New doco series explores Fiordland history and nation's oldest shipwreck

8:49 pm on 28 January 2021

New Zealanders can soon dive into history - and remote Fiordland - and explore the country's oldest-known shipwreck as part of new documentary series.

The first episode of Furthest Frontier: Stories from Tamatea/Dusky Sound is set for release on Toitū Otago Settlers Museum's Facebook and YouTube pages on Saturday morning.

The rest of the series will be posted over the next seven weeks.

Last winter Toitū organised for professional maritime archaeologists to survey three sites - the 1795 Endeavour shipwreck, Cook's anchorage point in 1773 and the wreck of the Dunedin liner Waikare in 1910.

The relics of Aotearoa's past are hidden away in Fiordland's remote wilderness and buried beneath the waves in Tamatea/Dusky Sound.

It's the place where more than 240 people were marooned after the 1795 Endeavour - which isn't Captain Cook's vessel - was shipwrecked, home to the first known meeting of southern iwi with Captain James Cook, and much more.

But getting there is no easy - or cheap - task. It's a four-to-five day tramp in, a flight, or a five hour boat trip that leaves from Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound.

In July, an expedition team organised by Toitū Otago Settlers Museum ventured by boat to Tamatea to see what they could discover.

Toitū curator Seán Brosnahan scripted and presented the seven-part documentary that captured the trip.

Furthest Frontier presenter Sean Brosnahan prepares for filming in Breaksea Sound.

Furthest Frontier presenter Seán Brosnahan prepares for filming in Breaksea Sound. Photo: Chris Kwak

He felt for those on the Endeavour who found themselves shipwrecked and forced to live in unforgiving Fiordland for an unknown period of time.

"When you're in that really challenging environment, it's pouring with rain and the bush is so dense, and maybe you had to feed yourself from what you could catch around the place, which down there's plenty of fish in the sea," he said.

"Nonetheless the thought of being stranded there when they came from Sydney - hot, sunny Sydney - and here they are in the wet, quite cool Fiordland, to understand that sort of perspective and take yourself back in time that's really the driver I think, the story, the human interest part of the stories."

He remembered watching divers disappear beneath the waves, thinking how significant remote Dusky Sound is to Aotearoa's shared heritage.

"There were more people hanging around Dusky Sound and Fiordland back in the late 18th century than any other part of New Zealand practically, and we have so many firsts for New Zealand there.

"Cook obviously. The first brewery in New Zealand ... second brewery in New Zealand ... the first European shipwreck down there, the first European permanent house built there. The first European women and children to reside in New Zealand down there."

For maritime archaeologist Dr Matthew Carter, diving shipwreck of the 1795 Endeavour was on his bucket list.

Maritime archaeologist Dr Matt Carter and Will McKee at Facile Harbour, Resolution Island.

Maritime archaeologist Dr Matt Carter and Will McKee at Facile Harbour, Resolution Island. Photo: Chris Kwak

But he wasn't expecting to see much as others described it as a pile of rocks.

"These ships had to have rocks to balance them. But what we saw is this amazing kind of ballast pile and underneath were these timbers which were from 1795, had been underwater for that long and yet they were in perfectly intact condition with copper fastings on the rest of it. So as a maritime archaeologist, this is an incredibly well-preserved site from that long ago," he said.

It wasn't smooth sailing - the survey was done in winter in the middle of remote Fiordland.

"We were getting hailed on before we even got in the water so hail's bouncing off us and we're kind of looking at each other going 'whoa, are we actually going to do this?' But I suppose the advantage in that is it keeps the sandflies down.

"It's just an incredible place to work, so remote and the ship we're on had everything we needed to work productively in those really chilly conditions."

The series is a collaborative project between Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Heritage New Zealand and Fiordland Expeditions.

The team's other maritime archaeologist, Kurt Bennett, is New Zealand's foremost expert on the shipwrecked Endeavour.

"Making this film was an incredible opportunity to highlight aspects of maritime archaeology. The community is fortunate to have museums like Toitū and its staff, who are actively working in these areas of interest," he said.

The expedition was the brainchild of the museum's exhibition developer William McKee, who first started thinking about the trip back in lockdown.

The museum is home to a hunk of wood and a broken bottle from the Endeavour, and he was curious to see what remained.

"The Endeavour has been firstly attempted to be salvaged and then basically pilfered over that time 'cos everyone that went there - well, you take a bit of a souvenir - so sadly that's how there is so much of that collection in museums around.

"So it's a great opportunity to be able to confirm there's still stuff down there and then look at further ways of protecting (them)."

He was hopeful the documentary series would inspire more to learn about Aotearoa's history and could trigger other exploration missions.

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