How a Skerries wreck launched archaeologist’s career

Marine archaeologist Chris Dobbs back in Shetland where he started his career. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Marine archaeologist Chris Dobbs back in Shetland where he started his career. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Uncovering the secrets of the deep off Skerries 35 years ago helped launch the career of a maritime archaeologist – and brought him closer to the secrets of Henry VIII’s flagship war vessel, Mary Rose.

Christopher Dobbs worked on the wreck of the Kennemerland while studying at Cambridge University in 1978 – artefacts from which are now displayed proudly at the Shetland Museum.

From there he became one of the diving salvage team to help raise the Mary Rose  in 1982.

He will speak of his experiences at a meeting of the UK Maritime Heritage Forum tomorrow evening, and promises to give a tantalising insight into what it’s like uncovering the secrets of the deep.

“I started my career here as a maritime archaeologist on the wreck of the Kennemerland off Out Skerries,” he told  The Shetland Times today.

“That was in 1978, and I then came back here two or three times in the 1980s to run an excavation in … Skerries.

“We found a whole fascinating range of objects in those seasons, which are all here in the Shetland Museum.

“The year after I came to Shetland for the Kennemerland in ’78, the Mary Rose became a very large project with the charity, the Mary Rose Trust.

“So I was able to join the Mary Rose Trust as an archaeologist who could dive and had experience underwater.”

Asked if Shetland had stood him in good stead for the years ahead he said: “Absolutely. I worked with a very well known archaeologist called Keith Muckelroy, and was able to feel comfortable working underwater.

“It has given me the confidence and has stood me in good stead for the last 35 years.”

Mr Dobbs has also been heavily involved in the planning of a new Mary Rose museum, which is due to open for the first time in Portsmouth in a fortnight.

Mr Dobbs admitted: “I shouldn’t really be here this week. It’s a bit busy down there. I didn’t want to let down my friends in Shetland.”

Tomorrow’s talk is free and open to all to attend.

The Kennemerland was caught in a southerly gale on 20th December 1664, and struck Stoura Stack. Only three of her crew survived.

“The great thing, whether it’s the Kennemerland or the Mary Rose, is you might find something different. And I think that feeling of finding something that’s been lost for 300 years or longer is very exciting,” Mr Dobbs added.

Asked which of the artefacts uncovered have stood out in his memory, Mr Dobbs highlighted – of all things – a set of five golf clubs he discovered in his search of the Kennemerland.

“Three of them were left-handed, and two were right handed. They were only identified when we came back in 1984. I had asked Iain [Tait, now museum curator] to see if he could identify them, and he did. They were the oldest golf clubs in Britain.”

Tomorrow night’s event at the museum begins at 7pm, with doors opening at 6.30pm.


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