Her Majesty’s Colonial Ship (HMCS) Protector was one of Australia’s first purpose-built warships. Protector was the flagship of the colonial navy of South Australia, commissioned in 1884. It became part of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911 and was witness to many of the major events of World War I, including serving as tender to the submarines AE1 and AE2 and surveying the shipwreck site of the German raider Emden. Requisitioned by the U.S. Army during World War II and renamed Sidney, it collided with another vessel and in 1944 was installed at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef as a breakwater. Since that date, it has been viewed as an icon of the Heron Island landscape and is regularly photographed and visited by tourists and researchers. 

The South Australian Maritime Museum is developing an exhibition designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This exhibition will use Protector to tell the story of WWI from a South Australian perspective. The exhibition component will commence with two significant dates in Protector’s history: the 130th anniversary of its arrival in Port Adelaide to commence service as South Australia’s first colonial warship (1884), and the 90th anniversary of its decommissioning from Australian naval service (1924). 

As a collaborative venture in concert with this exhibition, the South Australian Maritime Museum and the Australian Centre for Visual Technologies are exploring ways to ‘virtually’ bring South Australia’s first colonial warship Protector back from its current location on Heron Island to South Australia.

This project aims to use archaeological and cutting-edge 3D visualisation technologies to present a complete record of Protector from 1884- 2013.  It will use collected video, photographic, archival, archaeological and laser-scan data to construct digital and physical 3D models that can answer questions about the vessel’s construction, modification and continued deterioration, promote its future preservation and management, and form a significant part of the Museum exhibition.


From 27 September to 3 October 2013, a multidisciplinary research team travelled to Heron Island, QLD to document the remains of Protector.

In addition to its exhibition potential, collected survey data can be used as a 'baseline' by which to assess Protector's condition in coming years. The hull has already undergone considerable deterioration (due to corrosion of its steel fabric), and eventually it will succumb to the elements and return to its constituent parts. The best option available is to document Protector's surviving structure as thoroughly and accurately as possible. In addition to constituting a management tool for Queensland's maritime heritage office, it will provide a permanent, three-dimensional record of the ship in perpetuity.

The research team used video, 3D photogrammetry and a laser scanner to capture Protector in the virtual realm, as the majority of its surviving structure is above the waterline. Traditional archaeological surveying methods (i.e., acquisition of baseline offsets) were also used to physically map the underwater components. 

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