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The SS Xantho (1848–1872) project is nearing completion after three decades. The wreck was discovered in 1979, and the project commenced in 1983 with a pre-disturbance survey (McCarthy, 1988a). One milestone on a very long road since has been the reassembly of the ship's horizontal engine in the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries. Raised in 1985, deconcreted, disassembled, re-treated and then reassembled in the intervening quarter of a century, the engine can now be turned over by hand (Garcia, 2009). Acknowledged as the Museum's greatest conservation feat, the Xantho, with its very rich colonial, social and engineering history, now takes its place alongside the stern of the VOC ship Batavia (1628–1629) and its related exhibits as the second of the museum's iconic shipwreck attractions (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. The engine of the SS Xantho as displayed in the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries. (Photo Ross Potter)

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In addition to the rebuild of the ship's horizontal trunk engine in the exhibition gallery, a working model of the ship's unique engine was produced in 1991–2 from the engineering and archaeological data. In recent years there has been considerable success in reconstructing ancillary machinery, raised a few years after the engine, including the boiler safety valve and what was once thought to be a feed-water-heater, but now understood to be an early distiller. As with the engine, research into these two objects is providing new information and understanding not available from the historical record. Central to this latest phase has been a member of the museum's conservation section, Alex Kilpa. In the process of understanding and reconstructing these two objects—both received in an extremely fragile state and in hundreds of pieces from the treatment tanks—he also completed a Masters in Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University (Kilpa, 2012).

Since the original assessment of the site, there have been visits to the site by archaeology and conservation staff (1988, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2013) that included monitoring of sacrificial anodes placed on the hull in 1983, further site recording including corrosion studies, and the recovery of ancillary machinery (MacLeod, 2009). Two seminars have resulted in the publication of papers that use the Xantho project as a catalyst for the study of iron, steel and steamship archaeology across Australia and elsewhere. The first was held in 1985 as the Xantho engine was being raised, and the second, two decades later in 2006, to celebrate the reassembly of the engine and the return of all its parts to the ‘systemic’ or living environment in the museum's exhibition halls (McCarthy, 1988b; McCarthy et al., 2009). Together they provide a useful insight into the state and development of iron, steel and steamship archaeology in Australia.

While many scientific publications have been produced (for example McCarthy, 1999; McCarthy and Garcia, 2004; Carpenter, 2009; Godfrey et al., 2009; Mardikian et al., 2009; Richards and Burrow, 2009) the project also has had throughout, including in Kilpa's work, a very strong socio-historical focus which has also attracted considerable attention in museum circles (McCarthy, 2011). In the process, the owner of the SS Xantho, Manchester-born C. E. Broadhurst, a once forgotten man, long-since dismissed as a creative though ignominious failure, has been elevated to his rightful status as one of Australia's greatest entrepreneurs (McCarthy, 2000). Joining him in his voyage back from obscurity, as a result of the attempt to understand the anomalous remains at the wreck of SS Xantho, are his Irish wife Eliza, one of Australia's early feminists and their daughter Katherine a London-based suffragette. The latest popular offering, appearing alongside other interpretive material in the museum's Shipwreck Galleries, is an award-winning website on the archaeology, conservation and associated socio-historical research entitled ‘Steamship to suffragettes, Guano to pearls’ (http://museum.wa.gov.au/broadhurst/xantho-shipwreck). Adding to the multi-dimensional nature of the Xantho-Broadhurst project, the website and exhibits also feature a number of Indigenous paintings located quite some distance inland and now recognized as likely to be SS Xantho (Bigourdan, 2013). Unsurprisingly, given that the Xantho proved to be Broadhursts's most costly and ill-fated entrepreneurial schemes, these are the only known depictions we have of the ship.

While studies are on-going the final archaeological report is now being assembled in the expectation it will take around 3–4 years to complete. It will of necessity involve contributions from a wide variety of specialist contributors, including, given the 30 years this project has been underway, some long-since deceased.

References

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  2. References
  • Bigourdan, N., 2013, Overviews and Developments in Indigenous Maritime Rock Art Studies in Western Australia. The Great Circle: Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History, 35.2, 1427.
  • Carpenter, J., 2009, The Xantho engine—conserving the iron components, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds) Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 8991. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • Garcia, R., 2009, Dismantling and reconstructing the SS Xantho engine, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds) Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 119127. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • Godfrey, I., King-Smith, N., Morin, K., and Richards, V., 2009. The analysis and conservation of organic materials form the SS Xantho, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds) Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 9295. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • Kilpa, A., 2012, The Analysis of a Boiler Safety Valve Recovered from SS Xantho (1848–1872) and its Historical, Social, and Engineering Ramifications. Unpublished MA (Maritime Archaeology) Thesis. Flinders University, Adelaide, http://www.maawa.net/uploads/Xantho_Thesis_Published_Version.pdf, accessed 9 December 2013.
  • MacLeod, I. D., 2009, Where to now: conservation of iron shipwrecks. Experiences from the SS Xantho project and their application to the H.L. Hunley and USS Monitor projects, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds) Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 119127. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • McCarthy, M., 1988a, SS Xantho: The pre-disturbance, assessment, excavation and management of an iron steam shipwreck off the coast of Western Australia. IJNA 17.4, 339347.
  • McCarthy M. (ed.), 1988b, Papers from the 1st Australian seminar on the management of iron ships and steamship wrecks. Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Seminar, Series No. 1, Fremantle.
  • McCarthy, M., 1999, A marriage of conservation and archaeology tested: the results after 14 years. The Bulletin of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material 22–23, 1622.
  • McCarthy, M., 2000, Iron and steamship archaeology: success and failure of the SS Xantho. New York.
  • McCarthy, M., 2011. Museums and Maritime Archaeology, in A. Catsambis , B. Ford and D. Hamilton (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology, 10321054. New York.
  • McCarthy, M., and Garcia, R., 2004, Screw Threads on the SS Xantho: a case of standardisation in 19th century Britain. IJNA 33.1, 5466.
  • McCarthy, M. , Hosty K. and Philippou C. (eds), 2009, Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • Mardikian, P., Drews, M., González, N., de Viviés, P. and Hunter, J. W., 2009, Searching for a diamond in the rust: a review of large-scale archaeological iron, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds), Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 8288. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.
  • Richards, V., and Burrow, L., 2009, Conservation of copper alloys from SS Xantho, in M. McCarthy , K. Hosty and C. Philippou (eds) Iron, Steel and Steamship Archaeology: Papers from the 2nd Australian Seminar held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, 96104. The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology Special Publication Number 15, Fremantle.