Wreckage of US Revolutionary warship Bonhomme Richard found after 239 years

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Wreckage of US Revolutionary warship Bonhomme Richard found after 239 years

December 31, 2018 - 14:12
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Previously believed to be some six miles out to sea, explorers now say the wreck site is walkable from the beach and visible from the cliffs above.

The Bonhomme Richard, 1779. Copy of artwork by F. Muller, 1883

Battle of Flamborough Head

The Revolutionary War vessel Bonhomme Richard was one of the U.S. Navy's first commissioned fighting ships. Captained by the legendary John Paul Jones, the 42-gun frigate was a gift from France originally named Duc de Duras. On 23 September 1779, Bonhomme Richard engaged in fierce combat with HMS Seripis during the Battle of Flamborough Head off the English coast. Although emerging victorious from the battle, Bonhomme Richard was irreparably damaged, and, despite all the efforts to save the ship, sank into the North Sea on 25 September 1779.

The clash is also immortalized in a famous quote from Jones. During the closing stages of the battle, Bonhomme Richard’s mast was hit above the top-sail, sending a large section of the mast and the ship’s Colors crashing to the deck near Jones’s feet. “Serapis called out, ‘Have you struck your Colors?’ Resoundingly, John Paul Jones exclaimed, ‘Struck Sir? I have not yet begun to fight!’," according to U.S. Navy.

Years of search

Its location had been a mystery for decades and American explorers have over the years spent an estimated $200m on trying to find what is left of Bonhomme Richard. Since 2005, US Naval History and Heritage Command has collaborated on several surveys in search of the remains of the Bonhomme Richard in the North Sea, but none of them were successful. One season's attempts to locate and retrieve the ship, or some artifacts from her, using USNS Grasp were filmed for the Discovery Channel's Mighty Ships series in 2011.

Found off the beach

In 2018, the remains of the Bonhomme Richard were found off the coast of Filey, North Yorkshire, England, by the Land and Sea search team Merlin Burrows, a marine archeology firm based in Harrogate, which has now registered the site with the Government receiver. “It’s one of the most significant elements that make up the founding history of the of the USA, and it’s right on our doorstep,” Bruce Blackburn, chief executive of Merlin Burrows, told the Yorkshire Post. “It’s not where everyone thought it was going to be. We have made a brand spanking new determination of where the wreck is actually located.”

“You can walk out on to the wreck from the shore. You can literally go to the beach and look in the water and see where it is. And you can go on the cliffs and look down on it and see the shadow’s outline. The question for the community is, who owns the land and who will build a visitor centre on it.”

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