HMS Montagu (ex-Montague) was a five-year old 14,000 ton battleship that stranded in shallow water off Shutter Point, Lundy Island, without loss of life, on 30 May 1906.
The Montagu is the only survivor of six Duncan class pre-Dreadnought battleships of the Royal Navy within north European waters.
The wreck is owned by BCD Marine Ltd.
Reasons for Designation
The remains of HMS Montagu are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Period: built in direct response to large French, Russian and German ship-building programmes prior to the First World War, and highly representative of that period;
* Potential: although salvaged at the time a 2018 archaeological assessment confirmed the discovery of significant unsalvaged components and sections of the ship on the seabed;
* Historic interest: HMS Montagu is an example of a capital ship from an important phase in the transition from pre-Dreadnought battleships, that sit between the experimental period of the Ironclads in the C19 century and the mature expression of the battleship concept – the revolutionary Dreadnought (1906);
* Rarity: the Montagu represents the remains of the only Duncan class battleship anywhere in north European waters and the only remains in English waters of a class of vessel that immediately preceded the launch of the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought, and;
* Group value: the remains of HMS Montagu possess a direct functional relationship with the Montagu Steps; a series of rock-cut steps on Lundy Island created to facilitate access to the wreck at the time of its loss (Schedule entry 1461607). The Steps are contemporary to the wreck and are thought to incorporate metallic remains of the Montagu in their make up.
The Montagu was launched in May 1901 and was built in direct response to large French, Russian and German ship-building programmes prior to the First World War. The six ships in the heavily-armed class proved to be superior in their balance of speed, firepower, and armour; they were the fastest battleships in the Royal Navy when completed. The ship’s engines were two 4-cylinder, vertical inverted triple-expansion steam engines which were amongst the largest and final such engines built for British battleships before steam turbine machinery was introduced.
The Montagu was initially commissioned for service in the Mediterranean Fleet before being transferred to the Channel Fleet, based at Portland. Two years later but as a pre-Dreadnought, Montagu would have been outclassed by the Dreadnought battleships that began to appear at the end of 1906 which ushered in the new battleship era.
Between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the launch of the Dreadnought in 1906, the Royal Navy and navies generally moved from slow wooden warships reliant upon sail that fought at short range to fast, armoured all-steel warships powered by steam that fought at long range. The Montagu is an example of the wreck of a capital ship from an important phase in this transition, the pre-Dreadnought battleships, that sit between the experimental period of the Ironclads in the third quarter of the 19th century and the mature expression of the battleship concept, the Dreadnoughts, that contested the major fleet actions of the First World War.
On the afternoon of 29 May 1906, the five-year old Montagu anchored off Lundy during a Fleet exercise to test recently installed wireless telegraphic signalling apparatus. The Montagu was to communicate with the Isles of Scilly but the distance proved too great to enable suitable transmission and reception. In normal circumstances the Montagu would have steamed closer to Scilly to continue the trials but she had become enveloped in thick fog and given the risk of mid-channel collision the ships’ Captain decided to move closer to Lundy.
Soundings were taken as the battleship got under way and a strict lookout was kept as the Montagu crept closer towards the coast. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the depth was given as seventeen fathoms (about 31m) with the navigating officers believing they were four miles off Lundy. Suddenly there was a terrific crash and grinding of metal, and the Montagu shuddered to a halt. Unknown to all on board, the Montagu had just run aground on the Shutter Rock at the south western corner of Lundy Island. The ship’s massive engines were quickly put hard astern shearing off both propellers which flooded several compartments and caused unstoppable leaks. The Montagu was stuck fast and the Admiralty was informed via a radio-set on Lundy.
In the following days the crew set to saving stores and transferring them to other ships and removing many of the valuable smaller guns and equipment, which would also help lighten the ship. However, it eventually became apparent that the Montagu was lost and attention turned to removing the remaining valuable equipment and stores. Between June and August 1906, the Montagu was further lightened through the removal of her 12-inch (305 mm) and 6-inch (152 mm) guns, heavy machinery, parts of her boilers, heavy fittings, and some of her bow armour. Several attempts to re-float the ship failed and an inspection conducted in October 1906 found that the action of the sea was driving the Montagu further ashore and bending and warping her hull so that her seams were beginning to open, her deck planking was coming apart, and her boat davits had collapsed.
The presence of many salvage ships and particularly warships started to draw crowds of tourists on excursion steamers, many out of Ilfracombe. A thriving tourist and souvenir trade developed associated with the presence of the ship.
In 1907, the Montagu was auctioned and sold for scrap to the Syndicate of South Wales Adventurers. Basing their team on Lundy, they constructed a 150m aerial ropeway from what is now called the Montagu Steps (Schedule entry 1461607) on the cliffs onto the ship so that workers could access the Montagu. Working at low tide using divers and explosives salvage continued into the autumn before being abandoned in October which marked the end of the main salvage effort, although it is reported that ‘desultory’ salvage by the Western Marine Salvage Company of Penzance continued for a further 15 years.
As well as the Montagu, there were five other battleships built in the Duncan class: the Albermarle (scrapped in 1919), the Cornwallis (torpedoed off Malta, 1917), the Duncan and Exmouth (both broken up in 1920) and the Russell (mined off Malta, 1916). As such, the Montagu represents the remains of the only Duncan class battleship anywhere in north European waters. In addition, other pre-Dreadnought battleship wrecks in UK territorial waters are similarly rare: only two others are known off England: HMS Empress of India (sunk as a target, 1913) and HMS Hood (sunk as a blockship, 1914), both of which belong to the Royal Sovereign class built in the 1890s. The wreck of HMS Montagu therefore comprises the only remains in English waters of a class of vessel that immediately preceded the launch of the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought.
In 2018 the Montagu was subject to an archaeological assessment which noted the presence of armour plate on the seabed. This confirmed that the recovery of the ship’s armour was incomplete when the salvage was abandoned. The main area of wreckage identified during the assessment covers an extensive area of about 3,330 square meters and consists of the wrecked remains of the ship, including double bottom steel sections, side armour and other loose plating, casemate sections (derived from the armoured room in the side of the ship, through which secondary armament would fire), a possible 12-inch shell hoist well (which is significantly larger than the hoists shown in the plans for the Duncan class) as well as a small number of machinery and pipe parts and other loose debris. Further survey is necessary but it can be stated that the current condition of the wreck is consistent with the salvage of the ship that took place in the early twentieth century coupled with the shallow and very high energy environment.
As the wreck material lies on a mainly rocky seabed the likelihood of substantial buried remains is low. However, experience on similar sites has shown that small finds can survive within associated gullies covered by fine sediment. Unexploded ordnance, in the form of shells and small arms ammunition, was observed across the wreck site with a notable concentration of shells towards the south-east. However, given the rarity of pre-Dreadnought wreck sites, the survival of components of the Montagu provides a measure of importance as well as any archaeological material present that is not already recorded.
The proven existence of extensive, but little publicized or previously unknown fixtures, fittings and moveable items removed during salvage in both public and private collections, including four wooden panels from the captain's cabin displayed in the Ilfracombe Museum, adds to the site’s importance in terms of survival. In addition, important collections of photographs of the Montagu and its salvage are held by Ilfracombe Museum and Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives.
The strength of the battleship’s is enhanced by its direct functional relationship with the contemporary Montagu Steps; a terrestrial archaeological feature comprising the remains of a remarkable aerial ropewalk which once connected the cliff top to the Montagu’s foretop for easy access to the wreck coupled with a series of steps cut into the granite cliff during the salvage operations. Contemporary newspaper accounts survive of the attempts to salvage the Montagu, a state of the art Duncan class Royal Navy battleship. Battleships were considered highly prized assets and, despite the considerable costs of recovery, “desultory” salvaging continued for some time.
An area of 100m around position 51.159 N 04.674 W is recommended for designation.