Le Hazardeux was a French 3rd rate ship of the line, built in 1698. In November 1703 the ship was patrolling the Channel when it was sighted by three Royal Navy warships. A six hour battle ensued, before Le Hazardeux‘s captain was forced to surrender. The victorious British ships took the French ship to Portsmouth as a war prize. Despite serious damage, the ship was refitted and commissioned as the Warship Hazardous Prize on the 27th March 1704 as a 4th rate ship of the line (the Royal Navy had not yet begun using the HMS prefix for its vessels).
In September 1706, Hazardouis left Chesapeake Bay in Virginai, escorting a convoy of 200 merchant ships to the Downs, off Kent. Storms scattered the convoy and by November only 35 merchant ships reached the Lizard in Cornwall. Despite a lack of provisions, the death of the captain at sea and several sick crewmen, the Hazardous was ordered to continue along the south coast.
On November 18th, as the convoy passed south of the Isle of Wight, a storm forced Hazardous to seek shelter in St Helen’s Roads, at the eastern end of the Solent. The storm drove the ship onto shoals before it could anchor and throughout the night it was driven towards the shore. Morning found it grounded in Bracklesham Bay and beyond recovery.
A large quantity of small arms were salvaged from the wreck, but although consideration was given to recovering the ship’s guns, its unclear if any further salvage took place until 1715, when some guns and artefacts were removed. Soon the ship settled under the sand and was forgotten.
Although a gun was raised from the vicinity of the site in 1966, the wreck lay here until 1977 when it was discovered by members of the 308 branch of the Sub Aqua Association, approximately 800 metres south-east of Bracklesham Bay slipway. Due to the archaeological importance of the site it was quickly designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.
Since its rediscovery, the wreck has been the subject of survey and recording by the 308 Sub-Aqua Association. Through the project organiser Norman Owen, the first wreck diving licensee of the site, the group embarked on excavation in 1988 and 1989. This revealed the keelson and the extent of the bow as well as a great number of artefacts. The remains of this warship lie in six metres of water around 600 metres from the modern shoreline. Being in such an exposed position means the site, which includes a substantial portion of the forward section of the ship and its associated contents, is constantly being eroded. As a result the seabed archive is being washed away continuously.
The high quality of the work has shown that the site is steadily deteriorating. Artefacts and concretions under threat of loss or destruction continue to be raised. The group is taking an active role in the conservation and long term preservation of raised artefacts.
For more information on the early work see: N. Owen 1991 ‘Hazardous 1990-91 Interim Report’ International Journal for Nautical Archaeology, Volume 20 No 4.
2008 was all set to be an important year for the site of Warship Hazardous and the Hazardous Project Group based in Bracklesham, West Sussex, who had been investigating the shipwreck site for almost 30 years. The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (now MAT) has been working with the project group since 1999 to assist in the recording of this important site. In 2008, the energies of the combined team resulted in grants being secured from English Heritage and the ‘Heritage Lottery Awards for All’ Fund to enable much needed rescue excavation and associated post-excavation and conservation tasks to be undertaken.
Due to the permissions and equipment required to excavate on a designated historic wreck site there was a substantial amount of paperwork and logistics to be dealt with prior to the team coming together on the 21st June of that year for the beginning of the nine days of fieldwork. However, the weather did not prove kind and the initial two days were lost due to strong south westerly winds. Diving did commence on the Monday with three boats (a hard boat, RIB and inflatable) and ten divers on station. The visibility proved to be very poor due to the amount of seabed sediment that had been disturbed by the rough weather, but the team still managed to deploy the excavation grid and install datum points around the area. The weather on the Tuesday was much improved and along with the calmer conditions the visibility was good enough to enable a pre-excavation plan to be drawn. The calmer conditions were not to last for any period of time and with strong wind warnings forecast for the following days the difficult decision was made to postpone the excavation. This disappointing outcome meant that the excavation was rescheduled for early in the 2009 season.
Fieldwork planning went ahead for 2009, with a main project week and a back-up week being scheduled in case of further bad weather. The team mobilised in May 2009 in the face of uncertain weather, but before any diving could take place the conditions took a turn for the worse and the excavation had to be postponed for two months. However when the new fieldwork week arrived, after taking into account a poor forecast, the difficult decision had to be made to again reschedule the fieldwork, this time to the 2010 season.
Although work on site in 2008 and 2009 did not go to plan, work on the artefact collection and archive was very successful. The funding secured allowed the group to draw on the help of Paul Simpson, Conservator for the Isle of Wight Museum Service, for advice and guidance on the conservation of artefacts recovered from the site in previous seasons. Further work to order, assess and package the artefacts that have already been conserved and are stable, will make the process of specialist assessment more straightforward in the future.
In 2010 further funding was received from the Ivan Margary Research Grant scheme of the Sussex Archaeology Society, and more recently the Interreg IVA funded Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project. However, diving by the Hazardous Group early in the season discovered that a large amount of sand (over one metre in depth) had accumulated on the site over the winter. Such a build up of sand had not been witnessed for over twenty years. Unfortunately this meant it would not be possible to undertake the excavation in the areas that had previously been exposed through erosion. However, in contrast to the main wreck site there had been a movement of sand away from gullies to the north west of the wreck, which were previously uncovered twenty years ago and were found to contain a range of artefacts from the Hazardous. Finds exposed in the area in 2010 included a wooden spar and copper alloy buckles, lead tingles and pieces of broken glass onion bottles. It is believed these artefacts had been trapped in the gullies since the wrecking of the vessel, although some may also have been transported there due to erosion from the main wreck site.
In response to this change in circumstances, the plans for fieldwork were revised to concentrate on the exposed structure on the north east edge of the main wreck site and the investigation, survey, position fixing and recovery of at-risk artefacts from the area of gullies. The work proved to be very successful with forty-two dives taking place and around fifty hours spent underwater. The resulting data is now being drawn up and artefacts that were raised are being recorded and conserved. The next phase of work for the site will include specialist assessment and analysis of the recovered archive to move this towards publication. On site the Hazardous Project Group are undertaking further monitoring and survey to ensure changes on the site are recognised to enable a swift reaction should further material come under threat.
The dedication and resolve of the Hazardous Project Group, who are committed to the investigation and conservation of this important historic warship, demonstrates the contribution to the care of our marine historic environment that is provided by volunteer groups.
Yearly site reports can be downloaded from the Hazardous Project Website.
Artefacts and information from the Hazardous are displayed at Earnley Gardens near Bracklesham. In 2004, the display was refurbished thanks to funding from Natural England and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust through DEFRA‘s Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund.
The artefacts raised from the site in the last 25 years are complemented by a variety of new display panels. This includes information on the wrecking of the site, the archaeological investigations and the surrounding marine life and geology.