Wreck found off Plymouth is identified as feared French corsair
© National Maritime Museum
A painting of the French frigate from around 1780
With 25 guns and a plunder-thirsty crew, La Marquise de Tourny
was the scourge of the British merchant fleet some 260 years ago. For up to a decade, the French frigate terrorized English ships by seizing their cargoes and crew under a form of state-sanctioned piracy designed to cripple British trade.
Then, in the mid-18th century, the 460-ton vessel from Bordeaux, which seized three valuable cargo ships in a single year and distinguished itself by apparently never being captured by the English, disappeared without a trace. Nearly 300 years later, the fate of La Marquise
and its crew can finally be revealed.
Wreckage from the frigate, including the remarkably well-preserved ship's bell carrying its name and launch date of 1744, has been found in the English Channel some 100 miles south of Plymouth by an American exploration company, suggesting that the feared privateer or "corsair" sank with the loss of all hands in a storm in notoriously treacherous waters off the Channel Islands.
The vessel is the first of its type to be found off British waters and one of only three known around the world, offering a unique insight into a frenetic phase of Anglo-French warfare when both countries set about beefing up their meagre navies in the mid-1700s by providing the captains of armed merchant vessels with "Letters of Marque" to take to the seas and capture enemy ships in revenge for attacks on other cargo convoys.