View from above of the cargo mound lying on the seabed, picked out in green. The cargo mound consists of iron pipes laid horizontally and wheels. The most prominent features are the six-spoked rimless wheel at the centre of the image and an empty circular wheel rim to its right.

The Wheel Wreck

Wheel Wreck: Intro | Cargo mound | Iron cylinder |Remains of the vessel3D site plan | Dive video

The Wheel Wreck was discovered by local divers in 2005. Assessment in 2006 indicated that this discrete cargo mound consists of components of iron mining equipment, the majority of which appears to have been pumping equipment. The site was dated to the latter half of the nineteenth century (post-1850), mainly on the identification of a quantity of ‘boiler tubes’ on the site. These socketed pipes have now been subjected to analysis and found to be made of white cast iron, and are therefore unlikely to be boiler tubes. They appear, in fact, to be interlocking cast iron pipes – probably used for transport of water at low pressure. Therefore the post-1850 date previously assigned to the site is no longer valid.

In April 2018, CISMAS carried out a survey of the site. The cargo mound was measured, surveyed and quantified. This has allowed the production of a cargo list and site plan, and identification of most of the cargo items lying on the seabed. A limited search around the cargo mound produced a small quantity of pottery and glass which was used to indicate an earlier date for this site: 1770 to 1820.

It has not been possible to identify the vessel which carried this cargo. However, we have estimated the hold size, beam and tonnage of the vessel from the disposition and quantity of the cargo. This, along with the revised date for the site, should help to narrow down the ongoing documentary search for the name of the wreck.

View more details about the features found in the cargo mound.

The full Wheel Wreck report is available from CISMAS (PDF, 12.4MB).

The ship

So far we have not been able to identify the wreck. Very little of the vessel transporting the cargo has been found on the site to date. A small number of objects originating from the vessel (rather than personal items or the cargo) have been observed: at least three lead scupper pipes, eight rigging block-sheaves, and two complex iron objects which were possibly deck windlasses. In addition, some lead sheathing found on site may also be from the vessel. The paucity of remains from the vessel itself is puzzling.

Site history

The site was discovered by local divers Phillip Roberts and Todd Stevens in 2005. In 2006 a site assessment was undertaken by Wessex Archaeology. This included production of a plan and photo-mosaic of the cargo mound, as well as drawings of individual components of the cargo mound. The site was designated as a protected wreck site in 2007. In 2017 and 2018 the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Maritime Archaeology Society (CISMAS) carried out a survey of the site including the 3D photogrammetric model of the cargo mound and surrounding seabed.

Description of the site

The site lies on the seabed to the south of the uninhabited Island of Little Ganinick, in the Isles of Scilly. It comprises three distinct areas of wreckage: the main cargo mound which consists of an orderly stack of pipes and wheels (after which the site was named), a scatter of iron cylinder fragments situated about 11m to the north-west of the cargo mound, and part of a 19th century iron anchor lying about 60m to the south-west of the cargo mound.

Annotated greyscale image created from multibeam survey data. It has been shaded to show the boulders and areas of sand on the seabed to show the context of the Wheel Wreck nestled amongst the boulders.
Multibeam survey data showing the seabed topography and the site of the Wheel Wreck.

The cargo mound sits on a boulder-strewn rocky seabed in about 16m of seawater. It consists of an orderly stack of tightly packed corroded cast iron pipes and wheels. The mound is sub-rectangular in shape and some 12m long by 7m wide. The pile of material is for the most part somewhat less than 1m deep. In total, 155 separate items have been recorded including: at least 100 socketed iron pipes, 14 clack pieces, 13 flanged rising mains, 12 iron sheave wheels, 3 windbores, two toothed gear wheels and a possible piston and cylinder head. There are further iron objects hidden beneath the visible elements of the cargo mound.

The scatter of iron cylinder fragments lies to the north-west of and separate from the main cargo mound. The reason for this spatial separation is not clear. The cylinder fragments appear to be derived from a cast iron cylinder of 42 inches (1.08m) internal diameter; its length has not been determined. This cylinder has been interpreted as part of a steam pumping engine. One cylinder fragment has a rectangular opening which probably functioned as an inlet or exhaust port (Camidge et al, 2018). A possible piston and cylinder head are located within the cargo mound, and may be parts intended for this cylinder.

The anchor lies some 60m south west of the main site. It is a Trotman type, and as such dates to after 1852. The Trotman anchor was a development of an earlier design by William Porter designed in 1838. John Trotman patented his improved design in 1852. The Trotman consists of semi-circular arms with ‘L’-shaped horns forming the palms. The arms are connected to the shank by a bolt which allows the arms to swivel – and incidentally is a potential weakness of the design. This anchor was inspected by CISMAS and was found to be incomplete – the shank of the anchor has broken off and is not in evidence. The arms of the anchor lie on the seabed between two large boulders with one ‘palm’ upright in the water. It seems likely that the anchor was wedged in the rocks and attempts to recover it resulted in the shank breaking off at the bolt. There is no evidence, other than proximity, to connect this anchor with the Wheel Wreck. The absence of the shank would suggest that this was recovered by the vessel which deployed the anchor. The recent dating evidence gathered from the site (1770 – 1820) would suggest that this anchor is not connected with the Wheel Wreck.

Access to the site

Public access to the site is achieved by licence under the Protection of Wrecks Act. This licensing is currently administered by Historic England. The three dive charter boats operating in Scilly have annual licences to visit the protected wreck sites


A small quantity of pottery and glass was recovered from the vicinity of the cargo mound. Appraisal of this material resulted in a date range of 1770 to 1820. Chemical analysis of the glass suggests that the glass falls into the earlier part of this date range. In consequence, it seems likely that the site dates to the end of the 18th century

View more details about the features found in the cargo mound.

Historic England list entry

If you would like to find out more, view the Historic England list entry for the Wheel Wreck.