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Interview with Christopher Dobbs by Kay Seago

Chris Dobbs was an archaeologist who dived down to the Mary Rose and helped with the excavation in 1982. Chris is now Head of Interpretation at the Mary Rose Trust.  He was kind enough to share his experience with me in this interview.

 

Kay: “Hi Chris, first of all I’d like to know how old you were when you was recruited as a diver on the Mary Rose?”

 

Chris: “It was in 1979 so I must have been 22. I had just graduated from University”

 

Kay: “So who first approached you about the job?”

 

Chris: “Well, I studied archaeology at Cambridge University and we had six underwater archaeology lectures. Now at this time, the Mary Rose was a major project, so I wrote to the Mary Rose Trust and arranged to meet with Margaret Rule, the archaeological director”

 

Kay: “What were your first feelings when you accepted the job?”

 

Chris: “It was very daunting. I was in charge of a lot of people, some of them were up to three times older than me”

 

Kay: “Did you ever find that there were times when you felt frustrated?”

 

Chris: “There were some stages when I could feel frustrated; for instance, you could only dive for an hour, maybe half an hour each day, it was not like a normal excavation where you could visit the site at any time, you could not go into the water when you wanted. At the same time, there was always so much to do on the surface”

 

Kay: “What was the most exciting moment?”

 

Chris: “Feeling the ship underwater when she was first lifted off of the bottom. It was exciting because this was a personal moment and a shared moment”

 

Kay: “When did you start to feel the pressure of so much responsibility?”

 

Chris: “In the middle of the Summer 1982. We had been preparing to get ready for the salvage then suddenly to have this crane towering over us really made us feel under pressure, but when it came to the final few days it was so busy that you would do the work and then get some sleep as soon as you could. You had to have the discipline to rest, rather than get caught in all of the momentum.”

 

Kay: “Did you feel that the time you spent resting caused you to miss out on certain things?”

 

Chris: “No, it was just such a privilege to be involved in this amazing project. We actually did the first ever televised live broadcasts from under the water. This involved really big cameras, cameras as big as a kitchen chair!”

 

Kay: “What did you do after the excavation?”

 

Chris: “We had to do a lot of clearing up. We had to take out timbers and basically tidy up the site”

 

Kay: “There were a lot of skeletons found on board of the Mary Rose.  Were you present when they were found?”

 

Chris: “Yes, but we did not find them as complete skeletons. Most of the material was not in one piece; we found individual bones. It was not scary like opening a cupboard and seeing a skeleton there.”

 

Kay: “Was it overwhelming finding the bones?”

 

Chris: “We had to get on with our task as archaeologists. I remember excavating a wooden shovel and holding it thinking ‘the last person to hold this was a Tudor!”

 

Kay: “Are there any other shipwrecks that you wish you had or could excavate?”

 

Chris: “The Vasa and other wrecks in the Baltic”

 

Kay: “Would you ever want to dive down to the Titanic?”

 

Chris: “Not particularly. Personally, I think that wrecks from the 20th century are too recent, too voyeuristic.”

 

Kay: “What was it like diving with Prince Charles? As a 22 year old it must have been quite scary!”

 

Chris: “It was a great responsibility and a great privilege. In all dives you have to be prepared for any eventualities to keep everyone safe”

 

Kay: “If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?”

 

Chris: “Yes, I’d love to go back and do it again knowing what I know now. There are lots of things we’d do differently but I do not regret anything that we did do. We contributed to maritime excavation for today. We showed that underwater heritage is worth saving, it has value to society and the world, and we also raised awareness of underwater heritage”

 

Kay: “Is there any advice that you can give to an aspiring archaeologist?”

 

Chris: “One is that, to succeed you’ve got to have a speciality. You want to try and become an expert in something; for example, surveying or drawing. Any excavation will need people that can do everything but an expert in a particular area will always be needed. Do it as a pastime or be prepared to do it as a job you will enjoy as self-satisfaction rather than financial satisfaction”

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