HMS Ontario (1780)

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Schematic view of Snow, showing the snow-mast, a loose footed gaff sail and clewed up main course.
Royal Navy EnsignGreat Britain
Name: HMS Ontario
Namesake: Lake Ontario
Owner: Provincial Marine
Operator: Royal Navy
Builder: Carleton Island Dockyard
Laid down: October, 1779
Launched: 10 May 1780
Fate: 31 October 1780 sank in Lake Ontario during a storm
Status: Shipwreck discovered in June, 2008 at more than 500 ft (150 m) depth
General characteristics
Class and type: Sixth-rate
Tons burthen: 226 tons[1]
Length: 80 ft (24 m)
Beam: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Sail plan: Two-masted snow
Complement: 130 believed lost
Armament: 22 cannons

HMS Ontario was a British warship that sank in a storm in Lake Ontario on 31 October 1780, during the American Revolutionary War.[2] She was a 22-gun snow, and, at 80 feet (24 m) in length, the largest British warship on the Great Lakes at the time.[2] The shipwreck was discovered in 2008 by Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville. Ontario was found largely intact and very well preserved in the cold water. Scoville and Kennard assert that "the 80-foot sloop of war is the oldest shipwreck and the only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes."[2]


Ontario was built in 1780 on Carleton Island, a major base in the St Lawrence River for the British during the Revolutionary War, but now part of New York. She was operated by the Royal Navy for the Provincial Marine in the capacity of an armed transport.[3]

At the time, Ontario was the largest British warship to sail on the Great Lakes. She was launched just five months before she sank, and was used to ferry troops, supplies and prisoners from one remote part of New York to another. She never saw battle.


Ontario sank in a storm on 31 October 1780 while underway from Fort Niagara to Oswego. Approximately 130 men perished with ship,[4] comprising an estimated 60 British soldiers of the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot, (comprising one officer, 34 other ranks, 4 women and 5 children from the regiment[5]) a crew of about 40 Canadians and possibly up to 30 American prisoners of war.[6] News of the sinking of the Ontario was kept quiet for a number of years to hide the military loss.[7]

Search and discovery[edit]

HMS Ontario (1780) is located in New York
Fort Niagara
Fort Niagara
Search area on Lake Ontario

Sophisticated side-scan sonar technology was used in the search of HMS Ontario in late May 2008.[8] A promising wreck was found between Niagara and Rochester, NY in an area of Lake Ontario where the depth exceeds 492 feet (150 m). The sonar imagery clearly showed a large sailing ship resting upright at an angle, with two masts reaching up at least 70 feet (21 m) above the bottom of the lake. The high resolution images showed the remains of two crow's nests on each mast, strongly suggesting that the sunken vessel was the brig-sloop Ontario. Due to the depth limitations for diving on this shipwreck, a remotely operated underwater vehicle was deployed and confirmed the identity of the ship in early June 2008.[8]

Kennard and Scoville believe that the cold, fresh water of Lake Ontario, combined with a lack of light and oxygen, have slowed decomposition and account for the ship being found largely intact, despite being on the bottom for 230 years.[6] The shipwreck's discoverers have notified the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, however the exact location of the wreck has not been publicly disclosed.[1] The wreck is still property of the United Kingdom and is a war grave.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Shipwreck Explorers Discover 1780 British Warship in Lake Ontario". Shipwreck World. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  2. ^ a b c William Kates (13 June 2008). "Explorers find 1780 British warship in Lake Ontario". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 14 June 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  3. ^ George A. Cuthbertson (1944). A Selection of Water Color Drawings By Canada steamship lines. Montreal: Canada steamship lines, Ltd.
  4. ^ Some sources say 172 William Wood (1915). Chronicles of Canada: Part IX National Highways All Afloat - A Chronicle of Craft and Waterways. Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company.
  5. ^ Haldimand Papers CO42/14 XP003691 Copy 1 Niagara, 18 November 1780
  6. ^ a b c "Divers find 1780 British warship". BBC News. 14 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  7. ^ "HMS Ontario (Post-Revoluntary War Great Lakes British Brig-Sloop of War)". Doran Bay Ships. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  8. ^ a b Taylor, Bill (14 June 2008). "Finding HMS Ontario's grave". Toronto: The Star. Retrieved 14 June 2008.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]