25th December 1982

Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour

Diver and fisherman Richard Keen was taking a Christmas day swim when he spotted the remains of a third-century Roman trading ship. It had been sunk right in the middle of what was then the mouth of St Peter Port harbour.

Unfortunately, its position meant that the ship was slowly being eroded by the motion of the water, which was constantly being stirred up by the passing maritime traffic. It was obvious that it needed to be brought to the surface as soon as possible. However, lifting the 18m remains of a 22m- to 25m-long, 6m-wide ship is not an easy business, and particularly not in that location where doing so would disrupt a lot of sea traffic.

The Guernsey Maritime Trust was formed in response and immediately started making plans for the ship’s recovery. In the meantime, the vessel, which turned out to be the most complete sea-going Roman ship of its size known to have survived outside the Mediterranean, earned itself the nickname Asterix, after a schoolboy referred to it as Asterix’s ship.

As work on its excavation and removal proceeded, it became clear that Keen had found more than just a ship. Asterix was a supply vessel that had seemingly caught fire and sunk with much of its cargo in place, including tiles and coins.

Lifting Asterix

Work on raising the wreck took place in November 1984, March 1985 and September 1986, with sandbags being placed on top of it to protect it from suffering any further erosion in the interim. Further dives were taken when required (and when safe to do so) until 1988 and the work was completed under the guidance of Dr Margaret Rule, who had also supervised the raising of King Henry VIII’s gunship, the Mary Rose.

Once it was out of the water, work began on preserving the wood. In 1999 it was sent to Portsmouth for the expert attention of the same team who had worked with Dr Rule on the Mary Rose. The timbers didn’t return to Guernsey until the start of 2015.

The preserved remains of the wrecked ship are now on display in Rocquaine, and some of the cargo is on display in the Maritime Museum at Castle Cornet.

While it might seem strange that the ship was discovered on Christmas Day when few people would be expected to be diving, that is actually the only day of the year when diving is permitted in the harbour, since at all other times there is too much marine traffic for it not to pose a danger to shipping or the diver themselves.

 

FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.

 

Other events that occured in December

French fishing boats prepare to invade 1st
Two cargo ships collide on their way to Guernsey 2nd
Guernseyman Herbert Le Patourel wrongly thought killed 3rd
A Guernsey funeral takes place in Cornwall 4th
Guernsey steamship SS Rossgull is wrecked 5th
The Guernsey Tapestry is completed 6th
Air UK Fokker overshoots Guernsey runway 7th
Naftel’s paintings go on display 8th
Guernsey and Jersey newspapers agree to merge 9th
Sark holds its first election 10th
Beau Sejour opens for business 11th
Victor Hugo flees France and Napoleon 12th
Explorer Edmund Kennedy is speared to death 13th
Author Mary Ann Shaffer is born
Herm bribery case comes to court 14th
Alderney’s evacuees return to their island 15th
Guillaume de Beauvoir appointed dean of English Church in Geneva 16th
Castle Cornet surrenders to Guernsey 17th
Telex, phones and telegram cables go quiet 18th
Guernsey shipwreck results in starvation 19th
Channel Islands Securities Exchange founded 20th
G-COBO has a bumpy flight 21st
Guernsey struck by an earthquake 22nd
William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou 23rd
Wombles author Liza Beresford dies 24th
Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour 25th
Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms 26th
The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation 27th
Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands 28th
Ebenezer Le Page author GB Edwards dies 29th
Castle Cornet is struck by lightning 30th
Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest 31st