Discovery of Wrecks Raises the Prospect of the Age-Old and Delicate Question, 'Can We Have Our Ship Back Please?'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 24, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Discovery of Wrecks Raises the Prospect of the Age-Old and Delicate Question, 'Can We Have Our Ship Back Please?'


Byline: By Rhodri Clark Western Mail

An elgin Marbles-style tug of war could be brewing over the remains of a ship that is about to be excavated off the Welsh coast.

Part of the hull of the sailing ship City of Ottawa is to be raised from Rhyl harbour in the next three months, and already Canada is staking a claim.

Meanwhile, growing evidence that a 15th-century ship excavated in Newport was built in France could trigger calls for those timbers to be repatriated.

Newport-based historian Robert Trett has uncovered letters written by the Earl of Warwick in the 15th century relating to ships in the area. One relates to a ship called the Marie de Bayonne while another refers to repairs required on a ship at Newport in 1469. Experts restoring the remains of the ship have already established it was on wooden struts when it was abandoned in 1468 or shortly afterwards.

The discovery of a French coin - which had been carefully stuck to the ship's timbers by its builders as a good-luck charm - indicates that the ship was built in France.

If the remains are those of the Marie de Bayonne, the vessel would be linked with the city of Bayonne in the Aquitaine region of France. For three centuries, until 1453, this region was ruled by English monarchs and played a key role in England's European trade and commerce.

Davide Rodogno, a Frenchman who lectures at the Centre for French History and Culture at the University of St Andrews, said yesterday that the ship's French connection might provoke calls for the remains to be returned to France.

He said, "On the one hand, they might claim they want the ship back.

"On the other hand, knowing French bureaucracy, I think they will not get it back."

He said Anglo-French co-operation would be better than confrontation.

Michael Bowyer, a retired marine archaeologist in Bangor, said, "I would suggest that the first question that would be asked by the Newport people would be, 'Pay us for the work we've already done'.

"When you have a boat like that, you've then got to have premises to store it in. The conservation doesn't stop when it goes on display."

Mr Bowyer is involved in the imminent excavation of the remains of the City of Ottawa, built in Canada in 1860. It was abandoned in Rhyl harbour after being damaged in a storm in 1906, but must be moved before work begins on redeveloping the area.

The timbers constitute the biggest remains of any Canadian ship of its kind, and Ottawa's city hall has an exhibition about the vessel.

Ottawa city councillor Rainer Bloess has called for the timbers to be returned to Canada, and wants the city clerk to write a formal letter to the relevant authorities in Wales.

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