The riddle of the 400-year-old shipwreck

The riddle of the 400-year-old shipwreck


By Jasper Copping - The Telegraph

But in spite of years of painstaking work, two tantalising details about the vast wooden ship lying off the Dorset coast remain elusive - its identity and how it came to its meet its end.

But tomorrow, as the recovery phase ends, the biggest clue yet will come to the surface when the vessel’s 27ft, 2.4 tonne rudder, complete with Baroque carved face, is brought to the surface.

The team behind the project hope this piece can be added to the jigsaw to allow them to finally solve the 400 year old mystery of what is known only as the Swash Channel Wreck, after its location.

So far, they have established several clues, including more than 1,000 recovered artefacts, to hint at the ship’s real identity and have pieced together a most likely chain of events to explain how it came to be resting in 22ft of water, off the south coast.

The wreck was found in 1990, after a dredger hit an obstruction while conducting routine work in the approaches to the harbour.

Closer inspections revealed it to be the wreck of a 130ft ship, of which more than 40 per cent remained, including parts of the ship’s forecastle, complete with galley and gunports,

An early suspect was the Spanish Armada vessel, San Salvador, lost in the area in 1588.

However, it was eliminated after the tests dated the vessel’s timber frame to wood felled in 1628, from forests in the coastal region of the Netherlands-Germany border, near the modern city of Emden.

Analysis of the artefacts suggest they came from the second quarter of the seventeenth century, giving experts a window of 1628 to 1650, during which the vessel was lost.

Ornate woodwork on the vessel, including four other baroque-style carvings recovered, mark it out as a high status vessel. It was also heavily armed, with 34 gun ports, but the design suggested it was not a warship.

The galley was located in the bow castle, keeping the hull clear for cargo, indicating the vessel was an armed merchantman.

Frustratingly, there remains no sign on board of a possible cargo, suggesting it has either not survived almost four centuries on the seabed or was salvaged at the time.


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Spanish Armada vessel San Salvador Dorset coast Swash Channel Wreck