Skip to comments.Explorers find 1780 British warship in Lake Ontario
Posted on 06/13/2008 4:20:50 PM PDT by decimon
This handout image from video released Friday, June 13, 2008 by Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, shows the crows nest and foremast of the sunken 228-year-old British warship HMS Ontario, a British warship built in1780 that has been discovered in deep water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Kennard and Scoville used side scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to locate the HMS Ontario, which was lost with barely a trace and as many as 130 people on board during a gale in 1780. (AP Photo/ courtesy of Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville)
SYRACUSE A 22-gun British warship that sank during the American Revolution and has long been regarded as one of the "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes has been discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario, astonishingly well-preserved in the cold, deep water, explorers announced Friday.
Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to locate the HMS Ontario, which was lost with barely a trace and as many as 130 people aboard during a gale in 1780.
The 80-foot sloop of war is the oldest shipwreck and the only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes, Scoville and Kennard said.
"To have a Revolutionary War vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable. It's an archaeological miracle," said Canadian author Arthur Britton Smith, who chronicled the history of the HMS Ontario in a 1997 book, "The Legend of the Lake."
The finders of the wreck said they regard it as a war grave and have no plans to raise it or remove any of its artifacts. They said the ship is still considered the property of the British Admiralty.
Although the vessel sits in an area where the water is up to 500 feet deep and cannot be reached by anyone but the most experienced divers, Kennard and Scoville declined to give its exact location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.
The sloop was discovered resting partially 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. They don't sink nice and square. This went down in a huge storm, and it still managed to stay intact," Scoville said. "There are even two windows that aren't broken. Just going down, the pressure difference, can break the windows. It's a beautiful ship."
Smith, who was shown underwater video of the find, said: "If it wasn't for the zebra mussels, she looks like she only sunk last week."
The dark, cold freshwater acts as a perfect preservative, 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 went down on Oct. 31, 1780, with a garrison of 60 British soldiers, a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians, and possibly about 30 American war prisoners.
The warship had been launched only five months earlier and was used to ferry troops and supplies along upstate New York's frontier. Although it was the biggest British ship on the Great Lakes at the time, it never saw battle, Smith said.
After the ship disappeared, the British conducted a sweeping search but tried to keep the sinking secret from Gen. George Washington's troops because of the blow to the British defenses.
Hatchway gratings, the binnacle, compasses and several hats and blankets drifted ashore the next day. A few days later the ship's sails were found adrift in the lake. In 1781, six bodies from the Ontario were found near Wilson, N.Y. For the next two centuries, there were no other traces of the ship.
Explorers have been searching for the Ontario for decades, and there have been numerous false finds over the years, said Eric Bloomquist, interpretative programs manager at Old Fort Niagara.
Kennard, an electrical engineer who has been diving for nearly 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 up with Scoville, a diver who developed the remote-controlled submersible with students from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Since then, the pair have found seven ships in the lake.
Over the years, Kennard obtained documents from British and Canadian archives on the Ontario, including the ship's design plans. Even then, it took the pair three years of searching more than 200 square miles before they found the vessel earlier this month.
After locating the wreck with the sonar, the explorers used the submersible to confirm their find, documenting their discovery 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 that helped identify the ship: the two crow's nests on each mast. Another was the decoratively carved scroll bow stem. The explorers also found two cannons, two anchors and the ship's bell.
The clincher was the quarter galleries on either side of the stern a kind of balcony with windows typically placed on the sides of the stern-castle, a high, tower-like structure at the back of a ship that housed the officers' quarters.
Kennard said he and his partner have gathered enough video that it will not be necessary to return to the site. He added that they hope to make a documentary about the discovery.
There are an estimated 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including about 500 on Lake Ontario.
On the Net:
Jim Kennard/Dan Scoville: http://www.shipwreckworld.com
Great Lakes Historical Society: http://www.inlandseas.org
Who else? ping
Wonderful. I'm looking forward to it.
“They said the ship is still considered the property of the British Admiralty.
The Ontario went down on Oct. 31, 1780, with a garrison of 60 British soldiers, a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians, and possibly about 30 American war prisoners.”
See? Even the Brits had prison ships..(damn you libs)
and if there are 30 American prisoners of war, then it’s time to bury them properly. Sorry Brits, it’s in American waters.
Those sneaky bastards!
The explorers or the Brits?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Fort Ontario is an historic fort situated by the City of Oswego, in Oswego County, New York in the United States of America.
Fort Ontario was one of several forts erected by the British to protect the area around the east end of Lake Ontario. The original Fort Ontario was erected in 1755, during the French and Indian War. At that time its name was the "Fort of the Six Nations," but the fort was destroyed by French forces and was rebuilt in 1759.
During the American Revolution, a detachment from the 3rd New York Regiment destroyed the fort in July, 1778, after the British abandoned it. The British returned and rebuilt the fort in 1782. There was an aborted attack on the fort by Marinus Willet in 1783. The British held the fort until 1796 after the signing of Jay's Treaty.
2nd Brigade of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division called Fort Ontario home until the brigade was inactivated on June 1, 1940.
During World War II Fort Ontario was home to approximately 982 Jewish refugees, from August 1944 to February 1946. Fort Ontario was the first and only attempt by the United States to shelter Jewish refugees during the war. After the end of the war the refugees were kept in internment due to disagreements concerning whether or not to allow them to become United States citizens. In January of 1946, the decision was made to allow them to become citizens, and by February all of the Jewish refugees were allowed to leave Fort Ontario.
The restored fort is open to the public as a state historic site. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Fort Ontario was built with two other forts in the period, Fort George and Fort Oswego.
There was no such thing as a “crowsnest” on a warship of 1780. The picture shows the foretop, a platform located where the foremast and foretopmast were connected. The platform was required to provide something solid to connect the forechains and the foretackles. These bits show quite clearly in the picture and were used to fasten the foreshrouds that helped stablize the foretopmast.
The foretop was also a place where marines or sailors could position themselves to fire down upon an enemy ship.
I think that this ship should be raised. When Mary Rose sank, she carried with her many hundreds of soldiers and sailors and did so whilst in action, making her a war grave, no doubt. The British figured a way to raise her while still honoring her dead. HMS Ontario deserves a similar fate.
Bad zebra mussels
I hope no tar lost his foreskin on any of that.
I agree. Raise the ship, show respect to the remains of the brave men who perished with her. Let us history nuts enjoy the vessel and her artifacts.
The location has also been narrowed.
I used to llive on this Lake in Greece, NY.
VERY NASTY NORTHEAST STORMS
Rev War ping request
Couldn't afford Pittsford? ;-)
Never lived in the Roch. area but I did work for that company on State Street.
I think that most of that activity was practiced down in the cable tiers.
EK Company, They have demolished most of the “park” by implosion. The City is dead. I left in 97.
Pittsford only had the Canal in certain areas.
Ever go to Rocky’s for lunch?
Oak and Jay St?
According to Churchill there was also rum and the lash.
I don't remember that. Well, maybe I remember the name but I'm not sure. For good eateries there were the rib houses in the burbs and a place called, IIRC, the Italian Village on East Main.
Most of our training was at their great facility in Riverwood, before they sold it.
I have, but not in New York.
The rum was passed out on the gun deck, where the mess tables were rigged. The lash was administered in the well of the main deck with the miscrents seized up to a hatch grating. The real action (buggery) was in the cable tiers at about 4 bells of the middle watch.
“I think that this ship should be raised.”
Man, I would love to see that ship sitting in a museum. It would be an historical jewel.
I agree. There are no surviving British ships of this rate and this time period. The closest is the HMS Trincomalee, a much larger frigate built in India at the close of the Napoleanic Wars - this is Lake Ontario’s Vasa.
That’s a fascinating site....thank you for the link.
I fully agree.
A sloop according to the article. Sloops with more than one mast are rare.
Thanks decimon. Ordinarily I'd just add this and not ping it, but hey.
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It was the one boarded and captured on the high seas a couple of days before the expected Allied invasion of Europe, and the US Navy went to great lengths keep the news secret to avoid giving the Germans a reason to change codes and radio frequencies sooner than scheduled.
Toured it in 1968. Pretty cool!
Let’s make it a working link.
I believe Spain will be laying CLAIM to it!!
I think there must be artifacts of historical value but little to nothing of intrinsic value like gold coins.
I wonder if there’s a clay pipe with Masonic symbols hidden in a cask of gunpowder below decks?
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