This wreck of a small warship lost in 1653 lies against the rocks beneath Duart Castle and has recently been investigated by professional underwater archaeologists. After excavation the remainder of the site has been protected by a layer of sandbags, restoring the natural underwater topography, but a scatter of cannon are still visible on the surface.
The site was originally designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and could only be dived under license from Historic Scotland. Designation has now changed and the site is now a Marine Historic Protected Area (MHPA) which means you can look but not disturb the archaeology or the habitat on the site.
These remains of a small warship, presumed to be the Swan, was part of a six-strong Commonwealth flotilla sent by Cromwell to capture Duart Castle and subdue the Maclean of Duart, a supporter of the Royalist cause. The Duart Point wreck was the subject of detailed survey, rescue excavation and site stabilisation work during a period from 1991 – 2003. The Duart Point site has previously been called the Swan, however, the identity of the vessel has been thrown into some doubt by recent historical research (Colin Martin, pers. comm. March 2006).
The Swan was a 200 ton warship of the EnglishRoyal Navy, launched in 1641. She was the last ship to be built for Charles I, and carried a number of iron cannons, which were cast by John Browne.
In 1645, whilst anchored at Dublin, and with Swan’s captain absent from the ship, the disgruntled crew were persuaded by the captain of a Parliamentary frigate to change sides upon promise of payment of wages regularly. Thus the ship became part of the Cromwellian fleet.
The warship was a part of Oliver Cromwell’s fleet of six vessels which attacked a Royalist stronghold at Duart Castle on Mull during the English Civil War, but she sank on 13th September 1653 off the west coast of Scotland due to a severe storm.
A naval diver found the remnants of the Swan in 1979 and important items from the wreck were recovered during the 1990s in an excavation led by maritime archaeologist Colin Martin from the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland.Items recovered at that time included a corroded pocket watch which appeared to look like “…little more than a lump of rock from the outside”, many silver coins, iron guns and other military artifacts. The items were deposited with the National Museum of Scotland.
The site lies at a depth of 10m-12m off the rocky promontory of Duart Point, beneath Duart Castle at the southern entrance to the Sound of Mull. This location is exposed from the northwest through north to southeast and the site is subject to significant current during the ebb tide. The seabed comprises of boulders interspersed with sand and gravel but there is a thick covering of kelp over the site, particularly during the summer months.
In 2003, one of the cannons from the ship was recovered. It turned out to be an iron ‘Drake’ cast by John Browne, and is believed to be the only survivor of this type of cannon. It has a mass of 3 cwt 2 qtrs 23 lb, or 415 lb (188.2 kg), and had a 3½” (89mm) muzzle and fired shots weighing 4 pounds (1.81 kg). Another ship of the era, Sovereign of the Seas, had bronze cannons that were also cast by Browne.
A barely recognizable, severely corroded and barnacle-covered pocket watch was recovered from the wreck in 1979. It was transferred to the National Museum of Scotland, where researchers Lore Troalen, Darren Cox and Theo Skinner decided to try to analyze the watch’s interior components by utilizing a state-of-the-art computed tomography (CT)X-ray scanner. The same type of CT scanner had been previously used to create a finely detailed 3D virtual reconstruction of the Greek Antikythera Mechanism recovered from the 2,200 year old sunken Antikythera wreck in the Aegean Sea. Imaging from the CT scans of the watch was used to produce fine-detailed three-dimensional views of its interior, depicting beautifully preserved delicate brass components which included cogwheels, studs, pins, Egyptian-style pillars supporting the watch’s top and bottom plates, as well as the watchmaker’s personal identification (Niccholas Higginson of Chancery Lane in Westminster, London). Among the decorative markings discerned were floral designs engraved on some of its parts, plus Roman numerals and fleur-de-lis on its watchface, with an English rose at its centre.
Detailed survey and environmental observations led to an understanding of formation processes, allowing an interpretation of the archaeological remains. Parts of the lower hull survive along its full length, while some of the upper works, particularly towards the stern, have collapsed in a relatively coherent manner. From this the vessel’s dimensions and general proportions have been ascertained, and aspects of its internal layout established.
Parts of the ship’s pumping system were identified and a patent iron gun – the first of its kind known to survive – was identified, together with its carriage and associated items. Domestic objects include pottery and clay pipes, and many wooden utensils. Weights and measures were found, including the oldest known examples of pewter ‘tappit hens’. An assemblage of animal and fish bones, and a rotary quern, indicate that the vessel’s provisioning was locally-based. A human skeleton provides evidence of physique, diet,and health, and shows work-related characteristics which suggest the individual was a seaman.
The Duart Point site is a historically important and interesting site, and since the change of legislation is now open to all divers. A visitor trail is available on the site to kelp you find your way about. This document is linked below:
Duart Point Site Visitor Trail (PDF 706kB)
Link to more information: How to visit this site
Fenwick and Gale, Historic Shipwrecks, 1998, 106-8
Martin, C., IJNA 24, 15-32