Throwaway Navies: Naval Transition, Abandonment Processes, and the Archaeology of Australasia's Torpedo Boat Defences, 1884-1924

Author: James William Hunter

Hunter, James William, 2012 Throwaway Navies: Naval Transition, Abandonment Processes, and the Archaeology of Australasia's Torpedo Boat Defences, 1884-1924, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Between 1884 and 1924, a total of fourteen torpedo boats served in the naval defence of Australia and New Zealand. Australasia's colonial governments purchased these vessels as a consequence of fears of seaborne invasion by Imperial Russia and other foreign powers. Although New Zealand's torpedo boats were decommissioned by 1900, the Australian examples remained in active service up to and beyond consolidation of the colonial naval forces into a national navy in 1911. All were eventually put up for sale, but most failed to find buyers, were ultimately stripped and abandoned, and not reused in either a military or non-military capacity. Each torpedo vessel was assigned to a facility that served as its base of operations. In many cases, the infrastructure necessary to house, equip, arm, and maintain these boats was simply integrated within preexisting defensive installations known as submarine mining stations; however, some torpedo boats were provided with their own purpose-built facilities, while others were assigned no form of support infrastructure at all. Like the vessels they once supported, the vast majority of torpedo boat stations were decommissioned after the turn-of-the-century, salvaged of their reusable components, and the sites upon which they were located abandoned and never again used for military purposes. Utilising archaeological and archival data derived from eight Australasian torpedo boat defensive sites, this thesis identifies disposal and abandonment patterns that characterise the system in its entirety, and illuminates historical and cultural factors that influenced these trends. It integrates and applies two scholarly frameworks - the 'archaeology of the event' and culturally influenced signatures of archaeological site formation - as a means to identify, analyse, and interpret the materiality of discard and abandonment of these sites across a range of temporal and social scales. These range from centuries long, pan-geographic historical processes to isolated events resulting from individual human actions. Through its interpretation of material culture associated with these early torpedo boat defences, this study seeks to identify signatures and patterns specific to disposal and abandonment of military materiel. It simultaneously creates a mechanism by which larger historical processes and themes of cultural continuity and change relevant to the military past of Australia and New Zealand may be explored. The research contained herein also reveals evidence of human behaviour and decision-making in these discard and abandonment practices, thereby contributing to an overall understanding of the role and significance of individual agency in the history and cultural practices of Australasia's military past.

Keywords: Australia,New Zealand,maritime archaeology,torpedo boats,defence,discard and abandonment,archaeological site formation,Annales School of Historiography

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr. Jennifer McKinnon