Research Pt1


Small_notice Initially all that was “known” about the wreck was a possible name, further details were taken from an information board close to the river bank. This stated that the Norseman was a wooden ship built in 1847 and gutted by fire in World War II and beached on the inter tidal mud (this was not exactly correct as was later discovered). Additionally a local postcard showing a sketch of the site stated ......


Card_smallThe End of the “Norseman

By local reports, this hulk was once a proud topsail schooner. Built in Poole about 1847, her original cargo would have been potatoes, but she was later converted at high cost for private use. During the last war she was completely gutted by fire (not enemy action) and beached here. Time and weather will soon completely obliterate for ever this once fine 19th century vessel”.

From these humble beginnings the hunt was on for the true history of the ship!

In order to try and pin down incontrovertible evidence about the ships past the net would need to be widely cast.

Research Selection Menu

  1. Initial Measurements
  2. Archaeological Data Service
  3. Lloyds Register of Shipping
  4. Lloyds Register of Yachts
  5. Mercantile Navy List
  6. Hydrographic Office Database
  7. Fire Brigade Records
  8. Local Papers
  9. Summary of Initial Investigations

Initial Measurements

The first step was to establish approximate dimensions for the vessel. This involved wading through the mud on a frosty winters morning complete with tape measure, pen, paper and camera. These measurements were later augmented with a more accurate survey. However, for initial investigations the length and breadth were sufficient as this would enable many potential identifications to be discarded. It was confirmed during this initial visit that the ship had suffered a considerable fire towards the stern where many burnt timbers were seen.

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Archaeological Data Service

Next an investigation was made of the Archaeological Data Service database which allowed inspection of the National Monuments Records (NMR’s). The database was interrogated and a list made of all maritime sites documented within a 10 km radius of Swanwick. No sites were found corresponding to the Norseman however, the records did confirm the extensive maritime history of the area in particular the protected wreck site of the Grace Dieu.

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Lloyds crestLloyds Register of Shipping

A visit was then made to Southampton general library to study the collection of Lloyds Register was Lloyds Register of Shipping. Established in 1875 as an aid to ship owners and ship brokers this publication classified all British vessels of 100 tons and over by certain physical characteristics. This information was used to allow the assessment of commercial risk thus allowing insurance rates to be set. Up until 1890 only British registered ships were included however, after this date, it included both British and foreign merchant vessels of 100 tons and more.

The date of build, 1847, quoted on the HWTMA (Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology) internet site was used as a basis for the initial search. No records matching the preliminary specifications were found for dates up to 1900. Whilst the lack of records was disappointing it showed that either the ship was not registered at all or had been registered at a different time. To ensure nothing was missed the records for 1951 were inspected. In 1951 there were five entries for ships called Norseman but none matched the date of build believed to be 1847 or size and weight of the vessel.

One aspect of this search that is worth commenting on is the lack of on-line access to archive copies of Lloyds Register. In these times it seems rather backwards to still have to access the records either personally or by expensive subscription. In this respect the American’s seem more advanced with on-line access available to certain records via the excellent Mystic Seaport web site.

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Lloyds Register of Yachts

At the same time as the Lloyds Register of Shipping was investigated the companion Lloyds Register of Yachts was viewed. Published annually from 1878 until 1980 this was a voluntary register for larger pleasure craft. Subscribers could have the particulars of their yacht including details of construction, dimensions and ownership added to the list no matter what its size.

An inspection of this list for vessels built in 1847, provided no entries of interest for the years examined (1847 – 1900, 1951 and 1960).

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Mercantile Navy List

Mercantile listThe Mercantile Navy List is one of the most useful references for maritime historians and archaeologists. This was compiled by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen and published from 1857 until 1976 excluding the Second World War (1941 – 1946). It provided a comprehensive index of the ships’ official numbers, basic ship information including type of rig, where and when it was built and any previously recorded name. The information gathered from this reference can be used to form the basis of a more comprehensive ships’ history when used in conjunction with such references as Lloyds List of Shipping and Lloyds List of Yachts.

The Mercantile Navy List was inspected for the years 1847 – 1900, no records were found of a Norseman that fitted the remains found. Additional spot checks were made on the years 1951 and 1960 with an equal lack of results. This was a curious result as the estimated tonnage and alleged British origin dictated that the vessel should have been registered and hence recorded within this list.

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Hydrographic Office Database

logoUKHOContact with the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) was established in an attempt to narrow down the search. Established in 1795 by King George III, the UKHO was tasked with reviewing the 'difficulties and dangers to his Majesty's fleet in the navigation of ships'. Prior to 1795 all Masters of His Majesty’s ships were required to deposit all their original survey drawings with the Admiralty. In addition to the cartographic archive, the UKHO maintains a Wrecks Database containing over 60,000 records primarily located in UK territorial waters.

An application was made for any data on the wreck located at the coordinates previously established for the Norseman. The wreck did appear on the database, unfortunately the results provided no information above that already known.

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Fire Brigade Records

It had been seen that the wreck showed signs of burning suggesting that the wreck had suffered a severe fire, this was confirmed by local resident, Mr Gillett. In an attempt to establish the date of the fire the local fire brigade was contacted. Unfortunately all records for the period were either lost or destroyed when the fire service was changed from a national organisation to a county service in 1948.

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Hamble River Authority Archives

Hampshire councilLocal knowledge is often very valuable when trying to identify terrestrial sites of archaeological interests; the same is true when trying to identify maritime locations. Since the Norseman was located on the River Hamble it was appropriate to talk to the local river authority for further details. However, when contacted they had no knowledge of the site other than its location and potential hazard to local river users.

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Local Papers

Southern EchoLocal papers could provide information in several ways. Archive material can be searched for information relating to specific dates and events. In addition, attempts to gain further information can be made by placing request for further information from the current subscribers. In the case of the Norseman project both methods were carried out. Newspaper archives located at Southampton central library were scanned for specific events concerning the Norseman, however, the efforts proved fruitless. Without accurate dates one must resort to viewing reels of microfilm. Each year comprised 4 reels of film each taking at least 4 hours to digest. Therefore, several days of research were required per year of interest. This method was abandoned, as time was not available for such a wide-ranging investigation.

A letter was written to the Southern Daily Echo requesting contact with anyone who had any knowledge of the wreck of the Norseman. This was subsequently published but no one came forward with further information.

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Summary of Initial Investigations

The initial investigations produced no evidence to support the locally provided information. No vessel built in, or around 1847, could be found in the standard references despite being of sufficient tonnage. Other sources of official and less formal sources of information were equally unproductive. In order to break the information deadlock a more persistent local investigation was carried out.

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