Legend has it that on a certain day in January 1836 two men found the remains of an old boat semi-buried in the dunes of the then deserted Armstrong Bay – between the towns of Port Fairy and Warrnambool on the coast South Australia. . The dark tone of the hull wood intrigued them.
Since then, the subject has also intrigued all Australians to this day.
For good reason: if this boat really existed – since the last time it was supposed to be seen was almost a century and a half before it was found already buried – the whole history of Australia would have to be rewritten. .
Legend or truth?
The reason would be the origin of this mysterious boat, on which many doubts and no certainty weigh – not even if it would have existed, or if everything is only a legend.
Named “Boat of Mahogany” (alluding to the dark color of the wood of its hull), the story took the form of an almost historical scandal, such as the possibility that these remains were from a ship that had touched the ground. Australian before the official landing of the first European in the country – carried out by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606 and long before the English captain James Cook took possession of Australian territory on behalf of the English crown in 1770.
According to the thesis, these debris would be those of a Spanish galleon – or, a hypothesis which would eventually gain the status of “the most accepted theory”, of a Portuguese caravel, a ship which only existed in the 16th century – therefore long before that. she knows the history of Australia, and one which, surprisingly, would link that country’s past to Portugal, with all the historical implications that would entail.
The thesis that a Portuguese caravel was the first ship to reach Australia puzzles Australians today. It would be like discovering the remains of a Chinese reed off the coast of Brazil, long before Cabral – a historic blow.
He disappeared in 1880
“Everything suggests that the rubble came from a Portuguese caravel,” said Australian Pat Connelly, chairman of the Mahogany Boat Committee, an Australian entity created by those who believe that the history of this country is not entirely done as the books indicate.
And, like so many Australians, Connelly is firmly set to prove it – although the greatest proof he can have, which would be the remains of the alleged caravel, no one who is still alive has ever seen.
The last time the remains of the mysterious boat allegedly found on this Australian beach were seen was in 1880, when a letter from a local resident recounted the removal of a few “pieces of wood to be used in building its house “, which, however, has also not been identified – and, certainly, if it once existed, it no longer exists today.
This would help identify the type of wood used in this supposed ship, a fundamental detail in tracing its origin, because despite the name “Barco de Mahogany” (“Mahogany Ship”, as it would be immortalized in Australia), even this could not be guaranteed by fleeting reports from the past.
Warrnambool Art Gallery
Since then, the debris of the alleged boat, which from time to time pushed in the shuttle sand on the beach, as reported by former residents of the area, never resurfaced, which only made the problem worse. doubt: would this boat really exist or was it just a legend?
Why did no one know?
According to the thesis of the discovery of Australia by the Portuguese, also defended by the writer and Australian historian Kenneth McIntyre, author of the book “The secret discovery of Australia”, this ship would have been one of the three caravels of the fleet of the navigator Cristóvão de Mendonça, who in 1522 set out in search of the legendary “Gold Islands” described by Marco Polo.
One of the caravels got lost and ended up on the south coast of present-day Australia, where it was wrecked. Its possible survivors – technically the first Europeans to touch Australian soil – would have been killed by the wild aborigines who inhabited the territory.
Three reasons for the puzzle
But the fact would have been concealed, for three reasons:
1 – Because at that time the Treaty of Tordesillas was in force, which divided the planet between the crowns of Portugal and Spain – and the mission of Mendonça had advanced illegally on the Spanish side.
2 – Because all documents about the expedition were lost in the fire that followed the earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755.
3 – Because, obviously, there is no one left alive from this boat to report the “discovery”, nor reliable reports from the ancestors of the aborigines of the region, the only “witnesses” of the alleged landing – although, oddly enough, some words from ancient aboriginal dialects bear some resemblance to Portuguese (“tortoise”, for example, was “tortoise”).
“Also, it should be noted that at that time Portugal already had a colony in Timor, which is just over 650 kilometers from the Australian coast,” McIntyre argued in his book.
For these and others, the writer, who died in 2004, was decorated by the Portuguese government with the Order of the Order of the Infant Dom Henrique, the “Navigator”.
And the Australian town of Warrnambool, which became known throughout Australia thanks to the mystery surrounding this enigmatic Portuguese caravel, acquired a model (a kind of pillar, used by the Portuguese of the past to mark discoveries and claim rights to the new earth) and a bust of the famous Portuguese discovery trips conductor, which today adorn two town squares.
The city that lives on mystery
In Warrnambool, which, no coincidence, is in an area called Costa dos Naufrágios due to the number of boats that have sunk there in the past, references to the history (or legend …) of the mysterious ship are everywhere.
The official symbol of the city is a caravel, like a kind of Australian Porto Seguro. Once every two years, a festival of Portuguese food takes place in the streets of the city. And even the local Mcdonalds displays a life-size replica of the boat that made the city famous, although no one can guarantee that it really existed.
But that doesn’t matter anymore. In Warrnambool, the favorite pastime of the locals is to scour the sand of the beach with metal detectors in search of such a mysterious ship (there is even a day on the municipal calendar dedicated to this collective activity) and the legend of the mahogany boat has already become more relevant than the story itself.
Another buried caravel
If the Portuguese boat, which would have touched Australia 250 years before its colonization began, existed, it would not be the only historic caravel that would end up being engulfed in the sands.
In 2008, a caravel from the same era, Bom Jesus (this is real and historically proven), was accidentally discovered buried at the edge of a Namibian beach, by a group of geologists, in search of diamond deposits. .
Inside the ship there were even some old coins.
But, for historians, the find was even more valuable, due to the boat itself (click here to know this story).
It’s also what resilient residents of Warrnambool dream of finding under the sands of Armstrong’s Bay Beach.