The 5th rate warship HMS Dartmouth was launched from the Portsmouth yard of John Tippets in 1655. She measured 80’ x 25’ x 12’ and her tonnage was 266bm. When launched she was armed with 22 guns of various calibres but this was later raised to 36 guns.
She served for the English Navy around the world and had proved an excellent, highly manoeuvrable sailing ship. She underwent a major refit in 1678 including the fitting of a new keel then returned to service to continue her successful career. However in the Spring of 1690 she began a campaign which was to prove to be her last. King William and his queen, Mary, the new monarchs of Great Britain, sent the ship, under the command of Captain Edward Pottinger, to assert their authority over the people of Scotland, many of whom felt greater allegiance to the Jacobite cause. The Dartmouth was based at Greenock in March of 1690 and over the next six months plied back and forth around the Scottish coastline providing assistance as required to William’s land based troops.
In October of 1690 the Dartmouth and two other smaller ships were sent to Mull to force McLean of Duart, an ardent Jacobite, to sign Articles of Allegiance to William and Mary. As the ships sailed down the Sound of Mull from the north west, a violent storm arose and the crews aboard the vessels were relieved when they reached the shelter of Scallcastle Bay, an emergency anchorage to this day, and dropped anchor to wait out the storm. For three days they rode at anchor but, around 6pm on the 9th October, the anchor cable parted and the Dartmouth was driven before the wind across the Sound of Mull. Records of what actually happened are of course vague but local folklore and subsequent archaeological evidence suggest that she heeled over dramatically first to port then to starboard, almost capsizing a number of times, as she swept across the Sound finally to be driven ashore, stern first, on Eilean Rubha an Ridire. The wreck quickly broke her back allowing the stern section to list to starboard and sink close to the sloping rocky shore. The bow section also keeled over to starboard and sank in slightly deeper water. It is not known exactly how many died but of the estimated 130 men aboard only 6 survived .
The wreck site was discovered in 1973 by a team of divers from Bristol who identified her from the inscription DH 1678 on the brass bell they discovered at the site. The wreck was the subject of a lengthy archaeological exploration under the direction of Colin Martin of the University of St Andrews. The wreck was given protected status in April of 1974. In 1979 this protection was removed but in 1992 it was reinstated. Much of the wreckage, which included a substantial portion of the starboard side of the hull, 19 iron guns, the ship’s bell and a significant quantity of other artefacts, was removed for preservation during subsequent exploration and are now housed n the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh.