Archaeologists from the United States National Park Service have identified the archaeological remains of HMS Tyger, an 18th century British warship, within the boundaries of the Dry Tortugas National Park. The park consists of seven small islands of reefs and sand located about 113 kilometers west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico.

Built in 1647, this 50-gun fourth rate frigate sank in 1742 after running aground on the reefs of Dry Tortugas while patrolling during the War of Jenkins’ Ear between Britain and Spain. Although remains of the shipwreck were first located in 1993, new research has uncovered definitive evidence for identifying the vessel.

Following clues from historical research, archaeologists from Dry Tortugas National Park, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Southeast Archaeological Center inspected the site in 2021 and found five cannons approximately 500 meters from the main shipwreck.

Marginal notes in old logbooks described how the crew “lightened the bow” after initially running aground, briefly refloating the ship before it sank in shallow waters. Due to their size, features, and location, the cannons were determined to be six and nine pound British cannons thrown overboard when HMS Tyger first ran aground.

This discovery and reevaluation of the site led archaeologists to make a strong argument that the wreck located in 1993 were in fact the remains of HMS Tyger. The findings were recently published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

While archaeological finds are fascinating, relating them to history helps tell the story of the people who came before us and the events they experienced, explains James Crutchfield, the park’s director. This particular story is one of perseverance and survival. National parks help protect these untold stories as they continue to come to light.

After the wreck of HMS Tyger, the approximately 300 crewmembers endured 66 days stranded on what is now Garden Key. They constructed the earliest fortifications on the island, over 100 years before Fort Jefferson, which now dominates the island and is the park’s primary cultural resource.

The stranded survivors battled heat, mosquitos, and thirst as they attempted to escape the uninhabited island. They constructed boats from salvaged pieces of the HMS Tyger wreck and made several attempts to seek aid, gather additional supplies, and locate Spanish warships in the area.

After an failed attack on a Spanish vessel, the surviving crew burned the remains of the Tyger to ensure its cannons did not fall into enemy hands and used their improvised boats to escape over 700 miles across enemy waters to Port Royal, Jamaica.


National Park Service | Andrew Van Slyke & Joshua Marano (2023) Hunting HMS Tyger, 1742: Identifying a Ship-of-the-Line in Dry Tortugas National Park, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/10572414.2023.2263793

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