from the University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology are finishing a three week
survey documenting the island’s underwater heritage. The project, sponsored by the University of Southampton and
the Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society has, with the
help of fishermen and other Anguillians, been able to survey a
number of the island’s reefs and make some fascinating
Anguillian fishermen and many
islanders have undoubtedly known about these and other sites for
generations. The team
believes that by photographing, measuring, and assessing the
material that can be seen on the surface of these sites they can
better understand how it came to be there, where it was coming from,
and the people who were involved in the process.
With this knowledge, the team
believes that this resource can become a valuable tool for teaching
the youth about
’s maritime heritage. By
preserving this history, Anguillians and their descendants will not
only have it to enjoy for generations to come, but also have an
interesting local attraction for visitors to enjoy and future
archaeologists to study.
The sites located by this survey range from the late 1700s to
present day. There are
sites which extend our knowledge of known events and sites which
tell us about history hitherto unknown.
For example, when the team found a previously unrecorded
anchor, several cannon and ballast near the known site of the Buen
only Underwater Archaeological Preserve) they were finally able to
understand where the ship initially struck the coast and why the
crew survived but much of the cargo was not able to be salvaged.
In 1772, after a navigational blunder, the 980-ton Spanish
vessel collided with the “iron shore” at Junks’ Hole.
The ship listed heavily to one side and the bow anchor and at
least one cannon tumbled off the ship.
Next to the rugged coast, the crew and passengers were able
to climb ashore. The
ship, however, lay on its side in a tangled mess of rigging and
broken ship. The
Spaniards worked to salvage what they could but were frustrated by
poor weather and lack of facilities (boats, lifting equipment, etc).
Three weeks later, a hurricane shifted the wreckage down the
coast; a trail of cannon led from the anchor next to the shore to
the current wreck site.
On a shallow reef north of
there is another place that the team has labeled the 9-Cannon Site.
Fisherman “Mumba” showed the team an area where he knew
there were cannon. Known
as a “dump site” to archaeologists, the nine cannon were
probably jettisoned from a ship in trouble on the reef.
After running onto the reef, the vessel’s crew would have
tried to lighten the ship by throwing anything of weight overboard.
Water casks, lead shot, and finally cannon were probably all
jettisoned while the crew rowed anchors into deeper water.
The vessel, now lighter, would have tried winching itself off
the reef, pumping water from the hold and heading for the nearest
port to make repairs. We
don’t know if it succeeded but we can say it never retrieved its
cannon. More research
and a careful investigation of the area could reveal its final fate.
Cannon are difficult to
date but these probably date to the Napoleonic Period (circa
“Mumba” also showed the team a known anchor site. Minutes
after beginning to explore the area, the vessel’s windlass, chain
locker tubes, and hawse hole plates were located.
Small flakes of copper sheathing and living coral features
(where the coral has colonized the ship’s structure and built up
inches of concretion) outline the ship’s features.
Further research is required to learn the name of the ship
but from the size and type of the anchor and windlass she would have
been between 150-200 tons and sunk after 1820.
The team measured the location and relationship of key
features and will create a scale plan of the site.
A different site discovered
consists of four anchors, their positions show how each failed in
turn as the crew tried desperately to save their ship.
They failed. The
ship’s ballast and parts of the vessel are incorporated into the
reef in a direct line from the anchors’ location. The site dates
to the early 19th century. While
little material is visible, it is likely that other features are
imbedded in the coral.
Other artefacts found include cannon, 19th century
anchors, chain and ship’s fittings.
The significance of these finds is not only in their physical
properties but in what they reveal about trade and transportation
. Long believed to
be a backwater,
has a surprisingly rich maritime history.
Further, the “barge” in Crocus Bay and the “Chin Luen,”
a fairly recent Japanese fishing boat documented on Scrub Island,
demonstrate that this heritage is not only part of the island’s
history but is part of the island’s recent history. Nothing
was taken from the sites, which should remain property of the people
This survey was sponsored by the
’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology and the Anguilla Archaeological
and Historical Society. Financial
and in-kind support from the Government of Anguilla, Governor’s
Office, Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources and individuals
has made this project possible.
Despite strong winds which kept the team onshore for more
than a week, they have discovered a wealth of submerged heritage.
Compared to other surveys, this one has been unbelievably
successful. It has shown that for every recorded wreck there are
likely five which sunk without record.
This survey has produced a snapshot of the visible heritage.
The amount of heritage potentially buried or not visible is
truly staggering. The
future potential of this resource for Anguillians, visitors, and
researchers, alike is real. While
the earliest recorded shipwreck known is from 1628, there are likely
others which are earlier.
To discover a 16th Century wreck in Anguilla would
be truly unique and could attract considerable attention, not only
among archaeologists and historians, but also attract new visitors
Mrs Grout believes this is possible and is looking to raise
money to return to Anguilla next summer to continue documenting
’s heritage. She
and Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society can work together
to create a Maritime Institute on
. Such an institution
could benefit visiting researchers, tourists, and local Anguillians
and serve as a centre for maritime heritage on the island.