Firebrand Shipwreck Recording Project

The aim of the Firebrand Shipwreck Recording Project is to record the shipwreck of Her Majesty's fire-ship Firebrand which lies under the cold, clear waters off the Isles of Scilly on the south-west tip of England. The archaeological project is a joint venture between CISMAS and Bristol University Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The Firebrand

The Firebrand was a purpose-built fire-ship that was launched at Limehouse on the River Thames in 1694. During her 13-year career she saw service in Newfoundland, the English Channel, the Mediterranean and the West Indies. In 1707 Firebrand was part of Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet in the Mediterranean at the siege of Toulon. As winter approached, Sir Cloudesley set off for England with part of his fleet; 21 ships including the fire-ships Firebrand, Griffin, Phoenix and Vulcan. Having miscalculated their position, the fleet ran into the Western Rocks off Scilly on the night of 22nd October 1707. Three ships, Eagle, Romney and the flagship Association were lost with only a single survivor between them. Firebrand also struck the rocks and foundered less than a mile from the island of St Agnes. Of the 45 crew members, 25 - including Captain Percy - managed to reach the safety of St Agnes. Over 1500 men perished, making it one of the worst disasters in British naval history. The events led to the Longitude Act of 1714 where £20,000 was offered to anyone who could solve the navigation problem that led to the loss of these fine ships


Originally these were old vessels adapted as fire-ships, but by the 17th century the Royal Navy was having purpose-built fire-ships constructed. Fire-ships were specialised attack craft, but were rarely used as such; they spent their working lives as 'sloops-of-war'. Fire-ships were used with success in a number of actions including those by Drake against the Spanish in 1588, de Ruyter against the English fleet in 1672 and by Shovell against the French at La Hogue in 1692. The beginning of the 19th century saw the last fire-ships built by the Royal Navy

Firebrand vital statistics


92’ 3” (28.1m)


25’ 5” (7.7m)


9’ 7”   (2.9m)




6 minions (c.3lb)
2 falconets (c.1.5lb)
Crew 45


Limehouse by John Haydon

Ordered 13th December 1693
Launched 31st March 1694


22nd October 1707

The Site

The wreck of the Firebrand lies on a gently sloping seabed at a depth of 25 to 30m; the seabed consists of regions of sand lying over coarse granite bedrock. The wreck lies with her bow to the south and is flanked to the east and west by low-lying granite reefs. The visible wreckage consists of several areas of exposed oak timber, four large bower anchors, two smaller kedge and stream anchors as well as eight iron guns. The seabed is covered with concreted ironwork as well as a number of exposed small items from the wreck. Most of the wreckage appears to be in situ. A striking exception is the gun and bower anchor standing propped against each other at the northern end of the site.


Click here for the HMS Firebrand site plan

Click Here for the HMS Firebrand site plan


Previous Work

The wreck of Firebrand was located in 1981 by a team led by Roland Morris, a Penzance salvor and private shipwreck museum owner. The team recovered a number of items from the wreck including the ship's bell, a nocturnal (a navigational instrument) and a carved wooden cherub. They also made a sketch of the exposed remains. The ship's bell is owned by Mark Groves, but the whereabouts of the other items is not known. In 2006 a survey of the seabed remains was started as a field school for Bristol University post-graduate archaeology students. The survey was continued in 2007 by the present team, the work concentrating on detailed recording of the exposed wreck material and seabed topography. In 2008 the survey of the material exposed on the seabed was completed.

2009 Season

The project work will continue in 2009 and the aims for this season of fieldwork include:

• Complete the topographic recording of the area around the wreck
• Establish the extent and preservation of the buried elements of the wreck
• Determine which physical remains are peculiar to Firebrand’s role as a fire-ship
• Undertake research into site recording techniques and methods


Our principle sponsor for this project is Sonardyne International Limited. To date they have supported every season’s work with grants as well as loaning valuable survey equipment.

In 2008 our sponsors were:

Sonardyne International Ltd
Isles of Scilly Steamship Company
3H Consulting
Kerrier Developments
Ambient Pressure Diving
Bristol University


The Firebrand project is funded entirely by sponsorship and donations. If you are interested in supporting this project please contact:

Kevin Camidge
Telephone 01736 365429