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Coronation

Location: Penlee Point, Plymouth
Age / period: 1691
List entry number: 1000069 or 1000070
Reason for designation: historical significance
Depth: 5m (inshore); 13m (offshore)

Wreck history and loss

The Coronation, a 90-gun second rate warship, was built in 1685 by Isaac Betts at Portsmouth as one of the Thirty Ships programme of 1677. She measured 161ft by 45ft, weighed approximately 1,427 tons and had a fighting complement of 660 men. The Coronation stood in the line with the Anne at the Battle of Beachy Head on 30 June 1690, where she carried the Flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Ralph Delaval, commander of the Blue Squadron.

After Beachy Head, Admiral Russell was given command of the Channel Fleet and patrolled the coast in an attempt to bring the French to battle. Returning from Torbay in worsening weather, many Captains made for Plymouth Sound while others chose to anchor between Rame Head and Penlee Point in an attempt to ride out the storm. It was here that the Coronation sank with huge loss of life, including her Captain, Charles Skelton on the 3rd September 1691.

Discovery and investigation

The site lies in two separate areas; Coronation (inshore), the site found in 1967, and Coronation (offshore). This offshore area, containing mainly guns and anchors, was located in 1977 by the Coronation Marine Archaeological group directed by Peter McBride. Smaller finds made during the initial investigation indicated that the site was indeed part of the Coronation.

At the time of the loss, there were conflicting accounts as to what had happened: some eyewitnesses stated 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 Coronation in fact capsized about 1.5 miles offshore, dropping all her deck armament, bell and fittings on the seabed, then drifted ashore off Lady Island and cove, where she broke up in the shallows, and where the rest of her armament can be found.

The seabed surrounding the inshore site is mainly bare rock and offers little potential for burial of remains. Dense kelp obscures the artefacts on the seabed. It is a high energy environment which could be abrasive for artefacts while the area between Penlee Point and Rame Head has, in the recent past, been used for dumping refuse from barges out of Plymouth. The whole seabed is heavily contaminated with 20th century detritus. The offshore site lies in a rocky area with infilling sand and is densely populated by kelp.

Artefacts

The identity of the site was indisputable when Peter McBride found a folded pewter plate bearing the family crest of Captain Charles Skelton. Early work on the two sites recorded 53 guns inshore and 15 offshore. Other finds from the inshore site comprise over 60 cannon, numerous cannon balls, and large bronze pulley wheels, all marked with the Royal Navy's broad arrow.

Further work

The site is under no serious threat other than from natural degradation. Owing to the robust nature of the remaining material on the seabed this site could be proposed for more freedom of access for those sports divers who would like to visit a 17th century gun site. However, there have been concerns over the activities of sport divers voiced in the past.

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