Incredible Finding of 1741 Spanish Warship Wreckage

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Incredible Finding Of 1741 Spanish Warship Wreckage

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One of the most famous naval battles in the Latin American history is the Battle of Cartagena de Indias. It is an episode of War of Jenkins’ Ear – a battle with Great Britain for economic control of the Caribbean.  A Spanish Warship of this battle, built in the 18th Century, sunk in the year 1741.

An international team of archaeologists has found a ship wreckage off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.  The shipwreck was found in some 16 feet (5 meters) of water.

And believe! The ship’s preservation is astonishing.

  • The bottom part of the ship are almost intact.
  • The wooden beams are well protected from looters and undersea life by layers of sediment.
  • The timbers of the vessel provide the researchers a unique opportunity to study the 18th Century shipbuilding.

It is also an important milestone for Colombian Archaeologists who takes unprecedented steps to study and preserve the site.

Jennifer McKinnon, an underwater archaeologist at East Carolina University, said, “It’s an incredibly exciting find, especially if it is what they think it is.  Old World, Spain-built vessels in the New World are rather rare.”

Carlos del Cairo, an underwater archaeologist and head of Colombia’s Fundación Terra Firme, revealed, “This discovery is very important, but its cultural significance is much higher.  It’s [a] symbol of heroism, of ‘Cartagena the Heroic,’ that defended itself against the British to the last.”

The finding was not done intentionally. In the year 2014,  the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History(ICANH) commissioned a routine survey of the area in preparation for a dredging project.  In a small entrance to the harbour, Sonar and magnetometer sweep detected anomalies on the seafloor.  And it turned out to be a ship under water.

Along with the vessel, fragments of ceramic, metal, glass, and ballast, all of which are consistent with an 18th-century ship of Spanish make were found.  The assessment of the identity of the ship is underway while the ships have the signs of being burned.  It may also be one of the largest ships, San Felipe, that Lezo sunk.

The Battle:

Cartegena was a slave port and strategically crucial outpost for Spain’s Caribbean naval presence in the 1700s.  The fortified town dominated the region’s trade route as it is situated at a junction of ocean currents and trade winds.  In the year 1739, Great Britain declared war on Spain. And of Course, the fortified town was its hit list.

After the declaration of war, Admiral Edward Vernon soon embarked and gathered a massive train with 150 ships with 8000 American soldiers and 4000 reinforcements.

Richard Harding, a naval historian from the University of Westminster, says, “It started off in Britain with the idea that this would be an easy victory.”

But, it proved more challenging for Vernon because of the presence of the Spanish General in charge of the town’s defenses –  Blas de Lezo.

Lezo was a living legend among the Spanish Sailors.  He faced Vernon in a battle in 1704 where Lezo’s left leg was seriously injured, and had to be removed.  After two years, a shrapnel claimed his left eye.  Soon, a musket shot took his right arm and forearm.

In March 1741, the British arrived in Cartagena, where Lezo was defending them with only six ships.  The British had already minted medals commemorating Lezo’s defeat.

To prevent the British from entering the town, Lezo decided to sink the ships at the entrance of the harbour.  But, the barricade didn’t long forever.  The British entered the town.

Soon, the British fleet worsened as most of the soldiers suffered from yellow fever and many other diseases.  Vernon could not hold Cartagena for a long time after Spanish militias repulsed a land assault under Lezo’s command.  5000 British troops died.  Thus, the unexpected victory caused Spanish to dominate the Caribbean.

Cairo added, “ Despite his physical conditions, Blas de Lezo stood his ground until the bitter end making him one of these characters who has enormous cultural and historical value, even today.”

Cristian Murray, an Argentine archaeologist, collaborating with Cairo, said, “Maritime archaeology is just getting started in Colombia. But nowadays, it’s beginning mightily.”

Fundación Terra Firme and a vast array of Colombian government institutions unanimously work towards an eventual plan to excavate and protect the shipwreck.

Source: National GeoGraphic

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