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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Divers investigate Scillies wreck
Diver with the anchor of HM Fireship, Firebrand
HM Firebrand was fitted with an arsenal of eight cannons
A team of divers from the University of Bristol is to investigate the wreck of a fireship which sank off the Isles of Scilly nearly 300 years ago.

HM Firebrand was intended to be sailed against the enemy fleet at anchor, loaded with incendiaries.

She was launched at Limehouse in 1694 and served in the Caribbean and Mediterranean before her disastrous final voyage.

She and three other ships sank in 1707 following a navigational error.

Devils with fire

The four ships - HM Firebrand, HMS Association, HMS Eagle, and HMS Romney - were returning from Gibraltar under the flag of Sir Cloudesly Shovell when they were wrecked off the Isles of Scilly.

Lithograph of the Shovell disaster showing HM Firebrand wrecking onto the rocks on the Scillies
Fireships were sailed against the enemy fleet at anchor

The tragedy, which cost the lives of 1,500 Royal Navy seamen, sparked the competition for the 'discovery of longitude' and resulted in the design of the Harrison chronometer.

The Firebrand had an overall tonnage of 268, could carry a complement of 45 men and was fitted with an arsenal of eight cannons.

Kimberly Monk, of Bristol University's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology - who is leading the study, said: "This survey will contribute a new chapter on the significance of small warships to the British Royal Navy.

"The English were considered to be 'the very Devils with their Fire' since, under certain conditions, fireships could inflict more devastation than any other weapon at the navy's disposal."

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