THE STORY OF THE Schiedam Prize is quite well-known. She started life as a Dutch merchant ship, a flyboat, sailing between Spain and the Baltic. She was captured by Barbary pirates, the crew were enslaved, and the Schiedam became a pirate ship.
Two weeks later Captain Clowdisley Shovell, who later, as an Admiral, led an English fleet to disaster on the Isles of Scilly, captured the Schiedam from the Moorish pirates. The ship was then taken to Cadiz, where her cargo was removed.
The Schiedam “Prize” was then classed as a sixth-rate ship of the line and sent to Tangier. At that time, in 1684, Samuel Pepys was in that part of Morocco as a naval advisor, helping Lord Dartmouth to oversee the evacuation of Tangiers, keeping records of ships and their cargoes, and the Schiedam Prize was described as being of special interest to the famous diarist.
The vessel was loaded mainly with armaments, along with some decorative items, including marble and ornamental stonework.
David Gibbins investigates a gun-carriage wheel.
She was also carrying labourers and their families, part of a workforce that had spent 20 years building a causeway to improve the harbour, a project that was never finished. She left Tangier with several other vessels in convoy back to the UK.
On her return, the convoy was dispersed in bad weather, and the Schiedam Prize found herself on the wrong side of the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. She ran aground at Jangye Ryn near Gunwalloe.
The locals came to her aid, some goods were recovered and no lives were lost. There was a lot of salvage at the time, including the masts, sails and some of the cannon, some of which were bronze.
The wreck was rediscovered in 1971, and the site was said to contain 14 iron cannon and part of the ship’s structure. Since then, part of the site has been excavated and at least two cannon removed.
In 1982, the site was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act, with the finder of the site as the licensee.
Most of the annual licensee reports since that time state that the site was covered in sand for most, if not all, of the year. A desk-based assessment written in 2013 states that in total 153 items have been recorded as recovered since 1971.
In 2011 I applied, and was granted, a license to visit and dive the site. Since then I have been there many times, but usually the conditions are unsuitable for diving. The beach off which the wreck lies faces south-west and is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.
I had managed to dive the area a few times, but found only sand.
During 2016, I added to the licence David Gibbins, a maritime archaeologist and novelist I had befriended after we met on a shore-dive near Gunwalloe. David had moved quite close to the wreck-site, and could keep an eye on the conditions and sand levels.
After snorkelling the site a few times, he eventually saw what looked like a cannon. Then, on 19 July, 2016, we dived the site and saw three cannon as well as some concretions within which we could see a hand grenade and some musket-balls.
Since that time we have visited the site more often. Sometimes we see two or three cannon; sometimes absolutely nothing.
Hurricane Ophelia came and went during October 2017, and David waited for the sea to settle and the visibility to clear. Then he called, and told me that he had just snorkelled over the site and that there was no sand present.
The following day, three of us headed down to Gunwalloe armed with cameras and measuring scales.
There is another wreck-site close to that of the Schiedam Prize, and we swam there first, only to find it buried in sand. So we headed towards the Schiedam, waiting for our transits to line up.