The site contains what is believed to be the remains of two wrecks: The Assurance, a 44-gun fifth rate frigate lost in 1753 while en route from Jamaica to Portsmouth, and HMS Pomone, a 38-gun fifth rate which foundered after grounding on the Needles while en route from Istanbul, Malta and Cagliari to Portsmouth with dispatches in 1811.
The site contains what is thought to be the remains of two wrecks: The Assurance, a 44-gun fifth rate frigate, lost in 1753, and HMS Pomone, a 38-gun fifth rate lost in 1811 as well as incorporating the remains of a number of vessels wrecked at the Needles including the Victoria yacht Dream and a Guernsey brig Anglo Saxon. The wooden hulls of either boat have not survived the exposed conditions, although various artefacts have been washed into gullies around the Needles site. The site was discovered in 1970, but was only revealed as a composite wreck site in 1978.
In 1998, 46 volunteer divers spent a total of nearly 66 hours surveying the area. Activities were concentrated around improving the detailed topographical survey of the site, which was accomplished by carrying out a swath bathymetry survey, as well as by diver survey.
The resultant improved site plan has made it easier for divers to navigate their way around this irregular and confusing site. In addition, a diver trail was laid which facilitated educational and training activities on the site. Underwater photographs and footage for a Nautical Archaeology Society training video were taken. In 1999, the site was a proved a popular dive site for a number of dive groups. A display of work, undertaken in previous years, was exhibited at Hurst Castle in Keyhaven.
Designation Order: (No 5), No 457, 1974
Made: 15th March 1974
Laid before Parliament: 22nd March 1974
Coming into force: 11th April 1974
Protected area: 75 metres within 50 39.70 N 001 35.45 W
Designation Order: (No 2), No 1528, 1997
Made: 13th June 1997
Laid before Parliament: 17th June 1997
Coming into force: 8th July 1997
Protected area: 200 metres within 50 39.70 N 01 35.43 W
Designation Order: (No 1), No 1650, 1998
Made: 7th July 1998
Laid before Parliament: 8th July 1998
Coming into force: 29th July 1998
Protected area: 200 metres within 50 39.70 N 01 35.43 W
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
The Assurance was a 44-gun British Fifth Rate Ship of the Line was built in 1747 at the Richard Heather Yard, Bursledon and launched on the 26th September of that year. She displaced 823 tons and was 133 feet long. She carried a complement of 280 men and her armament was 6, 9 and 18 pounder cannon. Arriving off the Isle of Wight, bound for Spithead, Captain Scrope decided to take the western passage and proceed up the Solent. The pilot steered the ship very close to the Needles rocks, and when passing about a cable's length from them, struck a submerged rock, which pierced the hull, rapidly filling the ship with water. The captain, his crew and the passengers were all saved, together with the sum of nearly sixty thousand pounds in specie brought home in the ship; one bag only, containing nearly five hundred pounds, being lost: that was believed to have been stolen out of a boat. The pilot, David Patterson, was blamed, and in his defence pleaded that the ship had struck a rock which was uncharted. He called local Isle of Wight pilots to back his claim, which they did - but also said that they would not have taken the ship so close to the Needles, which rather negated his argument. Patterson was sentenced to serve three months in the Marshalsea Prison.
The Fifth Rate Pomone, however, was returning to England from the Mediterranean in 1811 with Sir Halford Jones, late Ambassador to the Persian court, on board. Portland was sighted during the afternoon of 14 October and course was set to the east, intending to anchor in Yarmouth Roads for the night, the master, James Sturrock, being quite confident that he could take them in at night. At 6 o'clock that evening, the light on Hurst Castle was sighted and the bearing was such that Captain Barrie became concerned that they were too far to the south. He went forward and clearly saw the land looming ahead. A warning was shouted and the helm was put over, but it was too late, and she struck a submerged rock, two cables' length from the Needles Rocks. She ran over a rock, losing the rudder as she did so, and ripping several holes in the bottom. Filling with water, she became very sluggish and difficult to manoeuvre, and the wind and tide took her onto the Needles. The boats were hoisted out and the masts cut away before she sank. All the men were picked up. The master was severely reprimanded for his conduct. One marine, Bernard Lowry, was ordered to receive 50 lashes for being found to be drunk as they abandoned ship, but was pardoned because of his previous good character.
Although a cannon was located at the site in June 1969(2)(18), the site was not properly surveyed until 1978 when divers from Portsmouth's Royal Naval Sub-Aqua Club identified and recovered 9 guns from the Pomone (20), one of which still had a cannon lock attached. (17) Mangled copper plating to the hull of the Pomone was also recovered; some pieces were marked 'DEC 1804' with a 'C' and a broad arrow mark. The 'C' stood for Chatham Dockyard, and the date the month and year when the sheet of copper was nailed to the hull. Other marks and stamps were also noted, while a manufacturer's mark on an 8" lignum vitae pulley wheel with a brass coak reads 'WT' and 'MY 02', i.e. May 1802, an appropriate date for the Pomone, and distinct from blocks of the Assurance's era.
The site area lies between Goose Rock and the westernmost Needle between rocky outcrops and gullies on an exposed and heavily eroded wave-cut platform, in an average depth of 5 metres. No structural part of the wreck is known to survive. A number of cannon and other various items of ordnance together with many smaller artefacts lie on a seabed of silt and chalk bedrock. These are now thought to have come from the Assurance and at least one other wreck, the Pomone. By 1982 a total of eight guns had been raised and conserved or are in storage awaiting conservation by the City of Portsmouth Museum Conservation Department. Three of these are thought to have come from the Assurance. A number of Roman coins have also been discovered, suggesting the possibility that this is also the wreck site of a Roman vessel. Other finds include buckles, buttons, pins, bottles, parts of scientific and musical instruments and items of ship's fittings. Artefacts are in the care of the Isle of Wight County, while finds from earlier excavations were stored by the City of Portsmouth Museum Conservation Department.
Visits by the Archaeological Diving Unit followed in 1987, 1994, 1998 and in 2004, a topographical survey of the site was undertaken. A diver trail launched on the site in 2005.
Further remains of the Pomone may also have been identified in Alum Bay, Isle of Wight. The remains here are mainly structural, with some of the timber hull still evident. A length of ship's timber, size 25 and a half inches x 2 inches diameter, studded with copper nails, and thought possibly to come from the Pomone, was recovered in 8 metres in Alum Bay between the Needles and a site known as the Alum Bay wreck. The find was given to the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology for further study in relation to the wrecks in the vicinity of the find.