November 24, 2007

Canadian claims on excavated ship

Posted at 1:51 pm in Similar cases

A ship discovered off the Welsh coast could lead to repatriation claims as it is excavated.

IC Wales

Canada in bid for return of excavated ship timbers
Nov 24 2007 by Rhodri Clark, Western Mail

AN ELGIN Marbles-style tug of war could be brewing over the remains of a ship that is about to be excavated off the Welsh coast.

Part of the hull of the sailing ship City of Ottawa is to be raised from Rhyl harbour in the next three months, and already Canada is staking a claim.

Meanwhile, growing evidence that a 15th-century ship excavated in Newport was built in France could trigger calls for those timbers to be repatriated.

Newport-based historian Robert Trett has uncovered letters written by the Earl of Warwick in the 15th century relating to ships in the area. One relates to a ship called the Marie de Bayonne while another refers to repairs required on a ship at Newport in 1469. Experts restoring the remains of the ship have already established it was on wooden struts when it was abandoned in 1468 or shortly afterwards.

The discovery of a French coin – which had been carefully stuck to the ship’s timbers by its builders as a good-luck charm – indicates that the ship was built in France.

If the remains are those of the Marie de Bayonne, the vessel would be linked with the city of Bayonne in the Aquitaine region of France. For three centuries, until 1453, this region was ruled by English monarchs and played a key role in England’s European trade and commerce.

Davide Rodogno, a Frenchman who lectures at the Centre for French History and Culture at the University of St Andrews, said yesterday that the ship’s French connection might provoke calls for the remains to be returned to France.

He said, “On the one hand, they might claim they want the ship back.

“On the other hand, knowing French bureaucracy, I think they will not get it back.”

He said Anglo-French co-operation would be better than confrontation.

Michael Bowyer, a retired marine archaeologist in Bangor, said, “I would suggest that the first question that would be asked by the Newport people would be, ‘Pay us for the work we’ve already done’.

“When you have a boat like that, you’ve then got to have premises to store it in. The conservation doesn’t stop when it goes on display.”

Mr Bowyer is involved in the imminent excavation of the remains of the City of Ottawa, built in Canada in 1860. It was abandoned in Rhyl harbour after being damaged in a storm in 1906, but must be moved before work begins on redeveloping the area.

The timbers constitute the biggest remains of any Canadian ship of its kind, and Ottawa’s city hall has an exhibition about the vessel.

Ottawa city councillor Rainer Bloess has called for the timbers to be returned to Canada, and wants the city clerk to write a formal letter to the relevant authorities in Wales.

Mr Bowyer – the official licensee of the wreck – said he had heard the Canadians were laying claim to it.

“The ship was built in Canada but sold on afterwards.

“The conservation costs are phenomenal.”

Funds for shipwreck conservation in Britain have dwindled because so much money is going to the 2012 Olympics in London. Parts of the City of Ottawa could be sent to museums in Canada, he said.

Edward Besly, of the National Museum of Wales, has examined several coins found in the remains of the Newport ship, discovered on the banks of the River Usk in 2002.

He said most of the coins were Portuguese and had been lost by people on board the ship, but one coin had been placed on the keel timber where it met the stern post.

“They had cut out a little recess, put some pitch-like material into it and stuck the coin on it. The coin was, without doubt, placed there,” he said.

The coin was minted in the town of Crémieu between 1440 and 1456.

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