Maritime Archaeology Updates

Diving Deeper with the Maritime Archaeology Trust

Tag: WW1

#MuseumWeek2017: Theme of the day, TRAVEL!

Museum Week is an international online event that is running from 19th to 25th June 2017. Organised in collaboration with UNESCO, the Museum Week is a chance for heritage institutions across the world to share and talk about our passion for heritage with the public through social media. This year we are celebrating equality by dedicating the Museum Week to all women in the world.

The Maritime Archaeology Trust will be sharing with you our take on Museum Week. In collaboration with the Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum on the Isle of Wight we will be looking through their collections and bring you artefacts and histories that are linked in with the theme of the day.

Saturday’s theme for the week is TRAVEL!

One rupee from 1917. Source:

Artefacts recovered from shipwrecks have a natural connection with travel. Either they have been on board the ship and travelled to the same destinations or they originate from the destinations visited by the ship. The Shipwreck Centre’s collection has numerous items that have a connection to maritime travel. Some are extremely fascinating to the viewer, such as the “Feejee mermaid” that was discussed in a previous blog post.

Indian rupees on display at the Shipwreck Centre from the SS Camberwell. Credits: Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum

On the wreck of the SS Camberwell, divers found Indian rupee banknotes which were still recognisable. Remarkably these had survived for 70 years before they were brought back to the surface. The SS Camberwell sunk on the 18th May 1917 when it struck a mine and sunk 6 miles SE of Dunnose Head on the Isle of Wight. Sadly seven people perished with the sinking of the ship, all with Indian heritage.

India was officially recognised as a British colony in 1858 when the Crown took control of India from the East Indian Trading Company. Lascars, or Indian sailors had already been employed by the EITC as sailors in the 17th century. With the Royal Navy’s demand for sailors during wars the number of Indian sailors quickly rose. By 1917 the number of Indian sailors on British registered vessels were up to over 51 000.

The rupees found on the SS Camberwell tell the journey of the people connected with the ship. Like the mermaid and the HMS Victory’s logbook mentioned earlier this week, the bank notes have travelled far before ending up on display at the Shipwreck Centre on the Isle of Wight. Just like the people on board the SS Camberwell before it sank in 1917.

Diving Week 13th to 16th June 2017

Diver being winched onto the boat after completing photogrammetry survey

The Maritime Archaeology Trust’s first proper fieldwork diving week took place in June. We were joined by researchers from the ForSEADiscovery  project who specialise in analysing wood for maritime archaeological research.

Setting off from Lymington in the New Forest aboard the Wight Spirit we headed off towards the Isle of Wight. The weather was delightfully sunny and we were hoping for great visibility below the surface!

The first of our chosen sites was the SS South Western. She was sunk by a torpedo south of the Isle of Wight on 16th March 1917, with only 6 survivors out of a crew of 32. Many of the crew members had links to Southampton and consequently the SS South Western becomes a prominent part of the local history. The ship is part of our current Forgotten Wrecks of WWI project which is looking at ships that were lost during WWI, of 1914 to 1918, on the south coast of England. More on the project can be found here .

The aims and objectives for this site was to identify some key features on the ship. This included a detail recording of the cargo and boilers, and also locating the ship’s gun. The dive team managed to achieve a good amount of data for photogrammetry . This data will be compiled into a detailed 3D model for us to study in the comfort our dry (but very hot!) office. For an example of what a photogrammetry model looks like, please see the model of the HMD John Mitchell here.

Brandon and Garry looking at data from the wreck sites

The second wrecksite we wanted to look at this week was the SS Hazelwoood. The ship hit a mine on the 19th October 1917, with the loss of all 32 crew members.  The location of the Hazelwood is still to be positively identified. However, our dive boat skipper and historian, Dave Wendes, believes that the wreck identified as the Saxmundham is in fact the SS Hazelwood. The wreck site is located at a depth of 32 meters. Previous dives on the site done in 2015 were plagued by poor visibility and as such we weren’t previously able to determine the identity of the wreck. This time the conditions were slightly better and we were able to conduct a photogrammetry survey. The photos taken of the site will be compiled into a 3D model which will hopefully help us determine the identity of the wreck once and for all.

The final site we looked at during this week was the submerged Mesolithic landscape at Bouldnor Cliff. The site dates back about 8000 years and has in-situ archaeological remains which are connected with the submerged landscape. The Mesolithic peat deposits lie at a depth of 12 meters, while two additional peat layers above broadly date to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The aims and objectives of this survey was to check the erosion rate against the previously placed datum points across the site. We also took several sediment samples for palaeo-environmental analysis. Previous samples have concluded that e.g. wheat arrived in Britain 2000 years before we have evidence of humans farming it. Hopefully these new samples will add further knowledge into the nature of the landscape during the Mesolithic.

During the diving week we also had the pleasure of the company from a reporter, Rikke, who is doing coverage for BBC 3. Stay tuned for more updates during the summer!

Rikke querying Nigel and Garry about the finds


Tolkien arrives in Southampton on hospital ship: 100 years ago today

100 years ago today (09/11/1916), 24 year old 2nd Lieutenant John Ronald Reuel Tolkien arrived in Southampton, one of the hundreds of wounded and ill servicemen returning home aboard the Hospital Ship Asturiashmhs-asturias-2-1914-1917t-1

The Asturias was the third hospital ship to arrive in Southampton that day, the majority of injured coming fresh from the battles raging on the Somme. Tolkien had fought on the Somme and evaded injury, but four months of living in lice infested trenches had resulted in Trench Fever. Tolkien was taken by ambulance train from the battlefield to a hospital in Le Touquet where he remained for a week, but when his condition worsened he was ordered back to Blighty, sailing from Le Havre. On arrival in Southampton, ambulance trains were waiting to transport the patients to hospitals around the country, as close as possible to their home towns. Tolkien was put on a train bound for Birmingham where he would be reunited with his wife (whom he had barely seen since their wedding the year before). So efficient was the wartime transport system, that this whole journey was completed in a single day.


Tolkien 1916

Tolkien spent the remainder of the war between hospital and Home Service camps. Although unable to fully shake off the illness, the lice probably saved his life, as following his departure, the remainder of his battalion, 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, 74th Brigade, were sent to Ypres where they were almost completely wiped out.

In his biography, Tolkien states that by 1918 all but one of his closest friends were dead. It was during the war years that he began to write. His experiences on the battlefields infused in his writing, evident in his most famous works: The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). To read more about Tolkien’s war click here

With hammocks for 1200 patients, the Asturias was one of the largest of the 77 Royal Navy Hospital Ships operating in WW1. The Asturias was one of many hospital ships sailing daily between Le Havre and Southampton. However being on board a hospital ship was no guarantee of safety. 24 hospital ships were sunk by enemy action with huge loss of life. The Asturias was no exception, torpedoed off the Devon coast on the 20th March 1917. Click here to read about the fate of the Asturias.


Reproduced with the permission of Mike Greaves ASGFA

Forgotten Wrecks of the Devon Coast: Geophysics and Diving


Distribution of First World War wrecks within the Devon study area (image credit: Contains public sector information, licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency).

As part of the Forgotten Wrecks project this summer the Maritime Archaeology Trust sent out a team of divers to find and document a number of WW1 wrecks off the South Devon Coast. In order to assist the divers in finding these wrecks bathymetric maps were consulted. Much like navigational charts used by mariners these maps show the topographic features of the seafloor. However, modern techniques such as multibeam bathymetry, paint a far higher resolution image of the seafloor with measurements made every few metres.  As a result, even fine details such as the orientation of shipwrecks and the positions of larger objects such as boilers and anchors on these sites, can be seen.

Within the area surveyed by the Maritime Coastguard Agency between 2012 and 2015 (data freely available from 31 of the 48 wrecks which had been identified as lying within the south Devon study area reviewed ahead of diving operations were visible.

Once identified a zoomed in map was created of each wreck. The examples shown here are of the British Navy trawler, the Benton Castle and cargo ship, the Newholm. Both of which sank after hitting mines, leading to the loss of 30 lives in total. These images and images of the other wrecks were used by the diving team to help select individual sites to dive and then plan their dives more effectively.


Geophysical survey image of the Benton Castle (image credit: Contains public sector information, licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency).


Geophysical survey image of the Newholm (image credit: Contains public sector information, licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency).

The dive team operated out of Dartmouth using Falcon Diving Charters ( during the week of 27th June to the 1st July. Despite some challenging weather conditions the team managed to reach a number of the Forgotten Wrecks to undertake survey and photogrammetric recording.

Written by Amelia Astley

To find out more about the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War project, click here.


Diver photographs detail of the wreck structure of the Newholm.


Marine life encrusts the remains of the wreck of the Benton Castle.


Discovery Bus: Dartmouth area schools


Are you involved with a school in Dartmouth or the surrounding area? Would you like the Discovery Bus to visit your school?

We are going to be in the area the week beginning 27th June 2016 and are looking for a number of schools who may be interested in a free session on maritime archaeology and the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War. Sessions available for all age ranges, single classes, or whole year groups. During the session, students will be introduced to maritime archaeology, get to handle real archaeological artefacts from First World War shipwrecks, try on dive kit, and explore what it’s like to be a maritime archaeologist.

For more information or to book a session, please email Jasmine at or ring us on 02380 237300.