Divers find second ship at same site off Plymouth
A group of amateur treasure-hunters who discovered the remains of an 18th century Dutch merchant vessel lost off the Devon coast during a violent storm in 1721, have uncovered a second wreck – on the same spot.
Sunk in similar circumstances, the two ships lie side by side in the shallow waters of Jennycliff Bay, Plymouth Sound, twin tragedies separated by decades but found by the same four-man team..
Scuba diver Howard Jones, whose recent book Blind Faith detailed his search for the wreck of the Aagtekerke, a 1000-ton Dutch East India Company vessel, now claims to have conclusive evidence of the final resting place of HMS Pallas, a Royal Navy frigate that met its end in treacherous conditions 77 years later.
Mr Jones, 50, a former Royal Marine and Falklands veteran, said: "We decided to widen our search for the Aagtekerke, and within a matter of only a few yards came across a very small iron swivel gun."
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The 176lb, 38in swivel gun, lying on the seabed in two pieces, was a small bore cannon, designed for side-mounting on a ship's rails and was engaged during short-range combat or to cover the crew during boarding parties.
"We retrieved the gun in its entirety and carefully removed hundreds of years of encrustation expecting to find another relic from the Dutch wreck, but we were amazed.
"Not only did the two pieces match exactly, but to find a prominent British broad arrow marking on the barrel of the gun was a revelation."
Originally a heraldic crest, the broad arrow symbol was adopted by Henry VIII to mark goods purchased from the monarchy's own purse. By the 17th century it signified all government-owned armaments and is still used today to mark property belonging to the MoD.
"Further research showed that the gun also had the very distinctive markings of an English Armstrong cannon and that its year of casting matched the correct era for the sinking of the Pallas," Mr Jones added.
The search revealed a medium-sized anchor, typical of those used by the Royal Navy, with its position on the seabed indicating it had been stowed on board unused, matching contemporary descriptions of the sinking.
HMS Pallas was one of three 32-gun, 18-pounder frigates designed by naval architect John Henslow and was launched on December 19, 1793.
Weighing 776 tons and measuring 135ft by 36ft, she carried a crew of 254 under the command of Captain Hon. Henry Curzon.
Anchoring in Plymouth Sound on April 3, 1798, on a return voyage from France, Captain Curzon spent the morning officiating at a court martial hearing, returning to his vesselto leave directions for the ship's security as high winds began to take hold.
But the crew's struggle with Mother Nature was doomed to failure as one of her anchors parted and the frigate was forced perilously close to the treacherous cliffs.
Striking the rocky shore stern-first, the Pallas' crew were unable to hold her in position and the ship, swinging broadside in the face of mountainous seas, became stuck firmly on the rocks as onlookers watched in vain as the conditions made rescue an impossibility.
Later in the day, due to an ebbing tide and the vessel's bow offering some respite from the powerful seas, the Pallas managed to launch its cutter and a line was brought ashore to transfer the crew by hawser to safety.
Former commercial diver and team member Ray Ives, 77, said: "Their stories are so alike – seeking safe haven during high winds and high seas, anchoring up and trying to shelter from furious southwesterly gales. It's no surprise that they would end up in such close proximity."
The team's findings have been reported to the Receiver of Wrecks and the gun is undergoing conservation treatment before a planned visit to the site by representatives of English Heritage in February next year.