The Atlas Shipwreck Survey Project, conducted by Odyssey Marine Exploration across the Western Approaches and western English Channel from 2005 to 2011, has made many major finds. The five most-important discoveries, all unique, are:
1. The first-rate English warship the Victory (1744) (Site 25C)
2. An armed English merchantman trading with West Africa (1670s-1680s) (Site 35f)
3. An armed English trader carrying a cargo of Portuguese faience (Site 30e)
4. A cargo of Welsh iron cannon, bored while solid under Anthony Bacon MP (1774-1780) (Site 10ef)
5. The Bordeaux corsair La Marquise de Tourny (mid-18th century) (Site 33C)
One of the first bronze guns to be found at the Victory site in 2008. It was subsequently looted by Dutch salvors in 2011. (Copyright: Odyssey Marine Exploration)
Of these, despite being badly preserved, sites 35F and 30E hold especially unusual snapshots of sunken time. Site 35F is a merchant vessel, lost at a depth of 110 metres and heavily ploughed by bottom trawlers and scallop dredges. A microcosm of the ship’s original cargo and character was recorded in the form of nine elephant tusks, nine copper manilla (tribal currency bracelets), stacked copper basins, and scant hull remains, preserved alongside 36 iron cannon (12 dragged offsite). Seven cannon stored lengthways along the keel in the stern are part of a commercial consignment of ordnance. The wreck dates between c.1672 and 1685, and contains signature assemblages typical of later 17th-century trade with West Africa. The ship itself, including the earliest wooden folding rule found on a shipwreck, is probably English, and most likely an extremely rare Royal Africa Company merchant vessel.
Discovered in 2010 at a depth of 100 metres, Site 30E was the earliest wreck detected during the deep-sea surveys. Bottom fishing has again heavily pounded the remains of this 500-ton English armed merchant vessel, lost c.1640-1650: of 18 large Saker Ordinary iron cannon of probable English origin, 16 are trawl-damaged. Nevertheless, rare cultural firsts for a wreck off the UK include a remnant of a cargo of Portuguese faience and two ‘murderer’ swivel guns, possibly manufactured in the Low Countries, as well as a collection of unstamped pewter wares (two plates, two porringers, a desk writing set, a cup, and a spoon) and small finds, including two navigational log slates and a pair of charting dividers. The hard seabed substratum is low-lying and covered by a very thin veneer of gravelly sand. Alongside patches of hull sheathing, used to plug a leaking hull and recorded across the site, quite amazingly a gunport and the 6-metre rudder survive. As with all finds recovered by Odyssey, Site 30E’s assemblage has been declared to the Receiver of Wreck.
This article appeared is CA305, as part of the feature ‘The Sinking of the Victory: Natural disaster of first-rate human error?’.