General Carleton of Whitby

 – British ship sunk in 1785 and discovered in 1995

Underwater archaeology in Poland

After the political changes around 1990, Polish archaeologists have started to search their waters systematically for old wrecks. The bottom of the south Baltic Sea consists of fine sand that's constantly moving. After a storm, the bottom may suddenly be up to 5 metres higher or lower than the previous year. Thus, new finds may suddenly appear or disappear.

In 1995, Polish scuba divers found a new wreck off the coast. The place was a half nautical mile from the beach, the depth 7 metres, and all that could be seen were a few timbers sticking up from the sand. The Polish Maritime Museum decided to start an excavation. The wreck was given the name W32.

The storm of 1785

They were lucky, and soon found the ship bell. The inscription read "General Carleton of Whitby 1777". Thanks to Lloyd's register it was soon clear what had been found. It was a 500 ton merchant ship, built in the British town Whitby in 1777. She was named after an English general famous in those days.

On September 27, 1785 she was on her way home, loaded with tar and iron. A storm stranded her at the Polish coast. Despite the shallow depth just off the shore, the whole crew of 25 men drowned.

Excavating the ship

200 years later, the ship was found. The excavations continued in 1996 and 1997. The last two seasons was a joint project with DEGUWA, the German underwater archaeology society, sponsored by Seemann Sub, Germany.

When we arrived to the site, there was almost nothing of the wreck visible. Between one and two metres of sand covered the wreck. That meant a lot of work with the airlift. All the sand from the previous season had to be removed again. Once cleared, the site looked like on the drawing. Only the lower parts of the 32 m long oak hull remain. Apparently much of the ship stuck above the surface, and was destroyed by sea and ice.

Tons of iron bar cargo had to be lifted to the side to continue the excavation. Tar had leaked out from the crushed barrels and created a hard encrust ion. The encrustion probably helped conserve some of the objects found.

Among the finds is a thermometer, a brass telescope, pieces of clothing, hundreds of shoe buckles from the cargo, and kitchen utensils. The remains of one crewman were also found. The largest object salvaged was the 200 kg heavy iron kitchen. The investigation of the wreck is now finished. Two very large anchors lay on the starboard side, and will soon again be buried in the sand. The project is now continued at the museum's conservation department.


On board were always five DEGUWA divers/archaeologists and five Polish divers/archaeologists. There was also the regular crew, the captain, the chief, the cook and a mate.

The project leader is Waldemar Ossowski from the Polish maritime museum. The other Polish scientific and diving crew 1997 was: Robert Domzal, Zbigniew Jarocki, Wojtech Jonski, and Krzysztof Mrozowski.

The DEGUWA crew 1997 was: Andreas Stolpe, Christian Schramm, Lars Achenbach, Gregor Malessa, Margret A. Sloan, Wolfgang Kraus, Rolf Wild, and Per Åkesson.

I participated for a two week period, as part of the DEGUWA team. My job as a diver on this wreck was mainly working with the airlift, removing sand to reach the hull of the ship.

More wrecks

On the way between Gdansk and the wreck site in 1997, we searched for and documented other wrecks. We took wood samples from another recently discovered wreck. After dendrochronological analysis, we were told that the wood was from late 16th century. However, that excavation must wait till another season. As usual, only a few timbers stuck up and the rest was hidden under tons of sand.

by Per Åkesson, August 1997

Photos by Andreas M. Stolpe and Per Åkesson. This text is partially based on the German report by Andreas M. Stolpe and Lars Achenbach. For more information, you may contact DEGUWA or the Polish Maritime Museum.

rev jul '12

The wreck site at the Polish coast.

The drawing, made by Waldemar Ossowski and Lech Nowics, shows the bow on the left an the stern on the right.

The research ship Kaszubski Brzeg outside the maritime museum.

Robert and Waldemar prepare to dive.

Concretions from the tar cargo.

Hundreds of shoe buckles were found.

A leather shoe is slowly removed from the encrustions.

A bottle, ceramics, kitchenware and buttons.

Sunset at the Polish coast.

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