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Construction of the Brown Bay Vessel

Chris Amer
Thesis: December 1986
Chair: Steffy
Nautical Archaeology Program


During the spring of 1985, under the auspices of Parks Canada, I conducted a post-excavation examination of an early-19th-century British naval vessel. The vessel was found by local divers in Browns Bay, a small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, thirty miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario. During 1966 and 1967, the boat was excavated and raised by the National Historic Sites Service (NHSS) of the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (now the National Historic Parks and Sites Branch of Parks Canada). The 54-foot-long hull was conserved and put on display in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park at Mallorytown Landing, Ontario, Canada.

The fieldwork centered on a comprehensive examination of the boat's hull and artifactual material from the excavation site. Research was undertaken on the history and development of the vessel type with the purpose of identifying the hull and determining the reasons for its loss in Browns Bay.

The craft had been previously tentatively identified as a British gunboat. However, uncharacteristic hull features and the lack of evidence for a gun suggested alternate uses for the boat and revealed extensive modifications to the hull.

Wreck plans were prepared from measurements recorded in 1985 and measurements and drawings made by NHSS staff during 1966-68. The wreck plans and an earlier set of hull lines were used to reconstruct the appearance of the boat after her refit. The reconstruction was graphically depicted by two perspective views of the hull.

The hull design and shape of the Browns Bay Vessel can be compared to representations and depictions of "flat-bottomed boats" designed and built by the British during the 18th century, as well as those of British gunboats in operation on the Great Lakes during the early 19th century. The hull, built prior to 1820, would have been originally outfitted to be rowed and sailed. After 1820, it was modified and predominantly used as a cargo carrier propelled solely by sails. After a long commercial career, the vessel was evidently abandoned.

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