Shipwrecked whalers an insight into past (Australia)

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A makeshift camp burrowed by shipwrecked whalers into cliffs on a remote West Coast island is hoped to provide new insight into the life of some of the first white settlers of South Australia.

The camp, made in caves atop cliffs on Flinders Island, was fashioned more than 160 years ago and accessed this week for the first time by archeologists.

The whaling vessel Vulcan was shipwrecked near Bryant Bay on the island's south coast in April, 1845. All 18 aboard swam to safety and established their temporary homes above the shoreline.

Department for Environment and Heritage maritime archeologist Terry Arnott said former owners of the island told him about stone ruins in the area in 1998 and later that year he established there were habitable caves underneath them. He and historian Sarah Laurence, however, did not have the funding for another expedition until this year.

Mr Arnott said the caves became home to half the Vulcan's crew for up to four months, while nine crew members sailed in a canvas boat to Port Adelaide for a new vessel. ''The survivors were left behind for months before they were rescued and we can see by the structures that they had no idea how long they'd be here,'' he said.

So far 13 dwellings have been found, as well as a previously unrecorded spring which the survivors used for fresh water.

The caves are knee-deep in silt from exposure, so Mr Arnott has been unable to find any artefacts.

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