Below we discuss the horrendous losses inflicted upon the British Navy by the storm that raged across the North Sea at Christmas 1811. In the course of writing it we stumbled onto some interesting resources and were afraid they would get lost in the shipwreck narrative.
In the immediate aftermath of the wreck of HMS St. George and HMS Defence both wrecks were heavily salvaged. The recovered bodies were buried in the dunes adjacent the wrecks, though the body of Defence’s captain, Captain David Atkins and those of two sailors were buried in a church cemetery.
The wreck of St. George was so remote that even though the cannon were salvaged and moved onto the beach, no one could come up with a way of moving the cannon from the beach to any other location and they were subsequently abandoned.
The sand as well as the wave action and storms visited on Jutland buried the wrecks. But they were not forgotten.
Periodic attempts were made through the years to salvage the wrecks, especially that of St. George.
In 1876 the wreck was visited by commercial salvers using a primitive diving bell. They were probably after the reputed $500,000 in gold coins allegedly carried by St. George. After all, what sunken ship doesn’t? The company did manage to salvage two ship’s bells. One is displayed near the anchor pictured at the top of the page. The second was given to No Kirke, Ringkøbing.
In 1904 another salver recovered 48 cannon which were sold for scrap along with a quantity of copper nails.
The lure of gold persisted. During 1940 and 1941 the wreck was cracked open by the judicious use of high explosives and extensively dredged. More cannon and copper sheathing from the hull were recovered along with some artifacts.
In 1972, the anchor — pictured above — was recovered, but it was a visit to the site in 1980 that served as the catalyst to preserve at least the memory of St. George for posterity. A local diver reported that much of the sand which had previously covered the wreck was gone and it was only a matter of time until it was destroyed. The Danish government and private philanthropy collaborated to excavate the wreck and make the artifacts accessible to scholars and the public.
Over the next six years the wreck was carefully mapped and excavated and a museum, called Strandingsmueum St. George was built to house the artifacts. They include the mundane which opens a window into the world of the common sailor such as a stack of new shoes that would have been part of the purser’s slop chest and name tags, with still legible names, which would have marked a sailor’s seabag. There are luxury items from officer’s country such as an expensive cutlass made by John Prosser of Charing Cross, a porcelain and brass pipe, and a crystal chandelier bought in Sweden and destined for the owner’s home in England. And there is the unique:
a small Ost-indian wooden figure – obviously male with a remarkable and movable attribute.
I’ll leave to your imagination what obviously male movable attribute graced this wooden figure. Or you can drop by and find out.
Also of interest is the collection of photos from the wreck of HMS Defence at Kim Meineche Underwater Photography.