Book Review: Wreck of the Colossus
Wreck of the Colossus, The find of a lifetime
by Todd Stevens
256 pages, £15
Todd Stevens is a keen, amateur, wreck diver. So keen he moved to the remote Isles of Scilly - the most South Westerly point of the British Isles - purely because of the many undiscovered wrecks there. This book tells how he found the remains of one of Nelson's ships, and the machinations involved when his find became public.
The book starts 200 years ago with a history of the Colossus, followed by the human story of the shipwreck. It continues with details of the author's dives on the Colossus, the hostile involvement of salvage operators and the author's growing frustrations. A cautionary tale for any would-be wreck discoverers.
The Colossus was a gun ship which first set to sea in 1787, She was 170 feet long and 50 feet wide. She was anchored in the Isles of Scilly in 1798 waiting for favourable weather. During a storm the anchor cable broke, leading eventually to distress signals being sent out. Men from the local islands set out in open boats to rescue the sailors. After several hours, all 840 men were saved.
To salvage the iron from the ship the navy employed two divers, Tomkin and Braithwaite. They had a semi-armoured diving suit supplied with air from the surface. They successfully raised many large guns from the Colossus. Thirty-five years later the Deane brothers worked on the wreck. They invented a helment coupled to a flexible diving dress that was fed by a powerful surface pump. Their design was used until SCUBA was invented after the 2nd World War.
Part of the Colossus had been discovered and excavated in the seventies by Roland Morris. Todd Stevens though found extensive wreckage and historically important artefacts well away from the recorded site.
The book is well illustrated with over 100 black and white photos and maps.
Although the author writes well, and his passion is obvious, the book would have been improved by a good editor. Stevens at times gives far too much detail for most readers and some of his paragraphs go on for pages. However, if you are planning to dive from the Scilly Islands or are interested in discovering lost wrecks then I recommend you buy the book before you start.
About the Author
Todd Stevens was an East London drop out heading nowhere. He and his brothers took up diving with the BSAC in Northampton in 1979 and he credits the sport keeping him "on the straight and narrow ever since". A carpenter by trade he became extremely active in the sport all around the British coast. In 1999 he moved to the Isles of Scilly to hunt out undiscovered shipwrecks and found the stern of Colossus in May of that same year. Todd says "(I) lost the wreck to anyone who thought they had a vested interest in it (then) wrote the book". Along with his wife Carmen, who is also a keen diver, he is now head of a small team that actively hunts for undiscovered historic wreck sites. Read our interview with Todd Stevens.
The Wreck of the Colossus is available by sending a cheque for £17 (including p&p) made out to Colossus Publications to Colossus, Pilot's Retreat, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, TR21 0NA. Alternatively you can buy the book from Amazon or from the web site at hmscolossus.co.uk/.
Diving the Colossus
Your Comments and Reviews
(2 reviews )
"Have had an interest in Nelson etc for many years, just finished a book about Nelson and Hamiltons just before visiting Isles for 3rd time my interest sparked in Colossus wreck. Went to museums on Tresco and St Marys. Spoke to Tim of calypso II who knew quite a bit about it. On last day a airport spotted Todds book. What a thoroughly good read. The image of a lone diver trudging along the sea bed towing his boat behind him on the surface was (to me) truly bizarre. So pleased that I read the book."
"I read the book I found it very interesting that I couldn't put it down,I would like to come over to the Scillys and stay for a couple of days, to look at the museum and see where the Colossus lies any help would be appreciated. Thanks"
"Hi Graham We'll put you in touch with Todd Stevens."
The SCUBA Travel Team