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Evstafii: Grif Skerry, Whalsay Skerries, North Sea

Pink (18th Century)

Site Name Evstafii: Grif Skerry, Whalsay Skerries, North Sea

Classification Pink (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Whalsay; Nesting; Griff Skerry; Griff Skerries; Groff Skerry; Whalsey; Evstafii

Canmore ID 213937

Site Number HU66SW 8001

NGR HU 6301 6244

Datum Datum not recorded


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Maritime - Shetland Islands
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Maritime
  • Former County Not Applicable

Archaeology Notes

HU66SW 8001 6301 6244

N60 20.5 W0 51.5

NLO: Grif Skerry [name: HU 631 623]

Whalsay [name centred HU 56 63].

Location formerly cited as HU c. 630 623 [N60 20.4 W0 51.5].

For guns bult into Symbister, Old Harbour (centred HU 5383 6240), see HU56SW 18.00.

Evstafii: [max. date] 1780

130ft by 31ft. 38 guns, carried 36

Archive Ref: GD 144/2/13; TH 1985 p. 192; OLM Vol 3; Old Statistical Account

MS/3025, no. 689.

(No accurate location cited). Griff Skerries, Shetland: Evstafii. Coins, sword pommels, brass weights and brass icons from this ship of the Russian Imperial Navy (lost 1780) were sold at Sotheby's, 8 November 1973, lots 158-184.

J Cherry 1974.

Assigned to class 4 ('dispersed and unstable').

K Muckelroy 1977.

(Location cited as 60 20' 30"N 0 51' 30"N [N60 20.5 W0 51.5: HU 6301 6244], 3.5nm E of Whalsay). This armed transport (also described as a frigate) of the Imperial Russian Navy was built at the Malcov shipyards, Archangel, and launched on 1 October [new style] 1773; she was 130 ft (39.6m) long and pierced for 38 guns. While on passage from Archangel to Kronstadt (under the command of Captain-Lieutenant Markov), she was apparently blown westward onto the Shetlands and wrecked on the Griff Skerry, Unst on 20 September 1780. Only five members of the crew survived the wreck, which was long remembered in local tradition for the recovery of floating debris (including much tar). Attempts at salvage apparently recovered eighteen guns which were built into the old harbour [presumably HU56SW 18.00] on Whalsay.

The wreck was discovered by divers under R Stenuit in 1972, while searching (unsuccessfully) for the wrecks of Dutch vessels lost in 1711. Two anchors and a broken cannon were initially identified in 20m depth of water in an extremely exposed situation on the E side of Griff Skerry. No remains of the ship's structure, sheathing or rigging were found to survive. Some forty square cast iron pigs were found and may have formed part of the ship's ballast; a brass handle may have formed part of the furniture and lumps of tar (possibly from the cargo) lay scattered across the wreck.

After initial survey, the iron concretions that comprised the remains were recovered with heavy tools and explosives. About 300 artifacts and fragments (mostly of metal) were recovered, conserved and sold at auction; a representative selection being retained at the Shetland Museum.

These artifacts recovered comprised:

Ship's gear and stores: copper and brass hardware (including a candlestick) and iron tools (mostly unidentifiable), a folded fragment of sailcloth, coils of rope, pottery of various types (including stoneware, glazed earthernware and Chinese blue porcelain), glass bottles, a drinking glass, at least one lead steelyard weight and parts of two different sets of nests of weights were also found. Navigational instruments found were a sounding lead and what was probably the lead bottom weight for a gimbal-mounted compass-bowl.

Weapons: The corroded ('graphetized' or 'rotten') and lightened remains of eighteen complete or fragmentary iron cannon were found, as well as large quantities of solid, grape and bar-shot and the remains of powder-filled (explosive) bombs, shells or grenades. At least two reamers, parts of sword-hilts, a brass musket sideplate and brass ramrod-pipes from muskets and pistols were recovered.

Domestic and personal items: about 220 Russian and Dutch gold, silver and copper coins, shoe and belt buckles, fragments of clay pipes, a commemorative medal of the Battle of Tchesme (1770), several complete and seven complete or fragmentary icons in cast bronze.

The ship has been classified as a pink, a name has been applied to several types of ship, among them a northern trader or armed naval transport of the Baltic, North Sea and the Atlantic. This type of ship was derived from the flute or fluit and was characterised by a flat floor and long elevated stern. The type was common in the contemporary Russian navy and formed the basis of Russian seapower under Peter the Great and later. The remarkable degree of corrosion seen in the cannon is indicative of the poor standard of Russian gunfounding in this period but the variations noted in the form of the shot and the evident early use of explosive ordnance are significant.

(For location and site plans, see Stenuit 1976a, figs. 1 and 2; for summary tables of ammunition and shot types see Stenuit 1976a, 229 and 231).

R Stenuit 1976a; R Stenuit 1976b; J P Delgado 1998; C Martin 1998.

(Classified as 36-gun Frigate: date of loss cited as 17 September 1780). Evstafii: this vessel was lost of Groff [Grif] Skerry, near Whalsey [Whalsay].

Registration: Russian. Length: 40m. Beam: 9m.

(Location of loss cited as N60 20.5 W0 51.5).

I G Whittaker 1998.

The following artifacts from this wreck are held in Shetland Museum, Lerwick:

(Registration no. SEA 88241; accession no. A37-79). Stock from a flintlock pistol, of length 404mm, in very poor condition, and with no metal parts surviving. Recovered from the wreck; now stable after conservation.

(Registration no. CUR 88242; accession no. A16-80). Copper coins: two Russian 5-kopeck pieces of Ekaterina II (both very badly abraded and corroded, one particularly so), dated 1776 and 17?. Diameters (max) 41 x 3mm and 40 x 3mm. These are said to have been taken from a person who had illegal possession of them in 1978.

(Registration no. SEA 88243; accession no. A16-80). Left-hand part of a small triptych, very corroded and with holes beginning to appear near the top edge. The outside shows a circular design surroounding a cross; the inside three regal figures, possibly the Holy Trinity of three kings. Dimensions: 58mm (including hinges) x 60mm x 3mm. Said to have been taken from a person who had illegal possession in 1978.

(Registration no. SEA 88244; accession no. A16-80). Brass lid or cover, very corroded and oval in shape with hinge (remains of hinge pin in one hole) along outer top edge. Said to have been taken from a person who had illegal possession in 1978.

All the other finds from the wreck were sold at auction.

NMRS, MS/829/65.

The Whalsay Skerries are not noted as such on the 1999 edition of the OS 1:50,000 map, but the name presumably applies to the scattered skerries to the E and SE of Whalsay, around East Linga [name: HU 615 623].

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 25 September 2007.


Reference (2011)

Whittaker ID : 6775


Latitude : 602030

Longitude : 5130

Registration : RUSSIAN


Length : 40

Beam : 9

Loss Day : 17

Loss Month : 9

Loss Year : 1780

Comment : Lost on Groff Skerry, near Whalsey.


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