“It’s not often we find a silhouette of a ship, with the masts aligned, resting on the seafloor like this.” That’s how a maritime archaeological scuba diver has described the wreck of a 19th-century sailing ship discovered off Western Australia and featured in a new Disney+ documentary series called Shipwreck Hunters Australia.
The 73m steel barque Glenbank was built in Glasgow in 1893 and acquired 12 years later by Finnish operator JA Zachariassen. In November 1910 she arrived in Balla Balla in Western Australia, chartered by Whim Well Copper Mines to transport copper ore.
Glenbank’s Captain Fredrik Moberg led a crew of 24, mainly Russians, Norwegians and Finns. The ship was heading to England loaded with 1,800 tons of ore on 7 February, 1911 when she ran into a cyclone.
The cargo had not been secured and shifted in the storm, badly damaging the deck and hull. The ship is thought to have struck Delambre Reef or rocks off Legendre Island in what is now Dampier Marine Park.
The wreck was reported by local fishers and the Shipwreck Hunters Australia dive-team checked it out and called in the Western Australian Museum, which was working with them on the series. Its maritime archaeologists were able to confirm the barque’s identity.
“The discovery of Glenbank is very significant in helping tell the tale of global trade at the turn of the century, and giving a voice to those who tragically lost their lives on that fateful day in 1911,” said Dr Deb Shefi, one of the museum’s archaeological divers.
“The unseasonably good weather meant Glenbank was ready to shed its secrets and we were able to record measurements and details that will assist further research into this tragic shipwreck.”
Johnny Debnam, another of the divers, described the wreck-site as “abundant with sharks, turtles, dolphins and other marine life”.
Only one man survived the Glenbank sinking. Twenty=two-year-old Antti Ketola reached Legendre Island and was fortunate to be picked up by a pearling ship three days later. Shipwreck Hunters Australia was able to trace the Finnish seaman’s grandson Matti Latva-Panula, now in his 80s, and learnt that he had been unaware of what had befallen his grandfather – who had never mentioned the fatal incident to the family.
Shipwreck Hunters Australia explores Western Australia’s “Treasure Coast”, thought to hold more than 1,600 shipwrecks. The Glenbank story is the first of six episodes – another covers the discovery of a Netherlands Naval Aviation Service Dornier Do-24K flying-boat, destroyed in a WW2 air raid and found off Broome.
The series launched on Disney+ in Australia and New Zealand on 5 October but the international release date has yet to be announced.