National Park Service and Royal Navy Agree to Protect 18th-Century Shipwreck

An 18th-century frigate much like the HMS Fowey. (Photo: Wikipedia)
An 18th-century frigate similar to the HMS Fowey. (Photo: Wikipedia)

I love it when my worlds collide in stories like this. The National Park Service announced today that it will protect an 18th-century British warship that sank near present-day Miami, under the terms of an international memorandum signed with the Royal Navy.

HMS Fowey, a frigate carrying 20 guns, launched from the British port of Hull in 1744 under the command of Capt. Policarpus (“many wrists”) Taylor. The Fowey escorted British merchant ships in the English Channel and from the Caribbean to Britain, and engaged in skirmishes with French warships. She also protected British commercial interests along the eastern Atlantic from Boston to Jamaica.

In June 1748, now under the command of Captain Francis William Drake (not that Francis Drake), the Fowey captured a Spanish ship off the coast of Florida. While towing this prize to British-controlled Virginia, the Fowey ran aground on a coral reef and sank on June 27.

The wreck was discovered on the seabed inside Biscayne National Park by a local sport diver in the 1970s. National Park Service divers later identified the wreck.

Biscayne National Park, where the HMS Fowey resides. (Photo: NPS)
Biscayne National Park. (Photo: NPS)

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said the HMS Fowey site is a nationally significant archeological resource, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “As an archeological site it continues to provide information about 18th-century maritime life and the historic maritime landscape of South Florida,” he said in a statement.

The memorandum of understanding recognizes British title to the wreck and the intention of the National Park Service to continue to care for it in accordance with its own policies, the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, and the UNESCO convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage. The National Park Service and the British Navy will also exchange information and consult on management and future preservation of the site.

“This agreement underscores the significance that our agency and the British Royal Navy place on cultural resources,” Jarvis added.

Commodore Eric Fraser of the British Royal Navy represented the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in signing the MOU. “This memorandum will see UK and US organizations working closely together in the further exploration of the site and it sets an excellent framework for collaboration in future projects,” he said.

Although the wreck is closed to the public, the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center produced a video tour of the historic site.

HMS Fowey, Biscayne National Park from NPS Submerged Resources Center on Vimeo.

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