Journey to the bottom of the sea
One of the most important features of Scotland’s maritime heritage will be preserved for generations to come as the University of St Andrews reveals the findings of a seven-year journey to the bottom of the sea.
Since 1992, Dr Colin Martin from the School of History has led a team of archaeological divers working on the excavation, recovery and conservation of The Swan, a mid-17th century warship lying off the cost of Mull.
In September 1653, while suppressing a royalist revolt in the West Highlands, three Cromwellian ships were wrecked during a storm in the Sound of Mull. Two were merchant vessels from East Anglia – the Speedwell and the Martha and Margaret. The remains of The Swan, which was built for Charles I in 1641 to counter piracy in the Channel approaches and the Irish Sea, were finally discovered in 1979 by naval diving instructor John Dadd.
For 12 years, Dadd kept the find to himself, hoping to return one day and investigate the wreck in more detail. However, he never managed to do so and, anxious that his discovery should be protected, contacted the University of St Andrews’ Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU).
ADU Director Martin Dean said, “The Archaeological Diving Unit first visited the site in 1991 and found that recent destabilisation of the seabed, possibly caused by diver interference, had exposed archaeological material. “As lighter items were being washed away in the currents, Historic Scotland requested that the ADU quickly record the position of items under threat, recover those at most risk and place them in the care of the National Museums of Scotland”.
After a successful fundraising campaign involving Historic Scotland, the National Museums of Scotland and various charitable trusts, Dr Colin Martin officially took the reins of the Duart Point project in summer 1992.
Dr Martin said, “When we first arrived, the wreck site could have been compared to the site of a plane crash with debris scattered over an area of the seabed. It soon became clear that, if neglected, many of the remains would eventually have been washed away by the strong tide. It was imperative that the wreck should be protected and, if necessary, its contents rescued and preserved”.
The project, which will continue this summer, has involved Dr Martin and his team spending long stints off the coast of Mull. Artefacts discovered include carved decorations from the ship, navigational instruments, weaponry, human remains and personal possessions, which are being conserved in the National Museum of Scotland’s laboratories in Edinburgh. It is hoped that the artefacts recovered will eventually form part of an exhibition dedicated to The Swan and retained as part of the country’s heritage.
Dr Martin said, “The artefacts discovered reveal a fascinating insight into the lives and times of the crew. The ship was fitted out lavishly, to reflect the kingly status of Charles I, for whose Navy it had originally been built, however, the extra weight and stiffness may have affected its efficiency as a good fighting ship which may explain its eventual downfall. Looking at the crew themselves, we came across a human skeleton with an exceptionally well-developed upper body, the hallmark of a seaman. The condition of the bones indicate a relatively well- balanced diet, perhaps reflecting the attention paid by the Commonwealth Navy to the well- being of its men”.
The findings of the project will feature on “Cromwell’s Forgotten Wreck”, a 50-minute documentary to be screened on BBC2 on Monday 3 April.
Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07887 650072 or email [email protected] Ref: swan/standrews/chg/16march2000/ PR1910
NOTES TO EDITORS
Should you require photographs of the various items discovered on the wreck site – or of the divers at work – please contact Claire Grainger on telephone 01334 462530, 07887 650072 or email [email protected] A list of the 17 available photographs can be provided on request.
Category Public interest stories