No.86 Waterloo 200

What links Walmer Castle and Amsterdam, by way of Waterloo?

This week, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, my guest blogger Abigail Coppins looks at how a lucky find while researching the appearance of Wellington’s bedroom at Walmer Castle led to the discovery of some correspondence between Wellington and potential salvors of the wreck of the Amsterdam at Hastings, lost 80-odd years previously. In his capacity as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, resident at Walmer, Wellington fielded a copious correspondence with these salvors throughout the 1830s, a historic connection adding to the interest of what is today the Designated wreck site of a Dutch East Indiaman.

Colour photograph of Wellington's bedroom, restored to the colour scheme in his day.
The Duke of Wellington’s bedroom at Walmer Castle 20/05/15
Picture by Jim Holden. English Heritage

The Duke of Wellington and the Wreck of the Amsterdam

Abigail Coppins

I was actually looking for the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom, particularly anything that might solve the knotty problem of his carpet. But you never know what you might come across when you’re in the archives.  I drew a blank on the carpet but found some other things relevant to the Waterloo 200 project at Walmer Castle.  Then this caught my eye.  At the time I didn’t know anything about the Amsterdam but I figured that it was worth making a note of the facts just in case it was a known (or unknown) wreck.  Someone somewhere might be interested.

The Amsterdam in July 2006.
The Amsterdam in July 2006. 

It started in 1830 when 42 labourers from the Parish of Bexhill wrote to the Duke of Wellington complaining that they had been prevented from digging out the ‘…Dutch ship Amsterdam which was wrecked on the Coast of Sussex…in the year of 1740’  [sic – the wreck took place in 1749]. The labourers were unemployed and had taken it upon themselves to open up the wreck in search of ‘remuneration for their labours’.  All had been going well.  They had managed to retrieve some timber and glass, but unfortunately the Customs Officer from Hastings turned up and called a halt to the proceedings.

Having spent £28 on some equipment, including a couple of chain pumps, the labourers decided to petition the Duke of Wellington for his assistance in the matter.  The Duke, as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, oversaw the administration of wrecks and salvage rights in the area.  Wellington ordered enquiries to be made and the labourers were given permission to carry on their work – with certain stipulations.  Wellington’s clerk in Dover Castle, Thomas Pain, pointed out that another local wreck had been stripped of ‘Block Tin’ and ‘purloined by the finder’ and he was keen to stop this happening again.  The Bexhill labourers were told that they could keep the value of any goods found up to a value of £100.  After that the usual rules of salvage would be applied.

Then things went quiet.

Sepia print of a seated Wellington writing at a desk, with a man standing behind him.
APSLEY HOUSE Print of “Wellington Writing His Despatches” by D Wilkie © Historic England Photo Library. Note Wellington’s special reading lamp, one of the features Abigail was hoping to learn more about in her researches when she found the material on the Amsterdam.

In May 1833 a Thomas Wood from St Leonards-on-Sea wrote to Wellington asking to be allowed to recover the wreck of the Amsterdam.  In June the same year he wrote again, this time about another wreck in the area.  Then he sent a letter asking what proportion of salvage he would be entitled to.  By August, Wood was trying to arrange a meeting with Wellington.

Then it all went quiet again.

In August of the following year, 1834, Thomas Pain wrote to Wood asking if the salvage project had been abandoned.  Wood wrote back asking about Thomas Telford’s work at Dover instead.  Was Wood perhaps interested in that as well?

By August of 1835, a James Bungay of St Leonards was also interested in the Amsterdam wreck and by the following February wanted details of any lien Wellington might have over it.  He also wanted a meeting.  Bungay then wrote that he was going to petition the Treasury to allow him ‘…possession of all or any part of the Amsterdam or cargo.’  Unsurprisingly the Treasury refused Bungay’s request to raise the cargo ‘free of duty’.  Undeterred, Bungay then suggested that a customs officer should be on site to record what got taken off the wreck.  Pain replied that Wellington had no objection to this proposal.

The various salvage plans seem to have rumbled on.  In 1837 Thomas Pain suggested that Bungay should be allowed to sell parts of the Amsterdam’s hull in order to recover his costs.  Then all the documents went missing and it all got a bit messy. What happened next is unclear. I kept meaning to go back and find out, but other research projects got in the way: more remains in the archives for us to discover, despite the gaps in the documents.

Oil painting of Wellington in his red uniform against a plain, dark background.
APSLEY HOUSE “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington” c.1815 by Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (1769-1830). WM 1567-1948 © Historic England Photo Library

With very grateful thanks to Abigail for sharing her research thus far and establishing an important historic connection between Wellington and the Designated site of a wreck which happened before he was even born.

No. 85 The Menace beneath the Sea – the Minelaying Submarine (Diary of the War No.11)

New Developments in the War

This month sees the centenary of the sinking of two torpedo boats on 10 June 1915 as the war entered a new phase. Increased enemy activity around the entrance to the Thames between June 1 and June 9, 1915, was a cause of concern: one of the ships lost during this period was another interned German vessel now serving as a British collier, the Erna Boldt, on June 9 (see last month’s post on the Horst Martini).

The source of this activity required investigation and triggered a ‘vigorous submarine hunt by the Nore Defence Flotilla’, which included torpedo boats TB 10 (Greenfly) and TB 12 (Moth). (1) These two vessels belonged to the Cricket class of torpedo boat, their names redolent of their intended function as small, light, fast, darting attack vessels.

TB 12 was the first to sink, 2 miles NE of the Sunk Light Vessel, ‘when an explosion wrecked her fore-part and killed her commanding officer.’ TB 10 closed in to assist and take her in tow, when she herself succumbed to an explosion which broke her in two. The apparent track of a torpedo was seen heading towards her by a vessel in company, the Vulture, which set off in the direction of the torpedo’s trajectory.

It was later suggested, however, that the flotilla saw what they were expecting to see, namely a torpedo fired from a submarine: ‘they were, as on so many occasions, deceived.’ There was certainly U-boat activity in the area, but it was clear that the U-boat threat was no longer merely from attack submarines armed with torpedoes: there was a new, and worrying, threat. ‘Their loss represented the first fruits of the new German policy of laying minefields from specially built submarine-minelayers.’

Crew of a German UC-1 class submarine. Geiser Theodore (Mons) Collection. © IWM Q 20220
Crew of a German UC-1 class submarine. Geiser Theodore (Mons) Collection. © IWM Q 20220

UC 11 was the first of these new submarines to become operational, joining the Flanders Flotilla. She was nearly lost on her first mission to sow 12 mines in the Dover Barrage. Although she avoided the British defensive mines of the barrage, she fouled a buoy which she could not shake off, leading to a hunt by two successive British patrols, which she successfully managed to evade to fulfil her deadly mission.

On her next voyage, she also managed to break free of a British defensive net to deposit another deadly cargo of mines near the Sunk Light Vessel, which were those that accounted for the Erna BoldtTB 10 and TB 12. (2)

Had she succumbed to British defences on either mission, it is conceivable that this month I would be writing about the loss of the first operational UC-class submarine, rather than the first ships claimed by this new development in warfare: indeed, there were investigations into how UC-11 had literally slipped through the net not once, but twice. It was to be 1918 before UC-11 was sunk in her turn: reflecting her chief field of operations, less than a hundred miles from her Flanders base, she too now lies off the Sunk Light Vessel near her first victims.

(1) Naval Staff Monographs (Historical) Vol. XXIII, Home Waters – Part IV, from February to July 1915. Admiralty, London, 1925, pp253-5, from which all quotations are taken.

(4) ibid; uboat.net