Discovery in 1973

Locating the Wrecks

The location of the Hamilton and Scourge was first estimated by using Commodore Yeo's logbook from the Wolfe, which gave his ship's location the day of the accident: "Light breezes variable, very warm weather. At 5 o'clock the 40 Mile Creek bore SSW distance about 8 miles, wind southerly. Saw the enemy squadron bearing E by S about four or five leagues..."

It was Dr. Daniel A. Nelson, a dentist from St. Catharines in Ontario and an amateur archaeologist, who used the Wolfe's log to first pinpoint the wreck locations. In 1971, Nelson and Dr. A. Douglas Tushingham of the Royal Ontario Museum initiated the Hamilton-Scourge Project to locate the ships, attracting other scientists like Dr. Peter Sly from the Canada Centre for Inland Waters.

Find out where the wrecks are located on the map.

Conducting the First Searches

The first searches were made in 1972 using magnetometer and side-scan sonar (see the underwater archaeology section or remote sensing section for details). In 1973, a likely target was identified. Later deep-tow side-scan sonar trials with new equipment in 1975 offered researchers their first views of the vessels, upright on the lake bottom with masts intact.

The First Images of the Wrecks

November of 1975 saw the use of a Tethered Remote Operated Vehicle (TROV) that captured the images of the Hamilton's ship boat, a platter, spars, some bones and cannonballs. All indications were that the cold, deep water had preserved the ships intact.

At this time, the two ships were still considered the property of the United States Navy. In 1978, the United States Congress agreed to transfer the title of the ships first to the Royal Ontario Museum, and then to the City of Hamilton.  The transfer officially took place on May 1, 1980.

In the summer of 1980, Jacques Cousteau photographed the Hamilton with his mini-sub, the Soucoupe. The next year, the City of Hamilton created the non-profit Hamilton and Scourge Foundation.

1,900 still images and 26 hours of video were obtained in May, 1982 by a joint project with the Hamilton-Scourge Foundation and the National Geographic Society. These were the first images of the Scourge. The images were obtained with a remote underwater vehicle.  It is mainly these images that are posted throughout this web site.

Condition of the ships below water

All of this research has permitted some conclusions to be drawn concerning the current condition of the remains.

  • They are 300 feet deep.
  • They are lying on the silt clay lake bed which is featureless in this area.
  • The vessels are about 1,500 feet apart.
  • When they capsized they turned on their port beam-ends and once below the water, ballasted by their armament, they righted and drifted by means of their sails to the bottom of the lake.
  • No destructive light penetrates the deep water.
  • The fresh water environment is at a constant near freezing temperature, preserving the wrecks.


Virtual History - Visit the Hamilton Civic Museums to learn more about upcoming special events and exhibitions.

Support provided by the Government of Canada - The archaeology of this site was made possible by the generous support of Parks Canada.

Visiting Ontario - When you plan your trip to Hamilton Civic Museums, see what else Ontario has to offer.