The John & Wreck at the Crim

The John.

Unidentified shipwreck remains off Pendrethen

I found two archaeological underwater sites on the north side of St Mary's island; one off Pendrethen close to a shorline called the Cock Frigate; the other, near a rocky out crop known as Innisidgen. The only event I can offer up as what either of them are, if not both, is that they are whats left of the East India Company ship John. The John was a brand new East India Company 44 gun ship fresh off the blocks of Blackwall yard that was lost here at Scilly. She was built in 1643 but was run aground just one year after  her maiden voyage to the east indies;  after a major battle with three Parliamentarian frigates during the English Civil War. The John was commanded by  Captain John Mucknell; later to become Vice Admiral Mucknell. Mucknell stole this ship during her first outing while heading for Surat, after marooning a large number of her company, who were in opposition, on a small island called Johanna, among the Comoros in the north end of the madagascar channel.  The Captain, who is recorded as being a cruel and heartless drunkard, had plotted with 13 co-conspiritors to take the ship prior to the voyage. His treatment to his passengers and any crew in opposition was appalling. Many strange and treacherous things happened during the voyage but once the John had returned to England Mucknell set about becoming the most devastating pirate English waters had ever witnessed.

Are these the ballast Guns off the John?

Mucknell amalgamated a rag tag band of pirates at Scilly into a singular fighting force and then wreaked havoc on the high seas with them as their overall commander. For his theft of the ship John, and his subsequent piratical acts, the then Prince of Wales knighted Mucknell and gave him a title and even a pension!! Sir John Mucknell Vice Admiral of the Pirate fleet at Scilly. The man had mutinied and stolen his ship; marroned people on a desert island after stealing all their valuables, or cut off the ears of those who opposed him. He was nothing but a drunkard and a theif, but King Charles I sanctioned Mucknell's actions and took the ship and the vast treasure it was carrying for his own use. Mucknell became so successful that the King was later forced to openly show he was putting and end to Mucknell's activities at sea. I thoroughly enjoyed researching this Pirate, he was an absolutely facinating carachter.  If you Want to know more about him its all in here-
Todd Stevens

One of many 18lb iron shot found on the wreck site.
The Wreck at the Crim
The Crim

Site plan of the wreck site. Crim Reef, Isles of Scilly.

This site is of an unknown wreck originally found in the early 1970’s by a crayfish diver called Peter Grosch.  Grosch was part of the Roland Morris team searching at that time for the 1707 disaster ships HMS Romney and HMS Eagle.  Once located only nine hours of work was expended on the Crim sites by the Morris team. Very little work has been done on them since due to the inaccessible position, the depth of water over the site, and the fact that no recompression chamber or nitrox facility exists at this time on the Isles of Scilly.

Gun 3 on site plan.
Morris produced a site plan from observations taken by Peter Grosch of the wreck. Morris believed this and two other cannon sites on the Crim to be of one ship that was English in origin and that of HMS Eagle. When the Eagle, now a protected wreck, was finally proven to be well to the South on the Crebinicks near the Bishop rock lighthouse, the site on the Crim was then believed by Morris to be that of the Romney. This has never been proven. Some diving was later performed by local divers who then believed the site was more likely to be a Dutch ship. Again there has been no proof of this put forward.

There are four guns in the picture. (10, 12, 14 &15 on site plan)

My involvement (IMAG)
After chancing on the site during a deep drift dive in 2003 I continued to visit the wreck alone with only my wife Carmen as boatman. By 2004 I had produced a preliminary site plan to work with and over time completed a more accurate drawing of the site. The site plan produced, although not to scale, is a very good representation of the site. Understandably, due to the narcotic effect of diving on compressed air at depth, 40meters average, this makes the reading of a tape measure or any tasks performed on this site rather difficult.
In 2005 Ed Cummings & Robin Burrows, joined in the work.
Since then a mooring was placed on the wreck and video footage of the site has been taken to help create an even more accurate site plan. (see above)

Guns 1 & 7 surround a rock at the shallowest part of the site.

The only evidence to identification has come from three separate pottery sherds and clay pipes raised during work. These seem to prove the site to more likely be Spanish or eastern Mediterranean in origin. The pottery samples were Identified by pottery expert Sarah Jennings and dated between 1500 & 1700.  One sherd was identified as the handle from a Spanish Star Costrel, another as the partial base of a Spanish Albarello.  The pieces of a very large pot she stated as, although quite common in type and found throughout Europe, possibly originating from Spain also.

Clay pipes from the ottoman empire found on the site.

Further evidence that the ship could be Mediterranean in origin is in the types of clay pipes we have been finding. All are from the eastern Mediterranean area, and probably Ottoman Empire as identified by pipe expert Dr Higgins.  Dr Higgins suggested these pipes are circa 1650 or before.

(All the finds above are placed in the Isles of Scilly Museum.)

The most common Spanish ships of around 1600 were known to have been of around twenty guns only. This one wreck site holds with that amount of guns.  The guns on the site are all small in calibre and although we haven’t been able to gauge them accurately, they appear to be 4 to 6 pounders.

If the wreck on the plan is in its entirety on the seabed then the hooped artefact in close proximity to the bower anchors is probably from the bowsprit thus denoting the bows. Similarly guns 1 & 3, which are much longer than all the others on the site, could be stern chasers also possibly denoting the orientation of the wreck site.

Hooped object probably from the bowsprit.

As regards the site possibly being Spanish, it is interesting to note that the two bower anchors on the deepest end of the site, appear to be almost devoid of flukes and also seem to be thinly made and lacking in any real substance, a trait of the early Spanish style of anchor. “As weak as a Spanish anchor” as I believe the saying goes. The smaller anchor on the site is different entirely and we are not sure if it even relates to the wreck.

Bower anchor.

Very few opportunities to visit the wreck present themselves each year as diving can only be conducted on this site after relatively long periods of calm easterly weather. Further to this it can only be visited at certain states of tide. One hour before low and on low are the only times it can safely be dived. One must be out of the water by one hour after low water otherwise the tide is likely to take the diver downwards. Before low the tidal direction comes from the east so diving is performed in the lee of the reef. However, after a very short slack period the tide then comes from the south and gradually builds in strength. The visibility varies greatly from zero viz  to on the odd occasion 40+ meters, with the divers being able to see the surface. Generally though an average of around ten meters is experienced.

Anchor ring at 42 metres

The Islands Maritime Archaeological Group, adopted the wreck through the NAS adopt a wreck scheme in 2005 and was handed an award of merit for our work. We hope to learn more about this wreck in the future. Locating the whereabouts of the other two gun sites to see if they are connected is one objective. However, it seems to me that this wreck is complete.
Todd Stevens

Dive log below.

Crim cannon site dive log.

16\8\03. 39 meters 25 mins with stops. As luck would have it I came across the cannon site in position ( WGS 84) N49-53-997, W006-27-254, whilst drift diving alone in deep water. Saw some cannons and one anchor far below so dropped down to take a closer look.
Raised one small iron shot to declare. My wife and friends, Julie and Nigel Clarke, were on board at the time.

17\8\03. 39 meters 40 mins with stops. Dived the wreck alone and positioned myself over a gun so that the boat could get a good GPS reading when my decompression buoy hit the surface to notify I had relocated the site. Started to produce a site plan on my dive slate. Saw more guns and raised one strange clay pipe from near gun 3. Carmen was boatman.

30\8\03. 39 meters 42 mins with stops. Dived alone my anchor falling directly alongside gun 3. Commenced locating more wreckage and adding it to the site plan. Raised another odd shaped clay pipe from near gun 3 Carmen was boatman. Decided to add one gun to my initial site plan to counter local plagiarism from the museum where I will deposit it. ( gun 8 does not exist and will be removed from the final drawing)

31\8\03. 40 meters 45 mins with stops. Dived alone locating wreckage and started taking more attentive notice of the topography around the area. Carmen was boatman bless her. Learned from an expert that the clay pipes are Ottoman empire.

2\9\03. 43 meters 45 mins with stops. Dived alone and located another but much larger anchor far to the West. Wasn’t happy about travelling so far from my anchor and don’t know why I did it. Got a little anxious, so noted the position and orientation of the anchor for the site plan, then returned to the main site. Carmen was boatman.


16\5\04. 39 meters 42 mins with stops. Dived alone and continued adding to the site plan. I was obviously finding it difficult to accurately draw what I saw on site as one or two guns appear to have turned through 180 degrees since last season. I must have been suffering from nitrogen narcosis on some of my previous dives. Carmen was boatman poor girl it was a bit lumpy.

13\6\04. 40 meters 45 mins with stops. Dived alone retracing my steps and trying to correct mistakes on the site plan.  Not the best of sea for Carmen to boatman in.

5\7\04. 40 meters 44 mins with stops. Dived alone. Have slightly adjusted my GPS to the south east. This was done to counter the tide as the anchor line falls. As a result my anchor fell between gun11 and gun 15, what a good shot.  Decided to pick around the boulders with my torch. Saw what looks like a buried cannon between guns  13&16 but am not absolutely certain what it is. Also saw lots of other iron and lead work all over the site.

17 \7\04. 39 meters 40 mins with stops. Found my anchor drapped over gun 3. Saw it as an omen of good fortune and dug beneath the gun. Found working at this depth rather hard going, must be getting old. Carmen boatman as usual.

Larn and Mcbride have recently been taking an interest in this wreck by attempting to put a harbour inspection standard ROV down to the site.

29\7\04. 39 meters 40 mins. Dived alone. Got back to working on the site plan. Also followed the loose rocks around to the North but found nothing. Found another clay pipe .Was told another smaller gun site was a good distance North will look for it in the future.

30 & 31\7\04. 32 meters 40 mins. Dived the Crim around north rock looking for another cannon site, never found it.

30\ 8\04. 40 meters 40 mins. Accompanied a foreign woman called Gretan and the wife around the gun site. The viz was bad for their visit and amazingly the residual swell moved us about on the bottom at 40 meters down.  Gretan supped her cylinder dry without notifying us of her predicament. As a result we had to share our air with her on the decompression stops.  Gretan posted me a new and larger slate to draw on as a thank you. Phil Roberts was boatman on a lumpy sea.

Sent the preliminary site plan off to English Heritage to copy for the National Monuments Records Office and placed the original in the Isles of Scilly Museum.


8\6\05. 40 meters 41 mins with stops. Dived alone and found the anchor had missed the wreck. My hunch was to spider southwards up and over the high ground. The hunch was correct. Was also a little anxious on this my first lone deep dive of the 2005 season, so missing the wreck didn’t help matters. Recovered a pewter spoon from behind gun 7 which made up for the beginning of the dive. Carmen was boatman once again.

12\7\05. 41 meters 41 mins with stops. Dived alone searching the wreck for identifying features lifted a small powder measure made of lead from near gun 10. Noted some large shards of pottery near gun 11.

13\7\05. 41 meters 45 mins Dived alone excavating out the pottery shards, lifted them and one clay pipe. Carmen was boatman. Am still hearing tales of bronze guns emanating from those who never physically visit the site.

14\7\05. 40 meters 45 mins with stops. Showed Robin Burrows around part of the site and he filmed the dive. We could see the surface from the wreck during this dive. Raised another piece of the same large clay pot. Robin expressed dismay at my diving to such depths on a single air cylinder. (sounds like the wife) They are both right of course and I will try to address this next season.

15\7\05. Richard Larn reported to the museum that he has completed a drawing of this wreck he supposedly started in 1971. His team visited the site on only one occasion. They did not dive the site but instead put in a small ROV.  His claim is impossible and could possibly be cribbing my work.

7\8\05. 43 meters 46 mins with stops. Dived with Robin again filming the rest of the wreck. We went west to the large anchor where Robin found another similar large anchor hidden between rocks nearby. I had no idea it was there it was so well hidden. I added it and other features captured on film to my site plan.

Adopted the wreck through the NAS adopt a wreck scheme.

2\9\05. 43 meters 46 mins with stops. Dived alone to check out the new anchor robin had found and around it for the fabled bronze guns. My anchor was off site but I now knew approximately which way to go to find the area. I was anxious on this dive and had to settle by my anchor for a while to compose myself. Once my heart had stopped beating out of my chest I swam over the two anchors and around the immediate vicinity of them. When I returned, I spotted a lead scupper I had not previously seen laying nearby my boat anchor, which had fallen to the west and around the corner from gun 11.

Drew a new and more complete site plan and sent it off to English Heritage & NAS under the adopt a wreck scheme. (Gun 8 removed from the drawing)

7\9\05 43 meters 20 mins. Dived with Jason Rosevear. Took Jason around the site, he got a bit anxious about his air so we went up early. Carmen was boatman.


15\6\06. 34 meters, 30 mins with stops. Dived alone hunting for the second Cannon site which Morris reports to be North of the main site. Failed to locate the site. Carmen and Ed Cummings were Boatmen above.

16\6\06. 38 meters, 32 mins with stops. Dived alone. Place a permanent mooring on the site. Tied it to the highest point I could which was the muzzle of gun 1. I noted that the sand levels have dropped over the whole site by about twelve inches. This seabed erosion has exposed one particular iron feature, between guns 13 & 16, as another small cannon. I have now added it to the site plan as gun 22. Carmen, and Ed & Barbra Cummings were boatmen above.

25\6\06. 38 meters 41 mins with stops. Dived alone. Hunting for wreckage at the western end of the site. Thought I had found coins in concretion but was fooled. Lost my torch. Also noted that a feature on my site plan was wrong. Ed Cummings and son were boatmen above.

28\6\06. 38 meters 41 mins with stops. Dived alone. Excavated a small hole by gun 17. Found two musket balls and a button. Sadly the buttons markings were worn away. Found my torch amazingly it was still on the wreck site. Noted that the mooring I placed on gun 1 has been chaffing on the rocks nearby in the tide and already it needs attention. Ed was boatmen with passengers Gary, Carmen and Jeanette.

5\7\06. 40 Meters 41 mins with stops. Dived alone. Placed a modified mooring on gun1. It has a long plastic sheathing with a small pot buoy above it to counter the rocks from chaffing the rope, hopefully it will work. Used the old mooring rope to retrieve my 56lb shot weight. Returned to surface after a quick check around the site for visible artefacts. Found nothing new. Ed & Carmen were boatmen.

12\9\06. 38 meters 47 mins with stops. Dived alone. Mooring still chaffing adjusted it but don’t think it will last the winter.  The piece of steel wreckage seems to have disappeared although the Viz was bad so may have simply misse/d it. Carmen & Ed were boatmen.
Todd Stevens