Uncovering the Stories of Sunken Ships
Jane Maddocks, a passionate explorer of history and maritime archaeology, has dedicated her life to diving into the depths of the ocean to reveal the tales hidden beneath the waves. From her childhood fascination with history to her ongoing pursuit of shipwreck exploration, Jane’s journey has been one of discovery, storytelling, and preserving the memories of those who sailed the seas.
As a young girl, Jane’s curiosity was ignited by her father's love for history. Together, they explored Hadrian's Wall, observing excavations and unearthing artifacts. These experiences left an indelible mark on her young mind, fuelling her desire to uncover historical secrets. Inspired further by the arrival of her Australian cousins, Jane’s imagination took flight as they embarked on make-believe adventures in their makeshift museum, where ordinary objects became treasures with captivating stories.
As she grew older, Jane’s fascination with the past continued to shape her life. After completing college at the age of 21, she delved into the world of diving, steadily advancing her skills. The turning point arrived when she was granted the opportunity to volunteer on a dive to the Mary Rose, an iconic shipwreck. Descending into the depths and beholding the first glimpse of a cannon, Jane’s life was forever changed. She was captivated by the shipwreck's silent narrative, and this experience propelled her to participate in numerous underwater excavations.
Throughout her career, Jane’s focus gradually shifted to steamships and their wrecks, fascinated by the intersection of technology, engineering, and social organisation. Exploring these sunken vessels allowed her to bring their stories back to the surface, sharing them with the descendants of those who had perished. With each dive, she aimed to revive the tales of the ship's crew, passengers, and purpose, bridging the gap between the past and the present.
She remains ever aware that ships are artifacts, providing a window into social life and technological advancements. Jane is intrigued by the machinery and materials that propelled these ships forward, eager to understand the processes and craftsmanship that brought these magnificent vessels to life.
Jane’s work extends beyond diving alone. Surface research is an integral part of her process, building upon the efforts of the passionate individuals who have dedicated themselves to understanding these wrecks over the years. She examines the remnants of the ship, searching for clues about its structure, technology, cargo, and purpose. The context of each shipwreck, whether it's a technological innovation or a mutinous crew, breathes life into her storytelling. She understands the importance of these narratives, not only for historical knowledge but also for the families affected by maritime tragedies. By recounting these stories, she ensures that the sacrifices and memories of those lost are not forgotten.
As Jane enters a new phase of her life, she acknowledges the realities of aging and the limitations it imposes. While she intends to continue teaching and recreational diving, the physical demands of professional diving have led her to accept a more seasonal approach, venturing into the waters when the warmth of summer embraces the sea. However, she remains optimistic about the future, recognising the need for professional maritime archaeologists and the challenges they face in securing funding. Despite these obstacles, Jane is encouraged by the younger generation, particularly female maritime archaeologists, who are carrying the torch forward and making significant contributions to the field. She champions their work and believes that gender should never determine the worth of their accomplishments.
Jane lifelong journey has been one of unwavering passion, meticulous research, and heartfelt storytelling. Through her exploration of shipwrecks, she shines a light on the lives lost at sea and celebrates the vessels that carried them. As she continues to inspire others and pass on her knowledge, Jane ensures that these stories of the past will forever resonate with future generations.
Written by Carly Fields
© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023