Thursday, 21 January 2021


An exciting find

A 3m long plank of wood believed to have come from the wreck of HMS Buffalo was found on the beach opposite the Buffalo monument in Whitianga early last week.

Hamilton grandfather, Barrie Todd, and his two young grandsons, Damon Birkett and Jaxon Gainford, were enjoying a family holiday in Whitianga when they noticed copper sticking out of the sand while walking along Buffalo Beach. They unearthed the plank and took it to the Mercury Bay Museum.

Museum manager, Rebecca Cox, was particularly interested as the copper work and nails correspond with a similar piece of wood from HMS Buffalo which is currently on display in the museum.

In the next few weeks, Kurt Bennett, an archaeologist from Flinders University in Australia and Brigid Gallagher, a heritage conservation specialist from Waihi, will visit the museum to assess the wood and provide advice on the best way to preserve it. They will confirm whether it can be displayed. Funding will be requested from Te Papa museum in Wellington to obtain Brigid’s services.

“Kurt has been to our museum before and has recorded and taken samples of other timber and copper in our possession,” says Rebecca. “There are a few other timber pieces that he is not aware of, so we will be able to do a full analysis on all of these artefacts,” says Rebecca. 

Kurt will also be completing a site map of the Buffalo wreck on a dive when he is here. The wreck is located in the water just off Buffalo Beach, approximately 200m east of Whitianga Continuing Care. A small yellow buoy marks the location of the wreck.

“Until the experts come, we have to keep the plank we received last week wet, which we are doing with sea-water soaked towels at present, but unfortunately in just the short while that the plank has been with us the copper is starting to oxidise,” says Rebecca. 

“We now have GPS co-ordinates of where it was found, which will help to update the archaeological site information held with Heritage New Zealand.

“Through this process, we have learned a lot about what to do if you find a piece from a shipwreck or any other artefact - take photos of it in its current position, record the GPS location and notify Heritage New Zealand or the nearest museum of the find. This last part is really important, especially regarding shipwrecks prior to 1900 as the artefacts are automatically protected under heritage laws, making it illegal to remove them. Removing them from the beach and having them at a residence is considered scavenging and anyone caught doing so can face a large fine. So, it is best to contact the closest museum or Heritage New Zealand straight away.”

Pictured: Hamilton grandfather, Barrie Todd, with his two grandsons, Damon Birkett and Jaxon Gainford, and the plank of wood they found on Buffalo Beach early last week. It is believed that the wood have come from the wreck of HMS Buffalo.


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