Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Santa Maria! Five more shipwrecks that came back from the deep

Marine archaeologists think they have located the remains of Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, off the coast of Haiti. It joins an impressive list of other historic wrecks that have been found recently

Santa Maria
Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, and his other two ships in a dramatic artist's impression. Photograph: Alamy

Queen Anne's Revenge

Perhaps the most famous of all pirate ships began life in 1710 as a Royal Navy frigate called the Concord. Almost immediately after launch, she was captured by the French and converted into a slave ship, before being captured again by the pirate Ben Hornigold near Martinique. Hornigold put her under the command of one of his men, Edward Teach, soon to be known as Blackbeard. Just one busy year later, Blackbeard ran the ship aground off the coast of North Carolina, where it remained undisturbed until being rediscovered by the private research firm Intersal in 1996. Since then, many items have been salvaged, including a motley assortment of cannons, and the 1.4-tonne anchor.

Quedagh Merchant

Originally an Armenian-built Indian merchant vessel, this ship became famous when it was captured by Captain Kidd in 1698 near Kochi in the Arabian Sea. A privateer with instructions to loot enemy vessels, Kidd was subsequently considered a pirate, and hid the Quedagh Merchant before being captured and hung, after a sensational trial. For centuries, the ship's unknown location was a matter of legend, until it was at last found off Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic in 2007. Incredibly, it lay in shallow clear water close to the shore, and had never been touched.
The Mary Rose A reconstruction of the day the Mary Rose sank in the Solent in 1545. Photograph: Richard Schlecht/National Geographic/Getty Images

The Mary Rose

It was never very far away – only in the Solent – but Henry VIII's beloved warship proved remarkably elusive after it sank in 1545, while leading an attack on the invading French fleet. A group of specialist salvors from Venice managed to reclaim some bits and pieces straight away, but soon afterwards it was forgotten. In 1836, the diving pioneers John and Charles Deane returned after a fishing net snagged on part of the wreckage, but they promptly lost the location again after recovering a few timbers and weapons. Finally, in 1971, the ship was found again, and then famously raised in 1982. It is now on display in Portsmouth.

HMS Beagle

In itself, the ship that launched the theory of evolution was unremarkable. Built as a basic 10-gun Royal Navy brig in 1820, it was soon refitted as a survey vessel, in which state it carried Darwin on his momentous voyage to South America in 1831. Years later, it began to be used as a Customs and Excise patrol boat, catching smugglers off the Essex coast, and was last heard of being sold for scrap (for £525) in 1870. Yet recent research appears to have found most of it buried under 12ft of mud in the river Roach. If correct, the Beagle could, in theory, be excavated and one day put on show.
HMS Beagle HMS Beagle Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

HMS Victory

Nelson's flagship of the same name never sank, and today is in Portsmouth as a museum ship. Its predecessor, however, was one of the Royal Navy's greatest warships until it disappeared in a storm near the Channel Islands in 1744. In 2008, it was found by the underwater treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine, which plans to raise the wreck in the near future. As their website says: "Research indicates that the Victory sank with a substantial amount of specie aboard." Specie means coins – specifically here gold and silver – which might today be worth as much as £500m.
• This article was amended on 14 May 2014. The Mary Rose was raised in 1982, not 1980 as a previous version said.
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