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.

TX5RV – Two weeks before departure

In two weeks time we should be in French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti, ready to depart for Raivavae on the 30th October. I was listening earlier to TX5D running a nice pileup on 15 m CW – Grant and Rob have been on Raivavae for around ten days, and according to ClubLog have made over 15k QSOs at the moment.

This year has seen three operations from the Austral Islands so far. Yoshi, FO/KH0PR, was active from Raivavae (OC-114) in May, then UT6UD operated from Rurutu (OC-050) in July. The current TX5D effort from Raivavae has been putting decent signals into New Jersey for the last week. Hopefully Don, VE7DS and myself will make several thousand more QSOs from Raivavae at the beginning of November. Why this sudden rush of operations to FO/A (there has been little other activity since 2009)? Probably because the lack of DXpeditions to FO/A has meant that the islands have climbed rapidly up the most-wanted lists – currently FO/A is at 42 on ClubLog’s most wanted list, two places above ZL9 and one spot above VP8O!

We will be looking at the distribution of bands and locations where TX5D made their QSOs and see if we need to revise our plans – originally we had thought to spend a lot of time on 10 and 12 m, but from emails we’ve been receiving it seems there’s plenty of demand for 80 m, too.

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.

TX5RV – callsign issued

Callsign TX5RV has just been issued for our upcoming mini-dxpedition to Raivavae (DXCC: FO/A, Austral Islands; IOTA: OC-114). Don, VE7DS, and I will be operating from  Raivavae from 30th October until 5th November, running two medium-power stations into verticals at the water’s edge. Operation will mostly be CW, but we may find some time for digital modes or SSB. More information will be added to the links on the DX section of this site over the next few weeks.

Raivavae – Austral Islands

Don, VE7DS and Dave, K3EL are planning a mini-dxpedition to Raivavae, (FO/A, Austral Islands, IOTA OC-114) in early November 2013. The Austral Islands are currently 44th on the Club Log “most wanted” list, very high for a fly-in destination, with a particularly low percentage of Club Log users having contacts on 10 or 12 m.

This is not intended to be a full-on dxpedition, but significant time will be spent on the air for approximately one week, running medium-power stations with vertical antennas on the beach. More info will be added on this site (see links to the right) in the coming weeks.

Raivavae saellite photo

Satellite view of Raivavae. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov