Cape Verde 1874 - 1889

Text: Peter Taylor

   Gallery    Home    Legislation    Links    Members    Project Index   

The Cape Verde was an iron sailing ship of 1786 tons built 1874 in Glasgow. Scotland, by T. Wingate & Co. The Cape Verde had one bulkhead, two decks poop deck of 41.5 ft, forecastle deck of 36.25 ft, freeboard amidships of 5 ft and was classified by Lloyd's as Al for iron ships. The Cape Verde was run down and sunk by the Iolanthe on the 23rd June 1889, off Williamstown. The site was relocated by Frank Derksen and myself in March 1987. The story of her sinking is interesting enough, but what happened to her afterwards is even more so.

It seemed to everyone that the Cape Verde would pose no problems to be raised. The owners must have thought otherwise, as they sold the 20,000 pounds vessel for 1,200 pounds and took the 13,000 pounds insurance money.

The syndicate that bought the vessel thought they had a real bargain. Work started in August on building a cofferdam. Problems began to appear even then as the Underwriters Association who had charge of the cargo were getting in the way of the new owners. At one stage one of the owners cut through two beams which held scaffolding on which 100 men were standing. Fortunately a truce was worked out before they all disappeared into the water.

Luck was still missing in March 1890, for about 60 feet of cofferdam was carried away in a storm. Pumping began sometime after this, and in August the same year two 15 inch pumps, that had been used on the wreck of the Holyhead were put into use, but without success.

In March of 1891, operations still continued on the Cape Verde. Five pumps were used by the tug Eagle. After they all began to work, the tugs Albatross and Rescue tried towing. They commenced at 11 o' clock in the morning and continued until 2 in the afternoon. Just for good measure, a charge of nitroglycerin was set off to try and break the suction. There was no success, only two broken 5 inch wire ropes. Things were getting desperate for the syndicate as they had sunk 12,000 pounds themselves.

In October 1891, tenders were invited by the Customs Dept. for the removal of the Cape Verde, as the owners had been unable to remove the sunken vessel. One suggestion put forward was to drive piles around the sunken ship, and turn it into a lighthouse. This however, came to nothing.

A Mr Long was given the contract for removing the Cape Verde for 6,850 pounds. Mr Long had four large wooden cylinders built. They were 50 feet long X 19 foot 6 inches in diameter. These were to be used to refloat the ship. This however, was unsuccessful as well.

The next major event involving the Cape Verde happened in 1893 when the small tug, Pilot, was sent out to remove one of the cylinders in a strong south-west wind. Unfortunately, a hawser became entangled in the propeller, causing the tug to founder. Diver Beckett went down on the Monday after and found the vessel a complete wreck. This was in March of 1893.

There was not much news of the Cape Verde until early 1895, when it had been mentioned that the vessel was being removed by blasting. By this time a fourth contractor was involved.

In June the same year all but 600 tons of the vessel remained. However, this was left as it was no danger to navigation, and would have been buried in the mud. With this much of the wreck being left behind, the full contract was not paid out. This being so, Diver Beckett was short changed, and so according to the paper, Beckett was going to sue the contractor.

What's to be seen of the Cape Verde now? For the person who loves mud, this is a great place. For a person who enjoys a bit more shipwreck, they will surely be disappointed. The visibility in the area would rarely be more than three metres, most times it is less than one. The area has been visited a few times since finding. A number of objects have been seen exposed on the surface or half buried. One of the objects looked like the remains of a lime, plaster, or cement barrel, the wood has disappeared leaving the shape moulded in the material, (see drawing). Another item suggesting this is the remains of a sailing ship is a piece of fife rail about a metre and a half long with holes for belaying pins, (see drawing). Also protruding here and there are pieces of iron plating. A hole was dug in the mud to sample the bottom, and found a layer of soft brown mud on the top, while under this there is black mud that sticks like glue - any wonder they couldn't raise the Cape Verde out of this.

  • Do you have any comments or questions regarding the Cape Verde project report?
  • If you have dived on the Cape Verde have you any comments concerning the site?
  • Do you have any information / photographs historical or otherwise which you believe may be useful to the MAAV for inclusion in the project report?
  • Full credit will be given to any material if published.

Your comments are appreciated.

This site was constructed and is maintained by Eric F. Langenberg.

The contents of this site - text, images, and data - are intended for personal information only.
   Written permission from the M.A.A.V. is required for the publication of any material.
  Any use of this material should credit the Maritime Archaeology Association Of Victoria.
Copyright (c) 1999 : Maritime Archaeology Association Of Victoria, Inc.     All rights reserved.
Last modified: June, 2011