The first men who dived on the Mary Rose
Historical | 08 Feb, 2019 | Museum Blogger
Who was the first person to see the Mary Rose on the sea bed?

We always talk about Alexander McKee being the person who discovered the wreck of the Mary Rose, but actually, there are a few people who got up close to Henry VIII's flagship while she was still on the sea bed long before he first laid eyes on her timbers...

Jacque francis
Jacques Francis - 1545

We'll probably never know the name of the first person to actually see the Mary Rose underwater after she sank in 1545, but they would have been an employee of Southampton-based Venetian salvage operators Petre de Andreas and Symone de Maryne, who were employed to recover the Mary Rose shortly after her loss. Obviously they didn't succeed.

The earliest we do have a name for, though is Jacques Francis, a guinea-born diver working for Italian salvage operator Piero Paola Corsi. Francis would later go on to become the first person of colour to give evidence in an English court, defending his employer against accusations of theft.

Image by Joe Lillington

Learn more about the 16th century recovery attempts
1830s Diver
Henry Abbinett - 1836

The 1836 salvage attempts were undertaken by John Deane, one of the Deane brothers who invented the first modern diving suit.

However, they weren't the first ones on the site. In June 1836 fishermen began snagging their nets on something on the sea bed. Henry Abbinett, a Gosport-based diver, was hired to investigate, during his dives, he found the remains of a ship. Sadly for Abbinett, while he had applied for the salvage rights to the Mary Rose, so had John Deane, who would ultimately be awarded them.

Prior to this, Abbinet had worked often with Deane, and had assisted them with boat services, and though this had gained an interest in diving. He even bought one of their prototype diving helmets, making him one of the pioneers of helmet diving.

You can find out more about Abbinett, and see one of the original helmets used by John Deane at the Diving Museum in Gosport.

Learn more about the 19th century salvage attempt
Percy Ackland
Percy Ackland - 1971

The 20th century search for the Mary Rose began in 1965, with diver and historian Alexander McKee creating Project Solent Ships with the aim of finding Henry VIII's warship, believed destroyed by many after the Deane salvage operation.

It was on 5th May 1971 that Ackland, a member of the Mary Rose project from early on, was examining the seabed when he came across three exposed timbers protruding from the mud. The Mary Rose had been rediscovered.

While Francis and Abbinett may have seen the ship over a century or four prior to this, it was Ackland's sighting that confirmed the sonar scans, and lead to the Mary Rose being excavated, raised and put on display.

Learn more about the 20th century recovery.
Raising the Mary Rose
Raising the Mary Rose

Find out more about the raising of Henry VIII's flagship!

Find out more