South Edinburgh Channel
Location: Thames Estuary, Kent
Age / period: post medieval (1787)
List entry number: 1000079
Reason for designation: archaeological significance
Wreck history and loss
It has been suggested that the wreck may be that of a large unidentified Swedish sailing vessel that is noted in Lloyds List as being wrecked on the Long Sand in October 1787. During this period, large armed Swedish merchant vessels exported goods from their homeland to London for onward export to the Indies.
This hypothesis is partly supported by the recovery of a cowrie shell of East Indies origin from the site. However, research into the Swedish plate money indicates that this was not released until the early 19th century suggesting a later date for the site.
Discovery and investigation
The site was discovered in 1972 by the Port of London Authority during routine survey work in the South Edinburgh Channel. Over five years, the Channel had migrated westward and by 1974 the wreck was exposed to a height of six metres.
Investigations supervised by the National Maritime Museum lifted carefully recorded sample items from the wreck. The exposed hull comprised a mid-section and at least one deck on the east side. Collapsed spars, structure, stanchions, knees and three iron cannon (one of which was protruding through a port) were observed. A cargo of iron anchors was also noted. Finds recovered included full wine bottles and over 50 examples of Swedish copper plate money, stamped '2 Dealer 1792'.
The seabed is flat featureless sand with no evidence of algal growth. The currents in this part of the Thames are very strong. Hydrographic evidence suggests that in at least six metres of sand cover the wreck at present.
In 1777, plate money ceased to be legal tender and the Bank of Sweden disposed of its reserves simply as copper until about 1800. Records show that between 1781 and 1800, an average of 40 tons of copper plate was exported annually. It is possible that the South Edinburgh Channel wreck was carrying the total export for one year.
For Swedish numismatists and archaeologists, the site is of the highest importance as no other finds of Swedish corer and iron cargoes are known from this period (Fenwick and Gale, 1998). As such, a collection of material from the site is located at the National Maritime Museum.
The fluctuating sand levels in the area generally provide a protective and stable environment for the wreck. Bournemouth University is currently undertaking an archive assessment and analysis of the site.