Little Bits of History

July 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 31, 2017

1715: The Spanish Treasure Fleet runs into a hurricane. The Spanish ran a convoy system of ships bringing treasures from the New World home to Spain frm 1566 to 1790. The convoys were essentially cargo ships filled with agricultural goods, lumber, and various luxury goods such as silver, gold, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, and other exotic goods found in the Spanish Empire holdings. As the trips returned to the New World, they often brought passengers, textiles, books, and tools. The West Indies fleet was the first permanent transatlantic trade route in history. They were also known as the Flota de Indias (Fleet of the Indies) or silver fleet or plate fleet (from the Spanish plata which meant silver).

The fleet of eleven ships left Havana, Cuba a week earlier. They were near present day Vero Beach, Florida when the storm hit.  This lies close to half way up the coast of Florida. The fleet was carrying mostly silver and is known today as the 1715 Treasure Fleet or the 1715 Plate Fleet because of this. Ten of the eleven ships sunk in the storm. Around a thousand sailors died. A small number of men survived by riding out the storm in small lifeboats. News of the cargo and the sinking brought in a number of ships, some to help, the rest to scoop up any available assets. Henry Jennings was one of those who came on the scene.

Jennings was a British privateer, that is, a private person (or ship) which engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war. Carrying a letter of marque, the person was entitled to carry on any form of hostility against enemy ships while at sea. Capturing a ship allowed the privateer proceeds from the sale under a ruling called a prize law. In 1716 Jennings was in charge of three ships and between 150 and 300 men when they ambushed the Spanish salvage fleet attempting to recover some of the treasure from this wreck. Since he had to travel to Jamaica, there had been time for others to scavenge most of the wreckage, so he captured their ships. They were able to steal about £87,500 in gold and silver.

Even today, there are silver relics washing ashore on the Florida beaches. Kip Wagner was able to put together an exhibit of artifacts from the 1715 fleet’s misfortune. This was featured in the January 1965 edition of National Geographic. This brought the wrecked ships to the attention of the world and Wagner published more works on the recovery efforts available to divers today. In 1987, the Urca de Lima was found in the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves, a ship from this fleet. In 2015, 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC discovered $4.5 million in gold coins off the coast of Florida, all of which came from the disaster befallen to the Spanish fleet on this day.

Gold and silver, like other commodities, have an intrinsic value, which is not arbitrary, but is dependent on their scarcity, the quantity of labour bestowed in procuring them, and the value of the capital employed in the mines which produce them. – David Ricardo

The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold. – Khalil Gibran

Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint. – Don Marquis

Humanity appreciates truth about as much as a squirrel appreciates silver. – Vernon Howard

July 2

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 2, 2017

1816: The French frigate Méduse runs aground. Names for the legendary Medusa, the ship was launched on July 1, 1810 and took part in the Napoleonic Wars. She was involved in the Mauritus campaign of 1809-11 and took part in raids throughout the Caribbean. After the Boubon Restoration, the Pallas-class frigate was sent to ferry French officials to Saint-Louis in Senegal to reestablish the colony there after the British handover. The ship was 154 feet long and 39 feet at the beam with a draft of 19 feet. She was driven by 21,000 square feet of sails. A full complement was 326 men manning the 44 or 46 guns she carried.

Her post-war captain received his position not because of seaworthy experience, but as a political favor to an émigré sent off to the west coast of Africa to recolonize the region. The newly appointed French governor and his family were on Méduse which was one of the three ships sailing from Rochefort. Because of poor sailing, the Méduse drifted 100 miles off course. The governor wanted to make up time and between his urging and the inability of the captain, the boat traveled into shallow waters. On this day there were 400 people aboard Méduse when her inept captain went into ever shallower waters. Soon the ship was stuck on the Bank of Arguin, one of the many sandbanks in the Bay of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania, another west African coast country, north of Senegal.

All 400 people were forced to evacuate and the ship was a total loss. An improvised raft was built to carry 151 of the men. These were towed by the launches, smaller boats carried by larger ships. Not actually lifeboats, but usable in this instance. Only 250 people could cram into the six boats available. The governor and his family were among those permitted in the boats. The launches were unable to keep pulling the raft and had to leave it behind while they went off for help. A storm blew up and washed dozens off the raft. At least much of the wine aboard (6 casks) survived the storm and the men who were left behind became drunk and disorderly and rebelled against those in command. The officers killed the rebels. There was a noticeable lack of food (a single bag of ship’s biscuits eaten the first day) and eventually the survivors turned to cannibalism. As supplies ran lower, injured but still living men were tossed overboard. When the raft was finally found, thirteen days later and only by chance, only fifteen men of the original 151 had survived.

Two of the survivors, a surgeon and an officer, each wrote a book about their ordeal. These were widely read and the public’s abhorrence made the Méduse shipwreck one of the most infamous of the Age of Sail. Artist Théodore Géricault painted his Raft of the Medusa. The oil on canvas painting done in 1818-19 which measured 16 feet by 23.5 feet and shows the disheveled state of the fifteen survivors as help finally approached. The dark painting, done mostly in brown pigments, depicts the despair and brokenness of the men aboard as the Argus approached and provided rescue.

The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. – Ovid

The channel is known only to the natives; so that if any stranger should enter into the bay without one of their pilots he would run great danger of shipwreck. – Thomas More

Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. – Voltaire

There’s nothing like a shipwreck to spark the imagination of everyone who was not on that specific ship. – Jon Stewart

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 22, 2014
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

October 22, 1707: Navigation errors led to the sinking of four ships. In 1707, the War of Spanish Succession was in play and the British, Austrian, and Dutch forces under the command of Prince Eugene of Savoy besieged the French port of Toulon, trying to take control. The campaign was fought from July 29 to August 21 and the British sent a fleet of ships to help. Although the ships were able to inflict damages on the enemy, the overall effect was negligible. The British fleet was ordered to return home. There were 15 ships under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell.

They left Gibraltar on September 29. There was horrible weather during the voyage home with squalls and storms a near constant. The fleet sailed out to the Atlantic and then passed the Bay of Biscay, heading for England. The weather only worsened and the ships were thrown off course. On this day, the ships finally were able to enter the English Channel. The navigators believed they were positioned west of Ushant. Because of the bad weather, the accuracy of the longitudinal calculation was off. Instead of a position of safety, the ships were sailing towards the Isles of Scilly, and archipelago off the coast off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula.

Before their course could be corrected, four ships were lost on the rocks of the islands. The flagship HMS Association was a 90-gun ship under the command of Captain Edmund Loades and with Admiral Shovell aboard. The ship struck the Western Rocks at 8 PM and sank, drowning the entire crew of about 800 men. Directly behind Association was HMS St George, which also struck the rocks but was able to escape. HMS Eagle, a 70-gun ship commanded by Captain Robert Hancock struck the Crim Rocks and sank in 130 feet of water with all hands. The HMS Romney, a 50-gun ship commanded by Captain William Coney, hit Bishop Rock and went down with only one crewman surviving. The last to sink was HMS Firebrand, a fire ship commanded by Captain Francis Percy. This struck the Outer Gilstone Rock but was able to float free for a while. She sunk close to Menglow Rock and lost 28 of her 40 man crew.

The exact number of men who died in the disaster is unknown. Various records give differing numbers between 1,400 and 2,000 officers, sailors, and marines killed. This is the greatest maritime disaster in British history. For days after the sinkings, bodies continued to wash ashore along with wreckage and personal items. Myths surround the sinking, including Admiral Shovell’s unwillingness to listen to a sailor’s report they were off course. Shovell did not survive the disaster and the legend of his murder after washing ashore barely alive is unsubstantiated.

A young sailor boy came to see me today. It pleases me to have these lads seek me on their return from their first voyage, and tell me how much they have learned about navigation. – Maria Mitchell

The rules of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house. – Thomas Reid

We were suddenly faced with the necessity of training a lot of young men in the art of navigation. – Clyde Tombaugh

We have always been taught that navigation is the result of civilization, but modern archeology has demonstrated very clearly that this is not so. – Thor Heyerdahl

Also on this day: When the World Was New – In 4004 BC, the world was created – according to the math.
Where Is He? – In 1844, Jesus Christ did not return to Earth.
Pretty Boy – In 1934, Charles Floyd was killed.
No, Thanks – In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize.

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