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Filey Bay

Location: Filey Bay, North Yorkshire
Age / period: post medieval (1779)
List entry number: 1000080
Reason for designation: archaeological significance
Depth: 28m

Wreck history and loss

Identification is far from certain but the wreck may be the 'Bonhomme Richard'. She was an elderly, high pooped, French East Indiaman of 900 tons originally named 'Duc De Duras'.

She was bought by King Louis XIV of France and put at the disposal of John Paul Jones of the American Continental Navy.  Jones renamed her 'Bonhomme Richard' in honour of Dr Benjamin Franklin, the American representative in France, who had used Richard as a pen-name.

The American ship sank in the North Sea on the 25 September 1779 after being badly holed in combat with two British warships escorting a merchant convoy. Two efforts to locate the wreck have been unsuccessful. However, the identity of the wreck has not yet been confirmed as the 'Bonhomme Richard'.

Discovery, investigation and artefacts

Reportedly found by John Adams in 1975 after removing fishing nets from some large planking, a mass of large wooden ship timbers have been observed on the seabed, including sections of intact framing and attached planking.

One section of coherent structure extended some 7m by 3m. Some of the frame timbers measure up to 0.25m by 0.40m and many of the timbers were in very good condition, indicating relatively recent exposure. Copper alloy fastenings were abundant throughout the exposed structure.

A number of amorphous concretions were observed but they did not appear to be guns and none of the divers had ever noticed guns on the site. However, part of an iron cannon or mortar is reported to have been recovered from this wreck.

The site sits at a depth of between 23-28m and the seabed around the archaeological material is generally featureless and consists of mobile silty sand. Diving on site quickly reduces visibility due to the fine sediments cast into suspension by diving activity. Between 2002 and 2003 there was a reported change in sand levels indicating a mobile seabed environment.

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