Historical information

This copper nail, sometimes known as a ‘Dumpy Bolt’ or spike, was salvaged from the hull of the wreck of the “George III”. It dates back to at least 1810. It was found by an abalone diver on the south east coast of Tasmania. The nail would have been used to hold the layers of the ship’s keel frame and the planking together.
The nail has been passed from the abalone diver to an interested business man on a trip to the south of Hobart, on again to the business man’s close friend who then donated it to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.
The metal of nails such as this one, after being in the sea for a long time, become affected by the natural reaction of the sea water, causing it to degenerate and thin, and the stress from the force of the sea over the years alters its shape. Iron nails had been used on ships previously, but they quickly corroded in the salt; ships needed regular, costly and time-consuming maintenance to replace the iron nails. Towards the end of the 18th century the British Navy trialled the use of copper nails, finding them to be very successful. Merchant ships began to adopt this process in the early 19th century, although it made ship building very expensive and was more often used for ships such as the “George III” that sailed on long voyages.
The three masted sailing ship “George III” was a convict transport ship built in Deptford, England, in 1810. On 14th December 1834 she left Woolwich, England, bound for Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), under Captain William Hall Moxey. She was carrying 220 male convicts plus crew, guards and their families, totalling 294 persons (another 2 were during the voyage). Amongst the cargo were military stores including several copper drums of gun powder.
On 27th January 1835 the “George III” was near the Equator, about half way into her journey. A fire broke out and the gun powder was in danger of explosion, threatening the whole ship. Two convicts braved the heat and smoke, entered the store and seized the gun powder drums, suffering burns for their efforts but saving a probable disaster. The fire destroyed some of the provisions and food was scarce. Many became ill with scurvy and some died during the journey.
Nearing the end of their journey on 10th April 1835 the “George III” was headed through the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, south east Tasmania, between the mainland and Bruny Island. She was sailing in the moonlit night to hasten her arrival in port due to the great number of sick on board. She struck uncharted rocks, known only to the local whalers, between Actaeon Reef and Southport Lagoon and within hours began to break up. The ship’s boats were used to first rescue the women and children. Firearms were used to help quell the panic of the convicts below decks and some were killed by the shots. Many convicts, including the sick, were drowned. In all, 133 lives were lost including 5 of the crew, guards and their families. It was the third worst shipping disaster in Tasmanian waters.
A monument in honour of the prisoners who perished in the “George III” has been erected, noting the date of the wreck as “Friday 10th April 1835.”
(NOTE: there are a few differences between sources regarding dates of the shipwreck, some saying March and others April 1835. There are also differences in the figures of those on board and the number of lives lost.)


The copper nail is significant as an example of sailing ship construction; fasteners used in the early 19th century on ships carrying convicts to Australia. The nail is also significant for its association with the ship “George III”.
The “George III” is registered on the Australian National Shipwreck Database, ID 7195 as an Historic Shipwreck. She is the third worst shipwreck in Tasmanian waters.
She is also associated with Early Australian History and the transportation of convicts to Australia.
The incident of the fire on board and the bravery of the convicts in making the gun powder safe is an example of the social character of the people in early Tasmanian colonisation.

Physical description

Copper nail (also called a Dumpy bolt or spike) from the convict ship George III, wrecked in 1835. Nail is long, bent in an ‘L’ shape about 3/5ths along, tapering from both ends to the bend. Both ends are flat and do not taper to a point, nor have a thread. The shorter end has been polished, showing bright copper. There is pitting along the nail and virdigris is evident on the longer, unpolished end. The nail is displayed with the longer section resting on a wooden board between two ‘U’ shaped uprights, the shorter section upright.