Somers Island Company

Uncovering the ‘good ship’ Warwick

BIOS Marine Science interns Khalil Smith and Liam Nash examine concretions from the Warwick during a site visit

From The Royal Gazette Online

The loss of the good ship Warwick was not the only disaster that this cruel storm brought with it.

It also meant the total ruin of the winter’s crop of corn, to such a great extent that all the inhabitants were very worried about a shortage of food.

They had good reason to be anxious, for even though the islands were prolific enough in every respect, and had two harvests every year, yet careless wastage had become the custom with most of the people’ C.F.E. Hollis Hallett, Butler’s History of the Bermudas, 2007

On October 20, 1619, the third governor arrived in Bermuda at the behest of the Somers Island Company, the corporation that owned the 12,000 acres of the island.

The gentleman was Captain Nathaniel Butler, who succeeded in his position the first governor, Richard Moore (1612-15) and the second, one Daniel Tucker (1616-18).

Perhaps the most dynamic of the three, Governor Butler shook the seven-year old settlement into some semblance of normalcy, establishing a parliament in 1620 (now one of the oldest in the world), erecting forts and encouraging people to build in stone by the erection of the State House in 1621.

For history, perhaps Butler’s greatest achievement was his written account of the first 12 years of the settlement of Bermuda, lately published in modern English by the National Museum of Bermuda.

It is from that account that we have firsthand information on the demise in November 1619 of the Warwick, the “magazine” ship of Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, who was one of the major shareholders of the Bermuda Company.

Having arrived six weeks or so earlier, Governor Butler recorded the disaster that befell the vessel that brought him to Bermuda:

“First came a terrible storm and hurricane, in which the Garland, riding at anchor in the King’s Castle harbour, which was very exposed to northwest winds, was forced for safety’s sake to cut down her mainmast to the ship’s side, and in this crippled state to ride out the storm for her life.

“But the Warwick, which was moored not far from the Garland, slipped all her anchors and was driven onto the rocks, and completely wrecked.”

Fast-forward three and a half centuries, when Mendel Peterson of the Smithsonian Institution and EB (Teddy) Tucker began an examination of the wreck of the Warwick, finding that a good part of one side of the vessel was preserved under a pile of ballast.

On that occasion, the expedition flew Flag #189 of the prestigious Explorers Club of New York.

In 2011, new work by the National Museum began on the shipwreck and Explorers Club member, Jason Paterniti, brought Flag #132 to the site in the southern reaches of Castle Harbour.

Previously, Flag 132 had been on Dr Robert Ballard’s search to find the German battleship, Bismarck, among other nautical projects.

The director of the new project, Piotr Bojakowski, has noted that “the 2011 Warwick excavation season has been an overwhelming success. It produced important information about how the vessel was designed, built, armed, rigged and what cargo it carried”.

For the project, the National Museum enlisted the assistance of experts in marine archaeology, who have been associated with the Mary Rose, Vasa and other shipwreck projects and they have given some opinions on the wreck of the Warwick.

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