A three-year project designed to locate previously unknown maritime archaeological sites on Scotland’s west coast has just been completed by a team from Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine based in Edinburgh. Project SAMPHIRE, which was carried out in partnership with the Flinders University of South Australia and funded by The Crown Estate, has resulted in the discovery of over a hundred new maritime archaeological sites from Cape Wrath to the Solway Firth.
The project worked by harnessing local knowledge about possible sites in the marine environment, with the archaeologists talking directly to harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and local residents all along the west coast of the Scottish mainland. After checking any reported locations against existing records, the most promising of the sites were visited by teams of volunteer and professional archaeological divers.
Over the three years of fieldwork (2013–2015) the project has led to the discovery of more than 100 maritime archaeological sites, including metal and wooden shipwrecks, flying boats and other aircraft, cannons, cannonballs, ancient anchors, prehistoric coastal sites, as well as more recent sites such as 20th-century fishing vessels. Among the highlights was the recording of a group of previously unreported World War II flying boats in the Firth of Lorn.
The project results include over 40 new shipwreck sites including a dozen wrecks on the seabed for which there are confirmed or probable identifications. These 18th, 19th and 20th-century wrecks reported by divers include the Yemassee (an American cargo ship lost in 1859), the schooner Medora (lost in 1860), the Falcon, a previously unlocated paddle steamer built in 1860 and lost in 1867 with great loss of life, the Lady Middleton (a schooner lost in 1868), the Iris (a brig lost in 1874), the Lord Bangor (a wooden ship lost in 1894), the Cathcartpark (a steamship lost in 1912 near Iona), the Hersilla (an armed iron naval yacht lost in 1916), the SS Viscount (lost in 1924), the Sheila (an early MacBrayne ferry built in 1904 and sunk in 1927), the Mafeking (a salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover the Sheila), the SS George A. West (a wooden steam trawler lost in 1927), the Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933) and the Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942).
Project SAMPHIRE stands for Scottish Atlantic Maritime Past: Heritage, Investigation, Research and Education.