brig spring 1814 .JPG

19th century add for the brig Spring which I believe the bell is originally from.

From book More Shipwrecks of Florida


MYSTERY WRECK – My previous book listed the wreck of the Spring of Whitby.  A ship’s bell with her name inscribed was found off the coast of Florida, so there could be no doubt as to her identity, or could there? The following details some research I did on this site.

 In 1965, a shipwreck was discovered a few hundred feet off the beach of Wabasso, Florida.  A bronze bell was recovered from the site, and inscribed on the bell was the name Spring of Whitby, and the date 1801. Now one would think that with this information, the history of this wreck, and the date she wrecked, would be easy to research. Having dove the area of the wreck in the 90’s, I was interested in finding out more, so I recently did some research on this vessel as nobody as yet has determined for sure her true identity or any details of this wreck’s demise. The best source for my research was the book The Ancient Port of Whitby and It’s Shipping, by Richard Weatherill, 1908, which lists all the vessels built or owned at that port. I also checked Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and Lloyd’s List (one is simply a register of all vessels, and the other lists vessels movements and any disasters).  First thing I found out was that there never was a vessel called the Spring of Whitby ever built or owned at Whitby, nor could I find any vessel with that name anywhere else! I did find three vessels with the name Spring, two which were built at the Whitby shipyards, and one that was owned at Whitby, but built elsewhere, that fit this time frame.  I immediately eliminated one as it was built in 1807, and was lost near Dunkirk. That left two vessels, the “ship” Spring, built 1800 (probably launched 1801), 397 tons, 110’ x 29.2’, built at Whitby by Fishburn & Brodrick, and the “brig” Spring, built elsewhere in 1801, but owned at Whitby.

The “ship” Spring, was sold to the government and used as a transport out of London. She later became a merchant ship sailing between London and Quebec and other eastern Canadian ports. She was listed in Lloyd’s Register until 1825, when she was no longer listed. In the 1824 register, the captain was listed as James Skelton. Lloyd’s List of 1824 has no mention of either the ship Spring or Captain Skelton. This was the vessel that others had previously attributed as the vessel wrecked off Wabasso.

The other vessel was the 138 ton “brig” Spring (after 1807 was listed at 145 tons), built 1801 at Portrack near Stockton, but owned at Whitby.  She disappeared from Lloyd’s Register after 1815. In 1815, she was listed as single decked with beams, and copper bolted. Her last captain was J.C. Smith, and she sailed between Europe and Brazil. She returned to Liverpool from Rio in May 1815, and soon after made her last and final voyage to Wilmington, N.C.  Lloyd’s List of October 1815 says she became a total wreck in late August 1815, on the “Cape Roman Shoals” (now called Cape Romain, S.C.), and all the crew were saved. So that vessel was eliminated, or was it?

I then checked newspapers for the year 1824, as that was when the “ship” Spring appears to have been lost. Searching English papers, I found a Sept. 1824 paper that mentions the British ship Spring not being heard from for over three months and thought this could be the one lost off Florida. The Captain was named Quelch, and she was on a voyage from Southampton to Mexico (which put it in the area of Florida). On board was the ex-emperor of Mexico, General Iturbide, who most attribute to Mexico’s independence from Spain. The voyage was for the sole purpose of landing the General at a pre-determined area along the Mexican coast in hopes of his gaining control of Mexico again. He had previously been exiled not long after he was named emperor. Unfortunately for the General, he was soon captured and executed by a firing squad, and the Spring returned to England later that year. I also determined that this Spring was an entirely different English ship, and not built or owned at Whitby.  I now eliminated this English ship called the Spring, though the very interesting story of the ex-Emperor sidetracked me for a couple of hours!

So back to the ship under command of Captain Skelton. This ship is no longer mentioned in Lloyd’s Register after 1824. Looking through Lloyd’s List, which mentions shipwrecks and vessel’s ports of call, I could find nothing on the Spring after 1823. No mention of her or Captain Skelton anywhere. Lloyd’s list of 1823 mentions her arrival in Quebec in July 1823. Then in December of 1823, in both Lloyd’s List and some British newspapers, it was reported that the ship Spring, of London, with a cargo of lumber, wrecked in a terrible storm on the shore near Bovenbergen, Dec. 9, 1823, on the west coast of Jutland, and immediately went to pieces with the loss of all on board. The captain’s name is not mentioned in the reports, though I’ll bet it was Skelton. This was a pretty violent storm, and a number of other vessels also wrecked nearby, so there wasn’t much detail given on the Spring. She usually carried lumber from Canada, and it’s been reported that this was the cargo, so I’m fairly sure that this is the wreck of the “ship” Spring, of Whitby, built in 1800, and maybe launched in 1801. Not the wreck off Florida! And as others have questioned, what would she be doing off Florida when on a voyage from Canada back to England? Piracy was now just declining from one of its bloodiest and busiest engagements throughout the Caribbean and up the eastern coast of America, and it’s not entirely improbable that a ship could be captured by pirates off Canada and taken south, but in this case, I don’t think that is a possibility, as another ship would most likely have reported seeing her along such a voyage, and all evidence indicates that this is the ship that wrecked off Jutland!

So back to the mystery of the bell. The inscription was probably meant to say:  ”Spring, of Whitby”. Looking at all the evidence, I’m led to believe the bell is from the “brig” Spring, built in 1801, and owned at Whitby, though not built there. How did the bell end up off Florida you ask? Well, the brig was reported as wrecked off South Carolina in 1815 on Cape Roman Shoal, so she was likely accessible and probably some of the wreck remained above water. Like all accessible wrecks, anything that could be salvaged, was! Though only conjecture, I’m thinking that along with the sails, rigging, and whatever else, the ship’s bell was also salvaged, and most likely placed onto another vessel which later wrecked off Florida’s coast. Just my guess, but if I’m right, the identity of this vessel, and the nature of her demise, still remains a mystery yet to be solved!

Here is some additional information provided from the book Shipwrecks of South Carolina & Georgia, by E. Lee Spence, Sea Research Society, Charleston,1984, which says that the brig Spring actually wrecked on Raccoon Keys, near Cape Romain Shoals, S.C., and the crew made Charleston with only the clothes on their back. She had a valuable cargo of different type goods and had four 6-pndr, and two 9-pndr cannon on board. Will try and find what type cannon were found in the vicinity of the wreck off Wabasso and if they match these, as the cannon may have also been salvaged along with the bell.

g b brig.jpg

Image of a 19th Century brig.


The Bell. Photo: Matthew Puleo