Archives For 17th Century

Cape Rachado CC Image Courtesy of M. King on Flickr

Cape Rachado
CC Image Courtesy of M. King on Flickr

From August 16th to 18th, 1606 the seas off Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan) in modern-day Malaysia echoed with the sounds of naval gunfire as two European fleets wrestled for control of the Straits of Malacca. The Dutch East India Company had dispatched a fleet of eleven ships from Holland in mid-1605 in an effort to pry the Portuguese from their strongholds in the East Indies. The Dutch besieged the Portuguese garrison at Malacca in May 1606, however, in August a Portuguese fleet of twenty ships from its colony in Goa, modern-day India arrived to lift the siege.

The two fleets engaged one another for several days with long-range cannon barrages but neither fleet gaining an advantage over the other. Finally, the Portuguese decided to close the distance and use their numerical superiority to overwhelm the Dutch fleet. Early on August 18th, the Portuguese closed with the Dutch and boarded the Dutch vessel Nassau. As additional ships from both sides sailed into the fray the cannonade set the Dutch ship Oranje ablaze threatening both the Nassau and the Oranje as well as the two engaged Portuguese vessels. Eventually all four of the vessels were set ablaze and a truce was declared to allow the fleets to lick their wounds and repair back to their respective anchorages. While the battle was a defeat for the Dutch as the siege of Malacca was relieved, it enabled the Dutch to gain favor with the Sultan of Johor, the local leader, and when the fleet returned two months later it destroyed a much reduced Portuguese fleet.

The dates of the final sinking of the four vessels lost in the battle: Sao Salvador, a Portuguese galleon, Nassau and Middelburg vary from August 18th to 22nd. Some sources claim the wreck of the Nassau finally succumbed to the sea on the 22nd, but what is not in dispute is that they were located in 1995 by British marine archaeologist Mensun Bound and successfully excavated. Some of the artifacts from the wrecks are now on display at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

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george washington

Portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale
Washington & Lee University

Today marks the official celebration of Washington’s Birthday (aka Presidents’ Day). Lighthorse Harry Lee described George Washington as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” a fitting description for a man who personally shaped many of America’s first martial and political traditions. While George Washington and tales of cherry trees, providential safety in battle and his wooden false teeth are typical textbook fare, less well known is the story behind the Washington family’s emigration to the colonies.

Born around 1633 in England, George Washington’s great-great grandfather Lawrence Washington embarked aboard the Seahorse in 1656 to trade tobacco with Virginian colonists. As the Seahorse neared the Virginia coastline, the ship was caught in a storm and wrecked near The Clifts, a plantation owned by one Nathanael Pope (part of the plantation later became the Lee family home of Stratford Hall). Instead of returning to England, young Lawrence grew enamored with Nathanael’s daughter Anne and married her in 1658. Lawrence served his adopted colony of Virginia in her militia as well a the House of Burgesses and died with 8,500 acres to his name. Thus, if it weren’t for a shipwreck and a beguiling Southern belle, an English born George Washington may very well have been leading British and Hessian troops against the colonists in 1776.

Mississippi

The Mississippi River is the fourth longest river in the world with a watershed encompassing all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces – 1.2 million square miles worth. 1,200,000 square miles is a lot of territory to cover and yet in his latest book, Old Man River, Paul Schneider provides readers with a sweeping overview of the river from its geological origins to the taming of the river by the modern US Army Corps of Engineers. Schneider serves up a veritable feast with an appetizer of geology, a second course of pre-historic and Indian tales, a main course of 19th and 20th century stories spiced with liberal helpings of Mike Fink, Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain and finished off with a dessert of modern events.

Interspersed throughout historical tales of floods, Indian raids and keelboats, Schneider weaves in his own odyssey on the Mississippi and her tributaries. From kayaking the Ohio alone to drifting down the Mississippi with his son, Schneider brings to life the various locales he visits. For those who have spent any amount of time living on the River, Schneider’s book will especially resonate as he perfectly captures the feelings and color of the River’s varying culture. Although a couple passages inadvertently come across as elitist and preachy, overall Old Man River is a beautiful ode to one of America’s defining geographic landmarks. For those looking to lazily drift from the breadbasket plains states past Mark Twain’s Hannibal, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium, the antebellum homes of Natchez, the bluffs of Vicksburg where the blood of men in blue and gray flowed and down to the Cajun culture of the Delta, Old Man River is a highly recommended read.

Raleigh, NC

Sir Walter Raleigh
CC Image Courtesy of Jeffrey L. Cohen on Flickr

The UK’s Western Morning News is reporting that divers believe they may have found the wreck of a ship from Sir Walter Raleigh’s fleet lost in 1617. Local divers Todd Stevens and Robin Burrows discovered the wreck last summer and have worked to identify its remains in the interim period. Stevens is no stranger to wreck diving as he located the HMS Colossus (the captured French 74 Courageux) in 2001. Evidence at the site has led Stevens to believe the wreck could be from the Flying Joan, an armed pinnace which was one of two ships lost during Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition to modern day Venezuela. Among the artifacts located at the site are two cannon, a swivel gun, a red clay pipe, a bronze pulley sheave and a complete bung hole – all dating from the period during which the Flying Joan was lost.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s role in exploring the New World, handing Spain well-deserved defeats, and helping popularize the use of tobacco made him one of the UK’s most important historical figures. If the wreck site is indeed the Flying Joan, then its recovery and conservation will be a significant addition to the corpus of knowledge about Sir Walter Raleigh, his fleet and maritime practices during the early 17th century.

Resande Man

November 26, 2012 — Leave a comment
Swedish shipwreck

Diving on the Resande Man

Three hundred and fifty-two years ago today, the Swedish warship Resande Man sank near Stockholm while en route to Poland. Embarked aboard the Resande Man was Count Karl Kristopher von Schlippenbach who had been dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Poland. Count Schlippenbach was charged with negotiating an alliance with Poland against Russia and the Resande Man was carrying royal treasure to help aid diplomatic discussions.

The wreck of Resande Man proved King Solomon’s axiom that there is nothing new under the sun. Swedish legend states that the ship’s captain, much like the Costa Concordia’s Francesco Schettino, was focused on a woman he had taken aboard and thus failed to tend to the proper navigation of the ship. The captain’s negligence led to the Resande Man foundering in a strong storm on November 26, 1660. While 37 onboard perished, 25 were able to make it to dry land.

Despite salvage efforts on the ship in 1661, the ship is rumored to still contain a rich cargo. Because of this, she has achieved mythical status in Swedish maritime circles, much akin to the Merchant Royal in Great Britain. Divers believe they have found the ship and conducted several dives on the ship earlier this year. The Resande Man was featured on a map compiled by Anders Franzen (see below), the discoverer of the Vasa, and if the wreck is indeed the Resande Man, then the final wreck on the map has been located.

Swedish shipwreck map

Anders Franzen’s Map of Historic Swedish Shipwrecks

polish palace

Kazimierz Palace
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Polish archaeologists and police are exploiting historically low water levels on the Vistula River to recover dozens of marble and alabaster decorative elements looted from Polish landmarks in the 17th century. Utilizing a Mil Mi-8 police helicopter, archaeologists are carefully lifting the sculptures from the riverbed and transporting them to drier locales for conservation and restoration. The decorative elements were looted from Poland’s Royal Castle and the Kazimierz Palace by Swedish forces after they captured Warsaw during the mid-17th century. The loot was loaded onto barges and prepared for transit to Sweden via the Vistula and then the Baltic. At least one barge, though, sank en route and scattered its precious cargo along the riverbed. Polish archaeologists have known about the treasures, but river conditions have rarely cooperated such that they could retrieve the pieces. Efforts over the last 3 years have yielded some results, but nothing like the finds archaeologists are making now.

Today, Sweden is most often associated with IKEA furniture, safe cars (cb radio optional), cars born from jets and ABBA, but the Swedish Empire once encompassed 1.1 million square kilometers and dominated its northern European rivals. By comparison, the Holy Roman Empire was 1 million sq. km. and modern Sweden is 450,000 sq. km. The Empire was founded in 1611 by Gustavus Adolphus, a brilliant military commander, who defeated his rivals in the Thirty Years War and began the expansion of Sweden’s borders. Between 1600 and 1721, the Poles and the Swedes clashed no fewer than 6 times in conflicts lasting up to 11 years. It was during one of these wars that the decorative structures being recovered today were looted from Poland’s Royal Castle and the Kazimierz Palace. In addition to waging war against the Poles, the Swedes also attacked and occupied territory in modern day Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Russia. The Great Northern War which concluded in 1721 marked the end of Sweden’s status as a great power and the empire’s territorial breadth began to slowly recede.

As this year’s recovery season winds down, noted exploration company Odyssey Marine is wrapping up two deep water recoveries (the SS Gairsoppa and SS Mantola) and currently on hold with the excavation of HMS Victory.  The 2012 season marked several firsts for Odyssey – the completion of a shipwreck salvage under government contract, the validation of their deepwater recovery methods and the beginnings of legitimacy for their role in “academic” archaeology with their efforts on the HMS Victory. What lies ahead for Odyssey is a question of much debate.  Below are five of the most discussed targets for Odyssey along with pros and cons for each.

1.  Merchant Royal – widely believed to be the target of Odyssey’s “Atlas” search, the Merchant Royal went down in a storm off Great Britain in 1641 with a cargo of gold and silver valued around ~1 billion in current dollars. This is the Holy Grail of shipwrecks and would be an incredible find both for the monetary and publicity windfall. Apart from the difficulty involved in locating the wreck, there are no significant cons to recovering the Merchant Royal.

2.  Prins Frederik – sunk in 1890 after a collision with the Marpessa in the Bay of Biscay, this Dutch mail steamer carried 400,000 silver rijksdaalders in its bullion room. Disputes over the actual location of the ship (and thus who was to blame for the collision) have created a wide search area and significantly affect the depth of water it could be located in – 500 feet if where the captain of the Prins Frederik claimed or 6,000 feet if where the captain of the Marpessa claimed. A British company claimed to have found the wreck in shallow water in 1994 which could generate legal issues for Odyssey if it is indeed the Prins Frederik. Odyssey could also face legal claims from insurers who paid out on claims or the Dutch government as the cargo was for payment of colonial forces in Indonesia. The Prins Frederik would be an excellent target for an arrangement similar to the Gairsoppa and Mantola where the Dutch government receives a portion of the proceeds after expenses.

3.  I-52 – re-discovered in 1995 by Paul Tidwell, the I-52 was sunk by American naval forces in 1944 while en route from Japan to Nazi Germany. The I-52 was carrying 2.2 tons of gold and now sits in 17,000 feet of water. While Odyssey’s deepwater recovery methods would enable recovery of the wreck, apart from a multi-party agreement on salvage rights between Tidwell, the Japanese government and Odyssey no recovery is possible. Tidwell has also stated he is pursuing recovery of the sub and it is doubtful Odyssey would be brought in on the deal.

4.  Port Nicholson – a British freighter loaded with $3 billion in platinum, the Port Nicholson was torpedoed off the coast of Massachusetts in 1942 and was located in 2008 by Sub Sea Research.  Sub Sea Research gained title to the ship in 2009 and planned recovery in 2012. No word has emerged on whether or not the group has been successful in their salvage and there are doubts as to whether the platinum even exists onboard.  If Sub Sea is unable to recover the wreck due to a lack of expertise or funding, then a collaboration with Odyssey would benefit both parties and be the most valuable recovery yet, surpassing even Odyssey’s Black Swan recovery (and subsequent loss).

5.  Bonhomme Richard – John Paul Jones’ famous flagship went down after his epic battle with HMS Serapis. The past few years have seen renewed efforts to find the ship, but any recovery would be limited by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Because the Bonhomme Richard was an American warship it cannot be salvaged without the permission of the US government. An arrangement with the US government similar to that of the HMS Victory one is a possibility, but doubtful because the upside isn’t nearly as high as it is for other wrecks.

There are dozens of other wrecks Odyssey could be pursuing – the company claims to have dozens of high value shipwreck targets in its proprietary database. Based on Odyssey’s stated business model of pursuing high value targets with easily ascertainable legal ownership and inaccessible to normal salvors, Odyssey will most likely pursue deepwater commodity shipwrecks where the cargo can be quickly monetized and not the storied Spanish Galleons of treasure hunting lore.

Disclosure: I am an Odyssey Marine shareholder.