HMAS Pallas

HMS Pallas 

As built: 135ft ½ in, 112ft 8½in x 36ft ¼in x 12ft 6in. 777 81/94 bm

Draught: 9ft 8in / 14ft 5in

Ord: 9th Dec 1790.   K: May 1792.   L: 19th Dec 1793.   Completed fitting: 5th May 1794

First cost: £20,455 including fitting

Men: 257 (254 from 1796).

GunsUD: 26 x 18pdrs; QD: 4 x 6pdrs + 4 x 32pdr carronades;  Fc: 2 x 6pdrs + 2 x 32pdr carronades.

(Winfield 2005)

 HMS Pallas was one of three ships ordered on 9th December 1790 to John Henslow’s first frigate design, the others being HMS Stag and HMS Unicorn. Originally to be built at Portsmouth, the order was transferred to Woolwich Dockyard in July 1791 and her keel was laid in May 1792. She was launched on 19th December 1793 and commissioned in January 1794 under The Hon. Capt. Henry Curzon.

On 16th June 1795, Pallas was one of the ships involved in Cornwallis’s Retreat. Over the next two years, she saw service in the Mediterranean, capturing the 16 gun privateer Santa Jose y Nuestra Senora de Begoyna on 16th July 1795 (Winfield 2005)

On Tuesday 3rd April 1798, HMS Pallas put into Plymouth Sound. Captain Curzon was due to sit at Court Martial hearings to be held in Cawsand Bay that week and spent part of the day officiating at one.  He returned to the Pallas in the afternoon and left directions for the security of the ship before apparently leaving once more. The weather was squally with fresh south-westerly gales and at 21:00, Pallas’s position was shifted to ensure a suitable berth.  Her position was recorded as lying in 6 ½ fathoms (an hour and a half after high water), being due west of Whithy Hedge, with Drakes Island to the north and an open view of The Tower on Devil’s Point.

That evening the Master and William Holland, the 1st Lieutenant, noted that the best bower anchor appeared to be slack, an observation also made by the 3rd Lieutenant at about 22:30. As the wind had dropped and the small anchor was holding, the decision was made to heave it to early the next day.

By morning the south-westerly winds were strengthening and the tide was rising. The order was given to heave the slack bower anchor in and it became clear that the shank of the anchor had broken. The bower cable was cut and attached to the spare anchor.  Meanwhile, the small anchor continued to take the full strain of the ship. The cutter was launched in order to range the spare cable and, as the weather continued to worsen, orders were given for the top masts to be struck and the top gallant masts to be brought down on deck. At 08:30 it was “blowing very stormy” (Court Martial Minutes) and the tide was on the turn. Before the spare anchor could be dropped, the small anchor cable parted and the ship began to drive.  She drove eastwards for “some considerable distance” (Court Martial Minutes) before the spare and sheet anchors brought her up in 4 ½ fathoms, a position that would see her strike at low water. There Pallas rode for about twenty minutes before slowly continuing to move eastwards into even shallower waters.

The order was given to cut down the masts in an attempt to bring the ship up. In the course of this action, a seaman named Peter Charlock was killed. The Signal of Distress and In Want of Assistance was made by firing the fore guns. HMS Canada, moored in the Hamoze, responded to the signal by sending a boat with six seamen and an officer.  As they left the Hamoze, the conditions were so extreme that they were forced to turn back, in the course of which, their boat over-turned and acting Lieutenant Massey and three of the seamen were drowned. The other seamen were picked up by a gunboat which was moored in the vicinity. Other ships noted Pallas’s plight but were unable to send assistance due to the weather conditions.

After the masts were cut, Pallas brought up for a while but before long, the spare anchor cable had parted and the ship came broadside to the shore and struck in 2 ½ fathoms. The sheet anchor cable also parted and at about 10:00, Pallas was driven onto the shore with her bow seawards. Over the next hour, her bow was gradually forced around to face the shore by the constant buffeting of the surf; it was so severe that those on land feared the whole crew would be lost. As the tide ebbed, the ship heeled over towards the shore, offering some protection to the crew and preventing too much water entering the ship. At some point, the cutter was launched with Mr Bissell, the 3rd Lieutenant and five seaman and they managed to bring a hawser to shore. By 12:00, the crew were able to leave the ship.

The gale abated at about 13:00. With low water at about 14:00, there was a window of opportunity for the removal of all personal effects and most of the stores. The ship remained on the rocks, badly broken up. Over the next few days, the last stores were apparently removed and the copper sheeting was stripped off by shipwrights. It was suggested that the government would sell off what was left but whether the remains of the broken vessel were ever salvaged or whether they were left to break up and disperse in the vicinity of the wrecking remains unclear.

As a matter of course, Court Martial proceedings were begun to enquire into the circumstances of the loss of the ship and the conduct of the Captain, officers and crew. The immediate consequence of this was that Captain Curzon was deemed ineligible to sit at the Court Martial of a seaman by name of W Kerr, which was due to take place on Friday 6th April 1798.

A Court Martial for the loss of HMS Pallas took place on HMS Cambridge on Saturday 26th May 1798. HMS Cambridge under her captain, Richard Boger, had been moored in the Hamoze on the day of Pallas’s wrecking and her own records refer to the dreadful weather conditions which prevented Cambridge from sending assistance. The court convened at 09:00 and by noon, the Captain, officers and crew had been fully acquitted.  The wrecking was ascribed to, “a violent gale of wind, one of her anchors breaking and three cables parting” (Court Martial Minutes).

Primary References:

Minutes of the proceedings of a Court Martial to try the Hon. Henry Curzon, the officers and company for the loss of the Pallas, 26th May 1798, National Archives ref: ADM1/5344

Ship’s Log for HMS Boston, National Archives ref: ADM51/1224

Ship’s Log for HMS Calypso, National Archives ref: ADM51/1241

Ship’s Log for HMS Cambridge, National Archives ref: ADM51/1231

Ship’s Log for HMS Canada, National Archives ref: ADM51/1224

Ship’s Log for HMS Pallas, National Archives ref: ADM51/1217

Ship’s Log for HMS Phoebe, National Archives ref: ADM51/1237

Secondary References:

Gossett, W.P., 1986, Lost Ships of the Royal Navy 1793-1900, Mansell, London

Grocott, T., 1997, Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras, Chatham Publishing, London

Winfield, R., 2005, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793 – 1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates, Chatham Publishing, London

Volunteer Projects

ProMare welcomes contributions of everyone interested in help advancing our projects.  Volunteers often join us during our fieldwork, and work in conjunction with ProMare staff members. Many contributors lead their independent projects under the umbrella of ProMare mission, researching, surveying and studying sites that they choose or are assigned by ProMare staff scientists. ProMare coordinates the volunteer projects and provides feedback when needed, as well as helping with the dissemination of the project results.

Tresco Channel

The presence of medieval pottery in Tresco Channel has been known for some time. In 2011 a local diver (Dave McBride) recovered a quantity of medieval pottery from around yacht moorings in the channel and brought it to the attention of CISMAS. This pottery was of French origin and dated to 1350-1450 AD. Later that year a combined CISMAS and ProMare undertook a survey of the seabed in this area and recovered over 250 sherds of pottery. This again was mainly French (Saintonge) and was also dated 1350-1450 AD. The pottery distribution was mapped and shows a distinct concentration around two of the mooring buoys.

It seems likely that this pottery is being removed from the seabed sediments by the action of the mooring chains scouring the surface of the seabed. The narrow date range, restricted origin and confined geographical location of this pottery suggest a single event leading to its deposition. The most likely event would seem to be a medieval shipwreck.

Given the fourteenth-century date assigned to the pottery recovered, any associated wreck material would be of great importance to our understanding of maritime Scilly, and any surviving hull structure would be of national importance given the scarcity of wrecks of this period in the UK.
This project will undertake small exploratory excavations in the areas scoured by the two mooring chains. The aim is to establish the source of the pottery and to determine if there is any surviving associated wreck structure.

The further investigation of the site will take place 28 September – 12 October 2013 – This stage of the project will be funded by English Heritage


If you would like to know more the 2011 Survey Report can be downloaded here:  Tresco_Channel_2011_Final_Report

HMS Whiting


Padstow Harbour, Cornwall

On the 15th September 1816, the 12 gun Baltimore pilot schooner HMS Whiting set a course to enter Padstow harbour with Lieutenant Jackson R.N in command. In bad weather and without a pilot on board she ran into the infamous Doom Bar that guards the entrance to the harbour. All attempts to refloat the ship failed and she was abandoned as a wreck, later to be covered by the deep sands of the Bar. This is the story of the American schooner Arrow that was captured by the Royal Navy and became HMS Whiting, her sinking, and the joint USA-UK project set up to search for the remains of the ship

The project was the inspiration of Michael P. Higgins, Camden County (Georgia) War of 1812 Historical Commission, as a way to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  The project was taken up by the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) who approached ProMare for help.

Research was undertaken in the US and the UK into the history of the pilot schooner Arrow, which subsequently became HMS Whiting when she was captured by the Royal Navy in 1812.  The research provided a detailed account of the fate of Whiting and some clues about her location on the Doom Bar.  A search for the remains of the ship was planned usingh the research along with historical charts of the area and more information provided by the residents of Padstow in Cornwall.  The geophysical survey using side scan sonar and magnetometer found six significant targets in the area with one only 25m from the estimated position of the wreck.  Four of the targets were investigated by a dive team of volunteers from the Nautical Archaeology Society but for three of them, including the most promising target, all that was found was flat, bare sand as the targets were buried.  The fourth and largets target was found to be a small wooden wreck approximately 18m long, but as the frames were made of pine this could not have been the Whiting.  The shifting sands of the Doom Bar may once again reveal what lies under the seabed in the area of the three targets so this is not the end of this particular story.

The Whiting Project is funded by ProMare UK and the Nautical Archaeology Society and supported by Geosa Ltd., CISMAS and the Padstow Museum.

Liberty 70


Whitsand Bay, Plymouth, England

March 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the US Liberty ship James Eagan Layne. The ship was beached near Plymouth, England, in March 1945 after being torpedoed by a U-boat.  To celebrate the anniversary the Liberty 70 Project aims to document all aspects of the life of this vessel – wartime transport, shipwreck, commercial salvage job, the classic UK wreck dive and artificial reef.

The Liberty 70 Project will record the history of the ship from the time the keel was laid to the present day.  The story includes the part she played in the Battle of the Atlantic, her sinking, beaching and early attempts at salvage.  The results of this history project will be published in a book and a web site about the James Eagan Layne, with other events planned for the anniversary itself. The work is being done by a mixed team of amateurs and professionals as a community archaeology and history project so offers of help are welcome.

The Liberty ship James Eagan Layne was launched at the Delta Shipbuilding Company’s yard in New Orleans on 2nd December 1944. By the beginning of March 1945 she had crossed the Atlantic, eventually joining the convoy BTC-103 on heading up the English Channel.  The final destination for the James Eagan Layne was Ghent in Belgium where she would deliver 4,500 tons of equipment for General Patton’s third army.  On 21st March the convoy was sighted off Plymouth by the U-boat U-399, which then fired a torpedo into the ship on her starboard side.  The ship stayed afloat and was towed toward Plymouth and finally beached in Whitsand Bay where she was abandoned and remains to this day.

The James Eagan Layne was first visited by recreational divers in the early 1950’s when the sport of SCUBA diving started in the UK. The Eagan Layne soon became ‘the’ iconic UK wreck dive as it was largely intact and easily accessible, introducing thousands of divers to wreck diving and is now an intrinsic part of the history of the sport. Over time the wreck has become a noted artificial reef in an otherwise featureless seabed and provides a valuable habitat for marine life.

The Liberty 70 Project is organised by ProMare UK and the Nautical Archaeology Society.

Visit the Liberty 70 Site

SHIPS Project

Shipwrecks and History in Plymouth Sound

Plymouth, England

Plymouth in Devon has a long and varied maritime history that stretches back to the arrival of the first humans in the south-west of England.  The evidence of this can be seen on land in its buildings, monuments, docks and harbours but there is also much to be found on the shoreline and underwater.  The waters of Plymouth Sound and the adjoining rivers have seen hundreds of maritime events, accidents and disasters; some witnessed and recorded but many more happened unseen and undocumented.  In 2009 the SHIPS Project (Shipwrecks and History in Plymouth Sound) was started by a group of shipwreck enthusiasts and divers in Plymouth with the aim of recording the maritime history of the area.

The SHIPS Project is the flagship project for ProMare UK; already it has helped with a number of shipwreck investigations by local dive teams, historical research and geophysical surveys undertaken with local companies and the University of Plymouth.

A significant aspect of the SHIPS project has been in recording and identifying finds recovered by divers from the waters around Plymouth, already this has unearthed two Greco-Roman anchors, ancient stone anchors, Roman pottery as well as some artefacts recovered from some of the historically significant shipwrecks in the area.

Much the work used to collect information for the SHIPS Project is done by local dive groups so providing advice and training are important parts of the SHIPS Project.  The project team provides informal advice and guidance about shipwrecks but also provides formal training using the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) training scheme.

The SHIPS Project raising awareness within the local community of the rich and diverse maritime heritage in the area and is providing a focus for the divers and researchers who are already working here.  The SHIPS Project is supported by the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter, the Nautical Archaeology Society and the South-West Maritime History Society.

Visit the SHIPS Project Site

Promare UK

ProMare UK was set up in 2010 to promote maritime history and archaeology in the United Kingdom, concentrating on the waters around Plymouth in the south-west of England.

The flagship SHIPS Project (Shipwrecks and History in Plymouth Sound) was the first project to be started. The city of Plymouth has a long maritime history that dates back to the arrival of the first humans in the south-west of England. Since that time the waters of Plymouth Sound and the adjoining rivers have seen hundreds of maritime events, accidents and disasters; some witnessed and recorded but many more happened unseen and undocumented. Despite the passing of time the seabed and shoreline around Plymouth still contains evidence of these events, so the aim of the SHIPS Project is to record the maritime history of Plymouth by recording the remains of these events. The first phase of this work involves documentary research backed up by geophysical surveys and this is to be followed by target identification and site recording. The project is supported by a number of museums, academic organizations and avocational groups in the region.

Geophysical research forms another significant aspect of the work done by ProMare UK. Research into the use of marine magnetometers is being done in collaboration with CISMAS, the University of Plymouth and the University of Bradford. Other areas of research include buried shipwreck detection using sonar and developing optimum methods of processing and representing geophysical data.

ProMare UK supports the Nautical Archaeology Society training scheme and now co-ordinates NAS training in the region. This work includes providing introductory and basic courses in maritime archaeology to volunteers and divers as well as arranging advanced Part III courses in specialised subjects.

Other projects supported by ProMare UK include the search for HMS Whiting off Padstow in north Cornwall, consultancy for the Mary Rose Trust, survey work on the hulks at Purton in Gloucestershire, as well as providing advice to a number of licensees of the UK’s designated shipwrecks.

Visit SHIPS project for detailed information about our projects in the UK.