Rediscovering HMS Tyger

On January 13, 1742 HMS Tyger ran aground on coral reefs near Garden Key. The crew desperately heaved the heavy cannon and anchors offboard to lighten the load, and tried various means to shift the vessel off its perch. But it was no use. HMS Tyger was stuck – really stuck – and friends were 700 miles away. Hundreds of years later, archeologists identified the shipwreck and have learned much more about the crew’s plight on the isolated island chain.

HMS Tyger
HMS 'Tyger' taking the 'Schakerloo' in the harbor of Cadiz, 23 February 1674.

History of HMS Tyger

British ships arrived in the Florida Keys during the Anglo-Spanish War, also known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. HMS Tyger was a British warship built in 1647, then reconfigured several times. In 1741, Tyger measured 130 feet long and weighed 704 tons. It carried six 6-pounders on the quarter deck, twenty-two 9-pounders on the upper deck, and twenty-two 18-pounders on the gun deck. Its complement included 281 men, including 5 commissioned officers and 57 marines. The ship and crew sailed in the vicinity of Cuba and Jamaica, intimidating the Spanish as they went, before spotting sails while on patrol between Cape Corrientes and Cape San Antonio. They pursued the Spanish into the Gulf of Mexico, logging but not fully registering the increasingly shallow depths.

And then, on January 13th 1742, Tyger ran aground.

The crew sprang into action as Tyger took on water and listed to the side. They moved the heavy anchors to deeper water, threw heavy cannon overboard, and moved the ship’s contents to the back to lighten the load. Bad weather and a series of missteps worsened the situation. It became clear that Tyger was lost, and the captain ordered everyone to abandon ship.

The crew went ashore on Garden Key, where they built shelter and the island’s first fortifications; battled heat, mosquitos, and thirst; cobbled together makeshift vessels from salvaged pieces of Tyger; and plotted escape. Finally, after botching an attack on a Spanish vessel and burning remains the remains of Tyger to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, the surviving crew embarked through enemy waters to seek help at Port Royal Jamaica. The 700-mile (1,125km) trip took over 55 days.

HMS Tyger was the first of three British man-of-war ships to sink off the Florida Keys. Archeologists had identified the locations for the other two (HMS Fowey and HMS Looe), but the Tyger remained lost. Following up on earlier research, archeologists examined the historic ship logbooks more closely. They took the new information to the water, where during archeological survey they located five cannon approximately 500 yards from the main wreck site. The guns were likely British 6- and 9- pound cannon and, given their location, are almost definitely those thrown overboard when HMS Tyger first ran aground. Tyger had been found.
Archeologists survey the Tyger
A NPS diver documenting one of five coral encrusted cannons found during recent archeological survey in Dry Tortugas National Park.

NPS photo by Brett Seymour

Future Stewardship

HMS Tyger crew built the first fortifications on Garden Key more than 100 years before the initial construction of Fort Jefferson, which today dominates the island and is the principal cultural resource within the park. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935 for the preservation of the Dry Tortugas Islands and Fort Jefferson. The U.S. Congress expanded the monument in 1983 and re-designated it Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992, “In order to preserve and protect for the education, inspiration, and enjoyment of present and future generations nationally significant natural, historic, scenic, marine, and scientific values in South Florida.”
Diver identifying a “broad arrow” marking on a copper barrel band denoting ownership by the British military. Copper barrel bands were used on small barrels of copper during the 18th century.
Diver identifying a “broad arrow” marking on a copper barrel band denoting ownership by the British military. Copper barrel bands were used on small barrels of copper during the 18th century.

NPS photo by Brett Seymour

The remains of HMS Tyger – including the shipwreck and artifacts on the seafloor and in the museum collection – are the sovereign property of the British Government in accordance with international treaty. The shipwrecks are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) and the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004 (32 CFR 767). The NPS will not make the exact location of the Tyger publicly available because it is protected information under ARPA (16 U.S.C. 470aa-470mm; Public Law 96-95 and amendments) and its regulations, the Protection of Archaeological Resources (43 CFR 7) and the Protection of Archaeological Resources (36 CFR 296). Submerged archeological resources are regularly monitored by NPS staff to ensure they remain in good condition.

Shipwrecks at Dry Tortugas are threatened by both natural and cultural degradation. These threats include major storm events, erosion, illicit excavation, theft, vandalism, and physical damage from surface activities. NPS archeologists continue to research the site, its use, and the potential for additional archeological material. Their research enables the NPS to plan for the site’s future care and stewardship of the site, and in particular monitor any changes caused by either natural or anthropogenic (human) activities. The public plays an important role in helping the National Park Service to preserve and protect HMS Tyger and other submerged archeological resources for this and future generations.
Image showing concreted cannonballs on the seafloor.
Image showing concreted cannonballs on the seafloor.

NPS photo by Brett Seymour

For More Information

Van Slyke, Andrew and Joshua Marano. “Hunting HMS Tyger, 1742: Identifying a Ship-of-the-Line in Dry Tortugas National Park.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 2023.

For additional details about the HMS Tyger and contact information, view the press release.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Last updated: March 14, 2024