Gold Rush – Diving on the Monumental City
Lured on by the promise of gold the American steamer Monumental City was one of the first screw steamers to cross the Pacific. The ship reached Australia in 1853 only to sink a month later due to a navigational error. John Black fondly remembers it as the first shipwreck he dived on.
NARRATOR: The American steamer the Monumental City was one of the first screw steamers to cross the Pacific. One of many ships attracted by the Victorian goldrush, it sank in 1853 off Gabo Island near Mallacoota. This is the first wreck John Black dived on.
JOHN BLACK: The first wreck I dived on down here was very well known, it was the Monumental City up at Talburger(?) Island. It was a screw steamer according to all records. It was unfortunately lost at Gabo; 1853 I think it went down on the island.
A lot of the women used to carry the valuables because the men used to - it was ‘53, it was about the gold mining in California, etc. and a lot of these were gold miners, and they do get a fair flogging with the big seas, so most of the stuff is either stuck in either a crevice or stuck in, as the metal breaks down it cements everything together so you’ve actually got to chip away with a little abalone tool or something to loosen something up.
Probably the exception to that is gold coins. For some reason or other you’ll see a gold coin shining on the bottom and it will just be pushed up and it will be laying there, and then it’ll get washed away with the surge and it’ll fall into a little crevice or a gutter and if you’ve very, very careful when you swim around peering down these tiny little crevices, only as wide as your finger, you might just happen to see the little knurled edge of a coin and with a pair of tweezers you might pick it up. I’ve got a couple of coins off it but that’s about all the divers would ever have got off it. When we first came down here, like money was the main object and getting scrap metal, there was no outlet for it here so you went out on a good flat day and you were diving abalone and wrecks, you’d swim over one and not even bother fossicking around, actually you’d go away from it to get away from the rust colour that might affect the abalone. I wasn’t all that excited on actually going searching for wrecks here except the Monumental City which sank in 1853, and there were stories that some of the early divers picked up a few coins and I was probably guilty of that in the early days around the Dunbar. I knew were to go, how to go and how to look and I was able to find a couple of coins which I’ve had made into pendants for my wife and my children.
But nothing like boxes of them, if you got 2 or 3 you were doing alright, not pirates getting around with treasure chests. But again you’ve really you’ve got to have a good flat day and to seek these tiny little crevices and gutters out where these things would wash across.
The women used to carry the money or any gold they had because the blokes were likely to get knocked on the head. And I’d imagine that, as a lot of the women died on the boat, that as they were getting off the boat they may have been carrying purses or bags or personal stuff. And I’ve often gone up there and tried to picture, if I went in there where would I put a line ashore and where would these people have been trying to get across to the island and their misfortune may be got drowned or dropped their bag in the water. So I think away from the wreck somewhere there could be some coins and stuff that would be, you know, great to find.
NARRATOR: To find out more about Victorian shipwrecks search the Victorian Heritage Database at http://heritage.vic.gov.au