, commercial, and technical diving for over a decade. He is the Research Director for the Major Projects Foundation, an International Fellow of the Explorers Club, and a fourth element Team Diver.
When your dive buddy surfaces and starts fist pumping, you know it’s been a special dive. After years of planning, we had just undertaken the first archaeological survey of New Zealand’s oldest shipwreck, a project 225 years in the making!
“G’day mate” I answered a call from Will McKee, a friend of mine working at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Will replied with the news we’d been waiting to hear…“I’ve got funding for the Tamatea/Dusky Sound project if you can make it”. This phone call set in motion the start of a journey that saw me leave my home in Melbourne, Australia to spend over 670 hours in isolation in hotel quarantine and travel over 8000 km by plane, car and boat to dive and map one of New Zealand’s most significant but also most remote shipwrecks. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Figure 1: Tamatea/Dusky Sound one of the most scenic but remote areas of New Zealand. Image Credit: Chris Kwak, Toitu OSM.
Sunk in 1795 in Tamatea/Dusky Sound in Fiordland National Park (still a remote region even today), Endeavour (not Cook’s ship of the same name) is not only the oldest known shipwreck in the country, but it’s also the largest and most intact archaeological site from this period in New Zealand’s history. My buddy Kurt Bennett and I would be the first professional maritime archaeologists to dive and record this site – to say that we were excited would be a massive understatement!
Arriving at Deep Cove at the head of Doubtful Sound we loaded our gear onto our expedition vessel Tutoko II and set sail for Tamatea/Dusky Sound, a voyage that saw us braving the seas along New Zealand’s South West Coast, home to some of the most inhospitable but stunning scenery that the country has to offer. After too many hours for most, we finally made it into the sheltered fiord that was to be our home for the next few days.
Figure 2: Tutoko II anchored in a sheltered bay in Tamatea/Dusky Sound. Image Credit: Chris Kwak, Toitu OSM.
Having never dived the wreck and having heard stories ranging from “mate, there’s nothing left, don’t waste your time” through to “you can’t miss it, it sticks out of the water at low tide” we were hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. Descending through the freshwater halocline, our eyes slowly adjusted revealing a huge pile of rocks that as we got closer began to show planks and ribs extending out in regular spaces. This wasn’t a reef, it was the remains of Endeavour having survived underwater for 225 years.
Figure 3: Exposed wooden planking hinting that much of the wreck remains intact beneath the seabed!
Given the difficulty of just getting to the Endeavour wreck site let alone diving it, we knew we only had one chance. To make the most of this opportunity we incorporated a tool called photogrammetry where hundreds or even thousands of photographs from overlapping viewpoints are taken to ‘scan’ a shipwreck, enabling an accurate 3D model of the site to be made.
Figure 4: Matt seen through the halocline scanning the wreck. Image Credit: Kurt Bennet.
After shooting nearly 2500 photos it was crunch time and back aboard Tutoko II I set my laptop to processing what I hoped would be a 3D model of the wreck. After hours of increasingly impatient waiting, the 3D model appeared on my screen and I was the first person in over two centuries to see the Endeavour in its entirety. New Zealand’s oldest shipwreck was now also it’s best recorded.
Our survey of Endeavour could not have happened without Will and the team at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. This project was part of their ambitious goal to engage with New Zealand’s history and to bring it to life. We are extremely grateful to have had this opportunity and to have our work captured in their subsequent documentary ‘Furthest Frontier: Stories from Tamatea/Dusky Sound’. Where are we off to next, Will?!?