The mystery of the wreck of a 17th-century warship off the coast of Britain is solved by scientists | world news


Scientists have solved the mystery of the identity of a 17th-century Dutch warship wrecked off the coast of England while transporting slabs of fine Italian marble.

While the wreck sank in 1672 and was discovered off the Sussex coast in 2019, it was previously known as the “Unknown Wreck off Eastbourne”.

However, scientists have now identified the wreck as the Dutch warship Klein Hollandia.

Divers measure wood of the wreck. Image: Martin Davies

Built in 1656 and owned by the Admiralty of Rotterdam, the ship took part in all the major battles of the Second Anglo-Dutch War from 1665 to 1667.

Over the past year, specialists from Historic England, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and the Nautical Archeology Society have been working to identify the ship.

They used evidence from the wreck as well as archival research and tree ring analysis of the wood samples.

A Nautical Archeology Society (NAS) diver handles a Bellarmine jar found at the wreck site of the Klein Hollandia Pic: James Clark
A diver from the Nautical Archeology Society (NAS) handles a Bellarmine jar found at the wreck site. Image: James Clark

Experts say the condition of the wreck is remarkable and could provide a wealth of information about the construction of Dutch ships in the 17th century and the warship’s activities during its final voyage.

Heritage Secretary Lord Parkinson said the identification “provides a glimpse back to the 17th century and gives us the opportunity to learn more about the maritime history of that time and to discover treasures that have been lying under water for hundreds of years”.

The wreck was deemed so important upon its discovery that it was given the highest level of protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 that same year.

Much of the wooden hull, cannons, Italian marble tiles, and Italian ceramic pieces were among the materials found on the seabed.

A congoral emerges from a bronze cannon found at the wreck site.  Image: James Clark
A conger emerges from a bronze cannon found at the wreck site. Image: James Clark

The marble tiles come from the quarries of the Apuan Alps near Carrara in Italy.

The tiles were destined for the Netherlands and should have been used to build high status houses.

The wreck was discovered by Eastbourne dive operator David Ronnan and reported to Historic England. Mr Ronnan and Mark Beattie-Edwards are the licensees and have surveyed the wreck.

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A Bellarmine jar found on the seabed.  Image: James Clark
A Bellarmine jar found on the seabed. Image: James Clark

Mr Beattie-Edwards, executive director of the Nautical Archeology Society, said the ship’s guns, cut marble tiles and pottery finds all point to a Dutch ship returning from Italy.

“Now, after four years of investigation and research, we can identify the ship with certainty.”

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