Secrets of the Swash Channel Wreck

7th June 2017
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“The original name of the ship had been lost for close to 400 years. Until now.”


Photomosaic of the 'Swash Channel Wreck'


… It lay forgotten on the Dorset seabed, experts have puzzled for years over the shipwreck, known only as the ‘Swash Channel Wreck’.

Now the mystery has been solved by Dr Ian Friel, an internationally renowned museum consultant and one of Andante Travels’ finest maritime Guide Lecturers and study day leaders.


Swash Channel Wreck rudder


What do we know so far?

• Thought to be a Dutch merchant ship with 45 people on board and possibly an ‘interloper’ vessel belonging to the Dutch West India Company.

• Using tree ring evidence the ship was built using at least one tree felled between 1619 – 1639.

• The 17th-century vessel lies broken in pieces on a sandbank in the Swash Channel, at a depth of between 7 and 9 metres.

• 40 metres of the port side survives and still includes some of the upperworks, however the structure lies split in two.

• Evidence shows the ship carried 26 or more carriage mounted guns.

• The outer plank sheathing found on the ship suggests the ship was on route to tropical waters.


The research team, led by Professor Dave Parham of Bournemouth University, had narrowed down the ship operating between 1620 and 1650, and so, Dr Friel embarked on a mammoth paper trail through more than 15,000 pages of manuscript in Dorset and London.

This was no mean feat with the ship predating systematic government recording of shipwrecks in Britain and the first English newspapers not printed until some years later, made life a bit trickier.

However not all hope was lost, in amongst 142 other references to British water wrecks between 1625 – 1642, the historian did find an entry from the Poole Admiralty Court.

… could this be the ‘Swash Channel Wreck’?

All the evidence, including the on-board Dutch pottery & position of the wreck, suggested that it could be… The entry read:


‘Fame’ a Flemish wreck, capsized on a sandbank, between 1631 and 1632.


Dr Ian Friel concludes: “The links between the historical and archaeological evidence led me to believe that the 'Swash Channel Wreck' is the Fame of Hoorn.”

The mystery is finally revealed! The Fame set sail from its home at the Port of Hoorn, near Amsterdam, on a voyage to the West Indies. After coming into rough seas in the English Channel, the ship tried to find shelter in Poole Harbour. Despite the crew’s efforts the ship’s anchor didn’t hold in the storm and the ship was blown onto a sandbank and broken into pieces. The crew and ship’s Master survived, however the booty was scattered and scavenged by people on the beaches of Poole.


For more stories of Maritime history including a close look at two of our Navy’s most famous ships, the Mary Rose and the Victory, join Dr Ian Friel on Andante Travels’ Maritime Portsmouth study days.

You can read more on this research project on Dr Friel’s blog here.


Studland Bay looking towards entrance to Poole Harbour

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