Our Major Projects
Moorsand (BronzeAge site)
This site consists of a scatter of eight Middle Bronze Age (twelfth century BC) implements, discovered between 1977 and 1982. The assemblage indicates that a prehistoric boat may have sunk at this point about 3,000 years ago, although the assemblage may have been eroded from adjacent cliffs (though this is considered to be less likely).
Erme Estuary (Bronze age to 1600's)
Remains believed to be of more than one wreck on Mary Reef in the Erme Estuary, indicated by a cannon assemblage containing material ranging from the fifteenth- to the eighteenth centuries, one of which is dated after 1490 to 1550, another cannon being a Swedish finbanker dated 1690 to 1750. No vessel remains have been identified, but any vessel on this site from this period would have been constructed of wood and powered by sail.
Salcombe Cannon site (Around 1640)
Finds of cannon and timber fragments, which together with other finds (including a rich assemblage of gold artefacts) suggest a possible mid-seventeenth century wreck site, perhaps centred around 1636 to 1640. Subsequent artefacts of Bronze Age date, largely weapons, have also recently been recovered from the same location, but would appear to relate to a possible earlier wreck in the same area, rather than directly associated with the seventeenth century wreck.
East Prawle Project
Other shipwreck projects team members are involved in
SS Aurania (pictured above) was an ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line. She was built in 1916 at Wallsend and measured 13,936 gross tons. She was propelled by two steam engines powered from four boilers and had a speed of 15kts.
The ship was built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. of Wallsend and was the last of three ships planned to serve between Canada and Europe. Her sister ships were the Andania and Alaunia. Although ordered in December 1913, because of the First World War, she was not completed until 1916. The two sister ships are shown in the image to the right.
Tea Clipper Gossamer 1868
The picture above right is of the ‘Sovereign of the Seas’. This was very similar to the ‘Gossamer’, being built as a composite with wood and steel in the mid 1800’s. The Gossamer was a China Tea Clipper of 735 Tons with a length of 181 ft and breadth of 30 ft. On her final voyage in 1868, it was owned by George Kipsel and six others. She was carrying a general cargo from Adelaide in Australia to London when the captain, on board with his wife, handed over control to the pilot and retired to his cabin. They had had a discussion about whether or not they could tack past Start point and, despite the pilots concerns, Captain Thomson told the pilot to hold course.
HMS Venerable 1804
HMS Venerable was launched at Perry’s yard in Blackwall on 19th April 1784. It took approximately 4000 mature oak trees to build her over a two year period at a cost of approximately £3800. She was 170 ft long with a beam of 47 ft and weighed over 1650 tons. Many other ships were produced at the same yard including HMS Crocodile, a 24 gun sixth rate, who met her death not far away from HMS Venerable in 1784. Also not far away in South Devon, lies the wreck of another older ship, ‘HMS Ramillies’.
HMS Venerable was designed by Sir Thomas Slade, who was the ‘Surveyor to the Navy’ at the time. He had based his design on Spanish and French ships captured in the 1740’s.
HMS Primrose 1807
HMS Primrose (1807) was a Royal Navy Cruizer-class brig-sloop built by Thomas Nickells, at Fowey and launched in 1807. She was commissioned in November 1807 under Commander James Mein, who sailed her to the coast of Spain on 3 February 1808. She was 384 Tons with a length of 100 ft and beam of 30ft. She had an armament of eighteen guns. In January 1809 Primrose sailed for Spain with a convoy. During a snowstorm she ran aground at 5am on 22 January on Mistrel Rock, The Manacles, a mile off the Cornish coast, and was wrecked. The sole survivor was a drummer boy. Lieut. J. Withers of the Manacles Signal Post lead the rescue with six other men. The Admiralty paid them 10 guineas each for their part in the rescue.
The English East Indiaman ‘Halsewell’ was outward bound from London to Bengal, India with troops and passengers when she was caught in hurricane strength blizzards in the English Channel, driven back along the Cornish and Devonshire coasts she eventually met her fate on the steep cliffs of Dorset.
Of the 242 passengers and crew only 74 were saved. It was to be her Captain Richard Pierce’s final voyage before retiring , he along with his two daughters perished along with wives and daughters of the ships officers. Charles Dickens visited the wrecksite and it inspired him to write the novel “The Long Journey”. In 1789 George 111 and several members of the Royal Family left London to visit the site.
On October 12th, 1627, a convoy of seven Dutch VOC ships had left Holland for the Indies, when they ran into a gale off the Needles on Isle of Wight in Hampshire. Two of the ships ran aground after seeking shelter in the Solent and were lost. these were the Vliegende Draeck and the Campen. The Campen was a wood ship of about 300 tons. The Vliegende’s cargo was saved, but only a couple thousand silver coins in two chests were recovered from the Campen, leaving about 8,000 coins to be found later. Diver, Jacob de Duiker, salvaged some 2365 reales and 6,660kg of lead in the between 1627-1628.
The ‘Brick Wreck’ was no exception. Within days of the discovery they consulted the ‘Board of Trade Casualty Returns’ for 1910/11 and found that on April 25th the ‘Lord Napier’ Ketch, sunk whilst carrying a cargo of bricks from Exmouth to Kingsbridge. She was lost “off Rackham”; exactly where they had found her except the admiralty chart names the area Rickham. Further research found that her last owners were the Trout Brothers of Topsham, near Exeter, and a chance conversation revealed that the Trout Brothers still traded from the same boatyard in Topsham. A phone call soon set up a meeting with two divers of SWMAG and the descendants of the last owners of the Lord Napier. Within half an hour of meeting the Trout family the divers had a full account that had been passed down the family of the sinking of the Lord Napier plus the names of the two surviving crew members.
Dartmouth Cannon Project (The Late Neville Oldham)
This report looks at the history of Dartmouth in order to try and establish where these cannons came from. During our diving and research, we did discover that there has been a lot of shipping activity in the area of Kingswear Castle and this has given us some clues as the how these cannon might have found their resting place. Our objectives, plans and approach have been included in the report.
The objectives of this project were to:
- Locate and identify what was left of the cannon site and produce a site survey.
- Research what ships sank in the area and get some idea of how they came to be there.
- Train a number of divers in marine archaeology.
Bigbury Bay Project (The late Neville Oldham)
What of the hospital ship San Pedro el Mayor? We are told that she took on some of the injured of the ship San Salvador, which had exploded on 31July at the first battle of the Armada off
Plymouth. She would have also kept station during the battles up the Channel whilst taking on more sick and injured as well as experiencing the rout by the English fire ships at Calais. We don’t hear any more of her until she limps into the little port of Vicey near the Great Blasket Island off County Kerry where she took on more sick and injured. It must have been quite a feat of seamanship navigating around the Scottish and Irish coast in rough sea conditions, with a sick crew and a damaged ship. The San Pedro was joined by two other ships and the San Juan commanded by Juan Martinez Recalde, one of Spain’s most famous seamen. They found anchorage to try and get some fresh water and supplies. We don’t know how successful they were in getting supplies but they left the anchorage together, the Great Galleon San Jan making it back to Spain and three day after its arrival there, its captain, Recalde died of sickness and fatigue.