Swash Channel wreck

Featuring the magnificent mustachioed man!

From: Poole Museum

This rudder, with a moustachioed face carved into it, is part of the Swash Channel Wreck. The wreck was discovered outside Poole Harbour and is believed to be a Dutch merchant ship named The Fame which sank in 1631.

Raising the wreck

The wreck site on the Swash Channel was discovered in the 1990s. It was an almost complete side of the ship, with items spread over an area of 40 by 50 metres. The site was under serious threat of erosion – so began the largest underwater excavation since that of the Mary Rose.

In 2013, after almost 10 years of underwater investigations, the rudder and other parts of the wreck were lifted onto Poole Quay by Bournemouth University marine archaeologists.

Identifying the ship

Analysis showed that the ship’s timber was cut down in the Netherlands or Germany in about 1628. Research into wrecks during this period revealed that the ship is most likely to be the Fame from Hoorn, near Amsterdam, which sank in 1631.

The Fame had been anchored in Studland Bay during a storm and was dragged onto Hook Sands, where it capsized. Records state that the crew of 45 abandoned ship and all got safely to land.

Who is the man with the moustache?

The rudder is 8.4m (28ft) long. The upper section is decorated with the superbly carved head of a man. Such carvings were a long standing tradition on Dutch ships. It is thought to be a Roman soldier or even a Dutch soldier of the time.

Either way, with his moustache, goatee beard, long curling hair and plumed helmet he can be seen as an heroic figure, suitable for his prominent location on the ship.

Full view of the Swash Channel Wreck's rudder on display in Poole Museum.
Rudder on display in Poole Museum.
Replica of the carving of a man's head on the Swash Channel Wreck. A child is putting her finger in it's nose!.
A replica of moustachioed man enables visitors to touch the carving.

Recovery and preservation

Only certain parts of the wreck were recovered, including the rudder, guns, bow and carvings, as well as a range of domestic objects and ship’s fittings. The remaining timbers were then buried to preserve the site. 

 

The rudder was carefully dried and preserved by York Archaeological Trust. This work involved replacing the seawater with polyethylene glycol (PEG), a type of wax, then a three-year drying process.

Why so heavily armed?

The ship was heavily armed for a merchant vessel, with at least 26 carriage-mounted guns, suggesting it could also have served as a warship. Only six guns were found, so it might have been partly salvaged after it sank.

 

The rare decorative wooden carvings on the wreck indicate that the ship must have been of high status.

 

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