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New information about the fate of lost souls in Cornish shipwreck

Written by Catherine on

It has almost been 300 years since the Royal Anne military transport ship wrecked off the Cornish coast, but archaeologists believe they may closer to solving the mystery of what happened to those lost in the wreck.

During a violent storm in November 1721, the ship hit the rocks and sank off Lizard Point at the southern tip of the county. 207 sailors lost their lives when the galley sank, including Lord Belhaven, the newly appointed Governor of Barbados. Three sailors survived the event by clinging to floating debris.

These many years later, there is still no definitive answer as to what happened to the remains of those who died in the wreck. As was custom, the bodies of the drowned seamen were often collected and placed into unmarked, mass graves near the site of the wreck. But records of the recovery of bodies from the Royal Anne are muddled with Cornish folklore and mystery.

Most believe, locals buried the bodies in Pistil, now part of the National Trust. The ground lies just west of where guns and other objects were found off Lizard Point by divers in 1970s. The wreck's identity was only determined in the 1990s by the discovery of some silver cutlery with the Belhaven family crest.

The National Trust has called in archaeologists from Bournemouth University, the Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust, and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Maritime Archaeology Society to survey the site and help find closure.

"Research so far has revealed a fascinating story about the Royal Anne and her crew,” said Jim Parry, a National Trust archaeologist in an ITV report.  “But it would be fantastic to be able to finally answer the question as to where her shipwreck victims were laid to rest – if Pistil is indeed the spot.”

"It is an extremely rare occurrence to find such a site," he said.

The National Trust are planning a limited excavation next summer. If found, the organisation can use the new information to help manage the site, which may also allow them to obtain legal protection of the site as a grave.

Local folklore tells a story that when the bodies were meant to be buried, the gruesome task could not be completed in a day. When left overnight, a pack dogs of fed upon the corpses. All these years later, local tradition states that dogs cower when passing through the meadow - perhaps a reminder of the shocking events of the past.

The story of Pistil Meadow has piqued the interest of later generations -- with authors Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins taking an interest in the tale. With a rugged coastal landscape and vast shipping history, Cornwall has seen its share of shipwrecks in the past. History is just steps from your own Cornish holiday cottage, and so is all the amazing things that Cornwall has to offer.

Catherine

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