Vessel History

Caduceus was a sailing barque built in Sunderland 1857. It was probably built as a composite ship; an iron frame covered by wooden planks. Lloyd’s required that composite ships were fastened with copper or copper alloy fastenings and as with earlier wooden ships, the hulls of composite ships were sheathed with copper alloy or yellow metal. A layer of felt, rubber compound or another type of insulator was placed between the outer wood and the sheathing to separate the two types of metal and prevent further electrolytic action. However, Lloyd’s did not differentiate between wooden ships and composite ships within their records until 1866. The Caduceus is not registered as a composite ship in the Lloyds register and the only reference to its unusual type of construction is that it was built under special survey.

The ship’s particulars were recorded in 1863 as 411 tons, length 122 feet, width 27.5 feet and depth 17.7 feet. Caduceus was fitted with felt and yellow metal on several occasions, the last time being 1878. The frequent re-fitting of the sheathing is not uncommon for a ship sheathed with yellow metal, a comparison can be made with the Flower of Ugie which was re-fitted every third year. A slight corrosion of the copper was required to create an environment that inhibited marine growth and kept the sheathing relatively clean; however this process meant that the sheathing wasted away at a faster rate and some copper sheathing needed to be changed at every dry docking.

The career of the Caduceus came to an end on the morning of 28th November 1881, when, during a heavy gale from the south west, it wrecked on Chichester Folds. The barque, under the command of Captain Serle, was en-route from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Italy with a cargo of coal and general cargo. The Bembridge lifeboat was dispatched to take off the crew and on arrival the lifeboat found the ship full of water with waves breaking over the deck. The crew of ten was clustered around the remains of the mizenmast on the poop deck (Daily News – 29 November 1881, The Times – 29th November 1881).

The ship broke up badly over the next few days and parts of the vessel floated ashore. Two days later the parts were sold for £13.6s, the cargo of coal for £4 and the remainder of the hull for £15. A large quatity of timbers were bought by Mr Harry Richard Trigg, a local man who in 1892 published ‘A Guide to Hayling Island’. Mr Trigg built a house on Hayling Island from the parts of the Caduceus and in 1966 his family still lived there.

Site Overview

The site is located south of Hayling Island in the eastern Solent. Until the recent survey in 2010 the site had not been explored since the end of the 1980s.

The site was first discovered in August 1966 by a local night trawlerman who got his nets tangled on an obstruction in the bay. He contacted Alexander McKee, a local diver and historian (noted for his work on the Mary Rose) who took on the task of removing the net. The object that had caught on the net turned out to be the remains of a ship. McKee recognised this as a wooden vessel with iron frames laying in a north to south orientation.

McKee and colleagues carried out further diving on the site and recognised the rudder and pintles on the southern part of the wreck, indicating that the vessel lies with the bow toward land. They also located and recovered the ship’s bell which, according to McKee, looked like the end of a big pipe. The top end had eroded away and the ship’s name was not visible but on the bottom end of the bell a barely readable date could be seen, either 1837 or 1857. McKee states that the Caduceus was well out to sea but still in fairly shallow water, in an area regularly pounded by gales every winter. The wreck  was broken up, but there was still a great deal left: the decks were still obviously decks, the ribs, the keel and the rudder post remained; and under the sand and shingle the buried woodwork was well preserved.

McKee and his colleagues continued diving on the site and recovered lead sheathing from a big pipe; brass sheathing from a 20-ft section of the keel; several pieces of planking from near the stern; samples of ironwork and examples of large brass nails. McKee measured the rudder post to be 18 inches thick increasing to about 3 feet and to have lost about one inch all around from deterioration, apart from under the shingle where it was perfectly preserved. The rudder post continued along the seafloor for about 20 feet before it vanished under a large curved sheet of corroded ironwork. He assumed that the wreck was a 19th century wooden hulled sailing vessel of large dimensions not less than 120 feet long as the wreckage stretched about 150 feet. McKee discovered that the ship was Sunderland-built and on its way to Italy with a cargo of coal – he had found pieces of the cargo while removing crabs from the site.

McKee does not name the ship in his book but he states: “that was it, the identification sewn up so tight it was lawyer-proof”. In 1966 the site was used as an experimental lobster farm by McKee and his colleague who put down cured tiles on the site, used in France for collecting oyster spat, and 10 different sized car tyres which they attached with nylon cord to the wreckage and wedged under the decks. The farm was called CRUSTEA I and was expected to run with a 300% profit. In his book Farming the Sea, McKee does not record whether this figure was achieved.

The Caduceus site is also mentioned in the guide Dive Wight and Hampshire. However, the position of the site in the guide is not accurate, which may be a reason for the lack of diving on the site until its re-discovery in 2010.

Latest Investigations

In July 2010 side scan sonar was used to investigate the seabed around the recorded position for the Caduceus. The wreck was identified by capturing an image of disturbance on the seabed and divers were deployed to investigate the anomalies. 

A photographic and video survey took place; measurements were taken for the production of a basic site plan and an accurate DGPS position was gained for the site. The survey was undertaken as part of the Eastern Solent Diving Project supported by the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project. The survey of the site enabled the identification and recording of vulnerable elements with particular emphasis on the condition of exposed material. Several dives were made to produce a site plan to gain understanding of the spread of material over the site in relation to the potential orientation of the vessel remains and the impacts of the wrecking process.

The wreck of the Caduceus was reported in the 1980s to have shown ribs, keel, bolts, timbers and an upstanding galvanised iron tank. During the dives in 2010 no upstanding features were registered. However, what are believed to be the remains of the tank can still be seen in the southern part of the site. The keel was not located, neither was the rudderpost or the decks. Overall the extent of the site was measured to 30m by 30m, which is also the extent visible on the side scan sonar image.

The area is covered with iron frames and various fragments of ship structure. The orientation of the wreck is not clear from the visible remains, though McKee believed the wreck lay with the bow to the north. Many of the visible structural features were measured and recorded on a site plan. In total 23 datum tags were installed on the site and their position recorded in relation to each other and indicated on the site plan. These will be used to facilitate the monitoring of the site in the future.

Two wooden frames were located under a thin layer of sand. The two frames were in good condition and their full length measured respectively 1.5 by 0.39m and 1.4 by 0.20m. Both of them still had wooden 30mm diameter treenails attached. As no excavation was undertaken during the dives no further frames were located but it is likely that more material is buried under the sandy top layer.

During the survey a number of artefacts were recovered from the site to help identify the wreck and facilitate further research. These finds included five fastenings, a two-part copper alloy plate, possibly part of a pump assembly, a nail, a hinge, a piece of sheathing and a wedge-shaped copper alloy plate. The fastenings were found spread over the wreck site area, eight to ten larger fastenings were observed from which the five were recovered. A number of the fastenings had fragments of the wooden frame still attached. The piece of sheathing is likely to be yellow metal, also referred to as Muntz metal. The copper sheathing was fastened to the hull with small nails, one of which was found during the survey.

The archaeological survival of the construction method used to build Caduceus provides great scope for future research into mid-19th century British shipbuilding practices. Comparisons with the near contemporary Flower of Ugie, also built in Sunderland, could be especially fruitful.