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Diver who discovered the Mary Rose wreck is honoured at Hayling Island Library

Tuesday, 01 July 2014

The diver who discovered the location of the wreck of the Mary Rose has been honoured at Hayling Island Library.

A bust of author, military historian and amateur diver Alexander McKee, who died 22 years ago, was unveiled at Hayling Island Library on Friday 27 June by his daughter Mrs Cornelia Hallett, Councillor Keith Chapman, Hampshire County Council's Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Heritage, and local County Councillor Frank Pearce.

Cllr Pearce was instrumental in assisting the Alexander McKee Memorial Organisation raise the money for the bust.

The bronze statue is a twin to the one unveiled by Alexander McKee's widow, Ilse, who is 93, at the Mary Rose Museum in April.

It was created by Devon based sculptor Luke Shepherd working from film and photograph and regularly taking the advice of Mr McKee's family.

Working from his home on Hayling Island Alexander McKee researched the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose. Finding the vessel in the silt of the Solent in the 1960s had been Mr McKee's lifelong dream.

The Mary Rose, a 600 ton carrack, launched in 1509 and was said to be Henry VIII's favourite warship. It capsized and sank on her way to fight a French invasion fleet in 1545.

Alexander McKee's first breakthrough came when he discovered the approximate position of the Mary Rose marked on a Victorian chart. Later a primitive Sonar trace revealed an anomaly beneath the seabed.

In 1968, using steel rods, Alexander McKee and his team of volunteer divers from local branches of The British Sub-Aqua Club - known as ";Mad Macs Marauders" - struck timber two metres below the silt. Later they salvaged a Tudor canon, proving the ship was the Mary Rose. This generated the enthusiasm and finance which led to her being raised to the surface in 1982.

Mr McKee was later awarded the OBE and died in 1992 aged 73.

Today the remains of the Mary Rose rest in the purpose built Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, together with 20,000 artefacts found in the ship.

Councillor Pearce, who gave £4,000 from his devolved County Councillor budget for the project, said: "I have always called Alexander McKee a Hayling legend. Most agree that without the stubborn determination of this Hayling Island man, "McKee's Ghost Ship", the Mary Rose, would still be lost to the sea. What he found was a Tudor time capsule, adding enormously to our knowledge of everyday life during that period. It is fitting that he should be remembered for his efforts with a statue the local community can easily access. I chose Hayling Island Library as the location for this special bust because it is in a central location, everyone knows where it is and I am sure the sculpture will be a popular attraction."

Councillor Chapman added: "It is an honour for Hampshire County Council to give a home in Hayling Island Library to this wonderful piece of artwork remembering such an important local figure. Hampshire has one of the largest library services in the whole of the UK and offers so much more than many people realise. Libraries and Discovery Centres are a great resource for local residents, not only as a place to read, but also as a platform for exhibitions, encouraging knowledge, creativity and socialising."

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