19th-Century British Shipwreck Found Off Mexico

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Mexican underwater archaeologists have discovered the wreck of the 19th-century British paddle-steamer HMS Forth, which sank off the Yucatan Peninsula 164 years ago.

According to a statement by the National Anthropology and History Institute , the remains of the 1,900-ton ship were found at a depth of 18 meters near the Alacranes Reef, a treacherous area where dozens of ships have met their end since the 16th century.

The vessel was sailing to Bermuda when it crashed against the notorious rocks and sank on Jan. 14, 1849.

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It belonged to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, a British shipping company which in 1842 began carrying mail to Bermuda and the West Indies under a contract from the UK government. In 1927 the company took over the White Star Line, becoming the largest shipping group in the world.

“We sighted a large steamer on the rocks, apparently high and dry,” the HMS Dee, another Royal Mail Steam ship, reported in the British newspaper Illustrated London News on February 1849.

“As we neared her, we saw that her mizenmast was standing, her funnel over the port side, and apparently parting amid ships. We bore up for her, and found to our sorrow the Forth a total wreck,” they reported.

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Being able to reach a small island nearby, the ship’s crew was rescued a few days later, and transported to Havana.

“Not a soul was lost, and, barring a few bruises, no one sustained injury,” the Dee account stated.

Led by Helena Barba Meinecke, responsible of the Underwater Archaeology area of the Yucatan Peninsula, the INAH marine archaeologists explored the northern section of the reef. They discovered several metal items such as boilers, machinery, propellers, anchors and skegs from the HMS Forth.

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Meinecke believes other wrecks can be found scattered in the area, including the HMS Tweed, another Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ship that sank in 1847, and the Belgian vessel Charlote, which went down in 1853.

Indeed, historical research carried from 2010 to 2012 revealed references to at least 25 shipwrecks near the dangerous “Scorpions,” as the network of reefs, sand banks and small islands emerging from the bottom of the sea is known.

The archaeologists are planning other underwater expeditions to investigate the additional wrecks, INAH said.

Image: Underwater archaeologists explore the remains of the British ship HMS Forth. Credit: Helena Barba/INAH.

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