Sunken 228-year-old British Warship HMS Ontario Discovered

A 1780 British Warship "Holy Grail" Discovered

 

A 22-gun British warship that sank 1780 during the American Revolution has been discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario. The ship has long been regarded as one of the "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. The ship has astonishingly been well-preserved in the cold, deep water. The Ontario went down on October 31st, 1780, with a garrison of 60 British soldiers, a crew of 40, mostly Canadians, and about 30 American war prisoners. This warship had been launched only five months earlier and was used to ferry troops and supplies along upstate New York's frontier. Although it was the biggest British ship on the Great Lakes at the time, it never saw battle. The British conducted a sweeping search for this ship when it went down but tried to keep the sinking secret from Gen. George Washington's troops because it was a huge blow to the British defenses.

Tragic Ending

It is estimated there are 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including about 500 on Lake Ontario. Other British Ships that have sunk include

1. Titanic - A Luxury Liner The Titanic was the grandest ship of her time. She was majestic, lavishly decorated and considered unsinkable until she sunk on April 14, 1912.

2. Olympic - had a successful career as a liner until she was broken up in 1935.

3. Brittanic - which tragically sank on November 21, 1916 when she was either torpedoed or was the victim of a mine explosion.

Sunken 228-year-old British Warship HMS Ontario

Archaeological Miracle

Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to locate the HMS Ontario, which was lost during a gale in 1780 with as many as 130 people aboard. The 80-foot warship is the oldest shipwreck and the only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes. To have a Revolutionary War vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable. It's an archaeological miracle. The ship wreck is still considered the property of the British Admiralty and regarded as a war grave and there are no plans to raise it or remove any of its artifacts. The vessel sits in an area where the water is up to 500 feet deep and cannot be reached by anyone but the most experienced divers. The warship was discovered resting partially on its side, with two masts extending more than 70 feet above the lake bottom.

A Beautiful Ship

Two of its windows aren't broken. By sinking down, the pressure difference can break the windows. It's a beautiful ship. If it wasn't for the zebra mussels, the ship looks like she only sunk last week. The dark and cold freshwater acted as a preservative. At that depth, there is no light and no oxygen to hasten decomposition, and little marine life to feed on the wood.

Only Six Bodies were Found

Hatchway gratings, the binnacle, compasses and several hats and blankets drifted ashore the next day after it sunk. A week later, the ship's sails were found adrift in the lake. In 1781, six bodies from the Ontario were found near Wilson, N.Y. For the next two and a half centuries, there were no other traces of the ship. A rare feature that helped identify the ship was its two crow's nests on each mast and the decoratively carved scroll bow stem. Two cannons, two anchors and the ship's bell were also found. The clincher was the quarter galleries on either side of the stern - a kind of balcony with windows typically placed on the sides of the stern-castle, a high, tower-like structure at the back of a ship that housed the officers' quarters.

Tragic Ending

It is estimated there are 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including about 500 on Lake Ontario. Other British Ships that have sunk include

1. Titanic - A Luxury Liner The Titanic was the grandest ship of her time. She was majestic, lavishly decorated and considered unsinkable until she sunk on April 14, 1912.

2. Olympic - had a successful career as a liner until she was broken up in 1935.

3. Brittanic - which tragically sank on November 21, 1916 when she was either torpedoed or was the victim of a mine explosion.

More information

Jim Kennard/Dan Scoville: http://www.shipwreckworld.com/

Great Lakes Historical Society: http://www.inlandseas.org/

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mel22 profile image

mel22 6 years ago from ,

Great article ! I live on the Great Lakes and I've heard of these two divers who found it. Shipwrecks are always intrigueing. Too bad they couldn't at least attempt to bring up the bell.

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