Remains of the inshore section of an English Second Rate warship which sprang a leak and capsized on returning to Plymouth from a Channel patrol in 1691. The wreck lies in two parts and at the time there were conflicting accounts as to what had happened, some eyewitnesses stating that she had capsized and foundered, others that she had stranded. It is possible that she parted as she went down, or, alternatively, that she struck the land and broke up, with the other part going to sea (the offshore site).
The Coronation inshore site was discovered in 1967 by two local dive shop owners. Further investigations were carried out from 1968 largely under the direction of staff from Fort Bovisand.
The Coronation, a 90 gun second rate was built in 1685 by Isaac Betts at Portsmouth dockyard as one of the 1677 thirty-ships programme. She measured 161ft by 45ft, weighed approximately 1,427 tons, and had a crew of 660 men during wartime. The Coronation took part in the British defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head on June 30th 1690, where she carried the Flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Ralph Delaval, commander of the Blue Squadron. On the 3rd September 1691 after patrolling for the French fleet, the English Fleet under Russell made for Plymouth. The Coronation foundered in a strong gale from the South East whilst trying to round Penlee Point with a loss of all but 13 of her crew including the Captain, Charles Skelton.
Designation Order: (No 1), No 2138, 1988
Made: 7th December 1988
Laid before Parliament: 13th December 1988
Coming into force: 3rd January 1989
Protected area: 250 metres within 50 18.96 N 04 11.57 W
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
The process of the separation of the vessel into two wreck sites is not well understood, leading to concern over the true identity of the inshore site. No other record exists for a ship of her size foundering in the area, and the guns identified correspond with those of a First or Second rate ship-of-the-line, strongly suggesting that the Coronation is divided between Penlee point, and the offshore site.
The Coronation had been on patrol with the Channel Fleet, when the weather had turned bad and she had run for Plymouth Sound, hoping to gain shelter from the oncoming SSE gales. The actual details of her loss are unclear. The Admiralty Report stated that '...ye Coronation, which was oversett off ye Ramhead, on ye Coast of Cornwall. Resolved that the opinion of the Court is, that by a Butt-head starting, or some Planke giving way Shee sprung a Leake, and thereby was lost.' It seems Skelton knew of this leak and had ordered the masts cut, but it had been to no avail and she had capsized.
The identification of this site as a section of wreckage from the Coronation was questioned for some time, especially following the positive identification of finds from the offshore site in 1978. However, it is thought that the Coronation, after capsizing, started to break up, leaving wreckage at the offshore site. Then the main part of the ship drifted in and was broken up on Penlee Point. If not this, then the reverse is possible -she broke up on Penlee Point and part of the wreckage was washed out to sea and sank at the offshore site. It seems clear that the guns of the size and number found on the Penlee site would have to have come from a First or Second Rate Ship of the Line, and the Coronation is the only reported loss of equivalent rating in the area. That she was not located at the time could be explained firstly by the ferocity of the storm, and also by the conflicting accounts of the time - The Windsor Castle's report stated her 'oversett three miles from shore', whilst the Ossory reported to have seen 'the wreck on shore'.
In 1967, a scatter of cannon and cannon balls along with a number of large bronze pulley wheels were found near Penlee Point. Through the School for Nautical Archaeology Plymouth the seabed was leased from the Crown Estate Commissioners.
Throughout 1969, some 60 divers worked on the site and triangulated a search area of 100 feet by 50 feet. An attempt at a photographic mosaic was made and underwater television with sonic communications tried out. In all, 22 cannon were measured within the area falling within three main sizes, 9ft 3in, 10ft 3in and 11ft 3in. (5). Further survey was carried out in 1972 by Guildford SAC. who cleaned a cannon down to bare metal underwater; the concretion was made up of calcium and iron oxide along with marine growth up to an inch thick. The work took eight hours using mallets and wooden wedges to avoid damaging the gun. The gun measured 10.5 feet in length and on either side of the breech ring were two letters "T" and "W". The touch hole still had rope attached to it, proving the cannon was still in use when lost, disproving the idea that the area was a dumping ground for old cannon.
This section of the wreck site lies in a general depth of 5 metres on coarse shelly sand and silt with rocky outcrops and kelp. Finds include 64 cannon, cannon balls and large bronze pulley wheels, all marked with the Royal Navy's broad arrow. The seabed surrounding the site is mainly bare rock and offers little potential for the burial of remains.
The area between Penlee Point and Rame Head has, in the recent past, been used for dumping refuse from barges out of Plymouth and the whole seabed is heavily contaminated with 20th century detritus.