Devon Shipwreck Preserved

This is from the i paper of 15 August:

The remains of a wooden cargo ship wrecked off Devon while plying the trade route that kept Georgian dinner tables laden with port 250 years ago have been given protected status. The timbers of the vessel have been regularly exposed on the sands near Westward Ho! since the 1960s, but new research has established that the wreck is likely to be the remains of the Sally, a cargo ship which foundered on a sandbank in 1769. The vessel sank as it was on the final leg of its journey from Oporto to Bristol, carrying barrels of the Portugese town’s fortified wine and a consignment of sumac, a dried leaf used in the tanning of leather.

The 23-metre ship is a rare surviving example of thousands of boats that sailed one of the most important trade routes of he 18th century as Britain was transformed into a dominant naval and mercantile power.

Although some 11,000 vessels from the period are known to have been wrecked in English waters, only a handful of smaller seagoing cargo ships from the era have been identified. Fewer still, like the Sally are regularly accessible to the public at low tie. The wreck is one of three wooden ships buried in Devon’s mud and sand to be granted protected status on the advice of the conservation watchdog Historic England.

Mark Dunkley, maritime archaeologist for he organisation said: “Despite the effects of environmental decay and the passage of time, substantial portions of the lower hulls survive, allowing us to determine what type of vessels they were and the role they played in Devon’s coastal economy. The fact that they’re often visible gives them added significance as it’s rare that such old maritime fabric can be seen by anyone who isn’t a diver.”

Georgian Britain’s thirst for port arose out of political necessity after war with France prevented access to traditional sources of wine.

I find this fascinating for two matters: I have often mentioned the high cost in terms of mens’ lives in the 18th century wars and trade. 11,000 wrecks at that time in English waters is a massive loss of life when the population was a fraction of the present level. Add the wrecks elsewhere, and Britain lost huge numbers of men. Ships often left Bristol short handed so stopped at Milford Haven in Wales or Cork in Ireland to pick up extra crew. Then loss of life on board ship- accidents, illnesses, desertion etc, they had to procure sailors from the various ports where they stopped.

Bristol was also long associated with the sale and consumption of port. Poet and architectural historian Joh Betjeman claimed up to the last war, the city had so many places where port was drunk the docks were more like the Spanish main rather than England, St Mary Redcliffe church’s main doorway is in the style of Portugese Gothic, and Edward Colston, famous for his many benefactions and charities he left to the city, was probably apprenticed there and his family’s wealth in the 17th century was largely through trade with Portugal which went back much earlier than the 18th century as implied by the above. 

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