Exploring the site of Ilfracombe’s mystery ‘slave ship’

Filming off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London.
Filming off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London.

A film crew and archaeologists have been exploring the mystery of the infamous ship wreck of The London at Rapparee Cove in Ilfracombe.

Archaeologists onboard a boat off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London. Archaeologists onboard a boat off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London.

The director, who asked not to be named, spoke exclusively to the Gazette and said the filming was in its very earliest stages, but he was working on the idea of a series telling the stories of interesting shipwrecks.

Investigations led by Professor Mark Horton of the BBC’s Coast fame have focussed on the beach and possible underwater sites of the 1796 wreck, working over the weekend to take advantage of the low tides.

Many believe the ship was carrying around 60 black slaves when it wrecked one October afternoon while travelling from St Lucia to Bristol and in 1997 Prof Horton and local historian Pat Barrow led a dig which found human bones on the beach.

Mr Barrow also produced a book – Slaves of Rapparee: The Wreck of the London.

Filming off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London. Filming off Rapparee Cove over the possible site of the 1796 wreck of the London.

It is thought as many as 60-100 bodies might still lie beneath the cliffs and has long been debated whether the victims were slaves or perhaps prisoners of war.

The director, who has spent the past few months travelling the globe documenting sites of ship wrecks, said: “It’s very early in the production process, but it was an opportunity to come and document it in the cove.

“There’s a surveying element to find targets which could be part of the ship and the second stage might be to come and try to dig it out. Once they know what they have got they will decide if they are coming back or not.

“I am still waiting for the analysis, but I think ship wrecks are amazing tools to tell the historical stories in interesting ways, it’s like a detective story, you have to figure out what happened.”

Rapparee Cove in Ilfracombe. Picture: Steve Daniels Rapparee Cove in Ilfracombe. Picture: Steve Daniels

He said he had been amazed by the high rise and fall of the tide in this part of the world, but said the scenery and cliffs were beautiful.

The crew has visited Ilfracombe Museum and worked with staff as part of their research, because the museum has a painting depicting the London being wrecked.

Manager Sara Hodson said they had been pleased to assist the project and it is believed the painting by John Walters was created soon after the wreck and it is possible he may even have witnessed it.

The discovery of the bones sparked controversy at the time, with African activists calling for the bones to be returned there, while the Caribbean island of St Lucia maintained the men may have been freedom fighters and should be repatriated.


This may also interest you

Most Read

Latest from North Devon Gazette

Newsletter Sign Up

North Devon Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Enjoy the North Devon Gazette digital edition

Find planning applications in North Devon - planning finder