Divers swimming over a metal shipwreck covered in sea fans.
Divers swim over the iron remains of the Scottish steamship's bow in 20 feet of water at Elbow Reef. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA

The steamship Acorn was built in the Thistle Works Yard on the White Cart Water near Glasgow, Scotland. When launched in 1881, Acorn was 165 feet long, 24 feet 6 inches in breadth and had a 12-foot 9-inch depth of hold. The vessel had a raised quarterdeck that extended 77 feet from its stern to its raised bridge deck and a raised forecastle. Two masts punctuated its profile for handling cargo and providing emergency propulsion should its single-compound inverted steam engine fail.


Little information has been found on Acorn's early voyages; however, it likely operated as a tramp steamer around Europe. The first records located thus far put the vessel on repeated trips between New York City and Baracoa, Cuba carrying fruit cargos during the last months of 1884. At the beginning of 1885, Acorn began steaming between New York City and Laguna (believed to be in Brazil) carrying mahogany, hides, and logwood. On the night of February 8, 1885, Acorn grounded on Elbow Reef and was an immediate loss. Acorn's stern post was broken and its holds filled with water. All of the steamer's crew was rescued by wreckers who attempted to save some of the steamer's cargo of oil and lard, which floated free from the wreckage.

Old postcard of steamship at pier
Postcard depicting what is believed to be Acorn's sister ship. No photo has been located of Acorn. Image provided by Caledonian Maritime Research Trust


The articulated hull measures 142 feet long with a maximum of 32 feet of structure across the site's longitudinal axis. A portion of its hull, believed to be either its bow or stern, has been broken from the main wreckage and is lodged in the reef. This piece still maintains some structural integrity and interior space. The wreck no longer has its engine or other machinery, possibly due to salvage activities on Elbow Reef. Acorn has been incorporated into Elbow Reef and is heavily encrusted with sea fans and other types of soft corals. Lying at a depth of 20 to 30 feet, Elbow Reef's blue waters and excellent visibility make for a stunning dive. Diving With A Purpose and sanctuary staff partnered to map this shipwreck site during two sessions in 2016 and 2017.

Site Map

Archaeological drawing of a shipwreck
Acorn Shipwreck Site Map. Credit: Diving With a Purpose/NOAA