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La Surveillante - new detailed documentation of the 1797 frigate wreck

Scientists investigating the wreck of the frigate La Surveillante at the bottom of Bantry Bay have taken new photographs of the vessel that illustrate its state of preservation. The collaboration between INFOMAR and the National Monuments Service has borne further fruit. This time it is a wonderful documentation of Ireland’s underwater cultural heritage. Last autumn
Published: June 10, 2021 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 22:44
La Surveillante – new detailed documentation of the 1797 frigate wreck

Scientists investigating the wreck of the frigate La Surveillante at the bottom of Bantry Bay have taken new photographs of the vessel that illustrate its state of preservation.

The collaboration between INFOMAR and the National Monuments Service has borne further fruit. This time it is a wonderful documentation of Ireland’s underwater cultural heritage. Last autumn the RV Keary unit re-examined the wreck of the 1797 French frigate La Surveillante.

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Scientists aboard the Celtic Voyager vessel surveyed the site back in 2007. Documentation was done as part of the initial INFOMAR survey in Bantry Bay. A re-survey of La Surveillante was carried out at the end of September last year. The data obtained includes, among other things, high-resolution photographs of the wreck, which show in great detail its current state of preservation.

Comparison of photos from 20 years
Photos taken over 20 years show that the situation on the wreck is fairly stable Photo National Monuments Service & INFOMAR
Expedition 2020

The new, highly detailed photographs are certainly sensational. Without a doubt, they perfectly show the final resting place of the French warships with all its details. Among the most impressive details are (apart from the state of preservation) cannons as armament La Surveillante. The collected material clearly shows the structure of the wreck and a number of archaeological objects inside.

The photographic documentation taken by INFOMAR researchers clearly shows that the wreck has settled evenly on its keel and the cannons are still in place. These are the best photographs ever taken of the wreck of the frigate La Surveillante. The vessel remained undiscovered at the bottom of Bantry Bay for almost 200 years. Her trace was encountered in 1981, during a marine survey after the 1979 Whiddy Island oil terminal disaster.

Le Surveilllante - historical image
La Surveillante at the battle of Le Kebeck, 6 October 1779, painting of 1811 by Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux, Newport Maritime Museum Collection
Failed Invasion

La Surveillante, was a three-masted warship of the 18th century. It had a hull fully encased in copper and was armed with 32 iron guns. It is certainly worth mentioning that the frigate took part in several successful naval engagements against the British during the American War of Independence (1775-1782).

From 1796 onwards, however, the story of La Surveillante is firmly linked with Ireland. The ship was part of the French fleet that was involved in a failed attempt to invade Ireland and overthrow English rule in the country. Bad weather combined with poor command from the start piled up problems before the success of the whole campaign. As a result, they also led to the dispersal of a fleet of 48 ships. Although many of them eventually reached the coast of County Cork in December 1796, they had to turn back to France due to bad weather.

Thefrigate La Surveillante was no longer seaworthy at this point. Her crew and the cavalry and other troops on board were transferred to other vessels. To prevent the British from taking over the ship, she was sunk in the port of Bantry.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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