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Poland, Gdansk

Date: 1996, Jul. 1999

Area: Debki in the Pasnitz estuary, ca. 100km off Gdansk

Goals: British merchantman GENERAL CARLETON OF WHITBY 1777, German salvage tug ARNGAST

Type: Excavation

Project leader: Dr. Waldemar Ossowski

Project partner: Polish Maritime Museum


  • Babits, L.; Ossowski, W. 1999. 1785 Common Sailor's Clothing and a Ship's Camboose from the General Carleton of Whitby, in: A. Askins Neidinger, M. A. Russell (eds.) Underwater Archaeology. Society for Historical Archaeology. Tucson p. 115-122.
  • Bartelt, U.; Knepel, G. 2001. Untersuchung eines neuzeitlichen Wracks in der Ostsee, in: SKYLLIS 3.1. 2000. Pretzfeld. p. 51-53. View article >
  • Ossowski, W. (ed.). 2008. The General Carleton Shipwreck, 1785. Wrak Statku General Carleton, 1785. Gdańsk: Polish Maritime Museum.



Short report: Poland 1996

Authors: Dr. Andreas M. Stolpe and Lars Achenbach


Two years ago a wreck was discovered by sport-divers off Dembki in the Piasnitz estuary, about 100 km to the west of Gdansk (Poland). 

In the nomenclature of the Polish Maritime Museum this wreck is registered as W32. In 1995 the first excavations on this wreck were carried out. The port side was then entirely exposed. The archaeologists were fortunate: They found the ship's bell, on which the name of the ship was engraved: GENERAL CARLETON OF WHITBY 1777. This favourable circumstance allowed the archaeologists to carry out some further research on the background of the sinking of GENERAL CARLETON.

The researchers met first indications through studies of ship registers of the insurance agengy Lloyds. The launching of the merchantman took place in 1777 in Whitby. It was a 500 ton vessel commanded by captain T. Pyman on its maiden voyage to Riga. The archives yielded the ship's payroll, according to which the ship had a crew of 25 men. The captain of the ship was William Hustler since 1781. Apart from the captain, there was a mate, a cook, a carpenter, 14 regular seamen and 7 servants on board.

According to the list, all crew members met their end when the ship sunk on 27th September 1785. The payroll finishes with the note: "drowned; 15811 6/4 £", i.e the cause of death and the outstanding pay, to be given to the bereaved. Local newspapers reported in the week of the sinking of GENERAL CARLETON about strong autumn gales. From these information the dramatic end of the once proud merchantman become vivdly imaginable.

Moreover the archive studies revealed that Mrs. Margaret Campion was the owner of GENERAL CARLETON at the time of the sinking. Her husband Nathaniel came from a well-known shipowner-family and was a captain himself. He passed away in the age of 52 in 1783. Mrs. Margret Campion took over the merchant fleet after his death and enlarged the fleet to one of the greatest British merchant fleets in these days. Her influence was so great, that she controlled the Russia-trade with her fleet in the Baltic Sea. Mrs. Campion established in these days a bank and became arguably also the first female banker in Britain.

Whitby was a flourishing town in the 18th century, which lived on its sea trade. The town had the sixth largest port in Britain and had close trade connections to Russia. Most of the cargo was destined to the Memel area or to St. Peterburg. Mainly earthenwares, porcelain pipes, cork and lead was exported. Mostly timber was loaded for homeward voyages.

The wreck of GENERAL CARLETON lies about half a nautical mile off the shore in the estuary of the small Piasnitz River in a depth if ca. 6 to 7 m. It is lined up in a northerly direction and points with its bow to the shore.

Only the lowermost part of the hull is still preserved. The wreck measures 29.5 m from the stem to the stern and its breadth amounts to 8 m. At the beginning of the excavation only the uppermost parts of the frames projected out of the sand. Hence the wreck offered no surface to currents.

This was changed through the excavation. The wreck shifts depending on the erosion of the surrounding sands. Single finds are hence not made outside of the wreck and could also not be expected there. The hull is mainly built of oak and is slightly tilted to the starboard side.

The outer planking as well is the inner (ceiling) planking is partly well preserved. The planks with a height of between 30 to 50cm are fastened to the frames with treenails (diameter 3cm). On some of the treenails 'lead sheathing' is still detectable as protection to make it waterproof. Only the heavy frames remained of the ship's sides.

The speciality about wreck W32 is the fact that it had loaded also tar. During the sinking of GENERAL CARLETON the tar barrels were smashed and their content poured out over the inner part of the vessel. Together with the sands of the Baltic Sea and under the affect of over 200 years of sea water, the tar has become a kind of asphalt. All sealed artefacts had been in this way well preserved and their position was fixed in the wreck. Small finds were mainly made in the asphalt encrustations and in between planks and wooden constructions. In the advancing excavations also pistols, clothing made of wool and leather, a thermometer, pottery, glass tubes and coins were recovered. The most spectacular finds were shoe buckles of tin.


In the 1996 campaign, during the cooperation between the Maritime Museum and the DEGUWA, the starboard side of GENERAL CARLETON was tackled. Due to the shallow depth of the site, the underwater works were carried out (apart from using conventional  compressed-air diving apparata) with closed-circuit  breathing apparata. This facilitated more efficient diving operations of up to 3 hours. In order to reach the deposit with the encrusted finds, we had to remove a sand layer of 2 m thickness with an airlift. It turned out that the ship had also a cargo of iron bars on board. The iron bars were heavily corroded and backed together as an impenetrable tangle. In the next step we removed these iron bars and plates. This was partly achieved by using the anchor winch of the research vessel; the tractive force parted the bars. The small finds were chisseled out with a pneumatic hammer from the wooden planks and were lifted on board of KASZUBSKI BRZEG. Apart from parts of the rig, some porcellain pipes, pistol bullets, fragments of brass jugs and a brass telescope were uncovered. The excavation of the encrusted finds-complex of W32 will certainly be finished in 1996. The substantial find material could be admired at the Maritime Museum of Gdansk as soon as it will have been restored and scholarly evaluated. The wreck itself remains in situ. An ensuing conservation of GENERAL CARLETON is not intended.



Due to strong prevailing currents it can be anticipated that the wrecksite will be covered by sands within a short period. Hence ensuing destructions through sport-divers could be ruled out. Fishing in these waters is only sporadically carried out in small fishing craft. The progressive salting up of the Baltic Sea, which results in the spread of the shipworm (teredo navalis), has not been confirmed yet in these waters. Hence conditions prevail at the moment, which suggest that an in situ conservation is the best conservation method.

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