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Record No: mha00000197
Title: Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society fonds
Dates: 1927-1997, predominant 1972-1989
Location: Bank 5, shelves 1-2
Provenance: Newfoundland Maritime Archaeology Society (NMAS)
Extent: 1.82 m of textual records
124 photographs, colour, various sizes
173 negatives, colour
76 slides
2 audiovisual recordings
1 sound recording
Organization: Arranged in 14 series: Series 1: Constitution/Articles of Association, Series 2: Membership, Series 3: Executive Committee, Series 4: Artifacts Committee, Series 5: Fund Raising Committee, Series 6: Planning Committee, Series 7: Publicity and Finance Committee, Series 8: Annual Reports, Series 9: Correspondence, Series 10: Projects and Courses, Series 11: NMAS Publications , Series 12: Publications from Other Sources, Series 13: Photographs, AV material, sound recordings, Series 14: Miscellaneous
Restrictions: Unknown at this point as a formal donation has not been made (as of April 2014).
Adm. Hist/Bio. Sketch: The Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS) was founded during a meeting of ten like-minded individuals on July 27, 1972 in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. These individuals were interested in marine archaeology and underwater diving and were concerned for the safety or protection of wreck sites around the coast of Newfoundland, which were being scavenged by recreational divers. The constitution of the society was adopted on September 20, 1972. The objects of NMAS were primarily to increase communication and cooperation between divers, persons interested in marine archaeology, and the federal and provincial governments; to create awareness, stimulate interest, and provide training in marine archaeology; to locate and chart Newfoundland wrecks; and to protect as much as possible those sites and artifacts which were of potential historical or tourist significance. The society was incorporated in 1974 as the Avalon Marine Archaeology Society, reflecting the membership focus on St. John's and surrounding areas. The next year this was changed to Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society as the scope of their projects expanded. Charitable status was granted in 1976.
    The original organization of NMAS consisted of an executive committee of the chairperson, secretary and treasurer, chosen by a majority vote of the membership. In 1981, the constitution was amended to include two general members in the executive committee and the chairperson's title was changed to president. The society grew to include a peak number of approximately sixty members in 1979. As well, four additional committees were formed: the Artifacts Committee in 1974, to care for the artifacts raised during excavations of wreck sites; a Fund Raising Committee in 1978, devoted to writing grant applications and requests for funds; a Planning Committee, created in 1980 to brainstorm new directions and projects for the society; and finally, a Publicity and Finance Committee in 1981, to further public awareness of the society and their aims, and to manage financial matters.
    NMAS conducted several large projects, often funded by or in partnership with government organizations. In 1973, the society began diving at Bay Bulls, NL, where they discovered and identified the wreck site of the HMS Sapphire, a British vessel sunk by the French in 1696. The first year of operation was spent photographing the site, putting together a photomosaic from which they created a site map for future dives. A trial excavation was undertaken in 1974 and a metal grid was placed over the wreck the following year to more specifically label the artifacts being raised. Through their work on the site, the HMS Sapphire was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 1975. Unfortunately, legislation regarding wreck sites was still fairly vague and further excavation was stalled in 1976 due to prolonged deliberations between federal and provincial authorities over territorial rights. In the meantime, NMAS provided recommendations to both governments for the protection of provincial rights and of the site's historical significance. In 1977, NMAS signed a contract with the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, agreeing to supervise excavation of the Sapphire conducted by federal marine archaeologists. While NMAS was no longer able to work on the Sapphire site, they continued to survey two unidentified wrecks in Bay Bulls, which they had discovered at the same time. Partnering with NORDCO, the society conducted a side-scan sonar survey of the entirety of Bay Bulls in 1980. This survey then provided targets that were searched for during the 1981 diving season.
    A second major operation focused on a wreck site at Trinity, NL, briefly surveyed by society members in 1977. The following year, NMAS organized a month-long excavation and survey of the wreck, which remained unidentified throughout. NMAS members speculated that the wreck might have been the Speedwell, which sank in 1781, but evidence revealed only that it was most probably a British merchant vessel of the mid-18th century. The wreck was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 1978 and the provincial government continued to fund large portions of the NMAS-operated excavations. Between four separate operations in the diving seasons of 1977-1980, the society was granted a total of $78 000 to complete the work. The artifacts raised from these excavations were treated over the next five years and turned over to the Newfoundland Museum to be displayed in the marine museum established at the Murray Premises of St. John's. Artifacts were also displayed at the Ryan Premises in Trinity. Contracted by NMAS, Bora Merdsoy produced an 8.5 minute colour film of the Trinity project entitled "Plunge into the Past." This film was completed in 1985 and accepted by the provincial archives in 1986.
    NMAS also conducted extensive projects in Conche, Isle Aux Morts, and Port Kirwan of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their work at Conche, focusing on the Marguerite, included a search for a second vessel, the Murinet, known to have sunk at the same time. Between 1978 and 1979, society divers made a total of 98 dives. The Marguerite was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 1978. In Isle Aux Morts, the so-called "astrolabe site" was discovered by Wayne Mushrow in November of 1981. The society conducted a survey of the wreck in 1982, which was declared a Provincial Historic Site the following year. Unfortunately the society was unable to procure the large amount of funding needed to conduct a thorough excavation and the project stalled after two years of operations. The astrolabe found by Mushrow, however, was deemed the oldest ever discovered in Canadian waters. The Port Kirwan project in Fermeuse ran from 1985-86, surveying a site discovered by Jim Melling in 1983.
    The society undertook many smaller operations, often organizing day or weekend long surveys in fulfillment of their original intention of locating and surveying wrecks along the coast of Newfoundland. This included extended surveys of the Avalon Peninsula throughout the 1970's, the Northern Peninsula in 1981 and the Burin Peninsula in 1982. In addition, their experience and recommendations influenced the formation of provincial legislation on the treatment of historical objects, protection of wreck sites, and the activities of divers.
    A recurring project was the society's Underwater Archaeology course in conjunction with Memorial University's Extension Services. This course was given on several occasions between 1976 and 1985, and taught the basics of Underwater Archaeology with a varying degree of emphasis placed on artifact conservation or archaeological diving, depending on the year. A similar course was also given at Halifax in 1978 and at Port Aux Basques in 1982.
    Society members were actively involved in similar societies, associations, organizations, and institutions. Members subscribed to multiple newsletters, attended conferences, and gave lectures, presenting their research and findings prodigiously. Conference attendance and publications were largely spearheaded by Dr. Vernon C. Barber, Professor of Biology at MUN, and Janette M. Ginns (formerly Barber). Many members were also connected to Memorial University in St. John's; university facilities were used for meetings, as well as providing laboratory space and equipment for artifact conservation.
    In 1982, NMAS celebrated their 10th anniversary with a special edition of the annual report and a film show attended by over a hundred people. The society carried on for another four years unabated in success, but then seems to have lost momentum. Annual reports cease after 1986 and membership participation declined steadily. Planned dives became less frequent with emphasis placed more on lectures and film shows. A newsletter of 1989 records the resignation of the executive committee and it is assumed that this marked the disbanding of the society.
Scope and Content: The Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society fonds contains the articles of association, meeting minutes, correspondence, annual reports, and newsletters of the society and its committees, as well as records relating to general operational tasks and publications, lectures, and papers written by society members. There are extensive publications from other sources of similar mandates and relevant subjects, including newsletters and occasional meeting minutes from societies, associations, and institutions with which NMAS members were involved. There are also photographs, negatives, slides, audio, and audiovisual material for the most part depicting underwater excavations and surveys.
Terms Governing Use: Copyright is held by the creator or his/her heirs.
Acquisition Source: Dr. Geoffrey Farmer
Custodial History: Records were created through the daily operations of the society, largely by members of the executive committee. They appear to have been shuffled between various chairpersons/presidents and secretaries. Following the dissolution of the society, the collection was stored in the office of Dr. Geoffrey Farmer, professor of geography at Memorial University. Shortly after Dr. Farmer's retirement in 1996, the records were transferred to the Maritime History Archive, although they were not officially accessioned until 2014.
Finding Aids: MHA finding aid 134
Subject: Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS)
Subject: Marine archaeology--Newfoundland and Labrador
Subject: Shipwrecks--Newfoundland and Labrador
Subject: Deep diving--Newfoundland and Labrador


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