Part 4: Denbigh
It's only fair to point out
that Denbigh was never really "lost." The iron-hulled steamer,
stranded on the edge of Bird Key, was a harbor landmark for many years after the Civil
War. An 1880 Corps of Engineers map, for example, clearly marked the location of the
wreck, and sport diver and fishermen have known about it for many years. But few
people recognized the deteriorating remains for what they were -- the physical remnants of
one of the Confederacy's most successful blockade runners.
The investigators first
became interested in Denbigh's tale when an historian from Charleston visited
Galveston, looking for clues to the blockade runner's whereabouts. Using Civil
War-era charts of the entrance to Galveston Bay, they identified a likely search area, but
were not able to pinpoint the precise spot. The break came in early 1997 when one
team member, working on a different project, discovered the 1880 Corps of Engineers map.
By measuring off the distance and direction from the Bolivar Lighthouse, the
investigators were able to narrow the search area enough to justify a survey of the area
lies today in shallow water on the north side of Bolivar Roads. The wreck is not far
from Fort Travis, a post-Civil War fortification that is now a county park. The
wreck is ordinarily underwater, but on rare occasions, when the tide is extremely low, the
upper parts of the sidewheels and some machinery are visible above the surface (left).
Denbigh is a protected
archaeological site. The remains of the blockade runner lie in state waters and so
come under the stewardship of the Texas Historical Commission (THC). The THC has
issued the Institute of Nautical Archaeology the appropriate permits and authorizations to
conduct site surveys and testing. Sport diving/exploration of this site is
discouraged, and disturbance of this archaeological site is a violation of state historic
A digital model showing parts of the Denbigh wreck exposed above the bottom.
Visibility at the site rarely exceeds two feet (0.6m), so photographing the wreck is