x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

British warship found in Lake Ontario

The wreck of a British warship that sank during the US war of independence has been found in Lake Ontario.

HMS Ontario, a 24-metre sloop that sank in a storm with the loss of all 130 sailors, women, children and prisoners on board.
HMS Ontario, a 24-metre sloop that sank in a storm with the loss of all 130 sailors, women, children and prisoners on board.

The wreck of a British warship that sank during the US war of independence has been found at the bottom of Lake Ontario, 228 years after she foundered.

HMS Ontario, a 24-metre sloop that sank in a storm with the loss of all 130 sailors, women, children and prisoners on board, was discovered off Rochester in New York state after a three-year search.

Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, two marine archaeologists who have found six other Great Lake wrecks since teaming up six years ago, embarked on the search for HMS Ontario in 2005 after obtaining records about the sinking from Canadian and British archives.

Using scanning sonar and an unmanned mini-submarine, they scoured 518 sq km of the lake before an image of the wreck appeared on the scanner, sitting upright beneath 150 metres of water, her two masts still standing 21 metres tall.

"Usually when ships go down in storms, they get beat up quite a bit - they don't sink nice and square," said Mr Scoville, 35. "This went down in a huge storm and it still managed to stay intact. There are even two windows that aren't broken. Just going down, the pressure difference can break the windows. It's a beautiful ship."

The absence of oxygen, light and marine organisms in the deep waters all contributed to preserving the ship, the oldest ever found of about 4,700 vessels that have sunk in the Great Lakes.

HMS Ontario was only five months old when she set sale from Fort Niagara in Oct 1780. On Oct 31, a gale whipped up high seas, swamping her decks and sending her to the bottom. On board were 60 British soldiers, a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians, and an estimated 30 American war prisoners, plus women and children.

At the time, the British tried to keep her loss secret fearing that George Washington's forces would realise that it left a gap in the Royal Navy's Great Lakes patrols.

Some of her boats and hatch covers, along with several hats, washed ashore the following day. Nine months later, the remains of six bodies were found some 40km away but nothing else was found until this month.

The two archaeologists, having taken dozens of photographs and video images from the submersible, are keeping the exact location secret. They do not want the vessel plundered and said it should be left as a war grave.

Arthur Britton Smith, a historian and author who recounted the loss of HMS Ontario in his book The Legend of the Lake, said after seeing footage of the wreck: "To have a revolutionary war vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable. It's an archaeological miracle. If it wasn't for the zebra mussels, she looks like she only sunk last week."

Pictures show that a section of the bowsprit is intact while, just below it, there is a decoratively carved scroll bow stem. Two of the ship's 22 cannon are also visible along with two large anchors.

Mr Scoville and Mr Kennard, 61, have also reported finding the ship's bell, though they have left it in the wreck.