OLCOTT - on Oct. 31 1780, H.M.S. ONTARIO, a six-month-old, 80-foot-long, 28-gun ship left the lower Niagara River for Oswego. Aboard were Col. William Bolton, the outgoing commander of Fort Niagara, four women, four Indians and a complement of 79 seamen and soldiers - 88 in all. In those late-18th-century years-after the American Revolution but before the War of 1812-the safest and speediest transit was by sailing ship.
A gale was blowing. But the ONTARIO was new, and its new design combined the best features of a brig and a sloop and surely was able to withstand any fury that a Lake Ontario storm might send. It didn't. It sank. But now it may have been found.
Three men-Roderick Hedley, an Olcott marine operator, Richard Acer, a Barker business-man and licensed diver, and Larry Bowman-believe they have found where the ONTARIO sits on the Lake Ontario floor.
Hedley will not discuss the location of the ship they believe is the ONTARIO. "Other people have been looking for the ONTARIO," he said. "If we have found it, we will have a time capsule, a relic of the past. and a potential tourist and business attraction." Asked why it took so long to locate the ONTARIO, Hedley compared the quest to finding a tossed coin in the lake. Acer and Bowman spotted the vessel with a fisherman's graph, a device that charts the underwater
formations, Headly said.
Acer has made a number of dives, perhaps eight, to the vessel and says that its wood is solid.
"He's looked at it; he's felt it ," Hedley said. The cannons also appear in good condition after 215 years of cold-water preservation.
"Doc" Douglas Knight, the archaeologist for Old Fort Niagara and the Niagara County Parks Department, said he would not comment on the likelihood that the sunken ship is the ONTARIO until he have seen pictures or artifacts.
Knight said that it is possible that the ship is the ONTARIO, hut it could be another of the ships that lie on the lake bottom.
"I have heard lots of hearsay but until I see a cannon or other artifacts, I have no opinion," he said. If there is doubt about the ship's identity, it's because hundreds of sailing vessels lie on Lake Ontario floor, Hedley said. But the Hedley group is moving carefully, accepting the advice of Great Lakes shipwreck students and knowing that federal law says that the states in whose waters they are found own Great Lakes shipwrecks.
They convinced the Niagara County Legislature that they have found the ONTARIO, and, in turn, the Legislature voted the $100 application fee required by the state Board of Regents to sanction the establishment of the H.M.S. ONTARIO Historical Society.
"When the society is approved, we will work with state authorities to perform additional work on the ship," Hedley said. "The state always will be in control and I suspect that Dr. Douglas Knight, the Old Fort Niagara historian, will advise us."
At this point, no additional dives will be made until the Board of Regents acts. But Hedley says that on the next dive, a joint exploration with the Niagara County sheriff's divers, pictures will be taken.
"We hope that will happen quickly," he added.
Hedley said that if the vessel turns out to be the ONTARIO, the British government might become involved, because the remains of English soldiers and sailors may still be aboard. Similarly, American Indian groups also may seek involvement.
"There's going to be a tremendous amount of interest by different groups," Hedley said.
Hedley says that while tourism and business are driving forces in this H.M.S. ONTARIO story, so are history and heritage. "IIf this is the ship we think it is, it will put Niagara County on the map. I would like to see a historical museum set up around the ship," Hedley said.
August 1, 1995 B-1
NOTE:-- This vessel was located early June 2008 by Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville in an undisclosed position nearer the southern shore of Lake Ontario. The vessel is intact.
DIVERS FIND 1780 BRITISH WARSHIP
Deep sea divers have found the wreck of a Royal Navy warship which sank during the American Revolution.
The discovery of HMS Ontario, at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes on the US-Canada border, has been hailed an "archaeological miracle", The 22-gun, 80ft (24.4m) vessel, with an estimated 130 men on board, went down In Lake Ontario In a gale In 1780. The ship Is now being treated as a war grave and HMS Ontario had as many as 130 people on board when It sank, there are no plans to raise It or remove any of its artefacts.
Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville have revealed how they used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to find the ship earlier this month. They dalm HMS Ontario is the oldest confirmed shipwreck and the only fully-Intact British warship to have ever been found In the North AmerIcan Great Lakes.
Canadian author Arthur Britton Smith, who chronided the hIstory of HMS Ontario in the 1997 book "The legend of the Lake", described the find as an "archaeological mirade". "To have a Revolutionary war vessel that's intact is unbelievable", he told the Associated Press (A.P.) News Agency
Mr Scoville told AP that, although the vessel went down In a huge storm, It had still managed to "stay intact".
The pair believe the cold, fresh water of the lake has acted as a preservative -with the lack of light and oxygen slowing decomposition - ensuring the ship has stayed Intact. There are even two windows that arent' broken, just going down, the pressure difference can break the windows, its a beautiful ship, he said. The vessel is currently sitting in an area of the lake where the water is up to 500 feet deep and can only be reached by the most experienced divers. However, Mr Kennard and Mr Scoville, who have been hunting for the ship for three years, have refused to give Its exact location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.
HMS Ontarlo is considered one of the few "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great lakes and for many years divers and shipwreck hunters have searched for the vessel without success.
Official records quoted by the team of explorers show H.M.S. ONTARIO went down on 31 October 1780 with a garrison of 60 British soldiers and a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians. There could also have been up to 30 American prisoners of war on board.
BBC, U.K. News June 14, 2008