taking our culture forward

Adrian Corkill awarded the RBV for his work on Manx shipwrecks

Fri, 23 Feb 2024

The Reih Bleeaney Vanannan cultural award for 2024 has been awarded to Adrian Corkill for over three decades’ work on the maritime history of the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man knows it is a maritime nation, with all but one parish touching the coastline. Manx sailors and navigators have been prized for their skills for generations, and many ships and crews have been lost over the centuries with tragic consequences for the Island’s community. Although most of the shipwrecks documented no longer have a physical trace on the seabed, the lives of over 3,000 people known to have been lost around the Isle of Man are recorded and not forgotten thanks to the diligent research of Adrian Corkill.

Adrian’s work has effectively brought the stories of shipwrecks in Manx waters to the surface for everyone to discover. He learnt to SCUBA dive so that he could investigate the many sites around the Isle of Man, which led to the pioneering work of creating a database which includes information on ships that had been wrecked, and also those lost but without an identified wreck site.

Over 2,000 historic shipwrecks are recorded in the database, with references and bibliography for each vessel. His research has involved newspapers, port records, crew and shipping registers, insurance and court records, Admiralty archives and burial registers. The crew lists within the database are an invaluable source of information for family history researchers.

The shipwrecks documented date from a Viking longship fleet lost off Peel in AD 1228, ships involved in the slave trade in the 1700s and 1800s, and the ship thought responsible for introducing longtails to the Calf of Man in 1781. It extends to the herring fleet disaster off Douglas in 1787, and the loss of HMS Racehorse, which prompted the creation of the RNLI.

Adrian’s research has all been on a voluntary basis and in his spare time. He is generous in sharing his research with others, through his publications, and to answer questions from academics, family historians and anyone interested. In 2003, he published ‘Shipwrecks of the Isle of Man’ which looks at 85 wreck sites accessible to divers.

Most significantly, in 2022, Adrian offered to transfer his research freely to the national collections cared for by Manx National Heritage, to be incorporated into the Isle of Man Historic Environment Record (IOMHER) database meaning that Adrian’s research and dataset can now be accessed and searched by researchers worldwide.

In the words of a nomination, “His enthusiasm for both the subject itself, and for encouraging and enabling people to discover the incredible variety of this aspect of the Island’s heritage, is both inspiring and infectious.”

Adrian Corkill’s research into the maritime history is one that tells so much of the story of the Isle of Man, and he hopes that this award raises the profile of this important subject. It is most fitting that an award named after the sea god Manannan goes to someone who has spent so much time in the sea and working on the archives that it has inspired. The fact that one of the shipwrecks documented led to the founding of the RNLI adds deep resonance to the 200th anniversary celebrations of the charity.

Adrian commented, “I’m very happy to be able to share my research through the IOMHER and MNH. I’d like to thank all those who have helped me in this research over the past thirty years, as well as the RBV Panel for appreciating the significance of maritime history to our Island. It’s always been important to me to make sure that the fullest accounts of shipwrecks are presented. Thousands of lives have been lost in the sea around our nation, and hopefully my Shipwrecks of the Isle of Man project can help at least some of those people be remembered.”

He stressed that the IOMHER is not a static body of research and will continue to benefit from further research, saying, “I didn’t think when I started that there would be so much still to discover! It’s been a very rewarding journey so far, and my research continues. Even now, when I look at sources of information that weren’t accessible previously, I can find out new information about known shipwrecks, as well as losses previously unknown. I’ve found it important to look at as wide a variety of sources as possible and to continually reassess the data as new information comes to light.”  

The Reih Bleeaney Vanannan or Manannan’s Choice of the Year is the Isle of Man’s highest cultural honour, awarded by Culture Vannin, and decided by a selection panel which is made up of representatives from Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh, Yn Chruinnaght, Manx National Heritage, IOM Arts Council and Culture Vannin itself.

Adrian was presented with the medal at the ‘All at Sea’ exhibition at the House of Manannan, along with £500 prize money. He nominated Manx National Heritage for a further donation of £500 with the intention of supporting the database software that hosts the Maritime Section of Historic Environment Record.


More information about the RBV is available here: Reih Bleeaney Vanannan.
Adrian's page almongst the previous winners of the RBV is available here: Adrian Corkill RBV.
A recording of the presentation and speeches on 28 Feb 2024 is available here: Adrian Corkill RBV award & speeches

Additional Photos