With the thought of treasure, Isle of Wight islander, Derek Williams researched ancient local wreck records. Top of his extensive wreck list was the 40-gun frigate Assurance lost in 1753 while returning from Jamaica with Governor Trelawny on board, whose story possibly inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. Derek’s first dive at the western point of the Isle of Wight called “The Needles” put him on top of cannons, various wreckage and Spanish-American “Pieces of Eight”, all scattered at the foot of the rock face. He reported this astonishing discovery to the authorities which resulted in the site being designated the 6th British historic protected wreck site.
When the authorities decided that further professional help was needed, author and diver John Bingeman supplied his Portsmouth Royal Naval diving team, and together with David Tomalin, County Archaeologist, developed the full potential of this important site. Over the next nine years John Bingeman’s team conducted annual visits to excavate the site; they successfully recovered 3,471 artifacts including cannon weighing 1½ tons. Some of these cannon post-dated the Assurance, leading to the identification of a second 38-gun frigate, the Pomone, lost in 1811. Her Captain, Robert Barrie’s extensive correspondence was discovered by Paul Simpson to have been archived by Duke University, North Carolina. It features Pomone’s continuous actions during the French Napoleonic wars, followed by his appointment to the 74-gun Dragon when he saw action in Chesapeake Bay during the 1812–15 war with the USA. Returning to North America as Senior Naval Officer Canada, Commodore Barrie made quite a name for himself improving the political relationship between the USA and Canada; he is remembered by the Canadian City named Barrie.
Previously unresearched archaeological finds are featured, including the development of rigging blocks, gunlocks, military buttons and ship’s chain pumps, all superbly illustrated, as well as the results of research into numerous other artifacts of the period. Appendices contain the transcripts of the two ship’s court martials and make fascinating reading. Captains seem to be blameless while their navigating officers are held responsible even going to prison. Perhaps not surprising when tried by fellow Captains!