Shipwrecks and Valhalla

The list of wrecks in Scilly waters numbers more than 530 and in the 18th and 19th centuries there was an urgent need for improved navigational aids.  In addition to those mentioned in the previous post, several lighthouses and lightships were added, especially in the expanse of water between the Islands and the tip of Cornwall.  On a clear night, from Peninnis on St Mary’s it is possible to see the beams from nine other lights.

Of the many shipping disasters recorded by far the greatest occurred in 1707 when Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his fleet were returning to Plymouth following the failed siege of Toulon.  Having been driven off course  strong winds, navigational errors led to his ship, HMS Association, and three others crashing on to rocks just south west of where the Bishop Rock lighthouse now stands, with a loss of almost 2000 lives.  Ironically, this greatest of peacetime maritime disasters in British history happened before the advent of telecommunications or even newspapers as we now know them, and it was several days before the scale of the disaster was reported.

The Association also carried in its cargo silver and gold coins, together with cannons plundered from an earlier mission.  The site of the wreckage was eventually located in 1964 and some of the treasures were auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1969.

In recent times, in 1967, the Torrey Canyon ran aground on the Seven Stones reef, about eight miles north east of St Martin’s, loaded with 120,000 tonnes of crude oil.  The spillage of almost 31,000 gallons was washed up on the Cornish coast with devastating consequences for seabird and marine life.

Around 1840, Augustus Smith, the ‘Lord Proprietor’ of Tresco, began to assemble a collection of retrieved memorabilia, mostly figure heads from wrecked sailing ships and early steam ships.  He created  a gallery  –  appropriately called Valhalla  – in the Abbey Gardens on Tresco.  The pictures below are from the collection.

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3 Comments

Filed under Colour, Pattern, photography, Sea, Texture, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Shipwrecks and Valhalla

  1. Interesting. It sounds like a ship breaking up these days has a far worse effect than the old days. I have found some wonderful treasures in the sand on the north shore of Staten Island, in New York City, including bits of old crockery and a piece of a doll’s head. All probably from England. The pieces above look so fresh, I wonder if they were restored, or just rescued quickly.

    • I’m sure the figure heads have been restored. Of course, much of the valuable freight carried by the sailing ships was in the form of gold or silver objects or coinage. There is a bay on St Agnes where beads are still very occasionally found and the area around the Scilly Isles is popular with divers.

  2. Pingback: The head in Tresco Abbey Gardens | Louis' Page

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