Royal warship HMS Gloucester could be raised like the Mary Rose

Royal warship could be raised like the Mary Rose: 60-gun HMS Gloucester that sank off Norfolk coast 340 years ago – nearly costing future King James II his life – could be returned to surface like Henry’s VIII’s favourite ship

  • The discovery of HMS Gloucester, 28 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth, was announced last week
  • Wreck was found by amateur divers in 2007 but the news was kept secret to allow artefacts to be salvaged
  • Former British Army chief Lord Dannatt said the Gloucester could be raised like the Mary Rose was in 1982 

The wreck of a royal warship that sank 340 years ago whilst carrying the future King James II could be raised from the seabed in an operation similar to the incredible recovery of the Mary Rose.

The discovery of HMS Gloucester, 28 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth, was announced last week.

The wreck had been found by amateur divers in 2007 but the news was kept secret to allow many artefacts to be carefully salvaged from the sea.

Professor Claire Jowitt, a maritime history expert at the University of East Anglia, called it the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose – the warship from the Tudor navy of King Henry VIII – was raised in 1982.

Now, the former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt, who is due to chair a charity caring for items recovered from the Gloucester, has said the vessel could be lifted from the seabed.

He said the ship could be brought ‘up to the surface like the Mary Rose’. 

The Mary Rose was lifted from the Solent in October 1982 in an operation that was watched by an estimated 60million people on television.  

The wreck of a royal warship that sank 340 years ago whilst carrying the future King James II could be raised from the seabed in an operation similar to the incredible recovery of the Mary Rose. Above: A depiction of the moment the HMS Gloucester ran aground

The discovery of HMS Gloucester, 28 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth, was announced last week. The wreck had been found by amateur divers in 2007. Above: Diving brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell are seen measuring a cannon from the ship

Now, the former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt, who is due to chair a charity caring for items recovered from the Gloucester, has said the vessel could be lifted from the seabed. He said the ship could be brought ‘up to the surface like the Mary Rose’ in October 1982. Above: The Mary Rose being lifted from the Solent

The ‘outstanding’ 60-gun Gloucester, a frigate, sank on May 6, 1682 after hitting the Norfolk sandbanks in the southern North Sea.

How did HMS Gloucester sink?

The vessel’s sinking is a matter of great historical debate.

Some accounts claim the vessel sank as a result over a dispute between James, a former Lord High Admiral, and the ship’s pilot James Ayres about the best route through the treacherous Norfolk sandbanks.

James barely survived, and delayed abandoning ship until the last minute – possibly resulting in the deaths of sailors who were forbidden to leave the ship before the ‘persons of quality’ as royalty were known.

James took no responsibility for the disaster, instead blaming the pilot who he demanded be hanged immediately.

Mr Ayres was instead court-martialled and imprisoned.

James went on to reign as King James II of England and Ireland and James VII of Scotland from 1685 until 1688, when he was deposed by the Glorious Revolution.

Diarist and naval administrator Samuel Pepys, who witnessed events from another ship in the fleet, wrote his own account – describing the harrowing experience for victims and survivors, with some picked up ‘half dead’ from the water.

As well as James, HMS Gloucester carried a number of prominent English and Scottish courtiers including John Churchill, later the 1st Duke of Marlborough.

James Stuart, who would be Britain’s last Catholic king, survived the sinking but up to 250 sailors and passengers lost their lives, largely due to his actions.

James barely survived, having delayed abandoning ship until the last minute, needlessly costing the lives of between 130 and 250 people on board who, because of protocol, could not abandon the ship before royalty.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday about the possible raising of the Gloucester, Lord Dannatt said: ‘Whether the hull is intact I probably doubt it, but it is more likely it went down stern-first and the stern [rear] section is almost certainly intact.

‘That is probably recoverable and we may be able to bring it up to the surface like the Mary Rose – which is why we say the Gloucester is Norfolk’s Mary Rose.’

The former Army chief also wants to raise money to continue the excavation of the site where the ship lies.

The Mary Rose was raised from the Solent, the strait north of the Isle of Wight, in October 1982 after an 11-year salvage operation.

More than 500 volunteer divers and many others on shore helped with the work.

The ship sank while on its way to battle against the French in 1545.

Henry VIII was watching when the vessel met its fate. It is believed she tipped over after being overburdened with men and equipment. 

Around 500 men lost their lives.  

More than 60million people watched the 1982 raising operation on television. 

To raise the ship, a purpose-built frame was built and attached to steel bolts that were passed through the hull. 

The frame was supported above the ship on four legs and hydraulic jacks then lifted it just a few inches out of the suction effect of the silt in the Solent.

Once hanging from the frame, the hull was transferred to a steel cradle that was in place on the seabed west of the wreck. 

When the weather and tide was favourable, on the morning of October 11, the cradle containing the Mary Rose was raised out of the water by a crane.

Prince Charles, who was president of the Mary Rose Trust, was there when the ship was raised. 

He had dived several times to see the wreck in the Solent. 

HMS GLOUCESTER: STATS 

Sailed under:  Commonwealth of England (Royal Navy after 1660)

Home port: Gloucester

Weight: 755tonnes 

Length: 117ft

Ordnance: 60 guns

Crew compliment: No muster list survives 

Built: 1652-1654

Years of service:  30

Sank:  1682 after hitting Norfolk sandbanks 

Wreck found: 2007 (announced 2022)

 

MARY ROSE: STATS 

 

Sailed under: Tudor Navy

Home port: Portsmouth, England

Weight: 500, refit to 700 tons

Length: Estimated at 148 feet (45 metres)

Ordnance: 78–91 guns

Crew compliment: 400–450

Built: 1510–1512

Years of service: 33

Sank: 1545, mid-battle, in the Solent

Wreck discovered: 1971

Wreck raised: 1982

 

The Mary Rose is now on permanent display in Portsmouth. 

A £39million 34-year restoration was recently completed. 

During its restoration, the ship was coated with millions of litres of finely-sprayed, fresh water at a temperature of less than 5°C (41°F). 

That process, along with a series of wax chemicals, were used to stop the wood drying out and to inhibit bacterial activity.

Then, in 1985, the ship was turned upright and titanium props were installed to support the internal structure and work was undertaken to remove as much sediment as possible.

From 1994, active conservation commenced with the spraying of Polyethylene Glycol (Peg), a water-soluble polymer which can penetrate deep into the wood and support the cell walls.

Then, in April 2013, the Peg sprays were turned off and the hull was kept in a state of controlled air-drying.

Once drying was complete, the internal walls surrounding the hull were removed so visitors would be able to see a completely unobstructed view of the hull

The wreck was found in 1971 thanks to the work of historian Alexander McKee.

He led a team that used sonar to first find what they believed to be the Mary Rose, before they found three port frames confirming it was the right vessel.  

Henry VIII was watching when the Mary Rose (depicted above in a 16th century illustration) sank. It is believed she may have been overburdened with men and equipment. Above: A depiction of the sinking

Efforts to locate the Gloucester, led by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, proved successful in 2007 after a four-year search covering 5,000 nautical miles.

Plans are underway to exhibit artefacts on board the ship that have been brought to land, including clothes, wine bottles and the ship’s bell, used to conclusively confirm the wreck was the Gloucester.

The exhibition – jointly curated by the University of East Anglia and Norfolk Museums Service – will be staged for five months at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from spring next year.

The disaster was witnessed by diarist Samuel Pepys, who was on another vessel in the fleet.

He wrote a harrowing account of victims and survivors being picked up ‘half dead’ from the water.

Professor Jowitt said last week: ‘The discovery promises to fundamentally change understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history,’ Professor Jowitt said.

‘It is an outstanding example of underwater cultural heritage of national and international importance. Because of the circumstances of its sinking, this can be claimed as the single most significant historic maritime discovery since the raising of the Mary Rose in 1982.’

The Barnwells, who are printers by trade, decided to hunt for the Gloucester after reading about it in a book in 2003.

James Stuart, later James II of England (depicted here), survived the sinking but up to around 200 sailors and passengers lost their lives, largely due to the future king’s actions

Speaking of the moment they found the ship, Lincoln said: ‘It was our fourth dive season looking for Gloucester,’ he said.

‘We were starting to believe that we were not going to find her. We’d dived so much and just found sand.

‘On my descent to the seabed, the first thing I spotted were large cannon laying on white sand. It was awe-inspiring and really beautiful.

‘It instantly felt like a privilege to be there. It was so exciting.

More than 60million people watched the raising operation on television. Above: The ship is seen inside the special frame that was used to lift it from the seabed

The Tudor warship ‘Mary Rose’ in her salvage cage at Portsmouth, UK, having been raised from the Solent

‘We were the only people in the world at that moment in time who knew where the wreck lay. 

‘That was special, and I’ll never forget it. Our next job was to identify the site as the Gloucester.’

In 2012 one of the rescued finds – the ship’s bell, manufactured in 1681 – was used by the Receiver of Wreck and Ministry of Defence to conclusively confirm the wreck was the Gloucester.

Even though the discovery is now public, the exact location of the wreck is protected and still cannot be disclosed.

Artefacts rescued and conserved from the wreck include clothes and shoes, navigational and other professional naval equipment, personal possessions, and many wine bottles. 

The Barnwell brothers are Norfolk-based printers, licensed divers and Honorary Fellows in the School of History at UEA. Lincoln said he was partly inspired to search for the wreck after watching the lifting of the Mary Rose on television as a child

The frigate, which sank on May 6, 1682 after hitting the Norfolk sandbanks in the southern North Sea, was uncovered 28 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The exact location of the wreck is protected and cannot be made public

One of the bottles bears a glass seal with the crest of the Legge family – ancestors of George Washington, the first US President.

The Legge family crest was a forerunner to the Stars and Stripes flag.

There were also some unopened bottles, with wine still inside, offering opportunities for future research.

THE ILL-FATED HMS GLOUCESTER  

HMS Gloucester was commissioned in 1652, built at Limehouse in London, and launched in 1654.

In 1682 it was selected to carry James to Edinburgh to collect his heavily pregnant wife and their households.

The aim was to bring them back to King Charles II’s court in London in time, it was hoped, for the birth of a legitimate male heir.

The ship set sail from Portsmouth, with James and his entourage joining it off Margate in Kent, having travelled by yacht from London. In all there were around 330 people on board. 

At 5.30am on May 6, HMS Gloucester hit the treacherous Norfolk sandbanks some 28 miles (45km) off Great Yarmouth following a dispute between James, then the Duke of York, and the ship’s pilot James Ayres about how to navigate them.

The Duke, a former Lord High Admiral, had quarrelled with the pilot James Ayres the previous night about what course to follow to avoid the treacherous Norfolk sandbanks. 

Wreck of the ‘Gloucester’ off Yarmouth, May 6, 1682. Since running aground on a sandbank on May 6, 1682, the wreck of the warship the Gloucester has lain half-buried on the seabed

It sank within an hour of the strike, killing roughly around 150 to 200 crew and passengers.  

James barely survived, having delayed abandoning ship until the last minute, needlessly costing the lives of many who, because of protocol, could not abandon the ship before royalty.

Shortly before the ship sank, James escaped into one of the Gloucester’s small boats with his close friend the courtier John Churchill (later 1st Duke of Marlborough). 

The boat had been hoisted into the sea and the Duke finally consented to be taken to the safety of one of the accompanying yachts, the Mary, which was part of the fleet. He then hurried to Edinburgh, arriving on May 7 about 8pm. 

James clearly influenced the choice of the HMS Gloucester’s route but accepted no responsibility when disaster struck and solely blamed the pilot, wishing him to be hanged immediately (though he was in fact court martialled and imprisoned). 

James went on to reign as King James II of England and Ireland and James VII of Scotland from 1685 until 1688, when he was deposed by the Glorious Revolution.

Diarist and naval administrator Samuel Pepys, who witnessed events from another ship in the fleet, wrote his own account of the tragic sinking.

Pepys described the harrowing experience for victims and survivors, some of whom were picked up ‘half dead’ from the water.

He also commented on how much more serious the disaster might have been: ‘Had this fallen out but two hours sooner in the morning, or the yachts at the usual distance they had all the time before been, the Duke himself and every soul had perished.’ 

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