Exciting Discovery – Historic Shipwreck Found in Antigua

The Lyon, a private French 40-gun warship, is the likely identity of the shipwreck recently discovered in English Harbour, Antigua. The path to this historic find started in 2013 when the National Parks Authority (NPA) and Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services (ADOMS) contracted the Royal Hydrography Office to conduct a survey of English and Falmouth Harbors to update the navigation charts for both areas. Survey results clearly showed a possible area of archaeological interest. A diver confirmed the presence of large timbers in the area. However, at that time, there were no underwater archaeologists in Antigua, and the project was not pursued in the water until this year when a team of underwater archaeologists from the University of the French West Indies (AIHP GEODE) in Martinique was able to conduct a sonar survey and to dive on the site and confirm that it is indeed a historical wooden shipwreck.

Credit Jean-Sébastien Guibert
Credit Jean-Sébastien Guibert

“After the initial discovery in the hydrographic survey, we conducted archival research to try and find a likely candidate,” says Dr. Christopher Waters, director of heritage resources for the NPA. “This process started in 2015 with searches in The National Archives in London, UK.  A map from 1780 clearly shows the outlines of a wreck called the ‘Lyon’. Pursuing this line, we discovered that the Lyon was a private French warship carrying cargoes from France to the revolutionaries in North America during the War of Independence (1774-1783).  She was captured by HMS Maidstone in 1777 off the coast of Virginia and brought to English Harbour, Antigua, as a prize. She was 900 tons burthen.”

This project is a collaboration between the University of the West Indies (AIHP GEODE), the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks, and is supported by AAPA and ABSAR. Funding for this initial exploration came from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Overseas Martinique Convergence Contract (Prefecture of Martinique and the Collectivité Territoriale de Martinique) and by in-kind support from the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks, ABSAR and Soul Immersion Dive Shop. www.nationalparksantigua.com

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.