The Vicuna

Ice cold in Norfolk

This month I’m delighted to welcome my colleague Ken Hamilton, Listing Adviser, Listing Projects and Marine Team, Historic England. On the anniversary of the loss of the Vicuna, 136 years ago, he discusses what happened on 6-7 March 1883, and revisits the evidence for the remains on the beach.

Over to Ken:

Great Storms are more common that one might think – 1703 and 1987 come to mind, and they occur regularly in between. One particular Great Storm was on 6 March 1883, where force 9 and 10 winds heralded one of the coldest Marches in 300 years. The storm resulted in the loss of over 50 vessels and over 200 crew around the North Sea, mostly fishermen from Hull and the Netherlands.

One vessel affected was the Vicuna, a 330 ton barquentine bound for her home port of Hull with a cargo of ice. The ship had left Larvik on 23 February, and anchored within the entrance to the Humber on 5 March. The wind rose overnight, and the ship’s master, John Sawyer, ordered the dropping of a second anchor at 8am on 6 March. One of her anchor cables parted at 9am, so the ship requested a tug to tow her into Hull. Both tow rope and the remaining anchor cable parted, but she then ran aground on Sand Haile on the southern shoulder of the entrance to the Humber. She was towed off the sand bank, set sail and sailed east to clear the coast and ride out the storm at sea. The Vicuna rode out the night at sea, but struck the Woolpack Sand off the Norfolk coast in the middle of the afternoon on the 7th. They came off the Woolpack Sand, and Captain Sawyer decided to head for Brancaster, but was blown south onto the beach at Holme-next-the-Sea, running aground at 4.30pm. The Hunstanton lifeboat was launched, the crew were taken off at 7.30pm and landed at Hunstanton at 10pm on 7 March.

Map of the North Sea coast between the Humber and Norfolk, showing the 50 miles travelled by the Vicuna between 9am on 6 March and 3.30pm on 7 March, and the two sandbanks where she grounded en route.
Route of the Vicuna. Modern Ordnance Survey mapping. © Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number: 100024900. Marine mapping © British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Ltd., All rights reserved. Product licence number 102006.006 © Historic England

The Vicuna‘s departure from the Humber was reported in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette as the schooner Vienna (a confusion continued into the 21st century, as the two words are difficult to distinguish in 136 year old newsprint even when digitised!). Harder to explain are three entries in Lloyd’s List for 9 March 1883, two for the Vicuna, of Hull, and one for the Vicuna of Bristol (? Hull). It is not clear why the third mention (which is clearly the same vessel) was assigned a different port of registry!

The Vicuna was carrying 500 tons of ice, a not uncommon cargo in the late 19th century. The international ice trade began in 1806, when Frederic Tudor began to export ice from the United States to Martinique, in the Caribbean. Tudor, known as the “Ice King”, made his fortune transporting ice from the United States to the Caribbean and India. In England, William Leftwich started to import ice from Norway in 1822, and the trade grew from there. While Tudor did start to export ice from the USA to England in 1844, Leftwich’s main competitor was Carlo Gatti, who began to import Norwegian ice in the 1850s. Despite the invention of ice-making machines and refrigerated ships by 1882, the ice trade continued to grow until 1900 and did not seriously begin to drop until 1915 when the German blockade of the North Sea made its transport difficult. The last import of ice to the UK from Scandinavia was in 1921.

Ice was cut from south Norwegian lakes in winter, transported to the coast and packed into ships. The journey to England was between 500 and 600 nautical miles, and took between 5 and 10 days, depending on the weather. During that time, the ice would start to melt, with an average loss of between 5 and 10% of the cargo (the ice was insulated, usually with sawdust, but not refrigerated). On arrival, the ice was unloaded into commercial ice houses and ice wells. William Leftwich leased a former private ice house in Park Crescent West (Scheduled: NHLE 1427239), and constructed another in 1829. Carlo Gatti stored and distributed ice from his ice wells in King’s Cross (constructed in 1862: part of the London Canal Museum). A number of commercial ice houses survive across the country, particularly in fishing ports, for example in Berwick (Listed Grade II: NHLE 1396572) and Great Yarmouth (NHLE 1096794). Hull’s ice house was converted to a Salvation Army citadel in the late 19th century, and demolished in the late 20th century (the location survives as Icehouse Road).

It is interesting to speculate about the fate of the Vicuna, and the role of her cargo in her wrecking. After parting tow, she stood out to sea, heading east, but her subsequent known route was mostly to the south, albeit at about 1.2 knots (suggesting she was hove to or had no sail set). By the time the ship approached the Norfolk coast, she had been out in the storm for 36 hours, and so the crew were likely to have become exhausted. At the same time, loss of cargo through melting increased the risk of the ice shifting and affecting the stability of the vessel.

Collapsed hull of wreck still retaining its 'boat shape', half in water to the right, on an extensive beach under a blue sky.
Wreck at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, known as the Vicuna, February 2019. Courtesy of Ken Hamilton.

Following the wreck, the owners initially intended to refloat the vessel, but later offered to sell the ship and her fittings by auction, although it is worth noting that she was sold as a hull and not as a ‘wreck’. How much of this sale went ahead is not clear, as the remains on the beach do not entirely reflect the documentary evidence. The existence of the wreck was reported again in 1985, but was initially identified as an 18th century collier called the Carrington: the Carrington was, however, a 19th century collier, wrecked on 20 November 1893 on Titchwell beach, east of Holme-next-the-Sea.  Identification of the wreck (and its differentiation from other wrecks along Holme beach) was complicated by the beach itself – it is relatively featureless, so determining accurate locations on the beach was notoriously difficult until the wider availability of GPS systems.

A spread of Scandinavian stone used as ballast, together with oral history testimony, suggested that the wreck was the Vicuna. The spread of ballast was well known locally, and when the Holme-next-the-Sea timber circle (the so-called ‘Seahenge’) was found, the finder noticed it by picking up what he thought was a piece of ballast from the Vicuna that turned out to be a Bronze Age axe head!

Stones scattered over wreck timbers, largest stones in the centre left foreground.
Detail view of the wreck at Holme-next-the-Sea, February 2019. Courtesy of Ken Hamilton.

The writing of this blog has provided an opportunity to review this identification. The auction notice for the ship detailed 60 tons of iron ballast in the Vicuna as well as her 500 tons of ice cargo. An examination of the ballast on the wreck site shows it to be iron slag, and not Norwegian stone. The slag is interesting in itself – it is not blast furnace slag, but slag from a different process, possibly from a finery forge (the process of turning pig iron into wrought iron). Finery forges were replaced by puddling hearths in England in the late 18th century, but continued in use in Sweden until the development of the Bessemer furnace revolutionised steel production in the mid 19th century. If the slag from the wreck is finery slag, it would predate the construction of the Vicuna, and hence raises the possibility that the wreck is another ship entirely.

Lump of brown iron slag with cavities in it, with a scale rule to the right showing it to be 8cm high.
Detail view of iron slag as ballast from the wreck at Holme-next-the-Sea, with visible vesicles (cavities). Courtesy of Ken Hamilton.

There are few records of the nature of ballast on ships, but the existence of large quantities of slag suggests the ship came from an iron-working area. Coincidentally, British iron and steel production in the 18th century relied on Swedish iron, and two ships laden with Swedish iron ran aground between Hunstanton and Brancaster – the Christina, in 1763 and the Sophia Albertina (also identified as the Suffia Britannia Albertina) in 1764. Another, unnamed ship (also laden with iron) was mentioned as running aground the same week as the Christina. Given the lack of detail, the possibility that this third ship is a variant report of the Christina cannot be discounted. A further possible contender is the Hope, another Swedish ship which ran aground on the beach near Holme on 21 May 1771. Without more evidence (and analysis of the ship’s timbers) it is impossible to tell.

Many thanks to Ken for the above blog providing a fascinating new perspective on the Holme-next-the-Sea wreck, and all because he took a closer look at the ballast!

References:

Barraclough, KC ‘Steel in the Industrial Revolution’ in Day, J and Tylecote RF The Industrial Revolution in Metals (1991) The Institute of Metals pp261-306

Blain, BB Melting Markets: The Rise and Decline of the Anglo-Norwegian Ice Trade, 1850-1920 (2006) Working Papers of the Global Economic History Network (GEHN) no. 20/06

Lamb, H and Frydendahl, K Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe (1991) Cambridge University Press p143

Tylecote, RF ‘Iron in the Industrial Revolution’ in Day, J and Tylecote RF The Industrial Revolution in Metals (1991) The Institute of Metals pp200-260

Lloyds List, 9 March 1883 No. 21484, p11

Norfolk News, 17 March 1883, No.1995, p10

Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 08 March 1883, No.14213, p4

Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 09 March 1883, No.14214, p4

Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 27 March 1883, No.14228, p6

National Slag Collection catalogue http://hist-met.org/nsc.pdf Accessed 1 March 2019

Norfolk HER entry for the Vicuna http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?mnf21961 Accessed 1 March 2019

Norfolk HER entry for wreck on Holme beach http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?mnf21962 Accessed 1 March 2019

 

 

The Stirling Castle

Eat my Hat

Sailors kept their chewing tobacco in their hats, the linings of which became soaked in sweat and tobacco juice. If they ran out of tobacco they would take out the linings of their hats and chew them. [http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/navalsayingsdh accessed: 11.07.2016]

So this famous phrase has a nautical origin! Sailors and their hats are today’s theme:

One of the perks of being an archaeological conservator is that you get close to artefacts. Really close! Even closer! So close in fact, that you can hold, smell and properly look at artefacts: back, front, sides, and all around. And we conservators like to look closely. We like to see what an artefact is made from, how it is made, what condition it is in, and what that can tell us about the people that made or used it.

I recently had the privilege to work on the collection from the Stirling Castle protected wreck owned by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society on a project funded by Historic England’s commissions fund and headed by the Maritime Archaeology Trust. The main aim of this project was to catalogue and consolidate the archive, to enhance access to this fantastic wreck assemblage dating to the early 18th century.

Some of my favourite artefacts were beautiful knife handles, an ivory comb and copper alloy cauldrons. But two items stood out: leather hats. Items of clothing rarely survive in the archaeological context. But due to special preservation conditions for organic materials, such as leather, wool or linen, wreck sites play an important role in redressing the imbalance by allowing us an insight into clothing and dress, which are under-represented in collections when compared to non-organic materials, such as ceramics, for example.

Side view of crown and brim of brown leather hat, against a wide background.
Leather hat, Stirling Castle wreck assemblage, on loan from the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society to the Shipwreck Museum, Hastings. Image © Historic England

The hats stood out from the rest of the Stirling Castle collection for a number of reasons:

  • Beaver felt and wool seem to be the prevailing materials for hats of this period both in surviving examples and in art;
  • The style and method of construction also appear unusual for the period;
  • They are very well preserved: they are better-preserved than other leather artefacts from the same collection, such as the shoes or book covers;
  • There are no parallel finds known to us at the time of writing

Because these hats are so unusual, we are trying to learn as much about them as possible. They are a strong contrast to the leather shoes which are regularly found in shipwreck contexts and are well-understood, e.g. Mary Rose (1545); London (1665), HMS Invincible (1758).

Component parts of black leather shoes, such as uppers, heels and small parts, laid out together against a white background, with a ruler at bottom left for scale.
Leather shoes from the Stirling Castle wreck assemblage. Image © Historic England.

And this is where you come in: We have embarked on a project to study and investigate these two hats from various angles. We have chosen a multidisciplinary approach combining scientific investigations with art historical research as well as citizen science.

We’ve identified some surviving hats and contemporary images of hats, but we need your help to find more. We are putting the word out there asking members of the public as well as museums and collections to look at paintings and drawings of hats, or even hats themselves, dating to around the end of the 17th to early 18th centuries. Our aim is to collate a database of other hats and depictions of hats, to be able to compare our two hats from the Stirling Castle with other examples.

Here is the other hat from the assemblage:

 

View of brown leather hat against a white background, showing that the crown of the hat is laced together with a decorative thong.
Leather hat from the Stirling Castle wreck assemblage, Ramsgate Maritime Museum, showing thong lacing at the back. Image © Historic England

To examine the hats more closely, have a look at the 3D animations of the Hastings hat and the Ramsgate hat: click and drag to rotate in any direction, and see inside the hats, use mousewheel to zoom. (Best viewed in Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari 10.9 and above, IE 11)

As you can see, the hats are constructed in several pieces, with one piece for the top of the crown, the main body of the crown overlaps at the front and is laced at the back with a thong, and finally a wide brim.

We are mainly focussing on maritime scenes in paintings and drawings, due to the obvious maritime connection of the hats to the wreck of the Stirling Castle, but are interested in other depictions or real-life examples of similar looking head gear from other contexts too, perhaps hats worn by working-class people such as labourers and agricultural workers. These can be of any date to help with the comparison, but late 17th to early 18th century works would be especially helpful.

Please tell us as much as you can about the images or surviving examples of hats: where they’re from, their date and context, and a brief description of the style of hat, and its construction, and send us a link or photograph if possible.

As an example of what we’re looking for, have a look at this engaging 18th century image and the caption we have written for it.

Painting in neutral shades depicting two men, one wearing a hat and white shirt, clutching a wine bottle, the other behind his outstretched arm, looking at him. This man has a patched sleeve and holds a wine glass.
unknown artist, European School, 18th century; The Wine Seller; Southend Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-wine-seller-2514. (Creative Commons license). The wine seller wears a brown hat with a low, wide, rounded crown, and a shaped wide brim. The texture suggests it may be a felt hat, as was usual for hats of this period.

The citizen science part of the project opens today, 1st August 2016, and will run until 31st August 2016. It will be shared on the @HE_Maritime Twitter account with the hashtag #LeatherHats. Please feel free to share widely, using the same #LeatherHats hashtag. If you have any clues, ideas or images of hats you would like to share with us, please contact us by commenting on this blog, on Twitter @HE_Maritime, or by e-mail at StirlingCastleHats@HistoricEngland.org.uk

Thank you!

Angela Middleton, Archaeological Conservator, Historic England, and Serena Cant, Marine Information Officer, Historic England.

 

 

 

No.70 Wreck on the Goodwin Sands

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Bequest of Miss Alice Tully, 1996.67. Photography by Steven A. Crossot, 2014.
Wreck on the Goodwin Sands, J M W Turner. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Bequest of Miss Alice Tully, 1996.67. Photography by Steven A. Crossot, 2014.

This week’s wreck is a work of art and today I’d like to invite ‘audience participation’ focusing on wreck processes.

Wreck on the Goodwin Sands is currently on view at Tate Britain’s Late Turner exhibition as an excellent example of Turner’s late style, loose and impressionistic, yet amazingly precise in every detail. We see the skeleton of a wreck sitting upon the sands at low tide, with part of the sands exposed in streaks of yellow. Economical brushstrokes suggest the ribs of a vessel bowing out towards port and starboard, substantially more intact on both sides towards the middle and left of the painting, less so on the right, where one side is missing. A long downward stroke suggests a partially detached stem-post, with the ribs behind somewhat embedded in the exposed sand. Turner has pencilled some of his bleak poetry in lines only partially legible on the fallacy of hope, clearly identifying the wreck as one on the Goodwins. The view is from seaward of the Sands looking towards the white streak representing the famous cliffs of the Dover area.

My question this week is – what do you think happened to the ship Turner has shown here? Is it potential evidence for a wreck event?

Here are some potential clues: 

The Goodwin Sands were named as the ‘Great Ship Swallower’ as early as the 16th century, which has historically been characteristic of many of our designated wrecks in the vicinity, the Stirling Castle perhaps being the most dramatic of all, being found in a remarkably intact state, despite striking the sands in the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703.

There are other recorded wrecks, such as the Ogle Castle, an East Indiaman lost in 1825, where the ship disintegrated so comprehensively that much of her cargo was picked up in succeeding days as far afield as the Netherlands and Belgium.

Even those ships which floated off were often so badly damaged that they sank in deep water nearby, as happened with the Shepherdess in 1844.

Turner obsessively sketched what he saw and reused many sketches as details in paintings several years or decades later.

We have 24 wrecks recorded on the Goodwin Sands for the period 1840-1849, none for 1845 – the paper being characteristic of Turner’s sketchbooks for 1845. There is the possibility of some under-reporting, of course. Could it represent a wreck event we have not yet recorded?

Note the vertical brushstrokes suggesting ribs, but little in the way of horizontal brushstrokes to suggest the sides of the ship.

Responses will be collated and examined in a post in the New Year.

8. The Great Storm

Man Friday

With the stormy weather continuing until earlier this week, giving rise to the usual media reports wondering whether it is unprecedented/is evidence of global warming, maritime archaeology does indeed give us a perspective that reassures us storms in late November are by no means unusual.

The ultimate example is, of course, the Great Storm of 1703, 309 years ago. Many readers familiar with maritime archaeology will know the three certainly-identified Designated Wrecks arising out of the storm, the Northumberland, Restoration, and Stirling Castle and another Designated Wreck which may be the remains of a fourth, the Resolution. The havoc wrought by similar storms during the same period in other years is also well documented.

However, today I’d like to draw attention to a documented wreck event arising from the storm, a little ship laden with tin.  She was driven helplessly before the wind out of Falmouth and scudded along all the way to the Isle of Wight in 8 hours.

This was remarkable enough in itself. What was more remarkable was that such a small vessel, which would otherwise have been overlooked in contemporary records on both social and economic grounds, should survive at all in the documentary record. Even more remarkably, she was included in three separate reports collated and published by a young journalist struggling to make his name in a ground-breaking work of early journalism, The Storm, 1704. One surviving report from this period per wreck is often about as good as it gets.

Was it a question of ‘never letting the facts get in the way of a good story’? I had my doubts as to the time frame, since in the text the repetition of ‘next morning’ (Freudian slips, or careless editing?) suggested two consecutive mornings, rather than 8 hours; perhaps a period of 30 hours. When I initially blogged this story, a modern-day sailor got in touch to say that he felt that in 8 hours the vessel would have been making an extraordinary number of knots, but over 30 hours a more credible number of knots and a sailing speed fast enough to have caused comment at the time would be plausible. So we have arrived at a similar conclusion from forensic examination of language and a hands-on sailing perspective!

This little wreck, however, also illustrates how specialist knowledge can lift a documented wreck off the page into the realms of archaeological potential. I have not only the modern sailor to thank, but a diver who used his local knowledge to suggest an excellent location for the wreck in Freshwater Bay which fulfilled all the criteria as described in the original sources.

This ground-breaking work was eclipsed at a later date by another, one of the earliest examples of the novel form. The journalist was, of course, Daniel Defoe, and his novel, also centred on a shipwreck event – Robinson Crusoe. It is fascinating to speculate how much he gathered from the accounts of the 1703 storm, and other stories he must have heard, for, of course, Robinson Crusoe was based on a real-life castaway, Alexander Selkirk.