Wreck of British Warship Sunk in the 18th Century Identified Off the Coast of Florida

Photo Credit: Brett Seymour / National Park Service / Press Release
Photo Credit: Brett Seymour / National Park Service / Press Release

Archaeologists with the National Park Service (NPS) have identified the wreck of a centuries-old British warship that was found off the coast of the Florida Keys in 1993. The HMS Tyger sank within the boundaries of what is now Dry Tortugas National Park in the 18th century during the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

Aerial view of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key
Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, in Dry Tortugas National Park, 2004. (Photo Credit: U.S. National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Launched in 1647, the HMS Tyger, a 38-gun fourth rate frigate, served with the Royal Navy for nearly a century, participating in the English Civil War and the First and Second Anglo-Dutch Wars. Rebuilt several times during her career, the ship was serving in the War of Jenkins’ Ear when she ran aground on a reef in the Dry Tortugas, as her crew had misidentified the location as the Reques Keys.

When it became clear Tyger wouldn’t budge, her crew of 300 left the ship and became stranded on what is today Garden Key, the second-largest island in the Dry Tortugas. They spent 66 days there, building what became the land mass’ first fortifications and surviving swarms of mosquitos, extreme heat and a lack of drinkable water. They even built boats from the frigate’s wood, which they used to search for help and launch a failed attack on a Spanish ship.

To ensure Tyger‘s armaments wouldn’t be taken by the Spanish forces, the vessel was burned, sinking to where she lies today.

The vessel’s remains were first located in 1993, but they weren’t identified until recently, after years of work by the Southeast Archaeological Center, the Submerged Resources Center and archaeologists with Dry Tortugas National Park. Their research, which began in 2021, uncovered not only five cannons several hundred yards from the wreck, but logbooks that confirmed the weapons belonged to Tyger.

According to a press release by the National Park Service, the six- and nine-pound cannons were thrown overboard when Tyger first ran aground, in an attempt to lighten the ship’s load and refloat her.

“Archaeological finds are exciting, but connecting those finds to the historical record helps us tell the stories of the people that came before us and the events they experienced,” Park Manager James Crutchfield said in the release. “This particular story is one of perseverance and survival. National Parks help to protect these untold stories as they come to life.”

Maritime archaeologist Josh Morano, who led the team, added, “This discovery highlights the importance of preservation in place as future generations of archaeologists, armed with more advanced technologies and research tools, are able to reexamine sites and make new discoveries.”

Image of several ships in Cadiz Harbour
HMS Tyger taking the Dutch vessel Schakerloo, 1674. (Photo Credit: Daniel Schellinks / NMM Prints / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

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The team’s findings were published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Given the positive identification, the wreck of the HMS Tyger is now afforded protection under the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, along with those already given under regulations related to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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