Scallastle Bay is marked on old charts as an Admiralty Anchorage Area and the bay is littered with wreckage, from piles of coal to Admiralty Pattern anchors. There are records of several shipwrecks in the Bay. Here are the ones we know about.
Scallastle Bay losses:
|Name||Type||Build date||Port of registry||Tonnage||Cargo||Date lost|
|Clara R||Brigantine||1866||Dublin||212||Rock salt||1887|
|Mary Dawson||Smack||Campbeltown||Herring and salt||1860|
Data from: Whittaker, IG 1998, Off Scotland, A comprehensive record of Maritime and Aviation Losses in Scottish Waters, Edinburgh
Lochaline scallop diver George Foster reported his discovery of three cast iron guns to us in 1994. These guns were originally thought to have come from the wreck of the Dartmouth, lost in 1690 on the island of Eilean Rubha an Ridire. Subsequent work by SOMAP has disproved this theory.
Systematic metal detector searches revealed three more guns, in close groupings. One of these guns has a breeching loop on it. The breech loop was used to reduce the recoil of the gun, a feature which came into use around the end of the 18th century. This gun is an Armstrong Pattern gun dating to the early 19th century. The other guns seem to be of various types.
Some additional finds have been made during this survey, including two lead apron covers. One of these was recovered and has been recorded and conserved by SOMAP participant Barry Kaye.
The photographs of this object show how the apron was moulded to the surface of the cannon. The bowl of a clay pipe found during excavation of one of the guns was also recovered.
This artefact has been conserved, and dating as it does to the early 19th century, it helps firm up the dating of the cannon site to the early part of the 19th century.
We are still not sure of the origins of this site. However, it is unlikely that there is a wreck associated with the guns. The position of two of the guns, sticking out of the seabed, suggests that they might have been jettisoned. This was fairly common practice if, for instance, a ship was in trouble.
The existence of various types of guns, some apparently not in service, suggests that the guns may have been part of a scrap cargo that needed to be jettisoned for some reason. However, the presence of the two apron covers would indicate that at least two of the guns were in service. We are still missing part of the jigsaw here, and hopefully there will be more clues to answer what has become something of an enigma!
The Scallastle Bay guns are of local importance and you are welcome to dive this site. However, we ask that divers who do visit this site do not remove anything from the seabed or tamper with the guns in any way. These guns are far better off left where they are than being lifted to the surface where the costs of professional conservation would be prohibitively expensive.
Philip Robertson, who organised SOMAP for many years.
Scallastle Bay has been investigated as part of the Sound of Mull Archaeological Project course for many years. This course is still run every summer by the dive centre; see NAS Scotland link for further details.