History of the Sapphire
The H.M.S. Sapphire sank in
Bay Bulls Harbour during an engagement with a French squadron on September 11,
1696. This is one of Canada's earliest shipwrecks and is the only vessel of its
size that sunk in Newfoundland during the English/French conflict over control
of the cod fisheries. Thousands of artifacts were recovered from the shipwreck
site during two archaeological investigations in the 1970s, providing us with
knowledge of life on-board a vessel during the 17th century and, indeed, adding
to our knowledge of life in general during that time. The value of the H.M.S.
Sapphire to our cultural heritage has already been acknowledged through its
designation as a Provincial Historic Site in 1975.
The wreck of the Sapphire is
now an under-water Canadian historical site. About 300 artifacts have been
retrieved. These include a "bleeding bowl," candlesticks and a dinner
bell. It is hoped that a marine museum will be eventually established at Bay
Bulls to house them. The wreck of the San Juan and the Sapphire are two of the
earliest identified wrecks in Canadian waters.
The Department of Tourism,
Culture and Recreation is continuing to develop private and public partnerships
in an effort to further advance the development of the province's tourism
product. One area where there is great potential is the investigation and
interpretation of our ship wrecks. Our history derives from the ocean and as a
result has experienced many sea disasters over hundreds of years. While always
tragic, these ship wrecks provide archaeologists and historians with valuable
information on our marine heritage. Thousands of these sites lie off our shores.
Many of these ship wrecks
are threatened through the passage of time, actions of the sea and looting of
artifacts. As a result, much of this valuable information is lost for all time,
as is the opportunity to study, interpret and develop important aspects of our
maritime heritage. One shipwreck which has tremendous development potential to
increase public awareness of this heritage and to become a major tourist
attraction is the H.M.S. Sapphire.
Because of the significance
of this wreck, I am pleased to be able to inform honorable members that the
government has committed $25,000 for the completion of a feasibility study
relating to the establishment of an H.M.S. Sapphire Interpretation Centre in the
community of Bay Bulls. I am also pleased to inform honorable members that Mr.
Cle Newhook and Mr. Don Beaubier have been elected as interim company principles
for the H.M.S. Sapphire Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation set up to
oversee research and development pertaining to the shipwreck. The foundation has
hired Axis Consulting Inc. to complete the feasibility study. It is expected
that the study will take several months at which time the findings will be
presented to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation and the H.M.S.
Bulls has the dubious distinction of having been captured by enemy forces more
often then any harbour in Newfoundland. The first French raid in September, 1696
by Placentia Governor St. Ovide de Brouillan, resulted in the sinking of the HMS
Sapphire which was a British fifth rate frigate, after a two hour battle.
Hopelessly outnumbered, Captain Thomas Cleasly set
fire to his ship before escaping into the surrounding woods. A French
boarding party tried to put out the fire, but the flames reached the powder
room, resulting in a number of French casualties. The wreck of the Sapphire was
proclaimed a historic site in 1975.
Being one of the oldest positively identified wrecks in Canadian waters
and one of few to have been sunk in a military action. The wreck is near the
site of the new wharf.
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