+ Old British Warship Found Intact in Lake Ontario

other topics: click a “category” or use search box

this is an Associated Press article:

A 22-gun British warship that sank in Lake Ontario during the American Revolution, has been discovered by two shipwreck enthusiasts. It is the only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes.

The enthusiasts, Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible vessel to locate the ship, the Ontario, which was lost with barely a trace during a gale in 1780. The ship had as many as 130 people aboard.

“To have a Revolutionary War vessel that’s practically intact is unbelievable,” said Arthur Britton Smith, a Canadian author who chronicled the history of the Ontario in a 1997 book, “The Legend of the Lake.”

“It’s an archaeological miracle,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Scoville and Mr. Kennard announced their discovery on Friday. They said they regarded the wreck as a war grave and had no plans to raise the Ontario or remove any of its artifacts. The ship, they said, was still considered the property of the British Admiralty.

The vessel lies in water up to 500 feet deep and can be reached only by experienced divers. Mr. Kennard and Mr. Scoville declined to give its exact location, saying only that it was found off the lake’s southern shore.

The Ontario, an 80-foot sloop, was described as resting partly on its side, with two masts extending more than 70 feet above the lake bottom.

“Usually when ships go down in big storms, they get beat up quite a bit,” Mr. Scoville said. “They don’t sink nice and square. This went down in a huge storm, and it still managed to stay intact. There are even two windows that aren’t broken. Just going down, the pressure difference, can break the windows. It’s a beautiful ship.”

Mr. Smith, who was shown underwater video of the discovery, said, “If it wasn’t for the zebra mussels, she looks like she only sunk last week.”

The dark, cold water acts as a perfect preservative, Mr. Smith said. At that depth, there is no light and no oxygen to hasten decomposition, and little marine life to feed on the wood.

The Ontario, which sank on Oct. 31, 1780, was used to carry troops and supplies along the frontier of upstate New York. Launched five months earlier, it was the biggest British warship on the lakes at the time but never saw battle, Mr. Smith said.

After the ship disappeared, the British made a sweeping search but tried to keep word of the Ontario’s sinking from Gen. George Washington’s forces because of the blow to the British defenses.

Hatchway gratings, the binnacle, compasses and several hats and blankets drifted ashore the day after the ship sank. A few days later the Ontario’s sails were found adrift in the lake.

In 1781, six bodies from the ship were found near Wilson, N.Y., then, for 200 years, there were no other traces of the vessel.

Explorers had been searching for the Ontario for decades, and there had been many false finds, said Eric Bloomquist, the interpretative programs manager at Old Fort Niagara.

Mr. Kennard, an electrical engineer who has been diving for about 40 years and has found more than 200 wrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, the Finger Lakes and in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, began searching for the Ontario 35 years ago but quit after several frustrating and fruitless years.

Six years ago, he teamed with Mr. Scoville, a diver who developed a remote-controlled submersible vessel with students from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Since then, the men have found seven ships in the lake.

Over the years, Mr. Kennard obtained documents from British and Canadian archives on the Ontario, including the ship’s plans. Mr. Scoville and Mr. Kennard searched more than 200 square miles for three years before finding the ship this month.

After locating the wreck with the sonar, the explorers used the submersible vessel to confirm their discovery and document it with more than 80 minutes of underwater video.

“Certainly it is one of the earliest discovered shipwrecks, if not the earliest,” said Carrie Sowden, archaeological director of the Peachman Lake Erie Shipwreck Research Center of the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermillion, Ohio. “And if it’s in the condition they say, it’s quite significant.”

A rare feature, two crow’s nests on each mast, helped identify the ship. Another feature was the decoratively carved scroll bow stem. The explorers also found two cannons, two anchors and the ship’s bell.

Mr. Kennard said he and Mr. Scoville had gathered enough video that it would not be necessary to return to the site. He added that they hoped to make a documentary about the discovery.

source: Associated Press article in the NY Times on 6/15/08; no byline seen

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


Comments are closed.