"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Raising the Mary Rose - and its skeletons. By Colin Fox

Blog | By Colin Fox | Oct 10, 2023

The Mary Rose (Mary Rose Trust)

41 years ago, on October 11, 1982,the Mary Rose was raised from the seabed. Heroic Colin Fox first helped bring up the bodies

I was in my third year as a volunteer diver on the Mary Rose.

I’d learnt to dive in 1970 and had packed a few hundred dives under my weight belt but working in the ‘Rose’ was different.

On the 29 May I was told I had a special job to do. The ‘job’ was to raise a skeleton that had been found in one of the trenches. Margaret Rule, who directed the excavation, had said something about ‘blooding’ the divers; there were going to be a lot of bodies deeper in the wreck and it could be a bit of a charnel house later on. We would have to get used to it. A large plastic bin had been taken down to hold the remains. I wrote:

‘All I saw was the end of a femur coming out from under a wooden chest, a mass of ribs and a sternum. As soon as I touched the first bone, the vis(ibility) blotted out and I worked in total darkness. Instead of nice light firm clay, the material surrounding the body was dark and sticky, the flesh having turned into something like a soft dough. I plunged my hands into the heap and hauled out as much as I could placing it into the bin. I could feel bones, large, small, some smooth, some sharp and spiky. I felt softer material – leather, wool? It went on and on until after an hour I’d filled the bin to the brim.

I swam into clear water to get my bearings. I could taste something foul around my lips, whether it came from within me or, God forbid, from the mess I’d been handing I didn’t know. With another diver we got the bin to the bottom of the shot rope and then to the surface where waiting hands lifted it on to the deck.

Later the shore team went through it and found the remains of three bodies, two kidney dagger handles, three coins, the pointy end of a spear shaft, part of a powder measure and the sole of a shoe as well as a mass of leather fragments.

I swilled out my mouth with water and gratefully took the proffered cup of tea. A soak in the bath rid my suit of most of the smell and feel of the bodies and a shower completed the cleansing ritual.