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Filing Cabinet - Jamestown

The Sea Venture Shipwreck Discovered 350 Years Later!

The shipwrecked Jamestown colonists stripped the Sea Venture of much of its materials, fearing it would slip beneath the waters.  While they were stranded in Bermuda, Admiral Somers was able to build two small ships, the Patience and the Deliverance from the remains of the Sea Venture.   Nearly a year after their ship was presumed lost at sea, the passengers finally arrived at Jamestown.

The precise location of the wreck of the Sea Venture was unknown until October, 1958 by Edmund Downing in just 30 feet of water.  Mendel Peterson of The Smithsonian and local shipwreck authority, Teddy Tucker, identified the site, took timber measurements, and confirmed that a clay pipe, stone jug, and vase were of the colonial period.

To learn more of what happened twenty years later to confirm the discovery of the Sea Venture, read this editor’s note following an article entitled The Tempest by Avery Kolb in the October 1983 edition of American Heritage. 

DURING THE summer of 1958 Edmund Downing, an American amateur skin diver and a descendant of one of the voyagers aboard the Sea Venture, joined the divers, historians, and archaeologists looking for the wreck of the ship. He spent the summer diving near a break in the reefs off the eastern end of Bermuda and on October 18 finally spotted the faint outline of the keel and ribs of a ship. A salvage operation launched the following summer produced pottery fragments, part of an ax handle, and a pewter spoon—all dating from the right period—and one cannon, identified as belonging to a later century. Discouraged, the Bermuda government cut off funding for the investigation.

So matters rested until 1978, when the newly formed Bermuda Maritime Museum Association obtained a permit to return to the site. In June 1980 divers using a water-suction dredge uncovered what remained of the keel and ribs, measured and photographed them, and then recovered them to prevent further deterioration. Artifacts found on this and earlier dives have now been authenticated by Ivor Noel Hume, resident archaeologist at Williamsburg, Virginia. Late last year, [1982] Jon Adams, a marine archaeologist working on Henry VIII’s man-of-war Mary Rose, visited the wreck site. In his view the wreck is old enough to be the Sea Venture, and he even spotted evidence of the hull having been stripped to build the Deliverance. “It’s rather like the Mary Rose,” he said. “We never found anything that actually said Mary Rose, but we found the same weight of circumstantial evidence.” It seems likely the cannon found in 1959 was misidentified.

Newspapers in Bermuda greet each new discovery with enthusiasm, and one ran the headline SEA VENTURE TO SURFACE? According to A. J. Wingood, a diver who has been studying the wreck since its discovery (shown here with a bellarmine bottle, c. 1600, found at the wreck site), such a project would be very expensive and might well be beyond the capabilities of current wood conservation techniques. The measurements and photographs of the wreck should, however, allow the experts to construct an accurate model of the ship.

For the text of the full article, click here.

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