Alongside the Emma Graham, a snow brig called the Douro was loading in Liverpool during December 1847. Thomas Gowland, master of the Douro, set sail and on 28th January 1843, destined Oporto. The Douro was wrecked on the western islands of the Isles of Scilly after turning back to England, having started to leak. Conspiracy surrounds the Douro as she is suspected of carrying slave trading Manilla, the slave trade abolished in the UK in 1807. All souls perished that winter’s evening, Gowland’s body buried on the island of St Mary’s.
My buddy for this dive was Tom Bryer and for all concerned, this was a special dive. Skipper Dave McBride had shown us all a number of (so called) “Manillas” earlier in the week that have been found on this wreck site. Indeed, Dave was also talking about small arms which are also supposed on the wreck site and with the majority of the divers on the trip interested in historic wreck diving, it seemed a great opportunity not to miss. Today was a gorgeous summer day with flat calm seas and just whispers of cloud in the sky.
So let’s talk about the Douro for the moment. The Douro was built in 1839, commencing April and completing in September that year. The build survey number 1441 from the Lloyds Register foundation dated 4th October 1839 shows her as a “Snow” brig. She was not a schooner as reported in news of the era. The ship was built in Sunderland with master recorded as Thomas Gowland and destined voyages as Oporto. She had five anchors of three Bower anchors weighing 10.5, 10.0 and 9.5 tons, one Stream anchor weighing 4 tons and one Kedge anchor weighing 1.5 tons.A snow, snaw or snauw is a square-rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast.
Model of a Snow Brig
The Douro was cited as “loading goods” in late December 1842 in Liverpool which would be her last voyage. Newspaper articles of the era state that she was carrying baled goods of cotton and hemp from Manchester. In fact, there were two ships loading for Oporto that month, the other ship being the Emma Graham. Both ships departed Liverpool, the Emma Graham a little earlier than the Douro and Liverpool export documents of the era state that cargo destined from Liverpool to Oporto was:
  • 1 crt 1 hd eware
  • 9 bls baize
  • 2 bls 28 cs 35 bxs 28 trs cotton
  • 1 prcl s bls wolns
  • 49 t hoop iron
  • 106 bxs 29 bls cotns & linen

The question is whether this “hoop iron” is a pseudonym for “Manillas” or indeed hoop iron for wine barrels?

Although the Emma Graham made it to Oporto, the Duro was lost on the evening of 28th January 1843.

The British Newspaper Archive has a number of entries in late January 1843 and early February 1843 reporting of a shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly on 28th January called the “Douro”. The ship was en-route from Liverpool to Oporto when she started to leak and made headway to England. It appears she floundered in fog near the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, built 1858. These articles state the ship’s log was found a few days after the sinking and that these facts are known.

The newspaper articles also state that the Douro was carrying a cargo of bales of cotton and hemp. More so, all souls perished that evening with some three or four bodies recovered the next day. Of these bodies, one was known to be a Thomas Gowland from the “TG” initials on his shirt and ship’s name on his hand.

There is a burial record of the parish of St Marys in the Isles of Scilly, dated 1843. Page 61 and record 487 states that two men were brought from the Douro wreck on St Agnes, names unknown. There is an addendum that states that one of the bodies was Thomas Gowland, captain of the Douro. Date of burial was 30th January.

English Chronicle and Whitehall Evening Post - Thursday 02 February 1843
Cork Examiner - Wednesday 08 February 1843

So, who is Thomas Gowland?

Having started to research him via ancestry websites, it is proving quite difficult. There are records of a plethora of Thomas Gowlands around the Durham and Sunderland areas of the era and many of them being mariners. We know that the captain of the Douro was a Thomas Gowland as that is written on the survey record and we know he is memorialised in Sunderland, but which one is he?

We found a probate bond from 1843 for Thomas Gowland, master mariner. It states he died at sea 28 Jan 1843. His wife at the time was named Mary (maiden name unknown) and she was in Sunderland at the time. We also found a burials record in Sunderland district:

Location: Sunderland, County Durham. Church: Holy Trinity. Denomination: Anglican Detail: 9 Mar 1843, Thomas Gowland, of Woodbine St, Bishopwearmouth, age: 31, died 27 Jan 1843, shipmaster, Master of the Ship "Douro" lost off the Scilly Isles with all crew on January 27th 1843.

This interestingly gives him a birth year of 1812 and much younger than we thought. We think they did not have children and that Mary married a John Rogerson on 7th September 1843 and had one daughter called Elizabeth Rogerson in the 1851 Census. One thing is for sure, he died on the fateful evening and although memorialised in Sunderland, is laid to rest in the cemetery at Hugh Town, St Marys.

Let's talk about the Manillas.

The Manilla was a currency used in the slave trade. Not wholly reserved for slave trading, but certainly a unit of currency and manufactured in Birmingham. But here’s the twist! Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807 while the Douro sank in 1843.

So was Thomas Gowland illegally trading and/or  shipping Manillas some 36 years later? Is the “hoop iron” such metal bands which circled barrels of brandy and wine (as per the trades/routes to and from Oporto which the Douro was making) or as I write, a pseudonym for Manillas? These two questions are certainly not conclusive.

Slave Trade Manillas

Interestingly, there are some divers on the Isles of Scilly that state that the ship we dived was actually called the Custos as sunk in 1856. The problem here is that the location of our dive site was Round Rock (that of the Custos) and the Douro was reported as sunk on Little Crebawethan. So that on the face of it is not conclusive. However, there is certainly mystery here as Round Rock is quite close to Little Crebawethan and while the fishermen found the wreckage and bodies on Little Crebawethan, perhaps the wreck site on Round Rock is the Douro? Or part of the Douro? Or part of the Douro and the Custos?

How do we know the dive site was the Douro?

But it doesn’t end there. In the Samual Jackson documentary called Enslaved (available on BBC iPlayer), around 26 minutes into the episode, they dive the wreck site that they call the Douro. Further into the Scillies piece, they interview a Terry Hiron and he says he discovered the Douro in 1972. He says he “lifted” “two or three tons of manillas”, “piles, about four foot high” and “enough to fill this shed.” The question here is that the Liverpool manifest cites 49 “t” (ton?) of hoop iron. If Terry only found 2 or 3 ton, where is there other circa 45 ton? That is, if indeed “hoop iron” is covert name for Manillas. Was the Emma Graham also carrying Manillas? Also, what happened to the 2 or 3 ton that Terry recovered I wonder? We know that some are for sale on eBay.

My question is, if Terry found the Douro as he says, how did he specifically identify the wreckage as the Douro? If the newspaper archives are saying the Douro was carrying cotton and hemp from Manchester and Terry Hiron says he lifted two to three tons of manillas, why are manillas not listed in the newspaper reports? One theory could be that only bales of cotton and hemp were found as flotsam and that the manillas obviously sank. But surely the journalists of the time would have queried the ship’s cargo manifest? Thus, how did Terry identify the wreck as the Douro? In the programme Terry shows off a number of artefacts from the dive site including a razor and silver cutlery and there is discussion of the comparable value of the Manillas and silverware in human terms. We know that Thomas has initials embroidered into his shirt as this was used to identify his body and it is said he had a tattoo of the ship’s name, so surely these silverware items will have borne the initials or names of either Gowland himself or the name of the ship?

What I am saying is, there is still doubt in my mind that the wreck site is the Douro. More than likely it is, but this is not conclusive and I would like to diver her again. As we found just one anchor, where are the other four?

Back to the dive!

This was an amazing 10 to 15 metres visibility with a misty haze in the distance. Water temperature was 13degC.

My buddy for this dive was Tom Bryer. The objective was to find some Manillas and as soon as we descended, we could see the kelp filled gullies and it was a simply rummage around in the sandy bottom. Amazed to see one of the anchors and as I now know, one of five if this site is indeed the Douro. Did we find any Manillas? Ask no questions and we shall tell no lies.

One of the problems of diving on the Scillies is that there is no O2 for Nitrox and as Tom was on air, he signalled to surface while I still had 44 minutes NDL. I would have stayed down there for hours and for sure, I would love to go back to this site.

Small problem was that I was supposed to deploy my DSMB. However, the reel jammed and signalling ‘broken’ to Tom I had two options. Deploy my secondary or ask Tom to deploy his. So for me it was a free ascent and with Boyles Law and Daltons Law playing their silly games, Tom pointed to the shot behind me and a lovely tactile reference.