The Shipwreck and Coastal Heritage Centre
Museum Tour
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A public car park lies on the beach next to the Centre, and the visitor can buy snacks and food adjacent to the museum, and nearby are public toilets. You enter the bright well-stocked museum shop specialising in nautical souvenirs – model boats are very popular and reasonably priced.

A reconstruction of the side of the Dutch ship Amsterdam, leads you into the Centre. This is an important local wreck dating from 1749, and the real cannon is mounted on a replica carriage. Beyond there lie treasures from the Danish sailing ship Thomas Lawrence, originally owned by the Broberg family of Copenhagen – until she was sunk in a collision with a German steamer in 1862.

Entrance to the museum
Hundreds of bottles of Cognac from France, and bottles of Dutch gin are exhibited with personal items such as a jet cuff-link. The star find is the tombstone for a Danish lady and her baby who both died in child-birth in 1858 at St. Thomas in the then Danish Virgin Islands. There are also cases of old French muskets that were to be delivered to Haiti, where another revolution was taking place. A push-button video shows the wreck being partly salvaged in the 1980’s, and includes underwater film of wreck.

You pass a unique collection of historic rudders, the oldest dating from about 1200, two of which were trawled up from the seabed locally. The other dates from the 15th century. There are also rudders from the 17th and 18th centuries, and parts of a 17th century capstan found on waterfront sites beside the River Thames in London.

Cannon from the Dutch wreck of the Amsterdam of 1749
Beyond this is the story of the British 70-gun warship Anne, beached locally in 1690 after being seriously damaged in the Battle of Beachy Head, against the French navy. King Charles II built the Anne at Chatham in 1678. She was visited by King James II in 1687, just before she carried a German princess to Lisbon to be the bride of King Pedro II of Portugal. In 1690 the captain of the Anne had to burn her to stop her being taken as a French prize. Nowadays, when the tides are extremely low and the sands have moved you can visit the wreck of the Anne off Pett Level, to the east of Hastings. The Anne is owned by the museum trust. Photographs of the wreck nowadays, and reconstruction paintings of her are displayed with artefacts from the wreck. Amongst them is part of an early iron grenade.
Next there is a display of the recently discovered wreck believed to be the British warship Resolution, sunk in nearby Pevensey Bay during the ‘great gale’ of 1703. This was another 70-gun ship, and as well as underwater photographs of some of the 45 iron cannons that lie on the seabed there are some of the first finds from the wreck. These include a large brass cauldron that was originally used in the ship’s galley.

The wreck of the Amsterdam, a large merchant ship of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), is a main feature of the museum exhibition as this wreck can be seen at spring low tide on the beach at the west end of Hastings. The ship was run ashore in a gale on 26 January 1749, whilst on her maiden voyage from the Netherlands to Java. The exhibition tells the story of the plague that killed 50 of her crew in the previous two weeks, and made 40 more sick and dying. The ship was run ashore and the survivors escaped, but in only three months the ship, with her cargo, supplies and personal possessions, was swallowed up to 8.5 metres in the mud and sands. Parts of the ship are on display, including an entering step from the ship’s side, and pulley blocks from her rigging.

Silver Pieces-of-Eight from wreck of Dutch ship Hollandia, 1743
Bottles of French red wine are also displayed and were part of the ship’s cargo. Silver pieces-of-eight and ducatons from a similar Dutch ship, Hollandia, sunk in the Isles of Scilly in 1743, show what Captain Klump used as cash for the voyage, and what part of the Amsterdam’s original cargo of bullion was like. The 2.5 tonnes of silver was all salvaged in 1749.

A push-button video shows the story of the ship and of her exploration by archaeologists. As it was the European East India Companies that opened up global trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, and this wreck is the most complete European East Indiaman known in the world, the Amsterdam is of international importance.
The history of the Amsterdam and the 333 people on board is exceptionally well documented at the museum, and had allowed archaeologists to identify the bones of the Captain’s cabin boy, Adrian Welgevaren from Leerdam.
The next exhibition area is devoted to the coastal environment that has preserved the wrecks of the Anne and Amsterdam on the tidal shore around Hastings. There are rocks of the age of the dinosaurs from 135 million years ago, and clues to show beach explorers how to find fossil clues to the distant past. Also, there are photographs and remains of the submerged prehistoric forest dating from the Early Bronze Age, also visible at low tide. Pride of place on display is an acorn 4000 years old.

The threat of flooding to the homes of people caused by the rising sea level is described in an exhibit about the sea defences recently built by the Environment Agency. A large model of the proposed Pebsham Countryside Park includes the maritime shore around the wreck of the Amsterdam.

The museum shop
The highlight of the museum is an audio-visual show, which is presented in the theatre and tells the story of a real 15th century sailing barge, found in the River Thames in 1970. The story, narrated specially for the museum by the film star Christopher Lee, also tells the story of local shipwrecks to be seen on the local shore at low tide (though caution is needed when exploring the wrecks) – the Anne (1690), the Amsterdam (1743), the tea clipper Coonatto wrecked by Beachy Head in 1876, and the merchant ship Barn Hill, bombed in 1940 near Eastbourne.

Students in the museum experimenting lifting weights with p
The stories of other wrecks are included with some artefacts. Parts of a Roman ship 1800 years old from London, and more recent wrecks are displayed. There are buckets and a brush from the British warship Invincible sunk near Portsmouth in 1758, and a variety of finds from the English East India Company ship Earl of Abergavenny sunk off Poole in the English Channel in 1805 – the captain, John Wordsworth, brother of the poet William, sadly died.

The story is told of a local World War 2 British government merchant ship, S. S. Storaa (Danish for ‘Big River’) that was sunk by torpedo in the English Channel off Hastings in November 1943 whilst carrying a cargo of parts of American military vehicles. Historical pictures, and underwater photographs and sonar images illustrate her remarkable story.
She had an English and Danish crew, and a Danish master. Pieces of her ammunition, made safe by the Bomb Disposal unit of the Royal Navy, are also exhibited. Twenty-one men died when this ship was sunk, and this wreck was in 2005-2006 the centre of a landmark legal battle to get it protected as a maritime war grave.

Outside in the museum ‘yard’ with a view of the sea, is the last Rye Barge, Primrose. Dating from the 1880’s she was rescued from the River Rother by enthusiasts and brought to the museum. She is the only survivor of a local type of barge that existed back to the 16th century and had hardly changed in rig and design over the centuries.
© Shipwreck and Coastal Heritage Centre 2006 Site by: EWdesign