Divers off Cornwall discover 17th century wreck


Mark Milburn with an anchor on the wreck. Photo: David Gibbins

Divers off Cornwall have discovered cannons and an anchor thought to be from one of the richest ships ever to wreck against these shores.

In 1684 the English East Indiaman the President came to grief against Loe Bar, carrying down most of her crew as well as a ‘very rich lading, modestly judged of no less than a hundred thousand pounds … with much treasure of pearl, and diamonds.’ Her loss was so great that she was even marked on the map of Cornwall produced at this period by the famous Dutch cartographer Van Keulen. The rediscovery of the site thought to be this wreck opens up a whole new chapter in the maritime history of Cornwall, linking these shores to a time when huge fortunes were made and lost in the ‘Enterprise of the Indies.’

David Gibbins, who heads the organisation Cornwall Maritime Archaeology along with Mark Milburn, takes up the story:

“The site was first reported by divers twenty years ago and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Mark and I are licenced by Historic England to monitor the wreck, but for many years it has been covered by sand. The recent period of calm weather has allowed us to dive off Loe Bar for the first time in months. We were thrilled to see seven cannon and an anchor, and quickly realised that we were looking at a new part of the site that had never before been recorded. You might think that all the important wreck artefacts off this coast have been found by now, but that is not the case. With every storm the sand can shift to reveal new treasures. It was incredibly exciting to see something that nobody has seen before.”

View of Loe Bar. Photo: David Gibbins

The location of the wreck of the President marked on a map of Cornwall by Van Keulen of the late 17th century. Photo: David Gibbins

The President has a remarkably detailed backstory because a pamphlet was published that year based on the accounts of the survivors: ‘A full ACCOUNT Of the late Ship-wreck of the Ship called The PRESIDENT: Which was cast away in Montz-Bay in Cornwal On the 4th of February last, As it was deliver’d to HIS MAJESTY, (both in Writing and Discourse) By William Smith and John Harshfield, the only Persons that escaped in the said Wreck.’

It tells of a desperate sea battle off the Malabar Coast of India with six pirate ships, in which a roundshot from the President penetrated the powder magazine of one of the pirate vessels and blew it up. Gibbins continued:

“Cannons are common finds on the wrecks of merchant ships from the Age of Sail, a time when most ships were armed. But its very unusual to know that guns on a merchantmen were actually used, especially in such a colourful action and on the very voyage on which the ship was wrecked. It gives a special excitement to seeing these guns for the first time underwater.”

Two cannon on the wreck. Photo: Mark Milburn

Further diving is planned at the site. To follow the team’s progress and see more photos and video, go to www.facebook.com/cornwallmaritimearchaeology.

Team Scubaverse

Team Scubaverse

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