Friday, 7 November 2008
The wreck of the "Tartar" at Botany Bay
During February 1996 Thanet was hit by a series of Northerly storms leaving a flotsam trail all around the coastline. Most of the wood coming from the remains of the Jetty and from a shipwreck dislodged by the grounding of the ship “Argus” off the Lido, Margate.
One interesting find was a section of a wooden vessel found uncovered in the sand at Botany Bay near the Foreness Point pumping station by Harry Field an ex Royal Navy man. Harry instantly identified the wreckage as unusual by the wooden pegged construction of the planks to the timber frame. The story appeared in the Gazette on 1st March 1996 and a photograph AT385/26.
As soon as the news was out of the discovery, John Williams the curator of the Margate Museum and I examined the wreckage. We took photographs and measured the dimension and recorded the details. The construction was pegged to a timber frame (carvel built) with three layers of oak planks and the dimension was approxiamately 19 foot long with an average width of 5 foot, the edges in some places showed evidence of burning.
I decided to research further and took a few planks and some of the wooden pegs (trenails) home to conserve. Later that day I returned with my metal detector and around the wreckage, I found a brass handle from a ships lantern. For days I monitored the coastline for wreckage from Westbrook to Joss Bay and found lengths of iron stained damaged ships planks at least 20 foot long on the strandline which I believe came from the wreck the “Argus” cut through. Using all the resources at my disposal I set out to research the wreckage at Botany Bay. In the meanwhile the section of wreck was reburied at Botany Bay by the elements.
Using Richard Larne’s shipwreck index of the UK and Margate Museum archive, I found information on 12 recorded wooden wrecks in the area and began researching. Then in April I was notified that the Council as part of their pre Easter clearance of the Coastline was going to locate the wreckage at Botany Bay and remove it. With a handful of volunteers (incluiding two councillors), council workers removed the wreckage and transported it to the TDC yard at Hartsdown Road, Margate. The Isle of Thanet Gazette covered the story in the 18th April 1996 edition.
Within days I received telephone calls from two men in their late eighties, who both remembered as small boys playing on the “barge” wrecks during the First World War at Botany Bay in the exact location the section of wreckage was found . One recalled the telling off from his mother for getting smothered in clay which was the cargo of one of the wrecks. From that information I was able to pin point the wreckage as being from the “Tartar” which ran aground in a storm along with another barge “Faithlie” in Palm Bay on 28th March 1916.
I referred to Richard Larne’s shipwreck index of the UK and found that a London registered ketch built by Hunt & Fowler, Hull 1883 called the “Tartar” was on a voyage from Teignmouth to London with a cargo of pipe clay and was wrecked in Palm Bay on 28th March 1916. Further examination of the wreckage in the Council yard I found clay in between the planking and ribs.
From further research in Tony Walter’s book “The Margate R.N.L.I Station “ I found out on page 198 that the Margate Lifeboat saved the lives of three men from the rigging of the “Tartar “that was aground in Palm Bay. There was a further report in his book that the wreckage of the “Tartar” was eventually destroyed by fire on the foreshore which explained the burnt edges of the section found at Botany Bay. Based on this evidence the section of wreckage was definitely that of the “Tartar”.
Sadly the wreckage in the Council yard was already in a bad state of decay and was eventually finished off by sudden exposure to the air borne elements; I did manage to conserve some planks and wooden pegs which were until recently on display in the Margate Museum.
Pictured above is the wreckage as seen from the Clifftop and a closer view.