Dr Ian McLeod from the Maritime Museum of Western Australia is currently in Melbourne to provide scientific expertise in the field of metallurgy regarding four massive Armstrong RML guns when they are removed from HMVS Cerberus' turrets next month (14-18 Feb). Preaching to the converted (including representatives of Heritage Victoria, the Maritime Archaeological Association of Victoria and Friends of the Cerberus) at a presentation he made last week (17 Jan), Dr McLeod gave a detailed and highly technical appraisal of the current and projected condition of iron hull plates and supporting "skeleton" of the Cerberus. For the next month or so however, it would appear that his primary reason for being is preservation of the cannons during and after their removal.
In 1994 just after her collapse Dr McLeod did 63 measurements for the voltage of iron (by direct electrical contact between the platinum electrodes and the underlying metal) on both port and starboard sides of the Cerberus. The starboard side recorded greater rates of corrosion because of exposure to the prevailing weather and wave action, hence the inevitable collapsed to starboard. He also found in 1994 an extra strake of 1½ inch armour in her middle that had not previously been recorded. Revisiting the site in late 2004 he took further measurements and found an overall 16% increase in corrosion since 1994, an alarming statistic. "She is on her very last legs and only just hanging on. She urgently needs stabilisation works" Dr McLeod said. She is also starting to twist as her bows have become more settled and the remainder is collapsing to starboard placing extra pressure on deck structures and increasing the risk of separation. Interestingly he has noted that bird droppings have tended to preserve the upper ironwork to a considerable degree.
He recommended that once the Cerberus is stabilised, her iron be treated with a mixture of fish oil and white spirit, "fisholene", to assist in arresting corrosion rates. He also made a point long espoused by supporters of the Cerberus that US tourists would pay dearly to go on board as she is the last intact monitor in the world and with the obvious Civil War romance, absolute period fanatics would guarantee a steady source of income if tours were packaged correctly.
Dr McLeod is the most recent of an ever increasing procession of scientists, marine archaeologists, dignitaries, history and salvage experts from all over the world to journey this way for the chance to have their 'once in a life-time' encounter with the last monitor. In doing so, each in their own way is aiding the campaign to ensure she survives for the next generation, or even the next visit. Since Prince Phillip stepped onto the deck of the Cerberus in the early 1970's she has periodically been the focus of some fairly high profile interest with the likes of Dr John Broadwater (USS Monitor Trust and Manager - Monitor National Marine Sanctuary) consulting on her prospects in 1993. In 1994 Dr Ian McLeod (Maritime Museum of WA) conducted extensive metallurgical research on the ship repeating the exercise late last year. Just last February (2004), Kevin Patience, world renowned marine salvage expert, flew in to conduct his own survey and appraisal of the site confirming what local experts engaged by GHD for the 'Save the Cerberus Alliance' had already reported.