Diary of the War: October 1917

The Annie F Conlon

This war diary has almost taken on a life of its own: all the events selected for the diary have been chosen for their intrinsic interest, but when it comes to writing each post, a theme linking consecutive posts sometimes reveals itself.

So it is this month: last month I wrote of how the First World War contributed to the demise of the schooner as Merseyside and Deeside schooners took on the task of running coal to France for the war effort. This month’s wreck is also a schooner, the Annie F Conlon of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She left New York on August 27, also for France:  her cargo of lubricating oil suggests that it too might have been destined for the front.

Black and white photograph of two ships in harbour, with water and reflections on the ripples in the foreground, and the black shapes of two ships and their masts without sails in the centre of the image: the one in the foreground is two-masted, with a three-masted ship in the background. The masts are silhouetted against the sky.
Two schooners in harbour: the Jesse Hart lies in the foreground, while in the centre background is the Annie F Conlon. PK5195, courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA

It had therefore taken her just over a month to reach a point 12 to 15 miles south-east of St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, by 3 October 1917. On that day she was stopped and shelled by UC-47, under the command of Paul Hundius, a prolific U-boat commander who sank many vessels in English waters in UB-16, UC-47 and UB-103.

The Annie F. Conlon was attacked by Hundius on  his last patrol in command of UC-47, since Guenther Wigankow assumed command on 9 October. (Wigankow and his crew would all be lost when UC-47 was rammed by a patrol vessel on 18 November 1917 off Flamborough Head.)

From Hundius’ point of view, that was the end of the matter, and he left Annie F Conlon to sink. She did not sink immediately, however, but was towed a couple of days later into Crow Sound, between St. Mary’s and the Eastern Isles of Scilly. She collapsed onto her beam ends near Guther’s Island, where she was salvaged, then moved to Lower Town, St. Martin’s, then was finally beached where she now lies, 130 metres west of West Broad Ledge, on the western side of St. Martin’s, where further salvage took place. She was then abandoned as a constructive total loss.

It is probably partly for this reason, as well as wartime censorship, that the Annie F Conlon did not make any ripples in British newspapers of the time – because she did not meet a dramatic end as such. Perhaps, too, another American schooner had stolen the limelight – British newspapers were making much of the dramatic arrival in an open boat at Samoa of the master of another American schooner, the C Slade. His ship had been sunk by the commerce raider Seeadler, but he brought the no doubt welcome news to the Allies that the Seeadler had herself been wrecked (although her crew simply seized other vessels to carry out further attacks on shipping).

The first account of the Annie F Conlon in a regional British newspaper actually appears some 20 years after the event, giving details of a lecture at Plymouth by the then American consul at Falmouth on the work of his predecessors. The wartime incumbent was a Cornish-born naturalised American citizen, Joseph G Stephens, who was ‘kept busy repatriating shipwrecked sailors, attending to the burials of sailors, and administering relief to “stranded” Americans’, including those of the Annie F Conlon. (2)

The Annie F Conlon also turns up in a legal journal of 1926, detailing the successful claim of shipowners against the German government. The owners of the Annie F Conlon were awarded $41,514.29. (3)

However, the American press in 1917 did offer some sparse details over the wreck: confirming the general location of the Isles of Scilly, the name of the master and number of the crew, and that all hands had been safely landed – so at least on this occasion Consul Stephens had not had to bury anyone!

Each schooner which was attacked hastened the demise not only of the sailing vessel in general and of a way of life, but also of the schooner particular vessel type. Yet each sinking also reveals another story of the profound social change triggered worldwide by the First World War.

The news of the Annie F Conlon shared the front page of Der Deutsche Correspondent of Baltimore, Maryland, with a banner above its masthead proclaiming: “THIS IS AN AMERICAN NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED IN THE GERMAN LANGUAGE: Its function is to acquaint the immigrated Germans with the social and political conditions in the United States, and to familiarize them with their duties toward their adopted country and with the rights conferred upon them by the Constitution.” (4)

In this case the long heritage of German-language newspapers in the United States was also under threat: by the end of the war the Deutsche Correspondent had folded, after 77 years of publication. I never know where this blog will end up – not only do I find links between wrecks which I had chosen months earlier for the blog, but I also discover something new about the global effects of the war through the prism of a single shipwreck in English waters.

Black and white photograph of ships with masts and furled sails in harbour. three vessels are discernible in the lower centre of the photograph, with their masts standing talll against the roofs of two buildings, with a grey sky over.
Albert S Stearns, Charles E Balch, and Annie F Conlon in 1892. PK1950, courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA.

 

(1) Manchester Evening News, 5 October 1917, No.15,138, p2

(2) Western Morning News, 5 March 1937, No.24,082, p6

(3) American Journal of International LawVol. 20, Issue 4, October 1926, p794

(4) Der Deutsche Correspondent, 5 October 1917, Vol. 77, No.278, p1

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Diary of the War: September 1917

The Schooners’ Last Stand

It is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that shipping losses could have been considerably reduced had coal been circulated at home by rail during the First World War, instead of being sent out into a North Sea full of minefields and lurking U-boats (although what would have been done with all the colliers lying idle in port is a moot point – doubtless sent to replace shipping on other routes – but this is all hypothetical.) The capacity for destruction from the air was less developed than in the Second World War, so, on paper, the railways appear an obvious route that was unaccountably not taken.

Matters were not quite that simple. Focusing on the seaward end for this blog (discussing the railway end would be a blog post or three in its own right), the infrastructure of coal supply was geared to despatch by sea, even for the internal market. It had traditionally been so before the coming of the railways and continued to be so thereafter, the Industrial Revolution making it easier to link coalfields to the ports, rather than make use of the new-fangled railways to circulate coal inland.

Steam trains thus ran the extracted coal from the large Durham coalfield the short distances to Blyth, Shields, Sunderland, and Hartlepool, whence the steam colliers took over and carried the coal to London and elsewhere, a seamless chain from mine to depot or power plant.

But this regular supply route was not only being disrupted by the war, it was being decimated, as steam collier after steam collier sank in the North Sea. Over the course of the war other measures were taken to spread the risk: output from other coalfields increased and shipping movements accordingly transferred to other ports on the other side of the country. For example, as production shifted towards the mines of north-west England and Wales, Liverpool and Barry in Wales saw a rise in collier traffic.

The sourcing of supplies from elsewhere and the re-routing of traffic through other ports had its parallel in the deployment of a more diverse collier fleet. Small sailing schooners already handled coal as ’round Britain’ coasters or shuttling between Great Britain and Ireland on an exchange cargo basis, but now they were deployed to supplement the steamers in ensuring coal reached France by the relatively less ‘exposed’ west coast route which was at least less heavily mined (but was still dangerous as the focus of considerable U-boat activity).

A diverse group of sailing vessels accordingly left various ports in Liverpool Bay for Cherbourg and Dieppe in September 1917. They were redolent of an era fifty years earlier: the Mary Seymour, schooner of Portsmouth, 150 tons gross, built 1865; Mary Orr, ketch of Glasgow, 91 tons gross, built 1868; the Jane Williamson, Irish schooner, also described as a brigantine, 197 tons, built 1870; the Water Lily, schooner of Barnstaple, 111 tons, built 1876, and the Moss Rose, schooner of Chester, 161 tons, built 1888. Such ages were not uncommon in the coasting trade, but nevertheless it was a fairly elderly set of small coasters that set out in the hope of a passage free of encounters with the enemy. All were outward-bound in company from the Mersey for Dieppe and Cherbourg with at least one other ship, carrying much-needed coal for the French market.

The Moss Rose was the first to be attacked and sunk by gunfire from UC-51 at 10.30am, 7 miles NNE of Pendeen Lighthouse. The master of the Mary Orr watched events unfold, and bowed to the inevitable without attempting to escape. He gave the order to abandon ship and the crew waited then watched the ensuing destruction of the Mary Seymour, around 11.15 to 11.30am. It is said that the crew of the Moss Rose and the Mary Seymour then rowed to, and were picked up by ‘the schooner Mary of Glasgow’, (1) and transferred to the Padstow lifeboat. This introduces some confusion, since the Mary Orr also belonged to Glasgow, but there was probably yet another ship named Mary involved.

The abandoned Mary Orr was then literally next in the firing line: scuttling charges were placed aboard, and she sank 8 miles NE of Pendeen Lighthouse. The Mary Orr‘s boat was then used to carry more charges over to the Water Lily, which was likewise sunk 8 miles NE of Pendeen Lighthouse some time after noon. These crews, however, were both picked up by the Belgian SS Adour.

It seems unlikely, therefore, that the crews of the Moss Rose and Mary Seymour rowed over to a vessel which had been abandoned by her own crew, and much more likely that there was another Mary in the little convoy of sailing ships. It was common in attacks on small sailing vessels for one ship in the group to be spared, to enable survivors to escape. (2)

The last ship to be sunk that day was the Jane Williamson, 20 miles NNE of St. Ives, at around 4pm. The attacking submarine was also UC-51, and it was this particular sinking that attracted the attention of the press, because there was apparently no such care for the survival of the crew. It was widely reported that not only was she shelled on approach, but also the crew as they escaped in their open boat, with only two men being left alive to tell the tale.

The inquest upon the dead at Penzance returned a verdict of ‘wilful and diabolical murder’. At the funerals of two of the dead men, wreaths were donated by a grieving couple, each inscribed ‘in tenderest memory of a stranger from Capt. and Mrs Henry Row, who are sorrowing over their own two murdered boys.’ (3)

With the same hindsight with which I started this blog, it is also easy to say that pitting small schooners against U-boats was a forlorn hope. They were generally unarmed and unable to outrun a fast-moving submarine (hence the skipper of the Mary Orr giving up any hope of escape as a bad job), and, small and constructed of timber as they were, they stood little chance against shelling and were easily despatched by scuttling charges.

Such was the pressure on shipping, however, that it was imperative to try to spread the risk by any means possible, and perhaps it was easier to sacrifice small sailing vessels approaching the end of their careers, than the more modern and much larger steamers which took up huge resources in materials and manpower to build. Also, as prey, they were far less significant than the grand ocean liners and the everyday steamers, which were a more tempting prey, accounting for a higher tonnage and a greater commercial impact and disruption to trade when sunk. The personal cost to the schooner crews, though, must have been immense: death, injury and the destruction of their livelihoods.

Nevertheless, the experiment in circulating coal by ‘acting sail colliers’ would be abandoned by November 1917 after further losses: that same month the submarine responsible for sinking the little fleet (UC-51) would also meet her end in English waters.

Not all such vessels perished in the war, however: the Kathleen and May schooner, built in 1900 in Liverpool, gives a very good impression of what the schooners lost a century ago looked like, not least in her longevity. She survived the First World War (and the Second). Her wartime logbooks for 1915 also survive and reveal regular boat drills and testing of lifesaving appliances, given the risks she was running during the war. (4)

She is now part of the National Historic Fleet.

A ship in the centre of the image sits against a blue sky, the sea occupying the bottom third of the image. The ship has three masts, with three square red sails spread, and four triangular sails between the foremast and bowsprit, which faces to the right of the image.
The three-masted schooner Kathleen and May (1900) is a contemporary of the five sailing ships lost on 10 September 1917, most of which were also schooners. Like the Jane Williamson, she was originally built in north-west England and was in Irish ownership during the First World War. © and by kind permission of National Historic Ships UK

(1) Larn, R & Larn, B 1995. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, Vol.1: Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset. London. Lloyd’s of London Press (based on ADM/137 reports, The National Archives)

(2) This modus operandi is attested, for example, in an incident off the East Anglian coast on 30 July 1915, when the survivors of eight fishing smacks sunk by the same U-boat, boarded a ninth which had been spared, and other similar incidents. Cant, S 2013. England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats. Swindon: Historic England (p166)

(3) See, for example, Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 17 September 1917, No.12,231, p3

(4) ‘Kathleen and May‘, entry in WW1: Britain’s surviving vessels, a microsite of National Historic Ships UK

 

Diary of the War: August 1917

The Azira

Many years ago, while working on ships of the First World War, I became intrigued by a large number of wrecks with names unusual for British ships, among them Eidsiva, Gefion, Herdis, Nordstrand, Reidar, Rinda, Slaattero,  and Sten. All appeared in British Vessels Lost at Sea 1914-1918 and 1939-45, and further research revealed that they were all managed by the Shipping Controller, the British ministry responsible for shipping from late 1916. (1)

I realised that here was a tale to be told.

The Azira is part of that tale, and is commemorated today, a century after she was lost. She is part of a thread that has woven itself into this summer’s War Diary commemorations. June 1917‘s post looked at the diverse composition of crews aboard British merchantmen sunk in that month and at other times, including many sailors from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. July’s post concentrated on the loss of the Vanland and the problems that neutral vessels were facing in English waters. These two themes are brought together in this month’s post, for there was another way for seamen from Scandinavia to join the British mercantile marine . . .

As we have seen so often during the War Diary, the Azira was yet another example of the pressures faced by the collier lines, claimed by a U-boat in the North Sea. She was torpedoed on 4 August 1917, only five miles out from her departure port of Sunderland, bound for Cherbourg with coal.

During the course of the war, Britain negotiated separate “Tonnage Agreements” with the governments of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These agreements fulfilled mutually pressing needs: Britain required the tonnage urgently – her ships were still being sunk faster than she could build replacements – while on the other side the ability to import vital supplies or to export goods in the face of blockade was of paramount importance. Each country had differing needs, on which the negotiations were based, and agreements reached at different dates, that with Sweden being the last, in 1918. (2)

As part of these Tonnage Agreements, ships were requisitioned by the British Shipping Controller, a specific ministry created for wartime needs. Where placed into collier roles, as many of these requisitioned ships were, they were managed by specialist collier fleet management firms based in the key coal ports such as Cardiff, Newcastle, Sunderland or Swansea. Generally these ships retained their own crews and skippers and were intended to revert back to their country of origin on the cessation of the war.

There were practical matters of ship preservation too – under the British flag they could be armed, with British gunners, and could join convoy, neither of which they could do as neutrals without compromising their position. Not that this necessarily saved them from loss to war causes: either way, as undefended neutrals without escort provision trading with or passing through the waters of a belligerent nation, or as ships armed and under the flag and the convoy of the same belligerent, they were very vulnerable.

Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes, these ships became temporary British merchantmen and their crews part of the British mercantile marine. They were hidden in plain sight and continue to be so today, as their story is little-known, so this post is part of redressing that balance.

The Azira was among them, a Norwegian ship under the British flag, and acknowledged as such in contemporary records. (3)  Many were ships belonging to companies still well-known today: the Norwegian Fred. Olsen (which then was a cargo carrier, not a cruise specialist) and the Danish DFDS, for example Fred. Olsen’s Bamse, torpedoed in the Channel in 1918. (4)

One man among the Azira‘s 18-strong crew was killed. He is commemorated on the Tower Hill memorial. He was Andrew Lehtman, carpenter, aged 28, born in Russia. (5) As discussed in previous posts, at this time a birthplace or homeport of one larger state current in the 19th or early 20th centuries may mask a diversity of nationalities associated with subsequent nation-states (indexing the former and current nationalities of a lost vessel is an excellent way to understand historical geopolitical changes).

So it proved in this instance. Andrew Lehtman was born in the then Russian ‘Governorate of Estonia’. Things were changing fast in 1917, a pivotal year for both Russia and Estonia. Following the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Estonia and Livonia were united to form an autonomous governorate. Full Estonian independence would not be achieved until 1920, for the October Revolution of 1917 intervened. Estonia then saw several years of struggle with Bolshevik usurpation, German occupation and Russian invasion.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the lists of Estonian seamen who died in British waters or in British hospitals were not published until November 1920, presumably when the situation had become sufficiently politically stable to do so. Lehtman’s name appears in a list furnished by the British police which was published across several newspapers so that they could be traced by relatives. It is likely that his name is somewhat garbled: his first name looks as if it has been anglicised, and there are variant spellings of the name Lehtman. (6)

Labelled a ‘Russian’, an Estonian by nationality and probably by birth, his surname suggests a ‘Baltic German’ affiliation (in common with other seamen on the list), while he died as part of the crew of a Norwegian steamer taken into British service. Was he ever traced, I wonder?

This remains of this shipwreck near Sunderland are not only a tangible link to the Anglo-German conflict of the First World War, but also connect with Anglo-Norwegian diplomacy and the struggles of Estonia for self-determination.

(1)  Four separate HMSO publications collated and republished as facsimile reprints under the title of British Vessels Lost at Sea 1914-18 and 1939-45, Patrick Stephens Ltd., Cambridge, 1988, (BVLS). For the First World War the relevant publications were Navy Losses (1919) and Merchant Shipping (Losses) (1919), reprinted as Section I and Section II in BVLS.

(2) For a fuller overview of requisitioned wrecks from Denmark and Norway in English waters, please see Cant, Serena, England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats, Historic England, Swindon, 2013, pp 81-91. For the economic background, see also: Haug, Karl Erik, Norway , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, Freie Universität Berlin; Riste, Olav, The Neutral Ally: Norway’s relations with belligerent powers in the First World War, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1965; Salmon, Patrick, Scandinavia and the Great Powers 1890-1940, Cambridge, 1997

(3) BVLS, Section II, p62; Lloyd’s War Losses: Casualties to Shipping through Enemy Causes, 1914-1918, Lloyd’s of London, facsimile reprint, 1990, p161

(4) Cant 2013, based on research in the Fred. Olsen archives, expanding on information in Historic England’s shipwreck records of the National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) for both Fred. Olsen and DFDS. Brief company histories, including their wartime service, are available for both Fred. Olsen and DFDS.

(5) Commonwealth War Graves Commission record for Andrew Lehtman

(6) Sakala (in Estonian), 19 November 1920, No.134, p7

 

 

 

 

Diary of the War: July 1917

The Vanland

July 1917 saw the loss on the 9th of the unique battleship HMS Vanguard in Scapa Flow in an explosion with 843 lives lost, now a Controlled Site under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

This month’s War Diary looks at a wreck in English waters with a not dissimilar name, the SS Vanland, a story of a valiant attempt to evade attack and salvage cargo. On 16 July Vanland left her home port of Gothenburg, bound for London, under the command of a temporary captain, one Grönvall, since her usual master was on leave. (1)

She was laden with characteristic exports from her resource-rich and forest-dense homeland: iron goods, paper, boxwood and undipped matches. An uneventful voyage led to a call at the Tyne: thence she commenced an unescorted journey through the East Coast War Channels. (2)

It might be thought that the ships belonging to the belligerent nations had the worst of it – but this was not necessarily the case. Those of neutral nations were hard-pressed, particularly those from Scandinavian countries which had to traverse the North Sea with its extensive minefields, submarines lurking beneath the sea, and search patrols blockading trade with the enemy. Mines were no respecter of nationality, but at least the swept War Channels provided some protection from that particular danger.

Neutrals, however, had no protection against torpedoes, and in British waters ships trading with Britain were considered legitimate targets for attack by Germany regardless of their belligerent status (or otherwise). By this point in 1917, the convoy system was under way, but it was difficult for neutrals to join convoy, since by doing so, they were de facto aligning themselves with the escorting power. Nor could they carry armament for self-defence, since their home nations were neutral, unlike British cargo vessels, which were routinely armed with at least a stern-mounted quick-firing gun and dedicated crew to operate them. Either way, neutrals were very vulnerable. In English waters alone, dozens of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish ships fell victim to U-boat torpedoes, and dozens more to minefields.

In desperation, from as early as 1915, neutral ships from the Nordic countries adopted a generic livery as their best hope of self-defence. They had no guns, but they had paint. Their national flags were painted fore and aft, sometimes amidships as well, and the ship’s name and nationality, NORGE or SVERIGE, were painted amidships in bold white capitals, emphasizing their neutral status, that could be easily read from a distance through a periscope. Indeed the Vanland was painted in such a livery, as in this image from 1915. Yet the torpedoes kept coming. (3)

Thus all Vanland could do was steam south unescorted and hope for the best. On 23 July a periscope was sighted off Kettleness Point (or Kettle Ness) and evasive zig-zagging action was taken to keep the U-boat astern.

The U-boat, however (believed to be UB-21), was not to be so easily shaken off. She surfaced and began to shell the Vanland, so the next evasive manoeuvre was to try to run her ashore in Runswick Bay. Unfortunately she then struck on Kettleness Point, leaving her still long enough to be vulnerable to a torpedo. The subsequent explosion killed six men, although 18 other crew escaped and were rescued by the Runswick lifeboat. They were then taken to a local inn to recover, an incident recalled years later by the then landlords’ son, John ‘Jazzer’ Johnson. (4)

It seems that the vessel was shelled again, probably while the escape and rescue were taking place, since the International Conference of Merchant Seamen in 1917, which took place not long afterwards, named the Vanland as an example of survivors of U-boat attack being fired upon in their boats, accusations which refused to go away. (5)

The Vanland then burned for a week before sliding beneath the waves, inevitably assisted by her combustible cargo of boxwood, greaseproof paper, and matches. Astonishingly, some of it must have escaped the flames, for a few weeks later, some boxwood and rolls of paper were salved and offered for sale by auction. (6)

Portrait format photograph showing all that remains of the burnt-out Falcon, with the bottom ribs infilled with stones and green seaweed, sea lapping at the upper right-hand edge of the photograph.
Wreck of the Falcon, Langdon Steps, Dover, lost when her cargo of jute and matches caught fire in 1926. DP114192 © Historic England

Over half a century later, the Vanland‘s bell was also recovered and presented to representatives of her owners: and the little boy who had seen the rescued men in his parents’ hostelry was chosen to make the presentation. (7)

The remains of the wreck site are known locally and are well dispersed and broken, consistent with the circumstances of her loss, although, with the recovery of the bell, little remains to conclusively identify the site, and a nearby site is charted with another name, that of the Onslow of 1911, so there is some confusion. (8)

The wrecks in the Historic England National Record of the Historic Environment are indexed according to their manner of loss, often with a cause and an effect (e.g. torpedoed and foundered), so that vessels can be searched for or statistically interpreted by cause of loss. It is not enough to state that a ship was torpedoed, and assume that she then foundered: not all torpedoed vessels were lost, while others managed to limp in to the nearest friendly harbour and were then abandoned as a constructive total loss.

The Vanland was shelled (gun action), then grounded on Kettleness Point, was then torpedoed, caught fire (burnt), and finally she capsized and foundered after the space of a week: quite an eventful end, even by wartime standards.

(1) Kalmar, 27 July 1916, No.118, p5, and 28 July 1916, No.119, p6 (in Swedish)

(2) Carl Racey, East Coast Shipwreck Research, 2009, published on http://wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?10921

(3) For more on this subject, please see Cant, England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats, Historic England, 2013, pp89-91. In undertaking the research for that volume, I was very kindly given access to Fred. Olsen’s archive of ship photographs, showing many in such wartime livery, one of which is published in the above book.

(4) Racey, 2009; “War on Shore”, untraced newspaper clipping of 1997,  published on http://wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?10921; Jazzer Johnson, The Nagars of Runswick Bay, Runswick

(5) Times, 20 August 1917, No.41,561, p4; People’s Journal, 26 October 1918, No.3,174, p3

(6) Whitby Gazette, 10 August 1917 [issue number illegible as digitized], p1

(7) Receiver of Wreck droits, NHRE record for Vanland; “War on Shore”, 1997.

(8) UKHO 6026; Video footage of the wreck of the Vanland, 2008

Festival of Archaeology 2017

Conservation of Artefacts from the wreck of the London

I am pleased to welcome this month’s guest blogger Eric Nordgren of Historic England, who tells us more about conservation of artefacts excavated from a maritime context.

Eric at work in the lab
Eric at work in the lab. © Historic England

 

I have been working with Historic England as a conservation project assistant since November 2016. My main role is to carry out remedial and investigative conservation on artefacts lifted from the London protected wreck. The London was a Royal Navy warship that sank in the Thames Estuary following an explosion in 1665. A program of work to better understand this protected shipwreck has been under way since 2014, resulting in surface recovery of exposed objects and in two seasons of underwater excavation and recovery of hundreds of artefacts made of wood, leather, rope, ceramic, glass, iron, copper and lead. The London: Excavation of material at risk project is a collaboration between Historic England, the protected wreck licensee, Cotswold Archaeology, and Southend Museum Services, where the artefacts and site archive will be deposited.

The process of conserving marine archaeological material can often involve quite a bit of time and repetition: consider that 150 Apostle musket cartridge bottles have been recovered from the London, from complete examples with cap, to some that consist of just a few broken fragments. Each one has to be photographed, assessed, repackaged in soft nylon netting, wet cleaned to remove mud from the sea bottom, desalinated, treated with polyethylene glycol and freeze dried. I’ve just finished the wet cleaning stage which took 4 workdays!

At top of image, label naming the artefact with text '6901: The London 3527: wood'. Centre of image, wooden bottle, with stopper to left, body of bottle to right, underneath this is a scale marked off in centimetres.
‘Apostle’ musket cartridge bottles. © Historic England
Jumble of black bottles, all with individually numbered white labels.
Some of the 150 bottles after wet cleaning. © Historic England

It’s not just the Apostle cartridges, all the artefacts from the London have to go through similar stages.  The water in all 158 boxes of artefacts has to be changed every month in order to remove salt from the marine environment in a process called desalination. Both organic (wood, leather) and inorganic (ceramics, glass, metal) materials can be damaged if allowed to dry out while they still contain soluble salts such as sodium chloride. Artefacts are soaked in baths of distilled water which allows salts to diffuse out, allowing them to be safely dried. Desalination isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and requires knowledge of the drying behaviour of a wide variety of materials.

Though some stages of marine conservation are repetitive, there are lots of interesting moments as well. One of the most exciting things about archaeological conservation is finding out more about the artefacts during the process and especially discovering clues about who made them and the technology they used. This process is called ‘investigative conservation’ and uses a variety of tools and techniques such as microscopy, X-radiography and digital imaging.

Here is one example discovered during digital x-radiography of a pewter spoon:

Bowl of a spoon, darkened with age and contact with water, against a plain grey background.
Pewter spoon from the wreck of the London. © Historic England
Spoon seen in x ray as white against a black background, with red ring around the letters BA on the spoon. At top of image above the spoon is the Historic England logo.
Digital x-ray of the same pewter spoon from the London. Computed radiography revealed a touchmark of the letters ‘B A’. © Historic England

 

The letters ‘BA’ can be seen in the x-ray, just above the point where the handle meets the bowl of the spoon. Marks in this area are called ‘touch marks’ and can tell us where and when the spoon was made and who made it. Some marks on pewter made in London or Edinburgh can be identified by records on ‘touch plates’ kept by the Worshipful Company of Pewterers, but marks from the period of the London are difficult as many records from the Pewterers were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, just a year after the ship sank.  Still, it may be possible to identify who made the spoon based on comparison with other examples. We are hoping to find out more about who ‘BA’ refers to.

Another type of mark was found on a leather strap during wet cleaning. A stamped letter (or letters) can be seen in this photo taken with raking light illumination:

Horizontal strip of dark leather against a white background. Just off-centre to the right of the strip is a stamped mark resembling a letter P.
Leather strap from the London, showing stamped mark. Could it be from the leather worker or the artefact’s owner? © Historic England

Markings like this can be added by the leatherworker who made the strap, or might indicate its function or the sailor who used it on board the ship. We will pass this information on to the experts studying leather artefacts from the London.

Sometimes we find unknown or unexpected materials on artefacts during conservation, and need to investigate them further to get a better idea of what they are made of and why they are there. I noticed a yellow material with a tar-like odour inside the layers of a leather shoe from the London. Using a technique called Fourier-Transform Infra-Red spectroscopy (FT-IR for short) I was able to determine that it was indeed an organic material with chemical bonding similar to natural resins. This material may have been applied during the shoe’s construction as an adhesive or a sealant.

Two shoe soles one below the other, against a white background, and a centimetre scale rule underneath. Annotated on the lower sole where unknown tar-like materials have been seen.
leather shoe fragment from the London, with location of unknown material. © Historic England
Graph marked in units of 5 from 50 to 98 on the vertical axis, and 4000 backwards to 650 on the lower axis, showing significant spike between the 3000 to 2000 mark.
Transmittance spectrum produced during FT-IR analysis of the shoe sole. © Historic England.

Conservation work on material from the London is quite rewarding as we have a chance to progress artefacts from post excavation though conservation treatment, learning more through investigative conservation along the way and preparing them for storage and display at Southend Museum.

Find out more about the London by following #LondonWreck1665

Many thanks to Eric for his fascinating blog. The thing that caught my attention particularly was the stamped leather – that such detail has survived 350 years of immersion in a hostile environment and can be recovered by archaeology is amazing.

For more on conservation of artefacts from the wreck of the London, please also have a look at an earlier post from 2015.

 

The Raid on the Medway

There’s a persistent myth that the country has never been invaded since William landed at Hastings at 1066. Since 1066, too, many actions on land and at sea have become household names: Bosworth 1485, Naseby 1645, Trafalgar 1805, Waterloo 1815, Dunkirk 1940 and D-Day 1944, to name but a few.

There is one action of the 17th century, however, that is both relatively little-known and was an invasion. It has been somewhat overshadowed in the history books because of the internal drama of the Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration, taking up 1642-1660, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (itself an invasion, and a successful one).

It was the Raid on the Medway, an action of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667). For the English the war had begun inauspiciously with the loss of the warship London (now a protected wreck in the Thames Estuary) in March 1665. The ensuing engagements of the war were to see some of the greatest battles of the age of sail and the Raid was a phenomenal feat of seamanship.

The English had already recognised the potential vulnerability of Chatham Dockyard on the Medway. A defensive chain was laid across the river under the protection of Upnor Castle, to protect the yard and England’s capacity to build and repair ships.

Colour photograph of blue river running diagonally through image from bottom left corner, on the right bank brown mud and a jetty structure, on the left bank the pitched roofs of the dockyard and other buildings.
Chatham Dockyard as seen from Upnor Castle, September 2016. Historic England Archive DP187773.

Stationed at the chain were the guardships, the Charles Vor, to give her her Latin name, Carolus Quintus and Matthias. If you think that these names are unusual for English ships (we have never had a Charles V), you would be right. They were English, but only by default: they had been captured from the Dutch in previous engagements to enter English service.

Bottom third of image is blue river, with horizontal reflections, with the white walls of a fortification visible in the distance against a backdrop of green trees. Upper two thirds of image is blue sky.
Upnor Castle from the Medway, September 2016. Historic England Archive DP187777.

The Raid began 350 years ago on 9th June 1667 according to the Old Style calendar still in force in England, but on 19th June 1667 according to the New Style calendar already in use in the Netherlands. (It would be over 100 years before the same calendar was adopted in Britain.)

We are used to a constant scroll of instantaneous news as it happens, from mobile footage to Twitter feeds. So here is what happened next in the words of those there at the time: mouse over the footnotes to read the original documents.

On the 7th/17th 50 ‘warships, yachts and frigates’ left Den Helder. (1) On the 9th/19th a report from Harwich noted ‘between 40 and 50 sail of Dutch appeared on this coast, in the Sledway, over against Bardsey Ferry, where they continued all the day till 7 in the evening’ (2)

News travelled fast. Samuel Pepys, then Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, wrote the same evening: ‘Being come home I find an order come for the getting some fire-ships presently to annoy the Dutch, who are in the King’s Channel, and expected up higher.’ (3)

Potrait of man facing to the left, face towards viewer, wearing a white cravat and brown jacket with white sleeve poking through, and a letter in his left hand towards bottom left of image, against a dark background.
Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, oil on canvas, 1666, NPG 211 © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons Licence 3.0

Things had changed swiftly by the morning of the 10th/20th June: ‘Up, and news brought us that, the Dutch are come up as high as the Nore, and more pressing orders for fireships.’ (4) Pepys went hither and thither gathering intelligence, standing ship captains a drink at a tavern, and all confirmed the news of the Dutch being at the Nore in the Thames Estuary, between Shoeburyness on the Essex coast and Sheerness on the Kent side, and less than 50 miles from London.

Yet the Medway, rather than the capital, appears to have been the Dutch objective. On the 11th/21st, Pepys noted that Commissioner Pett of Chatham Dockyard ‘is in a very fearful stink for fear of the Dutch’ having ‘written word, that Sheernesse is lost last night, after two or three hours’ dispute.’ More fire-ships were hired following an order in Council that ‘under an invasion, as he owns it to be, the King may, by law, take any man’s goods.’ (5) 

On that day a number of ships were sunk west of the chain as blockships to deny the Dutch entry to the twists and turns of the Medway. Some of these vessels were requisitioned merchantmen, others were warships. Even those with an unbroken history in English service had still had a chequered career, such as the Marmaduke, which had served first the Royalist, then the Cromwellian causes, and was now in Charles II’s navy.

17th century portrait of sea captain in contemporary military dress, with his ship in the background beside his left elbow (on the right as the viewer sees it).
Michiel de Ruyter, Ferdinand Bol, 1667, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Yet the Dutch, under their commanders, including Michiel de Ruyter, (the Dutch equivalent, perhaps, of Nelson), were nothing daunted by chain, blockships or fireships, or the perils of navigating a narrow, winding, muddy river. Two fireships attempted the chain, the second, the Pro Patria, breaking through, and the rest following. Further fireships were expended. The official correspondence of the time is full of ‘strange reports’ and garbled rumours. (6)

These rumours came to the ears of Samuel Pepys, who wrote on the 12th/22nd: ‘ill newes is come to Court of the Dutch breaking the Chaine at Chatham, which struck me to the heart . . . and so home, where all our hearts do ake; for the newes is true, that the Dutch have broke the chaine and burned our ships, and particularly the Royal Charles.’ (7)

17th century oil painting in muted colours, showing a winding river with ships in combat, to lower left the grey smoke of a town burning, the sky filled with grey clouds and grey smoke.
Burning of the English Fleet at Chatham, 19-24 June 1667, Willem Schellinks, 1667-78, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. To the lower left Sheerness burns. Chatham lies beyond the three ships burning in the centre of the river, with the square tower of Upnor visible on the upper bank. In the far distance Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral can be discerned against the smoke. Popular prints were made from scenes such as these, with places and ships carefully labelled.

A letter to Pepys on the 14th/24th made some sense of events: ‘Yesterday the Royal James, Royal Oak, and Royal London were fired. Saw all three flaming, and the enemies become masters of the Royal Charles, giving her such a friendly entertainment that it is expected she will be our enemy this afternoon. On Tuesday two or three more ships were lost . . . Several other vessels have been sunk. The enemy have lost five or six fire-ships, either by sinking or in executing their employ.’ (8)

The Dutch then sailed back with the Royal Charles in tow, to a heroes’ welcome. To this day the counter-stern of the Royal Charles is displayed in the Rijksmuseum, as is the golden cup awarded to Michiel de Ruyter in commemoration of his deeds.

Carved wooden relief panel with some faded colour, showing 17th century royal shield of arms in centre, with lion supporter on left and unicorn supporter on right.
Counter-stern of the Royal Charles, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

What wreckage remains from this action over several days in June 1667? What is the archaeological potential beneath the mud of the Medway?

The Commissioners of the Navy literally sought to salvage what they could from the wreckage. The majority of the sunken ships were painstakingly recovered – they were an obstruction to navigation. By August 1668 they were planning to raise the Marmaduke ‘which is the ship most hurtful to the river’. (9) They succeeded in ‘making her swim’. (10) However, she required pumping and by the next August there was nothing more to be done with her: ‘We think that the best manner of disposing of the Marmaduke will be by exposing her to sale, she being incapable of removal, and inconvenient to break up at so great a distance from the yard.’ (11) She was then broken up by her buyer.

There are tantalising clues that something may yet remain: a ‘bottom’ here, or a disappearance of a ship from the records there (but this may mean that the records do not survive rather than that a piece of wreckage does).

What archaeological discoveries have been made were third-hand, at best: there is a box in the collections of the National Maritime Museum, fashioned from timbers attributed to the Matthias or Carolus Quintus according to a label inside. It continues: ‘found by a party of convicts during the excavating of the new docks and basins at the extension works, St. Mary’s Island, HM Dockyard Chatham in the year 1876.’ (12) There is no indication of how the identification was made, or by whom, and a gap of 200 years sits between the alleged origin of the timbers and their identification.

Other archaeological evidence may reside in other wrecks far from the Medway with a greater or lesser degree of certainty. It was the lot of a warship to have an eventful career, and frequently to end that career in a similarly eventful fashion. One such vessel was HMS Ramillies, wrecked at the Bolt Tail in 1760. Some sources attribute the origins of the Ramillies to the Royal Katherine, of 1664, one of the ships scuttled, then raised at the Medway: but if this is true, after two intervening rebuilds there can have been very little left of the original vessel! It is also possible that the Hind Sixth Rate, lost on the Isles of Scilly later in 1667,  is identifiable with the Hind which was scuttled and recovered from the Medway.

The fortunes of the three Anglo-Dutch wars see-sawed between the two nations. The Dutch won some battles, the English others; defeat could follow victory and victory defeat; and indeed, in some engagements, both sides claimed victory. Perhaps, then, it is appropriate that the Royal Charles is in Amsterdam, and a possible piece of the remains of the Matthias or Carolus Quintus in London, reflecting the characteristic fortunes of their ships.

The Raid on the Medway was a clear defeat for the English navy, but the Dutch did not press home their advantage and attack London, as was feared. The other great diarist of the time, John Evelyn, records his impressions (several days’ worth compressed into the slightly erroneous date of 8th/18th June):

‘To London, alarmed by the Dutch, who were fallen on our fleet at Chatham, by a most audacious enterprise . . .This alarm caused me, fearing the enemy might venture up the Thames even to London (which they might have done with ease, and fired all the vessels in the river too), to send away my best goods, plate, etc., from my house to another place.’ (13) With all that going on, no wonder he was too busy to write up his diary!

What remains, then, is a shared heritage of words and pictures, if little in the way of wreckage.

Places to visit:

UK:

Chatham Dockyard: special exhibition for Raid on the Medway 350 Breaking the Chain (to 3 September, 2017)

National Maritime Museum (paintings of the Raid, portrait of Michiel de Ruyter, which can also be seen on the website)

Rochester Castle (English Heritage)

Upnor Castle (English Heritage)

Netherlands:

MuZEEum, Vlissingen, special exhibition for Raid on the Medway 350 (to 1 October, 2017) (in Dutch)

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

*********************************************************************************

Footnotes:

(1)  Oprechte Haerlemsche Courant, June 11, 1667 (NS)

(2) London Gazette, Thursday June 20, to Monday June 24, 1667, (NS), No.167

(3) Pepys, Diary, June 9, 1667 (OS)

(4) Pepys, Diary, June 10, 1667 (OS)

(5) Pepys, Diary, June 11, 1667 (OS)

(6) Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, Vol.205, No.4

(7) Pepys, Diary, June 12, 1667 (OS)

(8) Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, Vol.205, No.58

(9) Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, Vol.244, No.101

(10) Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, Vol.245, No.77

(11) Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Charles II, Vol.264, No.103

(12) Royal Museums Greenwich, REL0550

(13)  Evelyn, Diary, June 8, 1667 (OS)

 

 

 

Diary of the War: June 1917

The Sir Francis

At first glance the Sir Francis appears to be yet another British steam collier lost through enemy action in the North Sea, torpedoed 4 miles off Ravenscar, North Yorkshire, on a ballast run to the Tyne to pick up coal on 7 June 1917.

In that sense there is nothing remarkable about this particular wreck, which shares the characteristics of so many other ships of the same ilk, lost in the same sea area to war causes. not only during the First World War but also the Second. Even her tonnage of 1153 tons net, 1991 gross, was entirely characteristic of a steam collier of the early to mid 20th century, and she belonged to one of the big names in coal shipping, Cory Colliers Ltd.

Also fairly characteristic was the death toll: 10 men out of a crew of 22 lost their lives that day in June 1917. The Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London (listed Grade I) records their details so far as they were known. They were:

Wanless, A, master, whose place of birth, residence, and family is not recorded;

de Boer, J, seaman, born in Holland;

Jonsson, John, born in Iceland, resident in South Shields and married to an Englishwoman;

Kato, T, fireman, born in Japan;

Nishioka, B, fireman, also born in Japan;

Poulouch, N, fireman, born in Greece;

Sharp, Joseph, steward, of South Shields;

Talbot, Alfred, engineer’s steward, of Penarth;

Tippett, Albert, engineer, a Yorkshireman resident in Tyneside;

van der Pluym, Johannes Cornelis, seaman, a resident of Amsterdam.

Colour photograph of stone memorial inscription reading '1914-1918: To the Glory of God and to the honour of twelve thousand of the merchant navy and fishing fleets who have no grave but the sea'.
Detail of the Mercantile Marine Memorial, Tower Hill. By Katie Chan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28279403

Seafaring has, of course, always been a mobile profession with a long heritage, stretching back centuries, of crew serving aboard ships not originating in their local ports or country of birth, ocean-going liners and tramp steamers being obvious examples. On the blog we have looked previously at lascars engaged as foreign labour and subsequently shipwrecked on board ships plying to and from south Asia during the period of British colonial rule: Mahratta I, 1909; the Magdapur, 1939; and the Medina, 1917. The Tangistan is a good example of this phenomenon earlier in the war: when she was lost in 1915 en route from Beni Saf, Algeria, for Middlesbrough, her crew included men from the Indian Merchant Service and Scandinavian sailors.

The international composition of crews working on domestic routes appears to become more marked as the war continued. A primary contributory factor was, of course, the shortage of labour in the merchant marine, as experienced sailors were recruited into the Royal Navy, and the high death and injury toll among the crews of ships lost to war causes.  There were other factors, including international agreements (which will be covered in a later post). Undoubtedly, further research among the histories of each individual crew member might well reveal other factors at play: for example, rates of pay and war displacement (shipwreck by war causes and internment of vessels).

In July 1917, another collier, the Empress, would also be sunk in the North Sea with a truly multinational crew on a wholly domestic route, this time delivering coal from the Tyne to Southend-on-Sea. Among the survivors on that occasion were 3 Norwegians; 2 Argentines; 2 Swedes; and one man each representing Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia (although at this period crewmen from the Baltic Grand Duchies of Russia were lumped under the ‘catch-all’ label of ‘Russian’ in contemporary sources) and Spain. Among the dead were Swede Peter Anderson [sic], able seaman; Norwegian Olaf Husby, boatswain; and Dutchman Peter van Klanders, fireman.

There is a similar tally on board a larger collier, the Polesley, which lost all but one of her 43 crew when she was torpedoed in 1918. Half came from diverse national and ethnic backgrounds. Some originated from various corners of the contemporary British Empire: three men from Sierra Leone, one man from the Bahamas and another from Nevis; a South African; one man from India; and another from Hong Kong. Others came from countries unconnected to the Empire: there were five Japanese sailors on board, and from Europe two Danes and two Lithuanians, a Norwegian, a Russian, a Spaniard and a Swede lost their lives.

These three specific cases among British colliers, the Sir Francis, the Empress, and the Polesley, shine a light on a hidden, but significant, heritage of multinational and multi-ethnic crew composition on British ships during the First World War.

(All crew details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.)