Shipwreck Preservation Society

of Newfoundland & Labrador

Darmouth Willem Van de Velde the Younger small

HMS Saphire was a 5th-rate frigate commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1675 (many references use the modern spelling Sapphire). It left Britain in April 1696 commanded by Captain Thomas Cleasby, to escort English fishing vessels to Newfoundland. England and France were at war at the time in Europe and North America. In August or early September 1696, a French fleet of nine ships led by the Governor of Placentia, de Brouillan, cornered Saphire in Bay Bulls. Captain Cleasby put up a strong defence from Saphire and on land, but he and his crew were out-numbered and out-gunned by the French force. To avoid capture of his ship, Cleasby burned Saphire. One British account (Oldmixon 1741) claimed that 40 French sailors boarded the burning ship to try and save it as a prize, but they were all killed when the powder magazine exploded. Captain Cleasby and his crew retreated overland to Ferryland, where they were later captured by the French and shipped to France as prisoners of war.

The sketches above and below are of HMS Dartmouth, a 5th-rate English frigate of similar size to HMS Saphire (sketch above by Willem Van de Velde the Younger, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England).

The wreck of HMS Saphire was discovered by salvage divers in the 1960s and three cannons were removed from the wreck and sold in 1972. To protect the wreck from further looting, concerned divers formed the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS) that same year. The NMAS surveyed the Saphire wreck and two others nearby. In 1974, NMAS did a preliminary excavation in three areas of the Saphire wreck and recovered 304 artifacts. Underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada did a more extensive excavation of the Saphire in 1977 and recovered 2721 artifacts.

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Dartmouth colour sketch

 

Shipwreck Oral History Workshop

SPSNL is offering a workshop on collecting oral history on shipwrecks on 24 & 25 June 2017. Information and registration forms are now available!

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