H.M.S. Solebay and Maritime Archaeological Heritage Preservation in Nevis, West Indies
MetadataShow full item record
In 2010, the discovery of a wreck identified as HMS Solebay off Nevis’ southwest seacoast prompted an investigation by a graduate student from Texas A&M University and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, in collaboration with local and international partners. Team members documented the site with standard, low-tech, nonintrusive, archaeological recording methods. Nautical archaeology in Nevis is still a nascent discipline, one that should be pursued for the importance of seaborne commerce and warfare to the island’s historical evolution within the British Empire. The island is amongst the oldest English Caribbean colonies and in the 17th century was the richest of the Leeward Islands through slave-labored sugar plantations. Solebay’s story reveals the British naval experience during the American Revolution from the perspective of a crew manning a lower echelon warship. Built in 1763, deployed to America in 1776, and lost in the 1782 Battle of Frigate Bay, it transcended a vigorous period in British naval architecture, and technological innovations including coppered hulls and the introduction of carronades. Solebay exposes the challenges and rewards of studying this maritime heritage in Nevis. Solebay’s violent destruction and subsequent site formation, onto a volcanic seafloor in dynamic tropical waters, has largely precluded the survival of ship timbers or other organic materials. However, metal artifacts and six iron guns have been documented and the microenvironment has afforded unforeseen positive benefits. Shallow deposition and natural exposure permitted the recovery of 72 artifacts for full conservation and diagnostic analysis, complementing the archival evidence. Interpretations support the wreck’s identity and suggest resourceful adaptive wartime behaviors on the part of her crew. While Solebay remains British crown property under international sovereign immunity laws, the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society has been entrusted as the cultural steward. Conserved artifacts exhibited in the Alexander Hamilton Museum, Charlestown, Nevis, educate the public about Solebay, its story, and more importantly, the value of protecting and studying shipwrecks. This project serves Nevisians and the Federal government in St. Kitts as a case study for advancing underwater cultural heritage policy on this site and future discoveries.
Cartellone, Chris (2015). H.M.S. Solebay and Maritime Archaeological Heritage Preservation in Nevis, West Indies. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from