167-Year-Old Kent Shipwreck Carrying Valuable Cargo Receives Protection


The wreck of a British immigrant ship that sank off the coast of Kent 167 years ago has been granted special protection by the government. The Josephine Willis was en route to New Zealand, carrying British emigrants and a substantial amount of ceramics. The ship was involved in a collision and sank 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Folkestone harbor in 1856, lying in two parts on the seabed at a depth of 23 meters.

According to a marine archaeologist, the ceramics on board offer valuable insight into Victorian industry, trade, and the lives of immigrants. The ship was granted protection on the recommendation of Historic England. Some of the ceramics on board are still in their crates, and new patterns have been discovered on cups, plates, and bowls with no known equivalents in museum collections.


Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England, referred to the sinking of the Josephine Willis as a “sad story” of ordinary people who lost their lives in pursuit of a better life. However, the rare cargo on board provides important clues to the Victorian ceramics export industry of the mid-19th century. A total of 70 people lost their lives in the tragedy, including the ship’s captain, Edward Canney.

James Canney, a descendant of the captain, is conducting research into the ship’s construction and the people who chartered it. He is also learning more about the lives of the crew and passengers, both those who perished at sea and those who survived and later started new lives in New Zealand.

The wreck was discovered by divers from the Folkestone 501 diving club in 2018 and reported to Historic England through Wessex Archaeology. A marine archaeologist from Wessex Archaeology, Graham Scott, stated that most of the ceramics on board were ordinary, affordable, and mass-produced goods that European settlers in New Zealand could hope to own. Although these ceramics may be considered plain, their ordinariness makes them special as they provide valuable insight into the everyday lives of settlers.

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