Wreck of 18th-Century warship HMS Tyger identified in Florida Keys – DIVE Magazine

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HMS Tyger taking on the Dutch vessel, Schakerloo, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War in the port of Cadiz,1674 (Photo: Public Domain)


The remains of an 18th-century shipwreck discovered in Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park have been positively identified as that of HMS Tyger, a British warship that ran aground off Garden Key in 1742 during the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkin’s Ear.

Although the wreck itself was located in 1993, the vessel had never been formally identified until five of the ship’s cannon were discovered during a 2021 underwater survey of the site, and determined to have once been part of Tyger’s armaments.

Launched in 1647, HMS Tyger also sometimes referred to as Tiger – was a 38-gun British Royal Navy frigate that saw action during the 1642-1651 English Civil War, then later, the three Anglo-Dutch wars fought between 1652 and 1674. She was rebuilt three times during her service, and extended in length from 99ft (30m) to 130ft (40m) in her final configuration, when she was re-outfitted and relaunched as a 50-gun battleship in November 1722.

In January 1742, HMS Tyger was part of the British fleet engaging the Spanish during the 1739 to 1748 War of Jenkin’s Ear, a dispute between Britain and Spain over trade and colonial expansion in North America.

Orderd to station as part of a blockade of Cuba, Tyger’s commanding officer, Captain Edward Herbert decided instead to set out in pursuit of Spanish ships reported to be sailing between Cuba and Mexico. Following the misidentification of a group of islands encountered several days into the voyage, Tyger ran aground during the night of January 11.

a scub diver inspecting an 18th century cannon from a royal navy shipwreck
A diver inspects one of the guns from HMS Tyger (Photo: Brett Seymour/National Park Service)

Despite being briefly refloated, the ship became lodged on the reef and Captain Herbert gave his 281-man crew the order to abandon ship onto what is now known as the island of Garden Key. Nine men were sent off in Tyger’s longboat to seek help, while the remaining crew removed some of the warship’s lighter guns to build a fortification on the island, where they remained, marooned, for 66 days.

During that time, several expeditions were launched to seek assistance while Tyger itself was burned to prevent it being taken by the Spanish. Captain Herbert also attempted – unsuccessfully – to attack and board a Spanish vessel which approached the island.

One of the expeditions eventually returned with a heavily damaged sloop, which the stranded crew were able to repair and – together with HMS Tyger’s ship’s boat (or yawl), and three small boats she carried on board that had previously been captured from the Spanish – a rag-tag fleet of broken boats and starving, dehydrated sailors set sail for Port Royal in Jamaica, which they eventually reached – almost two months later.

Captain Herbert was court-martialled for leaving his station and losing his ship, but in recognition of his extraordinary role in returning his crew to safety, was docked only his wages and allowed to maintain his rank in the Royal Navy, where he served for two more years on board HMS Woolwich, a 50-gun warship of similar size and built to HMS Tyger.

The wreckage discovered in 1993 was unidentifiable given the ship was destroyed by fire nearly three centuries earlier, but surviving metal artefacts, such as markings found on copper barrel bands, identified the remains as belonging to a British military vessel. In 2021, however, the site was surveyed by a team led by maritime archaeologist Joshua Marano, from Dry Tortugas National Park, the Submerged Resources Centre, and the Southeast Archeological Centre who found five cannon approximately 500m distant from the main wreck site.

The island where Captain Herbert and his crew were marooned is now the site of Fort Jefferson (Photo: Shutterstock)

A reference found in the margins of an old logbook reported that Tyger’s crew had ‘lightened her forward’ after running aground – presumably by heaving some of the forward-placed guns overboard – allowing her to briefly refloat before hitting the reef again. The presence of the cannon and the known history of the ship’s whereabouts when she sank gave the archaeologists a strong case to identify the wreck site as that of HMSTyger.

‘This discovery highlights the importance of preservation in place’, said Marano, ‘as future generations of archaeologists, armed with more advanced technologies and research tools, are able to reexamine sites and make new discoveries.’

As the site of the wreck is located within Dry Tortugas National Park, it is already monitored and protected under existing cultural heritage laws, however, positive identification of the remains as a British naval vessel means the site will be granted additional protections under the US Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004.

‘Archeological finds are exciting, but connecting those finds to the historical record helps us tell the stories of the people that came before us and the events they experienced,’ said Dry Tortugas National Park Manager, James Crutchfield. ‘This particular story is one of perseverance and survival. National parks help to protect these untold stories as they come to light.’

‘Hunting HMS Tyger , 1742: Identifying a Ship-of-the-Line in Dry Tortugas National Park’ by Andrew Van Slyke and Joshua Marano, is published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Mark 'Crowley' Russell

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