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Warwick Sir Robert Rich

Historical Background

The Warwick Project

On October 20th, 1619, Warwick arrived at King’s Anchorage in Castle Harbour, Bermuda after 10 weeks and two days of a fast and uneventful voyage from England.

   Unlike the less accessible St. George’s Harbour, Castle Harbour (also known as Southampton Harbour) was considered a superior anchorage for large oceangoing ships in the early days of the settlement. The only opening in the defenses formed by a chain of small rocky islands reinforced by a system of redoubts and forts was Castle Roads, a channel to the east by which vessels entered and left the bay.1

   The arrival of the Warwick late in the month of October made it necessary for the captain and crew to find temporary anchorage at Gurnet’s Head, which was the last of the offshore breakers that they had to pass before entering Castle Harbour. The Warwick’s short stay at Gurnet’s Head was accounted in a letter to the Earl of Warwick. The author of the letter, John Dutton, was registering his complaint that the crew illegally traded ship supplies with local Bermudians. The most popular exchange was aqua vitae (the “spirit of wine” or distilled wine) for Tobacco. This may account for another letter to the Earl of Warwick addressing the ‘Abhominable Drukennes’ of the inhabitants of Bermuda. Once the winds became favorable, the Warwick entered Castle Harbour where it remained.2

   The ship was a proud possession of Sir Robert Rich, the second Earl of Warwick, who was a major ship-owner, statesman, privateer, and investor in the Virginia and Somers Islands Companies. In addition to passengers and cargo, Warwick mission was to deliver Captain Nathaniel Butler, the newly elected Commander and Governor of Bermuda and Mr. John Dutton, the new bailiff for Warwick Tribe.3


Kings Anchorage Castle Harbour Bermuda
King’s Anchorage in Castle Harbour, Bermuda

   As a protégé of Sir Robert Rich, Captain Butler had been promptly elected governor. He was sent to Bermuda to replace Captain Miles Kendall, who served as an interim governor after the previous governor, Daniel Tucker, lost credibility with the shareholders and had to depart for England. Although the elections reflected a deep division between different factions within the Company, the vote was cast and His Majesty, James I, confirmed Captain Butler as the third governor of Bermuda.4

   At the end of November, a devastating hurricane struck the island of Bermuda. Faced with a difficult choice, the ship’s captain gave an order to drop the anchors and secure the ship in Castle Harbour. It was a desperate decision with dire consequences. As the hurricane hit, all the moorings gave way and the ferocious wind and waves drove helpless vessel into the cliffs surrounding the anchorage.5

   With the wreck of the Warwick came the loss of the chance to export that year’s crop of tobacco. Governor Butler was uncomfortably aware that the owner of the ship, the Earl of Warwick, and the Lords Adventurers of the Company would be disappointed with this turn of events; hence, he made a decision to outfit another ship, Garland, in place of the wrecked Warwick. The Garland sailed for England with the tobacco and letter of the disaster.6

   Aside from the limited salvage attempts during the first few years after the wrecking, which included raising several cannons and barrels with beer and provision, the interest in the Warwick was short lived. The ship could not offer the financial rewards to make a more intense recovery viable. From the point of view of Bermudians, the salvage of the Warwick was no match for that of the Spanish ships of the Carrera de Indias which occasionally foundered upon islands’ treacherous reefs.

[1] Harris, E.C. 1997, Bermuda Forts, 1612-1957, Bermuda: Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 45-82.
[2] Rich, N., Ives, V. A., and Bermuda National Trust. 1984. The Rich papers: Letters from Bermuda 1615-1645: Eyewitness Accounts Sent by the Early Colonists to Sir Nathaniel Rich, Toronto: Published for the Bermuda National Trust by the University of Toronto Press, 144-5.
[3] Bernhard, V. 1985, ‘Bermuda and Virginia in the seventeenth Century: A Comparative View’, J. of Social Hist.19:1, 60.; Craven, W.F. 1937 (July), ‘An Introduction to the History of Bermuda: III, The Plan of Settlement’, William and Mary Q., Second Series17:3, 339-340.
[4] Hallett, H. (ed.) 2007, Butler’s History of the Bermudas: A contemporary account of Bermuda’s earliest government, (by Nathaniel Butler), Bermuda: Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 102-121.
[5] Hallett 2007, 126.
[6] Ibid., 125.