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Memento : Issue 31
A team of maritime explorers recently discovered the wreck of the TSS Kanowna, which sank in deep seas off the Victorian coast in 1929. In its lifetime, it had been both a passenger ship and a naval vessel. Peter Taylor, a member of the search team, tells the story of the Kanowna and explains how a record from the National Archives proved a vital clue in the search for the shipwreck. Our search began with a dream of finding new, unlocated shipwrecks. Southern Ocean Exploration is a group of divers with a focus on maritime heritage, wreck preservation and deep-water diving. Our mission is to locate and record what lies undiscovered in the coastal waters around southern and south-eastern Australia. Most of Victoria’s shallow water wrecks have been found and researchers have pored over newspapers, old charts and Notices to Mariners to locate new sites. To find undiscovered shipwrecks, we needed new research techniques and new sources. The National Archives of Australia proved to be such a source. Visiting the Melbourne reading room unearthed masses of unexamined documents. Several weeks and many files later, we found the proverbial needle in the haystack: a World War II Navy file that pinpointed the position of what we guessed to be the TSS Kanowna. From war service to disaster The Kanowna was built by the well-known shipbuilding company, William Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton in Scotland, for the Australian United Steam Navigation Company and was launched in 1902. At 6942 tons and more than 400 feet in length, it was large for the Australian coastal trade. With three classes of accommodation, it outclassed the Adelaide Steamship Company’s competing steamer, Yongala, in everything but speed. With the outbreak of World War I, the Australian Government commandeered the Kanowna to act as a troop carrier. The steamer carried 500 members of the 2nd battalion of the Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to Port Moresby, as part of a mission to capture German stations in the German-occupied south-west Pacific. The official war history notes that the regiment had been hastily mobilised, the ship was poorly equipped, and the civilian crew had not volunteered for overseas service. The Kanowna’s firemen refused to stoke the ship on the way to Rossel Island, and the Kanowna and its troops returned to Australia. In 1915, the Kanowna was again called up for war service to transport Australian Shipwreck in the Archives [above] A member of the Southern Ocean Exploration team explores the wreck of the Kanowna. 8 NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA