About Sunken Treasures

Sunken Treasures of Port Phillip Bay

The Sunken Treasures of Port Phillip Bay collection consists of authentic ships’ crockery, bottles, stoneware jars and various items dating from the 1840’s to the 1970’s. When anyone views the collection for the first time they immediately assume the items came from a shipwreck. Nothing in this collection comes from a shipwreck. All the pieces were found scattered around the bottom of Port Phillip Bay Victoria, Australia. This site was created to share the finds with anyone who might be interested.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

We named this site sunken treasures because it sounded more appealing than Sunken Trash; which is what the collection actually is. All of it was thrown overboard years ago by crew members of a ship who were in charge of emptying the garbage cans or perhaps by a disgruntled passenger unhappy with the meal of the day. The Disposal of garbage into our oceans and waterways was a common habit a hundred years ago. I do believe that if was possible to walk underwater from continent to continent along the ocean floor, a person would only need to follow the trail of trash from a particular country in order to find their way there.

First Find

The collection began with an item we found on one of our first dives in 1984. A saucer stamped Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company. On the rear of it was a makers name and the impressed numbers 6.88 (June 1888). I remember wondering why other divers hadn’t bothered to pick it up seeing we were diving in an area that had been visited on numerous occasions. The answer to this became apparent as we accumulated dive time in the bay. The strong currents that prevail in Port Phillip Bay regularly change the lay of the sandy bottom . The saucer had been buried (possibly for years) until we happened to swim over it at a moment when it lay uncovered. For this reason John and I constantly revisit previously dived areas.

Where is the stuff ?

Another question we are asked is: where did you find all this the stuff ? Our answer is a simple one. Where ever ships have sailed and where ever ships have anchored. During the 19th century it was a legal requirement that migrant ships arriving into port undergo an inspection by government health officials. Their job was to ensure passengers were in good health and not carrying a communicable disease. The ships were forced to anchor immediately upon entering the bay and await inspection. Whilst at anchor, life on board the ship went on as usual. Meals and beverages were consumed and therefore garbage thrown out each day. If you can find and search a ships’ anchorage, you should be able to find all sorts of stuff there. Along the sides of a pier or along any shipping channel. Where ever ships or boats have traveled there will always be a trail of trash.

Diving Port Phillip Bay

Port Phillip Bay is a divers paradise. In some areas the bottom of the bay resembles a desert with high shifting sand dunes. In other areas (particularly the entrance known as The Rip) the bottom consists of magnificent reef formations covered with sea growth teeming with fish life. A deep canyon the top of which lies submerged at a depth of 20 metres runs along the southern end of the bay and extends to the east opposite the historic town of Queenscliff, (where we keep our boat). This canyon hosts magnificent cliff faces dotted with undercuts and dark caves. In parts the canyon plunges to depths of over 90 metres. The water visibility is generally good all year round and the average depth mostly favourable for amateur scuba divers. This is one reason why we have accumulated the thousand or so pieces so far. The strong currents in Port Phillip enable a diver to scan large areas of the bottom on a typical half hour dive. Drift diving is a common way of diving here. You simply jump in whilst the current flows and allow the water to take you on a free ride.


The Sample page shows a cross section of our finds in the collection. Where possible we included information worth noting.


The Nautical page exhibits our finds of nautical crockery. These items belong exclusively to the world of ships and shipping lines.The 1850’s was a time when sailing ships were becoming old fashioned and steam powered vessels were becoming the preferred mode of sea travel. Shipping line companies were forced to adopt steam powered vessels in order to lure passengers from their competitors. They scrambled to use the words Steam Navigation in their titles to show that their ships were technologically advanced.

The older pieces of crockery are generally thick and heavy and named ironstone china by the makers. This type of china was invented in the United Kingdom in around 1850 and became very popular for use on board a ship. There is actually no iron in ironstone china; its name is derived from its notable durability. The crockery used after 1900 is much finer which shows that travelling aboard a ship was considerably more comfortable at this later time.

The nautical page contains information and photos of artefacts on 88 shipping concerns.

Glass & Stone

The Glass & Stone page is mainly bottles and earthenware originally used as food and storage containers. Plastic didn’t exist in those days. These items tell a story of life on board a ship but were also widely used in everyday life on land as well.


The action page contains short video clips of some of our dives in Port Phillip Bay taken within the last few years. We will of course be adding to this page as time goes on.


All the items we find undergo a simple preservation method. They are left in fresh water for at least 6 months and the water changed on a regular basis. This allows any salt which has been absorbed by the item to dissolve into the fresh water instead of crystallising within the relic ultimately leading to the destruction of the piece. This treatment is needed mainly for the china pieces.

We hope you enjoy the site.

Carl Paolini & John Brennan