Some Mellish Reef History

It’s been a busy few months for me since we returned from Mellish Reef. The VK9MT story has appeared in various amateur radio magazines, so I won’t repeat it here. When researching some history related to Mellish Reef, I came across a few interesting facts which haven’t made it into amateur radio websites commenting on this entity, so here is a little bit of Mellish history.

Mellish Reef was discovered by Capt. Abraham Bristow in the whaler Thames, April 5th, 1812 (A Directory for the Navigation of the South Pacific Ocean, A. G. Findlay, London, 1877): “Highest part about 8 ft above water… Many boobies…”. Of interest to some of the VK9MT team, Bristow also discovered the Auckland Islands (several of us sailed close to the Auckland islands on our way down to Campbell Island in 2012). As can be seen below, Herald’s Beacon (the above-water part of Mellish Reef) is still today just a small pile of coral rubble rising a few feet above the water.

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Herald’s Beacon islet, Mellish Reef.

As in Bristow’s day, there are still many Boobies nesting on the island.

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Masked Booby, Mellish Reef

The Thames was captured from the Spanish prior to 1805, and owned by W. Mellish and Co. Originally 300 tons, she was lengthened and armed in 1811 when Bristow took command. At that time, she was issued with a “letter of marque”. (Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815, J. M. Clayton, Belforts, England, 2014), i.e. a license to chase the enemy (the French and Americans!), a privateer. Mellish Reef was named after the family and company of the owners. W. Mellish and Co. was variously active in whaling, shipbuilding and victualling from the latter part of the 18th century through to around 1834 when the younger William Mellish died. (‘A Trade so Uncontrollably Uncertain’ A Study of the English Southern Whale Fishery from 1815 to 1860; Dale Chatwin, MA Thesis, Australian National University, 1996). The British Southern Whale Fishery website hosted by the University of Hull is a rich source of information on whaling voyages and voyagers of this period.

So what has happened at Mellish Reef since its discovery? Since it offers little or nothing which could be exploited commercially, the answer appears to be “nothing much”. It has, however, been the scene of several shipwrecks:

Portrait_of_Captain_Sir_Henry_Mangles_Denham_by_Charles_Baugniet,_1849

Sir Henry Denham, Captain of the Herald

Mid-August 1856, wreck of the French steam frigate Duroc. Passengers and crew landed safely on a sandbank and three boats carrying thirty-three persons set out for Cape Tribulation (Aus). The thirty-one left on the sandbank with four months provisions eventually constructed a boat and reached Timor within 28 days. Cannon and fittings were found in 1977. (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=NENZC18571031.2.13). A few years later, H. M. S. Herald visited Mellish, and her captain, Henry Denham (photo) ordered a beacon to be constructed upon the only above-water land, so that in the future vessels would be able to better see the reef. The beacon was a tripod-like structure, made from the remains of the Duroc. Thus, the islet at Mellish Reef is called Herald’s Beacon. Denham and the crew of the Herald were responsible for charting much of the Coral Sea.

8 March 1923: Wreck of he steam ship, Mindini, 2065 tons. Struck Mellish Reef when bound from Tulagi to Brisbane. The passengers and crew abandoned her and remained on a small islet until SS Nauru Chief took them off. Interesting to note that from the newspaper clipping, it appears that Captain Clarke of the Defiance was aboard the Mindini, the Defiance having sunk and her crew having been rescued by the Mindini. Only to then ground on Mellish Reef… some folks have all the luck! (http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1883204)

Mindini wreck

Shipwreck, 20 May 1962: Wreck of the fishing vessel Kiaho Maru, 230 tons. Crew of 28 rescued by the Norwegian freighter Holthill.

None of these wrecks are visible today above the water from Herald’s Beacon islet.

VK9MT – Ready To Go!

After months of planning, the VK9MT team has started to assemble in Mackay, Australia, in preparation for departure to Mellish Reef, next week. Advance team and Evohe 19 Mar

The advance team of Heye (DJ9RR), Gene (K5GS), Pista (HA5AO) and Les (W2LK) are pictured in front of our transport, the Evohe, recently arrived from New Zealand.

The last few days I’ve been packing radio, amplifier, and all sorts of station accessories into two Pelican-style cases, plus a rolling duffel with clothes and yet more radio gear, and a backpack with plenty of photo equipment. In just a day or so, will be heading off to meet up with the rest of the VK9MT team.

VK9MT – Callsign Issued

Mellish logo masked booby standing yellow final

It’s official, on Friday, 27 September 2013 the Australian Communications and Media Authority issued the call sign VK9MT for use on Mellish Reef. Thanks to Chris Chapman and ODXG for their assistance with the process.

The 2014 Mellish Reef dxpedition website is now online. More information will continue be added as planning progresses for this trip. The nucleus of the VK9MT team is formed from the EU- and US-based members of the ZL9HR dxpedition. Currently number 24 on ClubLog’s Most Wanted List, Mellish Reef was last activated in 2009.

Mellish Reef

Mellish logo no callsign masked booby standing yellow finalAfter their successful operation from Campbell Island in December 2012, six members of the ZL9HR team, and additional operators, are today announcing their intention to activate Mellish Reef in early 2014.

Mellish Reef is located in the Coral Sea, approximately 1100 km north-east of Brisbane, Australia. Currently number 24 on ClubLog’s Most Wanted List, Mellish Reef was last activated in 2009. An international team will operate for 12 days, using 6 stations with linear amplifiers and vertical antennas.

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Discussions are underway with the appropriate authorities and potential transport suppliers. Additional information will be available on the team’s soon to be activated web site after the documentation is finalized.

Currently signed up for the project are: Pista HA5AO, Dave K3EL, Glenn KE4KY, Jacky ZL3CW, George HA5UK, Gene K5GS and Les W2LK. As the project progresses we will announce additional operators and details.

Please direct questions to:  Mellish2014@gmail.com

Mellish Reef