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Royal Anne Galley

Historic Environment Projects: Marine Environmental Assessment of the Royal Anne Galley

In 2005 English Heritage commissioned Historic Environment Projects and a team of specialists, including Penzance-based maritime archaeologist Kevin Camidge, to carry out a Marine Environmental Assessment (MEA) of the Royal Anne Galley, a protected wreck lying in about 5 metres of seawater off the Lizard Point.


The Royal Anne Galley, a fifth-rate galley frigate with an armament of 42 guns was wrecked on the Stags rocks on 10 November 1721 while on voyage to the Barbados. There were only three survivors out of some 200 passengers and crew. The most notable of those who perished was John, 3rd Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who was going to take up the Governorship of Barbados.

There were less than ten galleys classified as such in the Royal Navy. Originating in the 1670s, they were an attempt to combine the advantages of sail and oar propulsion and first intended to counter Barbary Corsairs in the Western Mediterranean.  On her launch in June 1709 the Royal Anne Galley was described as ‘a new invention under the direction of the Marquis of Carmarthen…being the finest that was ever built’.

The site of the wreck was discovered by local diver Rob Sherratt in 1991.  Since then over 400 artefacts, including iron cannon, cannon balls and coins, have been recovered from the site as well as pieces of cutlery bearing Lord Belhaven’s crest, a bridled nag’s head and motto ‘Ride through’. In 1993 the wreck was designated under the 1973 Protection of Historic Shipwrecks Act. Contemporary newspaper accounts suggest that the ship struck rocks twice, breaking up after the second impact and the assessment included the nearby 'Quadrant’ non-designated wreck site which may in fact be the stern of the Royal Anne.

This project is the first MEA of a protected wreck to be commissioned, the objectives are to:

  • assess the broad archaeological and environmental context of the site and collate available sources and information including existing fieldwork results and archival material;
  • discuss and evaluate potential marine environmental methods;
  • establish the material type and extent of the site, assess the archaeological potential of the site and establish a strategy for further assessment.

It is intended that the MEA will form one of the stages of a series of initiatives that will lead to the development of archaeological management plans for designated wreck sites that will inform English Heritage’s future research, amenity and education developments for the benefit of the wider community.

The phase 1 desk-based study, which was completed in 2006, included a strategy for the phase 2 field assessment. This field assessment included a biological study by Falmouth-based marine biologist Miles Hoskin, placing objects on the seabed for dispersal trials and to monitor timber degradation (by SeaStar Survey of Southampton) and analysis of water and sediment samples. The phase 2 report was completed in December 2010

Phase 3 monitoring was carried out by Kevin Camidge and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Maritime Archaeology Society (CISMAS) in August and October 2010. When the site was inspected, the  oak sample blocks recovered for analysis and the tracer objects, spheres and bricks, which had been placed on and below the seabed, were searched for. In total, 21 of the original 40 objects were located and recorded (8 spheres and 13 bricks). The objects had been moved on the seabed by an average of 5.15m (spheres) and 4.89m (bricks). With a single exception the objects had been ‘sorted’ by the environmental forces acting on the site. Analysis of the oak blocks exposed on the seabed of this site showed they are subject to attack by wood-boring organisms and that survival of any timber from the wreck of the Royal Anne Galley is unlikely.

In September 2011 English Heritage commissioned Historic Environment Projects and Penzance-based maritime archaeologist Kevin Camidge to carry out a further stage (Phase 4) of the Royal Anne Galley Marine Environmental Assessment.

Phase 4 consisted of further observation and study of the dispersal objects, renewal of the control point network on the site so that future work could be tied in to the existing plan and artefact positions and detailed recording of the two iron guns on the site.

Historic Environment Service

Fal Building,
New County Hall,

0300 1234 202