J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Second Look at the Bonhomme Richard

After yesterday’s report on a claim to have found John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard, Peter Ansoff left a comment about similar weak points about a similar claim from 2010. So I did some more poking around.

It looks to me like there are at least two rival groups of searchers. The Filey Bay Research Group, including Tony Green and Don Shomette, made the earlier claim. I don’t see any overlap with the men behind this month’s announcement, Tim Akers and the Merlin Burrows research firm (shown here).

I also came across the recent reports in the Express and the Daily Mail, and they gave me a new perspective on the mystery. Here’s the Express version:
Mr Akers said: “I had long thought this wreck was the remains of the Bonhomme Richard (BHR) but many marked down the site as belonging to the HMS Nautilus, a ship which sank in 1799.

“After researching the Nautilus and her loss, I found it could not be her because the description of her loss differed from this location.

“On our very first dive we knew we had found the BHR. From the finds and identifiable evidence, combined with the descriptions of the battle and both ships logs, we are convinced this is indeed the famous ship.”

Previous diving expeditions discovered a wrecked wooden ship, but it was never confirmed as the Bonhomme.

Mr Akers added: “There are only two wooden warship wrecks in the bay, one is the HMS Nautilus, the other is the BHR.

“The Nautilus broke up in a storm with no loss of life and the Royal Navy stripped the wreck of everything.

“Our wreck is littered with objects which can be identified in relation to the battle and burning. Our underwater filming clearly shows the burst guns, multiple artefacts and cannon balls.

“Ship stern decoration, ships bells, a figure head of a rampant lion and rigging are also all visible.[”]
As I quoted yesterday, Akers and his colleagues said that their Bonhomme Richard is close to shore and easily visible, yet they declined to identify the exact site to keep it secure. The Express and Daily Mail reports suggest the wreckage they’re looking at is the same that has long been identified as the Nautilus. In other words, this month’s development isn’t a new archeological find but a new interpretation of an established find. And who knows? It might be correct. Or might not.

As in the previously quoted news stories, those two papers emphasized the value for tourism around Filey Bay. As a result, I can’t help viewing this whole story of finding and refinding a famous American warship as a British village comedy in the vein of Whiskey Galore! and Local Hero.

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