It took over four years of scouring an area of more than 5,000 nautical miles long off the UK coast, but in the end, the work finally paid off. A group of two brothers alongside their father and two other friends has finally found the wreckage of the HMS Gloucester, a warship of the English Navy that sank in 1682 while carrying the Duke of York and future king James Stuart.
The ship's location was actually found in 2007 but wasn’t revealed to protect its location, which lies in international waters. It has been described as one of the most important discoveries in maritime history since the Mary Rose -- a warship of the navy of King Henry VIII found back in 1971.
Built in 1652 for the English Navy, the Gloucester participated in battles during the Anglo-Spanish war of 1654 to 1660 and the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars. It wrecked in 1682 after colliding with a sandbar, with 250 people tragically dying as a result. The future king survived the wreckage but delayed leaving the ship until the last minute.
“Because of the circumstances of its sinking, this can be claimed as the single most significant historic maritime discovery since the raising of the Mary Rose in 1982,” Caire Jowitt, maritime history expert, said in a statement. “The discovery promises to fundamentally change understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history.”
A remarkable history
Together with their late father Michael, and two friends, including former Royal Navy diver James Little, brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell spent four years on diving expeditions to find the Gloucester's remains. They said to have been inspired by memories of the Mary Rose's lifting, but describe the endeavor as very difficult.
The discovery of the wreckage was on the team’s fourth dive season looking for the Gloucester. Lincoln said the group was starting to think that they weren’t going to be able to find the ship – until they did. "It was awe-inspiring and really beautiful. It instantly felt like a privilege to be there, it was so exciting,” he said in a statement.
While the team discovered the shipwreck in 2007, it wasn’t until the ship’s bell was recovered in 2012 that the Gloucester was decisively identified. Some of the artifacts rescued include clothes, shoes, navigational equipment, and wine bottles. One bottle has a glass seal with the crest of the Legge family, ancestors of George Washington.
“This is going to be Norfolk’s Mary Rose,” said Lord Dannatt, Norfolk Deputy Lieutenant, said in a statement. “Julian and Lincoln have touched history, history that could have changed the course of this nation. It’s such an amazing story to tell. Our aim is to bring that story to life and to share it with as many people as possible.”
A major exhibition is now planned for spring next year thanks to a partnership between the two brothers, the University of East Anglia and Norfolk Museums Service. It will run from February to July at Norwich Castle Museum, displaying finds from the wreck (including the bell) and sharing historical, scientific, and archaeological research.