Friday, June 24, 2005

 

International team to document BVI shipwreck

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The Virgin Islands Daily News
By Angela Burns-Piper
June 22, 2005

Wednesday, June 22nd 2005

TORTOLA - A five-member team of international archaeologists has begun to survey the 200-year-old ruins of the Royal Navy sloop HMS Nymph in Tortola waters.

The work, which began Saturday and runs through July 2, "will identify and assess the extent of the ship's remains and will ultimately aid future excavation of the site," Kimberly Monk of the Archaeology and Anthropology Department at the University of Bristol, England, told The Daily News.

The HMS Nymph was launched at Chatham Dockyard in May 1778 and was one of 25 vessels of the Swan class of Royal Navy ships. It sank in the British Virgin Islands in 1793. The sloop was 96 feet long - with a beam of 26 feet and a depth in the hold of 12 feet.

The 303-ton vessel was fitted with three masts and was able to accommodate 125 men, 16 guns and 14 swivel guns. Its role was to protect English interests and island inhabitants from French and American privateers. It first was commissioned under Vice Admiral Sir Edward Hughes' East India fleet in 1779, and its duties included protecting interests in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras and serving as an escort to East India merchant convoys.

Monk, who is leading the survey of the wreck, said the HMS Nymph is of national historical importance to both Britain and the British Virgin Islands. It helped secure the British territory, ultimately paving the way for the successes of the British navy.

She said the team will gather photographs, video and data through acoustic positioning, a new and more accurate method of mapping shipwreck sites.

"We're trying to find out what else is there," Monk said. "With the dredging and land reclamation ongoing near the site, we are concerned that the wreck will get anchored on, and we want to preserve what's remaining."

So far, Monk said, the team has found part of the hull structure. It hopes to locate other pieces and personal possessions of the crew.

In February 1969, dredging in Road Town harbor revealed the remains of the Nymph. Artifacts were removed, but no archaeological survey or site excavation was conducted, and now none of the more than 300 artifacts can be found. The team has a photographic archive of the artifacts, however, which include galley wares.

The project is being conducted with the help of the Virgin Islands Studies Program at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the government's Town and Country Planning Department and several local organizations including the Royal BVI Yacht Club and Commercial Dive Services.

In December 1782, HMS Nymph was recommissioned to the West Indies under Admiral Hugh Pigot and Rear Adm. Sir Richard Hughes, of the Lesser Antilles squadron.

Her Caribbean adventures ended abruptly, however. A crew member's carelessness caused a fire, which forced the crew to abandon the ship as it foundered in Road Town harbor.

The other members of the archaeological team are: David Antscheral; David Bouman of Amsterdam Free University; David Moore of the North Carolina Maritime Museum; and Peter Holt of Sonardyne and 3H Consulting, which is based in Plymouth, England.


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