Atlantic World Marine Archaeology Research Institute amari
Warwick Project

Warwick Project

In the summer of 2012, the Atlantic World Marine Archeology Research Institute (AMARI) proudly joined an international team excavating the Warwick, one of the most remarkable early 17th-century English shipwrecks, in Bermuda.

   Originally belonging to Sir Robert Rich, the 2nd Earl of Warwick, the ship arrived in Bermuda in October 1619. The Warwick’s arrival was as an important event for the Sommers Islands, otherwise known as Bermuda. On that voyage, the ship was charged with delivering Captain Nathaniel Butler, the new Commander and Governor of the nascent colony. The ship also brought the new bailiff of the Warwick tribe with his family, and forty other colonists. At the end of November, as the Warwick was anchored in Castle Harbour, a hurricane struck the islands of Bermuda. Although the crew had prepared the Warwick as the storm approached, all the moorings suddenly gave way and the ferocious hurricane drove the ship right into the rocky ledge and tall cliffs surrounding the bay.1

   Based on Captain Butler’s account, the rough location of the wreck site in the King’s Anchorage in Castle Harbour has always been common knowledge in Bermuda. Immediately after the wind and waves subsided, a share of the cargo and other easily accessible or floating goods were absconded by the locals and Butler had to issue a proclamation to recall and confiscate everything that was taken from the wreck.2 The following year, in 1620, the governor made several official trips to the Warwick with men and divers recovering three canons and several barrels of beer. A year later, another salvage attempt yielded five more cannons, all of which were put to good use in the newly constructed Southampton Fort.3

   Resting on a gently sloping bottom, the timber remains of the Warwick represent the starboard side of the vessel from about the turn of the bilge to the first deck. Structural features identified include uniform timber scantling, the lack of horizontal fasteners between framing elements, the use of a large number of treenails as frame-to-plank fasteners, the presence of a gun-port lid, an internal arrangement of alternating ceiling and stringers, and intriguing assortment of rigging elements. Taken together this evidence suggests that the remains are from an older armed vessel of English provenance and, combined with the artefacts recovered from earlier excavations, support an early 17th-century date for the sinking of the shipwreck.4

   Despite the fact that the Warwick sank only 10 years after the famous Sea Venture (1609), and both vessels could otherwise be considered contemporary, there is very little structural resemblance between the two. In 1619, the magazine ship Warwick appeared to be more robustly timbered inside and out. Its internal hull was lined with alternating thick stringers and thinner ceiling planks while outside the ship was covered with two layers of planking and a third layer of sacrificial sheathing. The characteristics of the Warwick’s construction seem to add a new dimension to what is currently known about the early 17th-century English shipbuilding.5

   In its own right, Warwick is a prime example of multipurpose ships which plowed the Atlantic between England and English North America. These ships not only carried the financial interest of individual investors and large trading companies, but also transported the settlers, their possession, tools, and provisions to Bermuda and America. Notwithstanding the designation of the vessel as the “magazine” ship, Warwick was not an ordinary freighter. It was a powerful maritime force carrying advanced weapon of the period. In other words, Warwick was ready for action.6

   The lack of contemporary interest in the shipwreck and the favorable environmental conditions for timber and artifact preservation produced a unique situation whereas Warwick is one of the largest and most complete English shipwrecks of the early 17th century. Such characteristics together with strong historical merit were the primary factors behind the excavation of this shipwreck. Although the final season of excavation was concluded in 2012, AMARI staff and research associates will continue analysis, research, and publications of this important example of our maritime heritage.
[1] Hallett, H. (ed.) 2007, Butler’s History of the Bermudas: a Contemporary Account of Bermuda’s Earliest Government, Bermuda: Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 126.
[2] Hallett 2007, 129
[3] Hallett 2007, 131; Harris, E.C. 1997, Bermuda Forts, 1612–1957, Bermuda: Bermuda Maritime Museum Press.
[4] Bojakowski, P., and K. Custer-Bojakowski. 2011. “The Warwick: results of the survey of an early 17th-century Virginia Company ship.” Post-Medieval Archaeology 45(1):51.
[5,6] Bojakowski and Custer-Bojakowski 2011, 51; Adams, J. 2003, Ships Innovation & Change: Aspects of carvel shipbuilding in northern Europe 1450-1850. Stockholm, Studies in Archaeology 24. Stockholm Marine Archaeology Reports 3, Stockholm: 123.; Jon Adams, pers. comm.