IAN MacLeod’s 38 years as a conservator has seen him help save items from shipwrecks such as the Titanic.
The Como resident and international conservation expert was approached by a former intern during a conference in France in 1998 about using his groundbreaking methods.
“He told me ‘unless you can prove to me that your methods can work on this rust- impregnated newspaper, then you can have no meal tonight’,” he said.
“So that put the pressure on me. I made up a treatment solution and put the rusted newspaper in there and within 10 minutes it began to change colour and within an hour-and-a-half all the iron had gone and we were able to lift it out.
“I couldn’t believe it; it turned out to be the Sydney Sun newspaper from one year before the Titanic sank and they were complaining about fishermen from Victoria.
“It turned out that one of the passengers had been to Sydney before and picked up a series of kangaroo skins and had wrapped them in newspaper and he was on his way to start an export business of kangaroo skins in New York, but didn’t make it.”
Dr MacLeod has worked on numerous projects in nearly four decades with the Western Australian Museum but his favourite was the conservation of the SS Xantho, which sank in Port Gregory in November 1872.
“Iron wrecks were not fashionable in those days (1980s), but we showed that we were able to identify that this in fact was the world’s only surviving example of the first mass-produced hyper-pressure marine steam engine,” he said.
“For people who aren’t into the sea, it’s like finding the first Ford that came off the production line in Detroit that had been lost forever in the sea.
“Here was an ex-Crimean War gunboat engine that had been put by a scrap metal merchant dealer into a Scottish paddle steamer and made into a screw-driven vessel and then sold to WA colonial entrepreneur Charles Broadhurst.”
The oldest ship that Dr MacLeod has completed conservation work on is the Batavia, which sank in 1629, while the newest shipwrecks were the HMAS Sydney (II) and the Kormoran, which sank in World War II.
Despite officially retiring as an executive director last year, Dr MacLeod still keeps his hand in by volunteering at the WA Shipwrecks Museum.
Dr MacLeod was awarded the professional contribution award at the WA Heritage Awards on May 26.