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Team studies wreck of French frigate lost in Kingstown in 1780

Team studies wreck of French frigate lost in Kingstown in 1780
Divers on the wreck of the Junon, Photo : Jean-Sébastien Guibert (Université des Antilles / AAPA).

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A project focusing on the study of the wreck of a French frigate has taken place in Kingstown. This mission, according to a release, is the last one of a broader project focusing on naval shipwrecks that occurred during the US revolutionary war 1775-1783 in the Lesser Antilles. Two missions already took place in 2021 in English Harbour (Antigua) and in Castries (Saint-Lucia) carried out by the University of the French West Indies.

Team studies wreck of French frigate lost in Kingstown in 1780
The wreck of the Seimstrand 1984 (background) and the copper alloy sheathing of the Junon’s stern 1780 (Foreground), Photo : Claude Michaud (Université des Antilles / AAPA).

The St-Vincent project supported by the St-Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust consists of an assessment of a known site originally investigated in 1997-1998 by the Institute of Maritime History (IMH) and Florida State University (FSU) directed by David Johnson, Stefan Claesson and Chuck Meide. The late 1990s project produced an accurate map of the shipwreck and other data indicating it was a French frigate lost in the late 1770s or early 1780s, disproving the hypotheses that it could be the 80-ton British slave ship Africa or a British warship. Analysis of a collection of artifacts collected before the 1990s investigation, and of a cannon raised by the IMH/FSU team which was afterwards conserved in St. Vincent, left no doubt as to the French origin of the wreck. Recent archival research indicates the likely possibility that this shipwreck is that of the Junon, a 32-gun frigate built in Rochefort, and the sister ship of the famous Hermione. Junon was sent from Martinique in order to supply the St-Vincent hospital with gear and was lost after anchoring in Kingstown Harbour in the Great Hurricane of 1780 on 11th October. Chuck Meide, currently the Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, has joined the team from the University of the French West Indies, to re-investigate this shipwreck after 23 years.

The 2021 Kingstown wrecks project consisted in surveying the site with a multi beam sonar in order to localize precisely the different modern wrecks of Nomad and Seimstrand sunk in 1984, but also the vestiges of the Junon located in a very close area. Then scuba diving and rebreather diving took place in order to make an assessment on the site formation processes and to check if and how the site changed since the late 1990s project. The last goal of the project was to carry on a 3D photogrammetric model of the site.

This first year of the project could cause the team to come back in order to study naval shipbuilding and material culture of this vessel.

This project is a collaboration between the University of the French West Indies (AIHP GEODE), Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust, and supported by AAPA and Serenity Dive. Funding for this initial exploration came from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, French Ministry of Defense, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Overseas Martinique Convergence Contract (Prefecture of Martinique and the Collectivité Territoriale de Martinique) and by in-kind support.

The team comprised Jean-Sébastien Guibert (mission leader), Guy Lanoix (Hyperbaric operation leader), Gilbert Labonne (survey leader), Claude Michaud (photographer), Olivier Beauroy Eustache (captain) from the University of the French West Indies ; Chuck Meide (archaeological diver) from LAMP and Lilla Carnell Guyon (logistic) from the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust.

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