Historic Marine Protected Area

Dartmouth Historic MPAHMPA6

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).


Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Secular: shipwreck
Local Authority
NM 72384 40684
172384, 740684

The marine historic asset located within the Dartmouth Historic MPA is the remains of a vessel, the fifth-rate frigate Dartmouth, lying wrecked on or in the seabed, objects formerly contained in the vessel and deposits or artefacts which evidence previous human activity on board the vessel.

Boundaries of Historic Marine Protected Area

The area of sea within a distance of 50 metres of position latitude 56° 30'.180 north, longitude 05° 42'.015 west, excluding any seashore lying above mean high water spring tide.


The Scottish Ministers are satisfied that designation of the Dartmouth Historic MPA is desirable for the purpose of preserving a marine historic asset of national importance which is located within the area. The wrecked vessel is the Dartmouth, a fifth-rate Royal Navy frigate built in 1655. Dartmouth was dispatched in 1690 to bring to heel recalcitrant Jacobite clans in the Western Isles (including the Macleans of Duart), and to secure allegiance to William and Mary. Dartmouth broke anchor in Scallastle Bay in a storm and was wrecked on 9 October 1690 on the small island of Eilean Rubha an Ridire, close to the Morvern shore at the southern entrance to the Sound of Mull. The site lies at a depth of 2-10m on the NW side of Eilean Rubha an Ridire.

Statement of National Importance

Relatively few wreck sites have survived in Scottish waters prior to the early 19th century, and well-preserved examples that have been investigated systematically by archaeologists are particularly rare across the UK. The outstanding levels of preservation evidenced at this site by three years of detailed archaeological investigation demonstrate that this marine historic asset is of national importance. The rich array of artefacts likely to remain on the site, combined with the remaining structural integrity and well-documented history of the vessel, mean that this site retains an inherent potential to make a very significant addition to our understanding of the past. In particular, this site retains important information about the design, construction and functioning of small warships during the 17th century. Our understanding of the significance of this site is further enhanced by research into connections with Commonwealth naval activity in Scotland in the aftermath of the English Civil War, and by connections with the history of Derry. The survival of this wreck and that of the nearby Duart Point wreck, lost in an attack on the Macleans of Duart in 1653, adds significantly to our understanding of the coastal landscape bordering the historically significant sea-route through the Sound of Mull, and the growing vulnerability of Scottish coastal castles to attack by seaborne artillery during the 17th century.

As the wreck of the Dartmouth is located within an area that is very popular for recreation and tourism (in particular sport diving), designation can help to promote the heritage value of the site, foster its understanding and enjoyment, and encourage responsible behaviour by divers and others.

Intrinsic characteristics

Divers identified a post-medieval period wreck at Eilean Rubha an Ridire around 1973 and the site was subject to archaeological survey and excavation 1973-1976. A subsequent survey took place in 1994-5 and the wreck has been subject to periodic monitoring since then. The excavations confirmed survival on the seabed of organic and non-organic materials in the form of hull structure, ship fittings and armaments, and artefacts relating to the running of the ship, and personal items. All of the material recorded as having been recovered from the site is in the care of the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. However, as the investigation was only partial, substantial sections of hull structure and small artefacts remain buried in-situ. 19 cast iron guns and one anchor are also visible on the seabed surface, albeit obscured by thick growth of kelp seaweed, particularly during summer months.

The identity of the wreck is confirmed by analysis of artefacts and documentary sources: in particular, a ship’s bell with markings DH 1678, the date of re-fitting of the Dartmouth at Sheerness. Dartmouth was a fifth-rate English naval frigate, built in 1655 at Portsmouth by Sir John Tippets. She measured 80 feet along the keel, 25 feet breadth by beam and with a draft of 12 feet. Frigates tended to be used for intelligence gathering and dispatch carrying because of their greater speed and they were not considered sufficiently well-armed to be in the line of battle in fleet actions. Dartmouth had an unusually long and arduous career, playing a role in engagements with the Dutch (off Orford Ness in 1688) and French in the Irish Sea (1689), as well as anti-piracy work in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Her long service career spans a period of considerable importance in the development of the English Navy from Cromwell’s Commonwealth, for whom she was built, to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the period thereafter. In the latter part of her career she was technically part of the Scots navy.

Contextual characteristics

The wreck is located 6km from Duart Castle, the target of the vessel’s expedition in 1690. The Dartmouth was not lost in company with other vessels but this wreck should be considered alongside two other 17th-century historic wreck sites that have survived in or around the Sound of Mull: wreck off Duart Point (lost 1653), Island of Mull; and a wreck off Mingary Castle (lost 1644), Ardnamurchan. In each case, these wrecks occurred in relation to planned assaults on coastal castles located along the strategically significant coastal sea-way of the Sound of Mull. The remains of Dartmouth, taken together with this wider group, illustrates how, with the advent of seaborne artillery, coastal castles in the Sound of Mull became vulnerable to attack by sea. The only other known investigation of the wreck of a fifth-rate contemporary to Dartmouth was carried out by Parks Canada, on the wreck of the Sapphire, lost in 1696 at Bulls Bay, Newfoundland, Canada.

Associative characteristics

Dartmouth’s loss on 9 October 1690 relates to General Hugh Mackay’s campaign to secure allegiance to William and Mary amongst the Jacobite clans of the Western Isles. The loss of Dartmouth in 1690 is recorded in local folklore and by contemporary documents. A contemporary sketch by the famous Dutch maritime artist Van de Velde (younger) of what is probably the Dartmouth portrays the sleek light hull characteristic of the frigate, while an itemised account of the work carried out in a major refit of the Dartmouth in 1678 and two succeeding surveys (of 27 October 1679 and 10 October 1680 respectively) form major documentary sources for ship construction of this period. The archaeological investigation of the wreck of the Dartmouth has also been well documented and published. A selection of finds is on display in the City Museum at (London)derry, on loan from the National Museums of Scotland. The ship has a special significance for Derry as the vessel that smashed the boom over the River Foyle to relieve the town and break the 1689 siege.

Preservation Objective

The preservation objectives for the Dartmouth Historic MPA and the marine historic asset are:

a) to maintain the extent of survival of the marine historic asset within the area;
b) to maintain site condition of the marine historic asset;
c) to prevent the removal, wholly or partly, of the marine historic asset from within the Dartmouth Historic MPA, except where the Scottish Ministers are satisfied that this is desirable for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection of the marine historic asset or to knowledge about marine cultural heritage;
d) to prevent the commercial exploitation of the marine historic asset for trade, speculation or its irretrievable dispersal other than provision of professional archaeological or public access which is consistent with preservation objectives a,b,c,e;
e) to ensure that the disturbance of human remains is avoided except for authorised research and subject to respectful treatment.

Preservation Objective Description

Preservation objectives guide the management of Historic MPAs according to the specific needs of individual areas. Objectives for the Dartmouth Historic MPA are focused around maintaining the extent of survival of marine historic assets in situ and maintaining site condition. Additional objectives set out instances where the recovery of marine historic assets (in whole or part) may be acceptable and to restrict commercial exploitation of marine historic assets for trade or speculation. To enable monitoring of progress against these objectives by Historic Environment Scotland, information relating to the survival of marine historic assets and site condition is set out in the table below, based on archaeological investigations undertaken by the University of St Andrews (1991-2003) and site monitoring by Wessex Archaeology, the Sound of Mull Archaeology Project (SOMAP) and Cotswold Archaeology.

ObjectiveCurrent indicator status and descriptorDetail in relation to baseline position
To maintain the extent of survival of marine historic assets within the area

Survival - estimated at 10-20%

Armaments and other large iron features – monitoring by the Sound of Mull Archaeological Project confirms survival of 19 cast iron guns, 1 wrought iron anchor and amorphous lumps of concretion. This compares with documentary sources from 1687 relating to the Dartmouth's armaments (the Ordnance Office establishment) which assigns the vessel 36 guns (and 2 brass blunderbusses for close-quarter fighting).

Excavations revealed a section of hull structure measuring some 12 by 4m at its maximum extent, comprises oak frames, inner and outer planking (elm); fir sheathing planks and an elm keel. Archaeologists estimated that this survival amounted to no more than about 10% of the ship's hull as a whole and a section of this was recovered for conservation/examination on shore. A section of this was recovered for conservation. However, a section of c.7m in length remains on the seabed, and other fragments of structure were re-buried in the aftermath of the excavation. Monitoring by the Sound of Mull Archaeological Project has indicated that elements of hull structure may on occasion be visible on the seabed surface, particularly in the vicinity of the large anchor.

Small finds
The range of artefacts recovered during excavation and the existence of unexcavated deposits of sediment suggests that a wide range of artefact types is likely to remain in-situ. Monitoring visits in 2003 confirmed presence of artefact scatters visible on the seabed surface.

To maintain site condition of the marine historic asset

Optimum condition – i.e. the best that we can realistically expect to achieve, with very little or no signs of erosion, or signs of deterioration or other damage.

The wreck site of the Dartmouth lies at a depth of 2-10m in the lee of Eilean Rubha an Ridire, and is therefore generally well protected from north to south-east; it can be exposed to short, sharp swells from the north-west. The seabed in the main wreck site area consists of a mix of coarse sediment and small pebbles and boulders. Rapid re-colonisation of kelp has been observed in the shallows and the site is subject to a strong ebb tide current.

Monitoring visits in 2003 identified some evidence for exposure of remaining hull structure around the large anchor. This area was stabilised by sand-bags. Otherwise, monitoring visits indicate that the site appears relatively stable. The remaining iron guns and anchor are of an apparently robust nature. The iron objects have been vulnerable to diver activity in the past and remain so today, although the existence of an on-site marker board promotes protected status, and a visitor scheme in operation from Lochaline Dive Centre helps to encourage divers to visit this site on a 'look but don't touch' basis.


Designation of the Dartmouth HMPA places a duty on public authorities with functions capable of adversely affecting marine historic assets to carry out those functions in a way that best furthers or, where this is not possible, least hinders the stated preservation objectives. To fulfil this duty, public authorities must consider and implement changes in the way they carry out their functions to deliver benefits for/ minimise adverse effects on the Dartmouth Historic MPA, taking advice from Historic Environment Scotland.

  • When preparing local development plans; marine plans; and fisheries management plans relevant to this location, as well as other programmes, policies and strategies, public authorities must take account of the preservation objectives for the Dartmouth Historic MPA.

  • Competent authorities with responsibilities for issuing authorisation for all developments and licensable activities (for example, through marine licensing; planning permission; issuing of seabed leases) within and outwith the boundaries of the protected area must consider impacts on the preservation objectives for the Dartmouth Historic MPA, taking advice from Historic Environment Scotland. Decisions must also be taken in accordance with the relevant marine plans and policies.

  • Where their functions or acts which they intend to undertake may significantly hinder the achievement of the preservation objectives for this Historic MPA, public authorities are required to notify Historic Environment Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland has 28 days to respond and public authorities must have regard to advice or guidance given by Historic Environment Scotland.



Operational Advice for the Proposed HMPA

The following advice is intended to enable sea-users and public authorities to prioritise beneficial management of activities that might otherwise hinder the preservation objectives for the Dartmouth Historic MPA. The seabed within this area preserves archaeological remains that represent a finite, non-renewable resource, the survival of which could be affected by a complex interplay of processes originating from sources that may be naturally occurring (e.g. chemical, biological or physical factors) or man-made (Historic Scotland 2012a, 8).

In summary, this site is considered most vulnerable to the following impacts from man-made operations:

Direct Impacts

Physical damage/loss/alteration arising from: a) collision/abrasion by construction/extraction activities; commercial fishing operations which impact on the seabed (particularly demersal trawling – eg scallop dredging); anchoring/mooring of vessels within the protected area; and b) the selective removal of artefacts and/or excavation of sediments by diving/archaeological operations within the protected area.

Indirect Impacts

Alteration/loss of the marine historic asset arising from any construction/extraction/dumping at sea/commercial installation operations in the vicinity which might exacerbate erosion of sediments or result in significant changes to seabed biology/water chemistry within the protected area.


Historic Scotland's Strategic Heritage Management Team will be pleased to provide detailed operational advice where impacts are anticipated on a case by case basis. The basis for this advice is set out in the table below.


Operational advice following Historic MPA designation

Boating, vessel traffic, including anchoring and laying of moorings

Boating is generally encouraged providing that no damage or disturbance of marine historic assets occurs. For example, boat owners should avoid use of anchors within the proposed protected area except in instances of maritime distress to save life or secure the safety of a vessel. Laying of moorings should be avoided within the protected area. However, there may be instances where laying of temporary seabed moorings is desirable to support sustainable access to the site. Where this is the case, care should be taken to place moorings away from the known extent of archaeological remains.

Commercial fisheries

There is no evidence that pelagic/demersal fishing (e.g scallop dredging) takes place over this site but it may take place nearby. Use of demersal techniques within the protected area should be avoided as damage is likely to be catastrophic. As there is a risk of snagging creel lines on exposed anchors/ cannon, and potentially too of destabilising sediment deposits, use of creels should also be avoided within the protected area.

Construction/ extraction/ dumping within the protected area

As marine historic assets are considered highly vulnerable to such activities and the spatial footprint of this proposed protected area is small (c 0.7 hectares), developers and sea-users will normally be advised to plan developments in a way that avoids the area, and any direct impacts, altogether. There may however be cases where carefully managed emplacement of sand-bags/other forms of geotextile membrane within the protected area or scientific monitoring equipment is desirable to support preservation objectives.

Construction/ extraction/ dumping at sea/operation of commercial installations in the vicinity

Proposals for such activities in the vicinity should carefully assess likely impacts on hydrodynamic processes and any seabed biology/water chemistry over the protected area, and where appropriate, consider ways to mitigate the impacts concerned. This advice is likely to be relevant for activities not currently present nearby but which are practised elsewhere in the Sound of Mull such as fin-fish and shellfish aquaculture. Impacts on 'setting' from shoreline/marine developments in the vicinity are not anticipated at this time.

Recreational diving, bathing, within the protected area

Responsible recreational diving is encouraged. Feel free to take photographs or video during visits but do not recover artefacts, damage or disturb a marine historic asset. Also, please do not displace sediments or remove weed as these help to maintain the stability of the wreck site. Any shot lines to aid diver access to the site should be carefully placed and not used as mooring lines for a dive vessel. Maintaining good buoyancy control also helps to minimise impacts to the site. Anyone diving within the protected area is encouraged to provide a brief report about their visit to Historic Environment Scotland, to assist in monitoring this important wreck. Should you wish to learn more about it, the Lochaline Dive Centre offers educational tours for divers.

Scientific and archaeological investigation of marine historic assets within the protected area

Non-intrusive scientific/archaeological survey work is encouraged as is dissemination of the information and knowledge which results. However, intrusive activities, including archaeological excavation, sediment sampling, and recovery of objects of historic interest are subject to marine licensing, and you will need to apply to Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) who will take advice from Historic Environment Scotland about whether these activities should proceed, subject to conditions.



Adnams, J 1974, 'The Dartmouth, a British frigate wrecked off Mull 1690', International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (IJNA), 3.2, 269-274

Archibald, E H H 1968, The Wooden Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, 897 – 1859, Blanford Press.

Holman, R G 1975, 'The Dartmouth, a British frigate wrecked off Mull, 1690. 2. Culinary and related items,' IJNA 4.2, 253-65

Martin, C J M 1978, The Dartmouth, a British frigate wrecked off Mull, 1690. 5. The ship' IJNA 7.1, 29-58

Martin, C J M 1998, Scotland's Historic Shipwrecks, London.

Martin, P F de C 1977, 'The Dartmouth, a British frigate wrecked off Mull, 1690. 4. The clay pipes,' IJNA 6.3, 219-23.

McBride, P 1976, 'The Dartmouth, a British frigate wrecked off Mull, 1690. 3. The guns,' IJNA 5.3, 189-200.

Robertson, P 2007, The Sound of Mull Archaeological Project (SOMAP) 1994-2005, BAR British Series 453, NAS Monograph Series No 1.Page(s): 30-31

Unpublished References

Archaeological Diving Unit, various. Report references 91-17; 94-13; 94-25; 95-03; 00-13. Copies archived with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

Diamond, P 1994, HMS Dartmouth. Unpublished Nautical Archaeology Society Part II Report. Copy archived with RCAHMS.

Online resources

Historic Scotland 2012, Guidelines on the Selection, Designation and Management of Historic Marine Protected Areas. Copy available at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/historic-mpa-guidelines.pdf

Historic Scotland 2012a, Historic Marine Protected Areas, a guide for visitors, investigators and managers – copy available at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/historic-mpa-leaflet.pdf

Scottish Government, 2010, Making the most of Scotland's seas – copy available at www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/308833/0097196.pdf

Wessex Archaeology, 2004, Dartmouth, Sound of Mull. Designated site assessment. Ref 53111.03m Archived with RCAHMS and available at http://orapweb.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000725.pdf

Wessex Archaeology, 2010, Existing designated historic assets: transition to Historic Marine Protected Areas and identification of biodiversity/geodiversity value. Prepared by Wessex Archaeology for Historic Scotland, August 2010. Ref:73210.04. Copy archived with RCAHMS and available http://lmid1a.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000732.pdf

Wessex Archaeology, 2012, Characterising Scotland's marine archaeological resource. Prepared by Wessex Archaeology for Historic Scotland, January 2012. Ref: 76930.04 Copy archived with RCAHMS and available at http://lmid1a.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000720.pdf

About Historic Marine Protected Areas

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

Historic marine protected areas are the way that marine historic assets of national importance which survive in Scottish territorial waters are protected by law under Part 5 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

We advise Marine Scotland on the importance of marine historic assets and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate sites. We assess marine historic assets using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

The information in the historic marine protected area record gives an indication of the national importance of the site(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the site(s).

It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly remove, alter or disturb marine historic assets, or carry out activities which could damage or interfere with a marine historic asset or significantly hinder a protected area's preservation objectives.

The historic marine protected area record provides guidance about what activities can take place at each site.

Planning permission or a marine licence (or both) may be required for carrying out work inside a historic marine protected area. Enquiries about planning permission should be made to the planning authority. Enquiries about marine licences should be made to Marine Scotland's Licensing Operations Team.

Find out more about historic marine protected areas and our other designations at www.historicenvironment.scot/advice-and-support. You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at designations@hes.scot.


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