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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. Sapphire Foundation.  

Bay 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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