A Mystery Shipwreck
nicknamed the 'Lizzy'
Todd Stevens & Robin Burrows
Another new mystery Shipwreck has been found by IMAG. (the Islands Maritime Archaeological Group) Team members Todd Stevens & Robin Burrows have discovered another interesting unidentified wreck within the anchorage of St Marys Roads. This is the 7th new wreck site to be found close in and around St Marys Island by the team in recent years. This one lays roughly half way between St Mary’s Quay and Nut Rock. Local inter island tripper boats pass over it daily.
In 2008-9 team member Todd Stevens conducted a magnetometer survey of the areas around St Mary’s and within the islands main anchorage. This work identified over 700 anomalies; some of which warranted closer investigation. Over the following years these anomalies were being systematically ground-truthed by the St Mary’s diver. Many man made objects were found; including anchors, lobster pots, chains, cables and all manner of uninteresting debris. One shipwreck, carrying a cargo of iron pipes, was also found near Spanish Ledge and identified as the brig Padstow during this time. As this ground-truthing of the seabed went on, team member Robin Burrows had built and perfected his own side-scan sonar for the team to use. In June 2012 Robin’s work was completed. As a result, the pair were then able to conduct side-scan sonar survey’s of the magnetometer anomalies. In effect, this work then identified the best seabed anomalies to target for further investigation. In fact, on their very first survey of an un-dived magnetometer anomaly out in St Marys Roads, on the computer screen was what looked to be two long objects about 5-6ft in length laying out in the middle of St Mary’s Roads. These objects were laying in 14 metres of water and looked suspiciously gun shaped. On first inspection these two objects did indeed prove to be two iron guns laying side by side on a flat sandy seabed. These guns were also found to be laying on top of a wreck which was totally buried under the sand. This wreckage included some extensive wooden hull structure and a further two more iron guns. The wreck looked to be very old. Without any evidence as to which wreck this might be, the site was dubbed- “The Lizzy”. Named as such for two reasons; the wreck is overlooked by the Elizabethan fort, Star Castle, built in 1593 and also because the guns on the site appear to have been made during the late Tudor period; possibly cast during the reign of Elizabeth I.
A team member swims over a pair of 4 pounder guns on the Lizzy site.
In June of 2012 the team decided to uncover this wreck. But in today's world this kind of thing has become illegal without a proper licence granted by the Marine & Maritime Organisation (MMO) This is a new law. No longer can anyone use a dredge-or lifting bags without first gaining a licence to do so. Consequently, Team member, Robin Burrows, set about gaining the team such a licence. The MMO usually deal with large companies wanting licences to dredge thousands of tons of material from the sea bed and they pay many thousands of pounds to do this. However, even sport divers and wreck hunters now came under the same legislation. The MMO had never yet had a request from sport divers; and, as it soon proved, the organisation had no idea as to how to go about dealing with the first such request. At first, the MMO asked how many thousands of tons did the dive team want to move? To which the reply was- ‘no more than 2 at most’ The MMO then asked- “2 thousand tons? that’s not very much, but it will cost a fee of £450.” To this, the dive team answered- “No, just 2 tons, thanks” Rather bemused at such a tiny request, they said they would get back after taking advice. To cut a long story short, Robin Burrows haggled with the MMO and got the fee down to £150. The team then had to also get similar permissions from English Nature- the OANB and English Heritage. From here it soon deteriorated into a long drawn out bureaucratic process that took over 3 months of paperwork and numerous lengthy phone calls. English Heritage being the biggest obstacle for Robin to overcome. No longer can divers just do what they wanted as they had done in the past.. The world we live in.. However, all thanks to the persistence and relentless pestering, by Robin Burrows, eventually the authorities caved in. Robin had gained the team a licence to continue with their work uncovering the wreck. It is interesting to note that IMAG is the very first dive team in the country to do this.
At the end of September, with the licence in hand, the divers went out and uncovered the wreck with a dredge. There were only 4 guns to be found on the wreck. Three of these are directly on the site and appear to be Elizabethan and English made. The fourth gun lays a short distance away from the wreck and this looks to be a large swivel gun of an as yet unknown origin. The guns appear to have been active ordinance of the ship, as one of them lays directly on top of one of its own rear carriage trucks. During dredging, numerous other gun related items were also found on the site proving the weapons to have been active ordnance when lost and not just mere cargo or ballast .
When uncovering the structural remains, the woodwork appeared to be just one end of the vessel but it cant be categorically stated which end of the ship it is yet. However, through evidence found, it looks to be the Bow end of the ship. There is no evidence of steering gear at this end the site, whereas some 50ft away, at the other end of the site, lay what could be the remains of the rudder. Further to this, Todd and Robin believe the vessel to be a small armed pinnace which may not have had a bowsprit. As one of the guns being directly on the bow end of the site where the bow sprit would have been situated if one was present. This suggests the ship was used for attack purposes and not for defence as per a merchant vessel. The bow gun is a classic feature of warships and or privateer vessels also fits the bill. Although quite a small ship, 40 to 50ft long and 15ft wide at most, the wooden frames that make up the hull of this vessel are very tightly packed together, suggesting rather a heavily built little ship with a bluff bow, like that of an early small gun boat/naval pinnace.
There are no copper fastenings present on the site or any kind of sheathing obvious either. There are many wooden treenails evident in the construction of the ship but very few iron nails. All these things suggest a vessel that is as old as the guns appear to be. The timber seems to be oak and looks to be in remarkably good condition for its age. Circa 1600. The hull structure runs from the bow gun over to, and underneath, the two bigger guns that lay side by side nearby. Here the wooden structure ends with only fragmentary evidence of timber to the east of the pair of bigger guns. However, using a metal detector, numerous concreted iron objects were identified in the sand in an area to the east of the 2 guns. This suggests that the ship had lay on the sea bed with its stern end up off of the sea bed and this rotted away to leave the spread of iron work to fall into the sand below it; whilst the other (bow) end, which was under the weight of the three guns now still found upon it, was forced to sink into the sea bed to become perfectly preserved as found. The vessel must also seems to have been sitting on the seabed at a slight angle with its keel slightly towards the north.
Image above showing the possible bows and bow chaser gun which is placed as such solely for attack purposes and not defence as a merchantman would be. Note how numerous the frames are and so very closely placed together.
During excavations, the site was fount to be very much contaminated, and disseminating which objects are from, or of, the wreck, is difficult to identify. There also seems to be much debris about on the sea bed, including coal, coal dust and boiler slag, from centuries of shipping laying at anchor within the anchorage. Also, pottery and glass fragments of all types and dates can also be found littering the whole area making dating the site very difficult.
The positive wreck finds are few and far between and these we have to separate into two categories: Those which were found buried within the wooden remains and those which were found around the immediate area. To west of the site we found the swivel gun and a red clay pipe that is datable to1630 or earlier. Numerous pottery fragments found vary in nationality- English; French and Spanish but, interestingly, all are of the Tudor period.
Using a metal detector, we have also found some iron shot, these are sizes 2lb and 4lb to match the guns on site. We also found one bronze pulley sheave; the kind of which has also been found on the wreck of the Mary rose (1545) Similar, but much bigger wheels have also been found on the Association (1707) & Victory (1744) and Invincible (1758) wreck sites. Although these were part of the bilge pump mechanisms on these ships and not as used rigging. This kind of rigging sheave was totally out dated by the time wooden sheaves, made of Lignum Vitea, came into use during the 17th century and more widely used after 1700. (Lignum Vitea was non existent in England before 1600) Although Elizabethan guns could well have been in service for a long period of time-it is interesting to note that we have not found any objects/artefacts made of Lignum vitea on the Lizzy site to date, possibly suggesting an earlier site than 1600.
A bronze sheave and engraved lead weight found with a metal detector on the site.
A further possible clue to dating the new wreck came in the form of a small sounding lead -see an image below. This lead does not have a tallow hole in its base, which is interesting, as it could be pointing towards a time when they had not yet worked out how to take sea bed samples for navigation purposes. Also found near the site was an almost complete Bung hole jug dating from the late 1400’s.
Although the Lizzy guns appear to be circa 1600, it is possible that this is the site of a privateer vessel lost at Scilly during the English civil war. (The bow gun being a classic privateering war-like tool) Indeed, there is a reference that two such vessels were lost within the immediate area. 10th May 1651: ‘two of the royalists best frigates, which rode under the Hugh hill, near there shore, to prevent out boats coming into land there’ drove ashore in a storm. Isles of Scilly Museum publication No. 3. Although unchecked, we believe this reference to be correct, although it is unsure whether the last part was added on by the editor, as the short narrative is written within quote symbols that conclude just before the last statement- drove ashore in a storm -possibly making that part of the reference mere supposition by the author? With this in mind we consider the narrative as a possibility for the Lizzy site: The tall hill which the Star Castle now stands on high above Hugh Town, St Mary’s, was the Royalists last base here at the end of the civil conflict. Now called-the Garrison- this was once called Hugh hill. In deed, if one looks at the chart at the beginning of this report you can see that the Garrison hill where the Star Castle now stands is called: ‘The Hew’. The two vessels- rode under the Hugh Hill -meaning they were at anchor in that position immediately prior to being lost. Not only does the Lizzy wreck site lay within the same anchorage offered in the short narrative above, but it is also under the very same Hugh (Hew) Hill.
No checks have been made on the circumstances referred to above, in which these two royalist frigates were lost. Did both these ships drive ashore in a storm as suggested by the author, or did one in fact sink at anchor? The above is just one quick suggestion we need to consider. However, similar to the gunsite the team found at Innisidgen & the wreck they discovered near Pendrethen in recent times, the Lizzy is probably another one of those many wrecks here at Scilly that went completely unrecorded. Another mystery to be solved.
As well as100 metres immediately around the wreck, a search of the nearby Garrison shoreline also took place. Among later shipwrecks and other modern debris, an anchor of the correct size and date to our wreck was found. This anchor is in the shallow water on the very end of a rocky out crop called the Drs Keys. If a vessel is lost anywhere between that position and the Steval along the garrison coast line to the west, then the tide and weather can, and will, push debris, or even a small wreck such as the Lizzy, further out into the St Mary’s anchorage. Due to us failing to find any anchors on the Lizzy site to date, this leads to another idea that this could easily have been the case, as a very strong flooding tide comes from the direction of the Steval, right over the Lizzy site and moves NE towards the Crow rock. Add this fact to a strong swell, that always prevails from the WSW into the anchorage, and we have the ingredients to move a wreck. These circumstances are little different from that which happened to the Colossus wreck site off nearby Samson island, where the stern of that great ship was pushed half a mile away from its original place of wrecking.
Another interesting thing to note is the position of the swivel gun at about 50m to the SW of the bows of the Lizzy site. Almost suggesting it was the gun thrown over as an emergency anchor to arrest the ship from dragging in a westerly gale? Either that or it was dragged away from the site by a ship dragging its anchor over the wreck site. It is interesting to note that no anchors of the correct size and date have been located on or immediately around the Lizzy wreck site to date. Certainly, the position of the broken swivel gun is directly up tide and up swell from the Lizzy and in correct alignment with the wreck; the bows of the wreck pointing in almost the exact direction of the swivel gun. Lastly, the swivel gun is broken off at the base of its barrel. Did this damage occur to the swivel gun when used as an emergency anchor?
Whatever this vessel actually was, this shipwreck appears to date from anywhere between the late 1500’s to the mid 1600’s. We have an ongoing project to further search all around this wreck; this includes another later dated new shipwreck located just north of the Lizzy. Watch this space!
Our thanks to other team members and co-opted local divers and friends who aided us in this our latest project. Phil Roberts; Andy Williams; James and Daisy Fletcher; Paul Stevens; Carmen Stevens; Ed Cumming; and ‘the London lads’- Neil; Gary; Ian & Kevin.
BACK TO CONTENTS
BACK TO IMAG
BACK TO SHIPWRECK & SHIP INCIDENTS