Nail ignites shipwreck mystery

23:30, Apr 26 2009
ARCHAELOGICAL TREASURE: Tony Ensor with one of the ship nails dating back to the mid 1800s that he found buried at Anaura Bay.

The shifting sands of Anaura Bay, north of Gisborne, have unearthed a rare piece of maritime history - a bronze nail from a historic shipwreck similar to that of a gold-laden ship which foundered at the Auckland Islands in 1866.

The nail is believed to be up to 200 years old but the identity of the uncovered wreck remains a mystery.

Anaura Bay resident Tony Ensor made the find several years ago but it has only been assessed by maritime officials in Wellington this week.

He said he noticed something scraping the bottom of his fishing boat about a metre from shore and waited for a particularly low tide to investigate. He discovered a piece of wood protruding from the seabed and unearthed three pieces of battered wood with five bronze nails attached.

"Digging was bloody hard yakka, but once we found one nail we were intrigued and kept digging till the tide stopped us. It was not till we sat on the beach and looked at the hunks of wood [that we] saw wooden plugs had been hammered into them."

Mr Ensor forwarded one of the nails to the Maritime Archaeological Association, which shed more light on its origins after meeting on Wednesday.

Association vice-president Malcolm McGregor said the cast bronze deck fastener, or spike, was similar to those used in the mid-1800s and discovered from shipwrecks in the Auckland Islands, 465 kilometres south of Bluff.

The most famous of these was the General Grant, which foundered in 1866, along with its cargo of gold, worth $2.4 million at today's prices. Attempts have been made to find the ship, and its gold, to no avail.

Mr McGregor said 14 ships were known to have sunk along East Cape between 1810 and 1920.

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