Sunken British Warship That Left Crew Marooned for 66 Days Has Been Identified

Found off the coast of Florida, the HMS “Tyger” left some 300 crew members stranded on Garden Key in 1742

Diver and Cannon
A diver documents one of the five cannons found during a recent archaeological survey of the wreck in Dry Tortugas National Park. Brett Seymour / National Park Service

In 1742, amidst a war between Britain and Spain, a British warship ran aground off the Florida Keys. The crew evacuated, and the vessel was lost.

Now, thanks to a note in an old logbook, researchers have confirmed that sunken wreckage near the islands of Dry Tortugas belongs to the doomed HMS Tyger.

The ship’s remains were first found in 1993 off the coast of Garden Key, the second-largest island in Dry Tortugas National Park and home to the 19th-century military stronghold Fort Jefferson. According to a statement from the National Park Service (NPS), the new research provides “definitive evidence” of the wreck’s identity.

H.M.S. Tyger in Spain's Bay of Cadiz
This 1675 painting by Daniel Schellinks depicts the HMS Tyger in Spain's Bay of Cadiz in 1674. National Park Service

The project is a collaboration between archaeologists from Dry Tortugas National Park, the Submerged Resources Center and the Southeast Archaeological Center. When they surveyed the site in 2021, they found five coral-coated cannons some 1,500 feet from the ship.

The weapons’ location matches an account of the Tyger’s demise found in the margins of an old logbook, which described how the ship’s crew had “lightened her forward” after running aground, per the NPS. The crew members likely dumped the Tyger’s heavy cannons from the boat to slow her descent.

“This discovery highlights the importance of preservation in place as future generations of archaeologists, armed with more advanced technologies and research tools, are able to reexamine sites and make new discoveries,” says Josh Marano, the maritime archaeologist who led the project, in the statement.

Researchers found "concreted cannonballs" on the seafloor near the wreck. Brett Seymour / National Park Service

According to the researchers—who recently published their findings in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology—the 130-foot-long Tyger was built in 1647, making it nearly a century old when it floundered in 1742.

It was the first of three British man-of-war ships to sink in the Keys, where it was stationed during the conflict known as the War of Jenkin’s Ear—“aptly named after British captain Robert Jenkins, who allegedly had his ear cut off by Spanish Coast Guards,” writes the Independent’s Amelia Neath.

According to the NPS, the man-of-war sailed near Cuba and Jamaica before following Spanish ships into the Gulf of Mexico, “logging but not fully registering the increasingly shallow depths.” Ultimately, the Spanish didn’t get the vessel—but the coral reefs of Dry Tortugas did.

When the ship hit the coral, it began taking on water. Despite the crew’s efforts to throw some items overboard and move others to the rear, “bad weather and a series of missteps worsened the situation,” writes the NPS. “It became clear that Tyger was lost, and the captain ordered everyone to abandon ship.” The 300 crew members made their way to Garden Key, where they were marooned for 66 days.

The Tyger’s survivors created Garden Key’s first fortifications—over a century before the construction of Fort Jefferson. Working through heat, thirst and mosquitoes, the crew built small boats from salvaged pieces of their ship, per Artnet’s Richard Whiddington. Using those vessels, they then sailed through enemy territory to Port Royal, Jamaica, traveling 700 miles in 55 days.

“This particular story is one of perseverance and survival,” says James Crutchfield, Dry Tortugas’ park manager, in the statement. “Archaeological finds are exciting, but connecting those finds to the historical record helps us tell the stories of the people that came before us and the events they experienced.”

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