View of the Samuel Wright site on Day 7 of the excavation (Ross Anderson/ WA Museum)

Nationality: North American

Vessel type: Whaling ship

Date lost: 8 July 1840

Cause of loss: Blown ashore

Number of Casualties: Nil

Discovery date: 9 February 2016

Location/water depth: Buried in reclaimed land

Captain Francis Coffin in his ship Samuel Wright pioneered North American whaling off Western Australia’s coast. While anchored in Koombana Bay during the 1840 bay-whaling season, a ‘perfect hurricane’ blew the ship ashore. The entrepreneurial captain and his crew continued whaling using the ship’s boats, built a farm out of the ship’s timbers and rented the beached wreck out as a storehouse, making it one of Bunbury’s first buildings.

During the first official survey of Bunbury in 1841-42, Samuel Wright’s still-standing main mast was used as a trig point, making Bunbury the only town in Australia to have its town plan based on a shipwreck. Historical survey data provided an accurate position for the wreck, buried in reclaimed land beneath a car park. In 2011 and 2015 water probe surveys located a large wooden structure buried in this area, which an archaeological excavation in 2016 confirmed to be Samuel Wright.

A blessing in disguise?

In 1842 Captain Coffin sold his whaler’s farm and cottage to Church of England clergyman John Wollaston, and returned to America. Reverend Wollaston built a small timber chapel on the land making it the first Anglican church in the southwest, which is the second-oldest church still standing in Western Australia.


Emily Paskov excavating a barrel stave (Ross Anderson/ WA Museum)

Conservator Jon Carpenter cutting a timber sample from the Samuel Wright (Ross Anderson/ WA Museum)

A whaler's leather shoe from Samuel Wright (WA Museum)

(Koombana Wreck) 3D model of Samuel Wright (Tempus Archaeology/ WA Museum)

Objects of interest (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the shipwreck story.

Artefacts and images associated with 2011 and 2016 excavations, historical imagery of Koombana Bay wrecks, maps and charts.

AMMC Member Institution

Western Australian Maritime Museum

submitted by Ross Anderson

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