HMS Gloucester: Ancient artefacts from warship wreck to be seen publicly for first time in Norfolk

  • The Barnwell brothers told ITV News Anglia about their incredible discovery in June 2022

Artefacts from a 17th-century royal shipwreck that stayed secret for 15 years will be able to be viewed by the public for the first time.

An exhibition at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery will tell the story of how two scuba-diving brothers, Lincoln and Julian Barnwell, found the wreck of the HMS Gloucester off the Norfolk coast in 2007 after a search that had lasted four years and covered 5,000 nautical miles.

The display, co-curated by Norfolk Museums Service and UEA, will also explore the ship’s fateful final voyage and the work to retrieve, conserve and research some of its artefacts. 

The ship had gone down in 1682 in a sinking that almost killed the future King James II, and cost the lives of up to 250 people.

The wreck and its cargo then lay untouched for 325 years, some 28 miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth - until the brothers finally struck gold.

The exhibition will also look at the history of the ship and the events of the wreck. It will paint a picture of what life was like onboard before disaster struck and explore what led to the tragedy. 

The discovery is considered to be the most significant maritime find since the Mary Rose. Credit: UEA

Some of the key objects include the bell; its discovery in 2012 confirmed the identity of the wreck.

Personal possessions of the passengers and crew will be on display to showcase the wide range of social classes on board the ship.

This includes a pair of glasses along with their wooden case, combs and clay pipes. 

Visitors will also be able to view wine bottles encrusted with barnacles and the ship’s navigation tools.

Alongside the artefacts, museums in Britain and Europe are loaning paintings, documents and objects associated with the maritime, political, cultural and social history of the period to set the wider context for HMS Gloucester’s story.

There will also be a film exploring the discovery of the wreck, a 3D diver’s eye tour of the wreck site and an animation examining the circumstances of the sinking of the ship.

The objects appear in this exhibition with the permission of the Ministry of Defence and Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks. Credit: UEA

Curators of the exhibition Ruth Battersby Tooke and Dr Francesca Vanke, of the Norfolk Museums Service, and Prof Claire Jowitt and Dr Benjamin Redding, of UEA, said: "We are delighted to share the extraordinary history of the wreck of the Gloucester and the artefacts that movingly speak of the tragic events of 6th May 1682.  

"Artefacts rescued from the seabed are displayed for the first time, revealing some of the secrets that this important historic ship has to offer and providing unique insights into the lives and experiences of those onboard. 

"It has been a privilege to work with Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and James Little to tell their remarkable story of the wreck’s discovery in 2007."

Cllr Margaret Dewsbury, Cabinet Member for Communities, Norfolk County Council said: "Norfolk is home not only to the most remarkable heritage, but also the expertise needed to research this heritage and display it for the public to experience and enjoy.  

"The partnership between Norfolk Museums Service, the University of East Anglia and Julian and Lincoln Barnwell is a testament to this culture of innovation and excellence.

"We are incredibly excited to be mounting this exhibition in Norwich and very grateful for the fantastic support from our business community which is helping us to achieve our ambitions."

The Last Voyage of The Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck opens 25 February 2023 at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. 

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