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OMG! Wreck of Bonhomme Richard found off Yorkshire coast.

uss frolick

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Saw this topic over at CivilWar Talk by poster AndyHall! It sounds too good to be true.  A Lion figurehead, burst guns and surviving stern decorations ???? Well it isn't April 1st ...




It referenced the following article:




Here's  "The Daily Mail" article of December 11th:




But how would a wooden figurehead survive in salt water?


Here's more info from the Scarborough News :


"He said that other parts of the ship have also been found, including a carving of a shepherdess from the stern and a seahorse artefact that links the vessel to its previous days as a cargo ship in the Orient. "The figurehead we have identified is a rampant lion with shield. The ear and nose bear marks of cannonballs which hit the ship before it sunk. "The seahorse image connects the vessel to its French colonial days." He added that the shepherdess from the stern indicates the carving has burned legs, consistent with explosions that sunk the Bonhomme. "


Full article:



Edited by uss frolick
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I wonder how many years it will take to more fully map and explore the wreck? They have some new techniques that they can use to render a 3D printed copy of the wreck that could be priceless to see as a modeler interested in doing the BHR. 



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6 hours ago, uss frolick said:

But how would a wooden figurehead survive in salt water?

My understanding is that it’s the oxygen level that’s important. If it’s buried in silt excluding the oxygen, it can survive quite a long time.

i’ve recently seen an article about a ship something like 2000 years old of which some parts were well preseved in silt. Likewise, on land, some wooden artifacts have survived in peat bogs for thousands of years.


Mark D

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Part of me is still suspicious. 


How did the figurehead, here conveniently battle-damaged, not get eaten by the Toredo Worms. If the hull sat upright on the bottom, then the figurehead hung two stories above the ooze that would have preserved it. BHR was the size of a conventional 64-gun warship. Ditto the height of the conveniently-burnt stern-carvings. Is the water close to the coast brackish, like Stockholm's, which kills wood boring organisms, or just normal salty channel water? The figurehead of the BHR is unknown. The "rampant lion figurehead with shield" motif was a best guess by Jean Boudroit, but the diver was able to describe his conjectural work exactly.  Usually, the only wood to survive was the keel, the floor timbers and lowest strakes of planking. Seahorses and shepherdesses are interesting stern ornamentations, but rare for French vessels of that period. I thought BHR had drifted in the channel - drifted in some direction away from the coast - for two days while they tried to save her. And of the 42 cannon, the diver was able to find the one single 18-pounder that burst?


I would love to be proven wrong.


"Bad Frolick! Go to your room, and take your cynicism with you! And no pudding for you either, Mister!"

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It's possible that it is well-preserved. If the waters are cold enough, there won't be borers. That was so with the Mary Rose, wasn't it? She was down much longer. One would almost expect that many, of not all undamaged cannon would have been salvaged.  (The burst one could easily have been left behind by the salvors.) Cannon were valuable and salvage techniques were surprisingly sophisticated in those days.  "Wet" diving bells (open bottoms) had been in common use for quite some time before the Bonhomme Richard sank. Over a hundred years earlier, In 1658, Albrecht von Treileben was permitted to salvage the warship Vasa, which sank in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628. Between 1663-1665 von Treileben's divers were successful in raising most of the cannon, working from a diving bell.









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Mary Rose, like the Vasa, was in brackish harbor water, where the wood worms can not survive. If you don't know where a wreck is, somewhere out in the channel, then you can't salvage her cannon.


Cold isn't a problem either, nor pressure, unless the cold affects the salinity, as in the case of the Terror and Erebus. Note that the Titanic's wood was all eaten away, except for shellacked mahogany mantlepieces in a couple of her first class staterooms.


Seahawk, about the Adams. I saw an 1814 letter, written by Isaac Hull, commander of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, (in the misc.  'area files' for the district), describing all the cannon, shot, pig iron ballast and even the caboose, which had been pulled from the charred wreck of the Adams.

Edited by uss frolick
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I don't know if I missed something but a posting on the internet stated the wreck was in shallow water and visible from above on a hill or cliff sounds like an exaggeration or hokum.:huh:

John Allen


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53 minutes ago, John Allen said:

I don't know if I missed something but a posting on the internet stated the wreck was in shallow water and visible from above on a hill or cliff sounds like an exaggeration or hokum.:huh:

I think they meant the dive site was visible from a cliff. They were indicating how close to shore it was.


Jim Rogers


Damn the Torpedoes , Full speed ahead.   Adm David Farragut.

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If I remember correctly, the naval battle itself was watched by a crowd on shore along the nearby cliffs. Jones had been raiding isolated seaports along the coast of England and Scotland much to the consternation of the British Government and terrifying the local populations. It may not have sunk in shallow waters the battle was close to land.

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I agree with John’s post above.  This sounds like someone trying to drum up enthusiasm for “funding.”  I’m surprised that they didn’t find the rough draft of Jones’ “I’ve not yet begun to fight” remarks in the cabin.


Sorry to sound so cynical but the underwater wreck hunting game seems to be populated with hustlers.  LaSalle’s ship Griffon has been found many times here in the Great Lakes only to still be missing.



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Here is the US take from FOX NEWS, I'm sure many will find the inaccuracy of the picture of HMS Serapis somewhat amusing 🙂  (spoiler alert...they pictured the 1866 troopship rather than 1779 5th rate)




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Local tourism dollars also come into play. From the Yorkshire Post:


"The delegates at Filey’s White Lodge Hotel were the first to hear of it, along with news of the discovery of wooden figurehead of a lion and shield that adorned the bow, and a carving of a shepherdess from the stern. Mr Blackburn said: “We expect a task force to be formed that will get the visitor strategy in place. They can set up a Bonhomme Richard trail – people will land at Leeds Bradford or Manchester and make their way from there. “We’re talking about a generation of employment – it’s that far reaching. Once the Americans learn of it, it will generate a lot of interest.”


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It's possible that this is BHR.   As I understand it, ships to the northeast of Britain and even in east part of the channel were considered safe from the worm due the temperature of the water.  How true this is, I have no idea. I hope additional research is forthcoming with some solid info instead of what these articles give us which is eyewash for the most part.  For now, I'll keep an open mind and some fingers crossed.

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2 hours ago, pontiachedmark said:

Gidday everyone.

I try to view these discoveries with optimism. However with the quote from the Yorkshire Post suggest this may be an attempt to generate tourism dollars. I'm afraid my optimism is turning into cynicism. 

All the best.



As a Yorkshireman I can honestly say money is the last thing we would think of, and the first 😁



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It is a sad fact of life today that the general population today has little appreciation of engineering accomplishment, present or past.  In fact the very name of the discipline that engineers use to solve problems- technology, has been co-opted to describe electronic gadgetry dismissing the important work that many engineers do.


This is true of maritime history.  Few people have any interest or appreciation of the technology that these old ships represent.  Where they exist they are relegated to “tourist attractions” that in the words of travel guides are “great for the kids.”  It is no wonder that a supposed discovery of Bonhomme Richard without any sort of verification by qualified underwater archeologists gets the tourism people drooling.




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That YP article seems to be British humour at its subtlest!


"task force" , "visitor strategy", "generations of employment" , "its that far reaching" 


I think Mr Blackburn had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he made that quote - either the journos are stupid (not a stretch by any means) or more likely, in on the joke.





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  • 1 month later...

I always find the battle of Flamborough head an interesting story. Serapis, an outdated 44 gun two decked ship which due to its poor design struggled to open its lower deck ports in anything but calm water, and the armed vessel Countess Scarborough 20 placed themselves between the fleet they were protecting and the American / French fleet. Bon Homme Richard 42, Alliance 30, Pallas 30. Serapis and the BHR fought each other two a standstill with the CoS fighting the French vessels. Once the countess surrendered the Alliance joined in the fight against the Serapis  and she was forced to surrender. Up to this point it was one of the most heroic single ship actions of all time for both sides.


Depending on who writes the story depends on whether the French ships are disregarded, Serapis guns climb to 50, Bon Homme Richards reduce to 20 etc. Also the fact that the English merchant fleet got safely away is nearly always forgotten.


John Paul Jones is also an interesting subject. How did he get to France and if it was as captain of USS Ranger why was she not involved? John Paul was a Scotsman, some accounts have him as a sailor on slave ships but found it unhuman. Either way accused of murder of a sailor and fled to America. Again accounts vary from self defence against a mutineer (so why flee) to an act of rage against a sailor whilst he was a Midshipman on an English Royal Navy ship. All this time on and still difficult to get an unbiased account.


After the Ranger and Bon Homme Richard his service is unknown to me but eventually he joined Russia as could not get further service in the USA and became an Admiral. He retuned to Paris when no longer able to get service in Russia. His remains did not return to America till 1909. 


As for the Bon Homme Richard wreck. That coast is strewn with wrecks and due to the strength of tidal currents few survive unless they get covered in silt. Often, as with history, people see what they want to see and change the facts to suit. Perhaps timber analysis or the ships bell could prove either way. I didn't realise that the BHR had caught on fire, actually thought the Serapis did from grenade thrown from the BHR. 


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