the Warwick

Revisiting the Earl of Warwick’s ship

Earl of Warwick’s ship

By Dr Edward Harris - The Royal Gazette Online

In the first decade of the settlement of Bermuda, 400 years ago in July 1612, communication with England, from whence the settlers came, was through the infrequent ships chartered or owned by the shareholders of the Bermuda Company.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Garland in 1619, vessels were waylaid by storms or generally blown off course and could take months to reach the island.

The ships brought the necessities of life of the day that could not be obtained in Bermuda, as well as items, such as gunpowder and guns, for the defence of the island, in particular to hold it against a Spanish attack.

Not only was life precarious at sea, but given the position of the island in the track of hurricanes, ships were often endangered, along with their cargoes, as they sat at anchor, usually in Castle Harbour.

Such was the situation in late 1619, when the Garland limped in after being overdue for some weeks, as she had left Britain eight weeks before the Warwick, which brought the new governor Nathaniel Butler and had arrived on October 20, 1619.

The Garland had been within sight of Bermuda three weeks previous, in late October, ‘but she had once again been put off by bad weather, and was forced to the southward, where they lay beating against the wind for so long that their water supply was almost gone, and a great many of her passengers and seamen sick or dead’.

Thus from the middle of November, 1619, the Garland and the Warwick rode at anchor in Castle Harbour, awaiting loading of cargo, mainly tobacco.

Governor Butler, meantime, was about his official duties and in early December, “he made a journey right through the main island and the tribes, to hold a general assize in Captain Tucker’s grand house at the Overplus”.

The Assize took two days, whereupon he returned to St. George’s, only to be met with a late hurricane, which caused the Garland to cut down her mainmast, ‘but the Warwick, which was moored not far from the Garland, slipped all her anchors and was driven onto the rocks, and was completely wrecked’.

Governor Butler managed to raise some guns from the shipwreck for the forts and in the late spring went back to the site, with little military success: ‘Some floating barrels of beer were taken out of the hold, but only after a lot of trouble; some of these were in much better condition than was expected, even though they had lain under water for almost six months.’

More guns were taken out of the wreck of the Warwick over the years, so that by 2012, there were none apparent on the site of the 1619 sinking.

Except for such removals, the Warwick slowly rotted away, until all that was left, under a pile of ballast, was a section of the starboard side of the vessel, preserved when the wreck rolled onto its right side.

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