The South Australian Maritime Museum preserves the oldest nautical collection in Australia. In 1872 the Port Adelaide Institute began a museum collection to complement its library and its educational and social programs. That collection grew over the following century reflecting the seafarers and the ships that visited Port Adelaide. It is now held in trust at the South Australian Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collections ranges from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse that was first lit in 1869 to a plaque that explorer Matthew Flinders left at Memory Cove in 1802 to mark the loss of eight seafarers. It includes figureheads, nautical instruments, bathing costumes, shipwreck artefacts, paintings, models and vessels.

Our scope is the maritime heritage of South Australia from the coast to inland waters. The collection of over almost 20,000 objects and over 20,000 images is at once a window to the heritage of the local community and to the ships of the world.

Memory Cove memorial plaque

Remains of the copper plaque left at Memory Cove, near present day Port Lincoln, in South Australia by Matthew Flinders after the deaths of eight crew members in 1802.

Flinders' crew were travelling from HM Sloop Investigator to shore in the ship's longboat when they were caught in rough waters and lost. Flinders ordered the crew to engrave this plaque to commemorate the loss. He also named the geography of the bay in memory of the lost seafarers. The headland was named Cape Catastrophe, the cove Memory Bay and the eight islands within it were named after the crew.

Caption: Commemorative plaque - Memory Cove

AccessionNo: HT 1987.3057

Width: 320 mm

Height: 360 mm

Material: Copper

Date Created: 1802

Physical Description:
Fragments of an engraved copper plaque which was left by Captain Matthew Flinders at Memory Cove on the southern coast on February 21 1802.

The Memory Cove plaque is South Australia’s first European memorial and perhaps the first physical object left by Europeans on southern soil. In 1800 the southern coast was the ' unknown coast' - the last chunk of the continent to be charted. A race ensued between a French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin and a British expedition led by young navigator Matthew Flinders to reach this coastline first. The two expeditions met at what is now known as Encounter Bay near present day Victor Harbour on 8 April 1802 and shared information. Both expeditions helped join the dots on the coastline, with the French producing the first complete map of Australia published in 1814. The plaque hints at the personal stories behind these epic voyages of exploration. Flinders was known to manage his men well and maintain good relations with them. He was devastated by the deaths, a feeling echoed in his journals. The plaque is a moving example of how nineteenth century Europeans commemorated the dead and the significance of physical memorials.

British navigator Matthew Flinders ordered his sailors lo engrave this copper plaque to commemorate the death of eight seafarers lost at sea near Cape Catastrophe on the southern coast. The crew were travelling from HM Sloop ‘Investigator’ to shore in the ship’s longboat when they were caught in rough waters and lost. He ordered that it be nailed to a post at a place nearby he named Memory Cove and named each of the six islands nearest to Cape Catastrophe after one of these seafarers. The plaque carries the words Nautica Cavete - Sailors Beware.The three fragments were all found in 1886 - two near beach at Port Lincoln, and third in a cupboard at Port Lincoln. Flinders had recorded the wording of the inscription in his sea log.The plaque is part of South Australia’s Historical Relics Collection and is one of the Australia’s first memorials. Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Australia from 1801 to 1803 and is responsible for completing an accurate chart of the South Australian coastline; he is hailed as one of the most important figures in South Australian history and in the history of exploration in Australia.