Shipwreck Index of the British Isles
Shipwreck Index of the British Isles

Every wreck diver worth his salt should buy the vast, comprehensive Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, even if it means digging deeper than usual into pockets.
Eventually this series will embrace all the UK and Ireland but for now the first two volumes are out, number one covering the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, volume two dealing with Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Sussex, Kent, Goodwin Sands and Thames. Both areas are rich in shipwrecks, and these books will save the serious wreck diver weeks of trawling in libraries and archives, and probably avoid many mistaken identifications.
The authors and editors are no strangers to divers. Richard Lam has been involved in professional diving in the Navy, later running Pro-Dive, and throughout his 47 years in the field has been an avid researcher and collector of information about shipwrecks.
He started by building up a commendable card index from the printed State Papers Domestic, a rich storehouse of information, and went on to other primary sources and the substantial (and not always accurate) library of writers on shipwrecks and compilers of lists and catalogues. His wife Bridget came in as assistant and is now joint editor. The listings are grouped by area and, within each group, chronologically, from the 14th century to the 1990s. From humble fishing boats to great liners, the detail in each entry is impressive. Not only are type of vessel, tonnage, cargo, place of origin and destination, crew and passengers, losses and constructional details included, but there are pithy accounts of the wreck and rescue and, of interest to the wreck investigator, details of salvage and contemporary and modern diving.
Each area is described with a brief maritime history, maps and a number of photographs and illustrations of ships, wrecks and salvage. The publishers might have reduced the number of illustrations and improved the quality by using duotone reproduction. Some of the photographs are grey and dull, and the text could have been broken up more to relieve the eye.
The authors have condensed the story of each wreck where accounts are available and succeeded in telling some rattling good stories of exciting or horrendous catastrophes. Prospective wreck-hunters can tank themselves up with overnight reading of appetising quarries, such as the John, wrecked on the Goodwin Sands in 1669
: ...her company left her except for two children (one Irish boy and a negro lad) after which she fired and drove four or five miles northwar It is said there were two chests of gold dust, and much other gold as well as elephants teeth and other rich commodities on board...

And who could fail to be intrigued by the story of the wreck of a little-known warship, Crocodile, near Salcombe in 14:
...AII her spare booms were heaved overboard and her water casks emptied. Finally her masts were cut down, but she refused to budge and with seven feet of water in the hold and the tide ebbing, the ship looking as if she would fall over, she was abandoned. Once ashore one of the seaman, Patrick Crawley, got very drunk at the grog shop in East Prawle and struck Midshipman John Burn, for which the seaman received 100 lashes...
These are volumes to browse through for amusement but also for clues to fther research, because the authors make it clear that this index is to be used to launch a serious reader into more intensive study. All their sources are included after each listing.
At the risk of sounding niggardly, the publishers could have improved the work. The index to volumes 1 and 2 is published separately and should be the key to looking up references quickly. The wrecks are listed alphabetically but hundreds are listed as unidentified. They are grouped geographically but listed not chronologically but apparently at random.
Also, surprisingly, the pages in the volumes are not numbered. This wastes time and increases frustration in locating entries.
The number of shipwrecks around our shores is inestimable. The Larns will have gathered tens of thousands by the time the Index is complete. Many ships vanished with no record, others foundered in remote places and their end was never known. Some broke up swiftly and only floating wreckage remained to add to the abundance of unidentified but observed wrecks. This series will stimulate wreck researchers to bring out their lists for comparison.
The Larns know that even the most meticulously researched lists will never include all shipwrecks but hope to publish supplements from time to time. With luck they will be inundated with gratuituous information from other researchers and scholars to make their work even more imposing than it is already

Shipwreck Index of the British Isles published by Lloyds Register of Shipping, 71 Fenchurch St. London EC3M4BS , at £49 each volume