It is interesting to note briefly upon the origins of the country of Belize. Consider for a moment the establishment of an English speaking settlement in an area that had been dominated by the Spanish shortly after the discovery of the New World in 1492. The Spanish established that there were vast amounts of gold and silver to be had in these new lands and immediately set out to colonize the land and claim their treasures for the crown of Spain
Ten years after the discovery of the New World, Admiral D. Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus), on his fourth voyage to the area in 1502, was in the area of St Georges Caye (Punta Caxinas, the name given it by Columbus) off Belize City. In 1509 the Spanish sailors Juan de Solis and Vicente Yanez Pinzon may have passed along the present coast of Belize. In 1517 Anton de Alaminos the pilot of Hernandes de Cordoba explored parts of Yucatan.
Yucatan was also known by other Mayan names including Yu, Cal Peten, Chacnovitan and Onohualco. Onohualco referred to the name of some of the residents of Yucatan. Yu, Cal Peten was a Mayan name which the Spanish interpreted as meaning the neck of the continent (the gargantilla del continente). From 1524 to 1525 Hernando Cortez more than likely passed through Belize in his march from Mexico to Honduras. In 1533 Alphonso Davila encountered Maya trading canoes off Belize. In 1582 the Spanish Franciscans erected a church at Lamanai (currently well known as a very important Maya site in northern Belize). For the first half of the 1500's the Spanish explored the coast of Yucatan and Belize in search of gold and silver but found none. What they did find was that the area was rich in dyewood and logwood (also a dye plant). Pirates (also called contrabandistas, bucaneros, corsarios, filibusteros, sea dogs and pechelinguas), already in the area, found that the extensive coast line, sparse population and lack of Spanish defenses made the east coast of Yucatan and Belize a natural operating area. Although Yucatan and Belize had no gold and silver, Guatemala and Honduras did. Shipments of gold and silver from these areas, in addition to the treasures coming up from further south, could be easily attacked from the Belize coastal pirate encampments.
In the last half of the 1500's the logwoods and dyewoods from the area were in demand in Europe, and the Spanish kept close control of their cutting and export. In 1566 the Governor of Yucatan declared that logwoods could only be cut under a license from him, and of course were taxed. By 1570 the logwood activities attracted the attention of pirates in their own right. The British Isles contributed more than their fair share of these freebooters, especially as the Spanish and English were seldom on the best of terms due to both political and religious differences.
By the beginning of the 1600's the Spanish were sending expeditions to the area to try and stop the English pirates from annoying the Yucatan coast. Not only were the pirates interfering with the logwood trade, but they were also a threat to the gold and silver flowing from Spanish mines in Guatemala and Honduras. In 1629, Phillip IV of Spain created a coast guard for territories that included the east coast of Yucatan and Belize. After that there was some settlement in the area, even though pirate activity was not eradicated.
Beginning in 1640, serious pirate activity (for example Diego el Mulato and Bluefield), coupled with Indian uprisings created serious problems, especially for the Spanish community of Bacalar (Salamanca de Bacalar), in Chetumal Bay Wayo Obispo) Mexico, north of Corozal, Belize. The town of Bacalar is on the edge of a large inland lake and was accessible by water only in small boats from the Rio Hondo. Associated with Bacalar is a very large beautiful Spanish fort, complete with a moat, that was heavily armed with canon in the past, and sits strategically on the western side of the lake [adjacent to Bacalar's lake is a large blue hole (sink) analogous to the famous blue hole in Lighthouse Reef, Belize]. On old charts this fort is called "Fuerte de San Phelipe de Vacalar" The fort was built in the 1600's and reinforced and rebuilt by one Ricardo Tanme around 1750. It is interesting to note that there is another fort of the same name up the Rio Duce in Guatemala. Bacalar suffered heavily-in an Indian uprising in 1640, in 1642 the pirate Diego el Mulato sacked the town and other pirates ravaged it in the following years. In 1648 and 1652 the buccaneer Abraham Bluefield attacked the town of Bacalar and carried off women, children and clergy to La Isla de Cayos (exact location unknown). It is assumed that Bluefield ended up on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, where there is a town bearing his name. It is quite probable that these pirate incursions took place off the leeward of Ambergris Caye. The shallow salt water creek separating Ambergris Caye from Mexico is called Bacalar Chico and would appear to give easy access to Bacalar. However, regardless of attempts to deepen it, due to its hard limestone bottom, boat traffic through it was restricted to Mayan canoes, European longboats and other vessels of no more than 2 to 3 foot drafts. Thus larger vessels were unable to use this passage. However south of Ambergris Caye there was the Bacalar Grande which would give larger vessels access to Chetumal Bay. South Between Ambergris and Chetumal Bay, there in a long low island named Blackadore Caye. The charts of the 17th century refer to this island as Cayo Sumba [In Spanish sumbar means a whistling sound. Some old bottle bottoms (squats) dating to around 1650 have been found on the beach of Blackadore Caye.
In 1662 Spanish were having troubles with their logwood trade. The English were not only raiding the Spanish stores of logwood, but had begun to furtively cut and export it themselves. Unable to expel the foreigners, the Spanish decided to let the English log in a specific area. They decided it was better to confine them to one spot where their dangerous religious and political beliefs would have minimal impact. Additionally, the English would then theoretically stop sailing the coast and would confine their shipping to predictable areas, and stop raiding Spanish territory.
In 1670 Spain and England signed a treaty of "Uti Posseditis" (as you possess it) allowing the English to remain in the areas they had already settled. Accounts from the year 1671 note that pirates sailed freely along the coast of Belize due to the lack of Spanish fortifications. The Spanish were finally able to expel pirates from a portion of Yucatan (Campeche), but in 1699 what is now Belize was still largely unknown and D. Juan Villagutierrey Sotomayor, in his Historia de la Conquista de Peten, Guatemala, wrote of the dangerous reefs and pirates between Yucatan and Honduras.
Sometime in the middle to late 1600's a Scots pirate, Peter Wallace with 80 associates, established a settlement on the Viejo River, located behind St Georges Caye (Cayo Cocina as it was known then). Wallace was an ex-Governor of Tortuga and had served as a lieutenant under Sir Walter Raleigh. The exact date of the first settlement is unknown, but in all likelihood is between 1638 and 1662. In all probability he explored the coast looking for a secure base and found the mouth of the Viejo River (now the Belize River) well guarded by cays and shallows. They were apparently very successful at keeping their settlement secret for several years.
REPORTS FROM CAPTAIN NATHANIEL URING WHO WRECKED AT LIGHTHOUSE REEF, BELIZE IN 1719 ON THE STATE OF AFFAIRS OF THE LOGWOOD CUTTERS
Into the early 1700's the English continued to be a thorn in the side of the Spanish. One account of the importance of logwood and temperament of the cutters is preserved in the accounts of one Captain Nathaniel Uring in 1719:
"The Wood-Cutters are generally a rude drunken Crew, some of which have been Pirates, and most of them Sailors; their chief Delight is in drinking; and when they broach a Quarter Cask or a Hogshead of Wine, they seldom stir from it while there is a drop left ... Ozenbrigs is their general Wear ... it will be easily believed, that I had but little Comfort living among these Crew of ungovernable Wretches, where there was little else to heard but Blasphemy, Cursing and Swearing."(Ozenbrig is a type of cotton wear, refer to cotton in the botany section).)
Capt. Uring, in connection with one of His Majesty's ships, was responsible for bringing one of the first loads of mahogany to England and some of this mahogany was used in the Board Room of the then present Old Admiralty (circa 1723).
These cargos helped to start the popularity of mahogany in Europe and Boston (still an English Colony). Although Uring may not have been kind in referring to the logwood cutters, it was these same people, with the sword in one hand and the axe in the other, who laid the foundation of the English Colony.
The Belizean flag shows "Sub Umbra Floreo" (Under One Shade I Flourish). It depicts two tree cutters standing beside a large tree. [Notice the sailing times in the next sentences]. In these days logwood could be bought in the New World for 5 pounds sterling a ton and sold in Boston or England for as much as 25-30 pounds sterling. When Uring left Port Royal Jamaica, 1719-1720, he estimated his sailing time, with a fair wind, as not above 4 to 5 days, before he wrecked at Lighthouse Reef Belize. When Uring sailed from the Bay of Honduras back to Jamaica, it took him 11 weeks. Capt Uring subsequently left Jamaica in the beginning of April, 1721 and arrived at Boston at the end of the same month (sailing time approximately one month). Uring then left Boston at the beginning of June and arrived at London about the middle of July.
One account from the Spanish relates that in 1725, the newly appointed governor of Yucatan was charged with the task of driving the English out of the region. In April of 1754, because of the continuing difficulties over logwood, there was a formidable attempt by the Spanish to expel the English (the Battle of Labouring Creek). Due to difficulty of approach by sea, the Spaniards with 1500 men unsuccessfully attacked the fledgling colony on the Belize River overland from Peten, Guatemala. The war between England and Spain was closed by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. By this treaty, Spain recognized the rights of the English to engage in logwood cutting unmolested, however Spanish sovereignty was retained. The English logwood cutters were continually harassed by the governor (Estenoz) of Yucatan. The logwood cutters petitioned England for help and Sir William Burnaby, Commander-In-Chief of His Majesty's Squadron in Jamaica, arrived in Belize. Through diplomatic arrangements between Spain and England, Burnaby's Code was introduced. This code established a constitution, including the right to elect magistrates by the free suffrage of the people.
This attempt at peace lasted only a short time. In 1779 war broke out between England and Spain again. The Spanish again attacked the embryonic colony and took the prisoners first to Merida and then Havana (a few may have escaped to Roatan, Honduras). Some of the prisoners survived the ordeal and were liberated and went to Jamaica. From there they returned to resettle near the mouth of the Belize River. From 1779 to 1784 the settlement was essentially abandoned as the Spanish had destroyed nearly everything. In 1783 the Treaty of Peace at Versailles recognized boundaries encompassing the English logwood activities in Belize (although Spain still held sovereignty rights), and the cutters returned to the area.
In 1796 England and Spain went to formal war and the Spanish made a determined effort to free the area from the unwelcome English. A Spanish naval force was sent from Campechy, Yucatan in the summer of 1798 against the settlement at the Belize River, but the English learned of their intent and repulsed them from fortifications on St. Georges Caye. England was victorious in the war against Spain and this was the last Spanish attempt to dislodge the English. In the 1800's the influence of Spain both on the seas and in the New World ebbed, and in the 1820's Spanish possessions in Central America achieved independence. With this independence, Great Britain concluded new treaties to secure British sovereignty over Belize. Great Britain and Guatemala were not able to come to formal agreement on the British jurisdiction over Belize, but the present boundaries were set in 1859 between Britain and Guatemala. In 1862, Belize became a British Crown Colony and with the granting of independence in 1981, the existence of Belize as a legal entity was secured.
This was a long and costly battle, in the early to mid 19th century, between the Maya of the Yucatan (Chan Santa Cruz, presently the town of Fellipe Carillo Puerte) and the Spanish and the mestizo populations.. This war almost resulted in the Mayan overthrow of these populations in Merida, Yucatan. The Merida- Bacalar- Northern Belize area was in a great deal of turmoil as these groups fought for control over the Yucatan. Religion, cultural differences, commercial interests of henequen (sisal yuca, a major source of rope material) and later chicle were part of the basis for friction. Belize, then British Honduras, was involved in supplying armaments to the Maya. In the early 1900's Belize was still referred to as" La Colonia" by the people of the Yucatan. Ancestors of many of the present residents of Ambergris Caye fled from the warring factions around Bacalar. During the latter parts of this war, a standard known as the Talking Cross served to unite the Mayan insurgents. The town of Bacalar fell to the Chan Santa Cruz Maya due to siege in 1858 resulting in the massacre of nearly all, including women and children.
Since the beginnings of European exploration of the New World, many ships were lost on a fairly frequent basis due to the inherent problems of navigating in poorly understood waters. Local hurricanes and storms could not be predicted, and of course the acts of man in the form of piracy and war were additional hazards to sailing vessels. The vast amounts of gold and silver that flowed from Mexico and the rest of the Americas made many of these losses costly, not only in terms of ships and men lost, but also in terms of large amounts of specie and other trade goods that sank with them.
Waters off Belize were and are very dangerous to mariners. As can be seen in the references to shipwrecks, and bearing in mind the incessant conflict between Spain and England, hostilities and the reefs off Belize obviously took their toll in lives and ships. Although logwood and other timbers were valuable, it is quite likely that one of the reasons the Spaniards did not want the English settling in the area, was because, with an English foothold, noted pirates such as Morgan, Drake and Hawkins could prey on the Spanish treasure fleets sailing from Honduras and Guatemala.
The large Spanish fort at Bacalar (across Chetumal Bay) is evidence of serious Spanish vested interest in the area. In the early references on Belize, one notes that there were several Franciscan priests that moved through Belize attempting to set up religious outposts. Although the Maya nation entered a period of decadence, they were still strong enough to resist the incursion of the Spanish Conquistadors. For a period of fully 20 years (1527 to 1547) this resistance cost "the lives of more Spaniards than had been expended in wresting from the Incas and Montezuma, the wealthiest empires of the New World." (Enc. Brit). In 1526 Francesos Montejo (the Elder) was granted the commission from Spain to occupy "the islands of Yucatan and Cozumel". It is very interesting to note that Merida (Tehoo in Maya), Yucatan, was the headquarters for the dissemination of Catholicism. Merida had a Franciscan monastery built in the years 1547 to 1600 "which once harboured within its high and turreted wells no fewer than 2,000 friars, but has fallen into decay since their expulsion in 1820" (Enc. Brit). Merida was built on an extensive Mayan site called Tehoo. There was enough material from the Mayan buildings to facilitate the construction of the colonial city. It was founded in 1542 and made a bishopric in 1561.
Precious metals and artifacts have been reportedly recovered in the area, but it is the ship's fittings and armaments that are most obvious to the snorkeler and diver. Indeed, many of the known ships that foundered in Belizean waters were armed merchant ships from countries other than Spain. It must he pointed out however, that in the 1500's and into the 1600's, a ship and crew could simply disappear with no record of her fate. Crews surviving a shipwreck, still had to face the elements and, at times, hostile Indians, who by this time had learned that the Europeans did not have their best interests at heart. It is then, those wrecks with rescued survivors that are best known. The following is a brief account of some of the wrecks found off Ambergris Caye and associated coast lines.
There has been very little marine archaeology carried out in Belize although there are no shortages of shipwreck sites. One of the few published reports of excavations carried under the auspices of CEDAM (Underwater Exploration Club of Mexico) was "Excavations of a 17th Century Spanish merchant Vessel", 1981. This wreck was located at a place called North Spot which is almost at the southern tip of the Belize Barrier Reef. In the late 1950's several individuals, namely Sir Robert Marx and Clair Blair explored a Spanish merchantman lost off Yucatan, north of Ambergris Caye, at a place called Punta Matanceros (matanceros means slaughter in Spanish, and the assumption was that the Indians slaughtered the survivors). This wreck was called the "Nuestra Senora de los Milagros". CEDAM was formed around the same time by Pablo Bush Romero, and throughout the years has explored Yucatan, the atoll of Chinchorro (The Triangles) off Xcalac (esch ka lak) immediately north of Ambergris Caye. CEDAM recently assisted with the mapping of Hol Chan National Underwater Park (Jacques Carter, New York Zoological Society iead the expedition).
In the 1960's a group of divers did some work on the wreck off Tres Cocos, the large channel immediately north of the town of San Pedro. This wreck was identified by Hamilton Anderson (the then archaeologist in Belize) as the "Yealdham", an English merchant ship lost in 1800. Very little official excavation was carried out at this wreck, but some fine china (Leeds china), silver candlesticks, silver and pewter serving pieces, brass door handles and many cannon balls were found. No large amounts of either gold or silver were apparently recovered from this wreck. David Pendergast (Mayan archaeologist with the Royal Ontario Museum) edited a diary written by a man named Caddy in the 1800's, and subsequently published the diary in the book Palenque. In this book, mention is made that gunnery officers from Belize came to Ambergris Caye and removed the cannon from this wreck. They were refitted and placed for action at Fort George (built 1803) on the mouth of the Belize River. Consequently, modern divers will not see cannon on this wreck. One anchor was removed in the 60's and was placed outside the present Fort George Hotel in Belize City. The other anchor was later placed on display in front of the Paradise Hotel on Ambergris Caye. When the foundation for the Ambergris Lodge was excavated, quite a few cannon balls were unearthed. At Fido's Hotel, proximal to the Ambergris Lodge, many bottles and a bronze barrel spigot (faucet) were found during construction excavations. Perhaps these items were related to the "Yealdham" as it is the wreck closest to San Pedro Town. Off the graveyard, in about 6 foot of water, a gold three tined fork was recovered by a snorkeler. The handle of this fork was about as thick as a little finger and was decorated with three elephant heads. Beachcombing, one finds many parts of old European bottles. Other cannon, anchors and the like are displayed around San Pedro for the visitor to see.
The first church was a small building 8' by 12' and an iron ring was used as the first church bell. The first real bell was reportedly brought here from a shipwreck off Quintana Roo (Yucatan), Mexico. The other bell was bought by the people of San Pedro in the 19th century at the cost of $80. With respect to the bells presently in the church tower, the small bronze bell was brought from Guatemala, the middle bell was donated by a Dr. Coonie, the other big bell was donated by a Earl Boyce.
The following list, to the best of current knowledge, denotes the artifact, where it is displayed and where it was found. From North to South it is as follows:
1. Journey's End:
a. two large anchors with shackles; San Andres wreck. That ship may be the English ship "Comet", sunk in 1882:
b. two large cannon retrieved from Rocky Point area:
c. one small anchor (very old, but provenance unknown):
d. one large cannon with markings by the touchhole on the back of the cannon, perhaps from the Habaneros-Palmeros wreck.
2. Belizean Hotel: large anchor, reportedly from Basil Jones channel
3. Pescador Hotel area: at one time a bronze bell was recovered from the forereef area, but the present location of this bell is unknown. The hotel has on display a small cast iron cooking vessel found in the same area. In the same area there are a few small ballast rocks and a few broken clay tiles (often tiles and bricks were used in the galley to insulate against fire).
4. High School:
a. old large cannon was retrieved from the Habaneros-Palmeros wreck:
b. small anchor, provenance unknown.
5. Paradise Hotel: anchor displayed on the beach is from wreck at Tres Cocos, "Yealdham" -1800.
6. Central Park (Parque de Amistad): cannon from Rocky Point.
7. Holiday Hotel: small cannon retrieved from Lighthouse Reef area (offshore atoll).
8. Sun Breeze Hotel: ballast stones used as patio stones, recovered from behind Ambergris Caye in the area known as Bota Lastre (literally means to throw ballast overboard). In this Bota Lastre area, there are several large ballast piles, but whether they are from wrecks, or just unneeded ballast thrown overboard is unknown at this time.
9. Ramon's Reef Resort:
a. anchor with iron stock north of swimming pool, from forereef in front of a beach known as Cypress Point (Casurina Point) :
b. large cannon mounted north of swimming pool retrieved from Habaneros-Palmeros wreck site:
c. small very old breech loading swivel cannon next to b., recovered from Habaneros-Palmeros site:
d. cannon on south side of swimming pool retrieved from Rocky Point, the same wreck as the cannon in the park:
e. anchor with out iron stock south of swimming pool retrieved from forereef at Cypress Point. This is an old anchor that was later reused as is evidenced by the more modern shackle attached to the original iron ring.
10. Royal Palms Hotel: small muzzle loading swivel cannon on display in front of the bar. The severe exfoliation has revealed on the top side a mark, AB/AP, that, according to Peterson's "History Under the Sea", may be that of the Aker works in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1794. This cannon was originally found in the early 60's along with a hand forged grapnel hook, provenance unknown.
11. Victoria House:
a. one large 12' anchor retrieved from Rocky Point:
b. medium sized cannon from Rocky point:
c. muzzle loading swivel cannon reportedly retrieved inside the reef in the Habaneros-Palmeros area. The cannon in the park, the one on the southern side of the swimming pool at Ramon's, the medium size cannon and the big anchor at Victoria House are all from the same Rocky Point wreck
The earliest iron cannon were forged from iron strakes (strips) running the length of the barrel and held together by iron bands placed every 4 to 6 inches. In the 16th century these were called lombards. The small forged swivel cannons were called Versos. These Versos were carried on ships as late as the 18th century. As early as the end of the 16th century, the technique of casting was being employed to make iron cannon. In the 14th, 15th and 16th century, copper, bronze and brass were also used in the making of cannon, but these forms were all cast. When the supply of bronze was plentiful in Spain, the first class ships of the line were required to carry all bronze cannon. There have been reports of bronze cannon in the southern parts of Belize, but there are no reports of bronze cannon coming from any of the wreck sizes of Ambergris Caye. In 1599, a royal order stated that all treasure galleons must carry all bronze cannon and that merchantmen must carry a minimum of two bronze pieces. It is interesting to note however, that by 1725 the use of bronze had faded and most of the cannon henceforth were iron.
A large 42 pound cannon, 10 feet in length with a caliber of 7", weighed as much as 6,500 pounds. A 63 pound cannon, 8 feet in length and caliber of 8", weighed 8,000 pounds. One of the larger cannon. could shoot a 75 pound cannon ball one quarter of a mile, with the trajectory looking like a rainbow. A small cannon, 3 feet long had a caliber of one and three quarter inches. The weight of its shot was about one half pound, and the cannon itself weighed 150 pounds.
Many of the cannon had stamped on the trunnions, the manufacturers mark. These marks are useful in dating the cannons.
The early anchors were forged from one long piece of iron with one end spit and both halves bent back to form the arms. The use of shackles and chains and iron stocks did not begin until the 1800's. Prior to the 1800's, all of the stocks were made of wood.
Grapnel hooks were not only used for boarding other ships, but were used to retrieve the heavy Manila (hemp fibre) anchor lines. Some of these anchor lines were as thick as 7 to 8" and one can only imagine their weight when wet and the difficulty of retrieving the lines.
Large ships carried up to 9 or more anchors, and a 15 foot anchor could weigh as much as 5400 pounds. A 12 foot anchor would weigh about 2,800 pounds and a 9 foot anchor about 1,000 pounds. It is difficult to identify a shipwreck by its anchors as ships would use salvaged anchors from any source. Many anchors were probably lost in the deep because at times, if a ship was threatened, it was more prudent to slip (leave) an anchor rather than delay leaving the area.
There are myriads of wrecks known in the waters off the New World, and Marx in his "Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere" gives extensive lists of them. The following list of the wrecks off Belize and the southernmost part of Mexico is modified slightly to update some material, the original list is his.
Three cannon and one anchor retrieved and on display in various hotels. One 151 anchor presently in about 20'to 25'of water, one cannon in about 121 of water. on the beach there are many broken bottles of circa 1750. A few small ballast rocks may be found on the beach. Several chisel headed bronze nails and drifts encrusted in the exposed rocks. Unverified reports indicate there may be a large ballast pile in 401 to 60' of water off the point.
From Marx, 1971, "Before 1792. An English Chart dated 1792 states that some years earlier a Spanish galleon named "Santa Yaga was lost off the Three Brothers, which are several small keys off the northeastern tip of Ambergris Key"
In Chetumal Bay, Mexico not far from Rocky Point, there are three islands called Tres Hermanos, or Three Brothers. There have been unverified reports of anchors around these islands. however, it is unlikely that a large galleon could have entered the waters around Tres Hermanos unless driven there by a hurricane. There is a possibility that the anchors and cannon at Rocky Point may have come from the Santa Yaga.
Immediately South of Rocky Point
In the reef, unverified reports of ballast rock.
Robles Point (Hard Wood in English)
Recent fishing boat called the "Tuxpan" in the reef.
Two anchors reportedly in the channel in 401 to 60' of water, one of these may have been removed to The Belizean Hotel.
Recent iron fertilizer ship in the reef.
This is probably one of the oldest wrecks sites off Ambergris Caye. Presently there are three anchors, three large cannon and one breach loading swivel cannon still on the reef. Scattered in the forereef there are very encrusted ballast rocks, whose path leads into the reef itself and limitedly into the leeward side of the reef. One of these cannon is in water about 10" deep. A few silver coins were found on this wreck that dated between 1630 and 1650. The name of this ship is unknown, but some of its explorers suggest that it may have been the "Oxford", one of Sir Henry Morgan's privateers. Morgan was very active in the Roatan, Honduras area. Here are a few historical notes on Morgan. A Welshman (b. 1635, d. 1688), he was kidnapped as a boy in Bristol and later sold in Barbados. In 1664, he led a commission as Lt. Governor of Jamaica and 1665-1666, sailing from Jamaica he attacked Vildemos, Truxillo in Honduras, in 1668 the Spaniards were planning an attack on Jamaica and Morgan attacked Porto Bello, Panama and the buccaneers subsequently ravaged Cuba. Before being made Lt. Governor, he was Commander-In-Chief of the entire naval force of Jamaica. In all probability Morgan was familiar at least in part, with the reefs, channels and passages on the Belizean coast.
The cannon at the High School and the two on the north side of Ramon's swimming pool were recovered from this site. The small muzzle loading swivel cannon at Victoria House was reportedly recovered from this site. Evidence so far indicates that this ship had at least 5 large cannon and two small breach loading lombards; (swivel cannon). The anchors are not large and all evidence indicates that this was a well armed small, but fast ship.
San Andres Beach
Two large anchors with shackles (presently at Journey's End) were recovered in about 25' of water where they lay with a mass of other iron material. Two bow hawser pipes (iron fittings for the holes in the bow of the wooden ship where the anchor rope slipped through) were encrusted in the coral. This was obviously a wooden vessel with evidence of a lot of iron fittings. The use of shackles came about at the turn of the century (in 1800) when chain replaced rope on sailing snips. Thus this snip can be dated as after 1800. In the year 1822, the English ship "Comet", Captain Merrill sailing to England, was wrecked on Ambergris Key on August 16. There is a possibility that this vessel at San Andres could be the "Comet".
Tres Cocos ("Yealdham", 1800)
San Pedro Channel (Tuffy Cut)
This is the main channel, slightly south of the town of San Pedro. The remains of a modern shrimp boat, the "Tuffy" are in evidence there. This is a popular site for glass bottom boat trips.
The 50' wooden power yacht "Pamalayne", Capt Jim Currie, beached here in the early 1960's. It was a notable yacht based in San Pedro in the 1950' and early 19601s. There is little that remains of this modern wreck.
A channel south of the San Pedro Channel, there were found hundreds of soda water bottles. These were bottles with round bottoms and some of them were labeled as follows: Belfast, Liverpool, aerated water, Corry Springs, Gold Medal, established 1851.
Cypress Point (Casurina Point)
Two anchors, one with iron stock and one without stock but with shackle in the forereef, Presently at Ramon's. These two anchors date after 1800.
Hol Chan National Park<br>Hol Chan is a small channel not navigable by large boats. Inside the reef, immediately south of Hol Chan, there are several very large ballast rocks.
Approximately One Mile South of Hol Chan
Here is a large, old anchor (prior to 1800) in about 20' of water, outside the reef. A few hundred yards further south, in about 12' of water, there are two long, narrow anchors that are lying side by side as if lashed together when they fell into the water.
Dredge Site (Cayo Gayo)
South of Hol Chan, a commercial shrimp boat, the "C-Hi", wrecked on the reef in the early 70's. The boat was later salvaged by clam dredging operations and the rubble brought up was made into an interesting small island 5 to 6 feet high. This is a good shelling and snorkeling area.
South of Northern Caye Caulker Channel (Mackerel Hole)
Two large anchors lacking iron stocks and with large flukes, shackles, both in about 20' of water, also one grappeling hook. One anchor has a length of chain (stud link) meandering for about 500' in a southwest direction. The chain is not intact, but can be followed along its length. Stud link has a middle bar across each link and is characteristic of the 1800's to the present.
Slightly North on the reef in Front of the Creek Dividing Caye Caulker
Here are two small anchors, no iron stocks, both with missing rings, and are severely bent, in about 4' to 6' water. There is also a ballast pile associated with this wreck in about 81 to 10' of water in the forereef.
Between Caye Chapel and Caye Caulker
Inside the reef, south of the southern Caye Caulker channel, one large anchor without iron stocks was found. This was recovered and is presently at The Morings, Caye Caulker. Also what may have been parts of iron timber reinforcements. One lead scupper was recovered from this area.
Between Caye Chapel and Long Caye
Ballast pile with bronze drifts 200 long, stamped London. This area is called The Casco which literally mean hull, as in a ships hull. This is a sandy area well inside the reef, and is a traditional commercial fishing (perhaps spawning) area for the lane snapper (Lutjanus synagris, common silk snapper.
Dredging operations in front of the hotel revealed large sections of wooden planking, many with fastenings of trunnels (wooden peg). (There is a small Mayan mound on the island. Also, in the battle of St, George's Caye, the Spanish may have had a base or temporary settlement here.)
St. George's Caye
In the forereef, in 121 of water, slightly north of the main channel, there is a very large ballast pile. Under the ballast pile, parts of the wooden timbers are evident.
On the main coast of Belize, there is a rocky promontory named Little Rocky Point. In the 60's a Chilean came to Ambergris Caye and purchased a large tract of beach front property north of Tres Cocos (now the Peter Handcock property). Despite his land holdings on Ambergris Caye, his attentions seemed to be focused on Little Rocky Point on the mainland. He hired quite a few residents of San Pedro to help with excavations in the Little Rocky Point area. One day all of the workers were laid off and apparently then the Chilean went back to Little Rocky Point. He then returned to Ambergris Caye, and about the time a Mexican gunboat appeared off the Caye. Both gunboat and the Chilean left the island. Speculation has it that the Chilean had a treasure map of some kind, and may have recovered a substantial treasure that he spirited elsewhere.
on the beach in the Tackle Box Bar area, immediately south of the main park, several U.S. gold coins dating 1880 to 1900 were found. These were usually found after severe storm surges. Local folklore says that there was a wealthy old man who used to bathe there by pouring the gold coins over himself like water.
Sir Robert Marx, a noted marine historian, has compiled lists of known shipwrecks in his book "Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere". The following list, specific to Belize and Yucatan (Chinchorro Atoll), is partially excerpted from his publication.
The three major wrecks off Ambergris Caye have already been covered in the text.
1749 A hurricane of Sept. 18:at least 20 English merchantmen were totally lost on coast and off cayes and reefs.
1751 English merchantman, the "Monmouth", Capt. Wydham, on his way to London, wrecked on Glovers Key: crew was saved.
1751 Two Rhode Island sloops and a Jamaican snow lost on the north keys (Lighthouse Reef
1764 English merchantman, "Mary Oxford", coming from Jamaica lost on Turneffe Island.
1774 Two ships wrecked on Glover's Reef: English merchantman, "Argyle", Capt. Fisher, about 5 leagues (a league is about 3 nautical miles) from the southwestern end of the reef: the American ship "Polly", Capt Waid, going to New York, on the Northeastern end of the reef, crews and part of cargo saved.
1780 The English ship "Live Oak", sailing to Jamaica, wrecked on the coast at Black River (Sittee River), crew was saved.
1786 English merchantman, "Assisstance", Capt Galt, coming from Jamaica, lost crossing the bar at Black River
1786 Unidentified Scottish ship, Capt Carr, wrecked on Glovers reef, the crew saved.
1787 On Sept. 2, (a hurricane), 30 plus English merchantmen were on coast and off-lying areas; 15 were lost in the port of Belize. The only ship identified by name was the "HMS Triumvirate" lost at St. George's Caye which was carrying a large amount of silver specie. The large ballast pile off St George's Caye may be from this ship.
1793 English gunship, "HMS Advice", with 4 cannon, Capt Edward Tyrell, lost to leeward of Rey Bokell (southern tip of the Turneffe Atoll), her crew saved.
1793 English merchantman "Chance", Capt. Reed, coming from Jamaica, wrecked on Glover's Reef.
1803 English merchantman "Fishburn", Capt Leake, sailing to London lost on a reef near Belize, Feb. 19.
1804 A ship of unknown registry, "Mentor", Capt. Simpson, coming from Jamaica, lost on "the main reef" near Belize, part of cargo saved.
1807 English ship "General Don", Capt Messeroy, coming from France lost on Glovers Reef.
1808 English merchantmen, "Perseverance", Capt. M'Nutt, coming from Jamaica, lost near Belize on Dec. 20, but the crew was saved.
1814 Ship of unknown registry, "Pompey", Capt Cowlan wrecked on "the main reef", March 31, cargo of wine saved.
1815 Scottish merchantman, "Lord Blandtyre", Capt M'Lea, coming from Jamaica, wrecked in August on the "Southern Four Keys" (Lighthouse Reef).
1818 American ship, "Enterprise", Capt Wayne, sailing from the Bahamas to New Orleans, lost on March 9, near Belize, the crew saved.
1818 English merchantman, "John Winslow", Capt Hodges, coming from Liverpool, lost July 26 on the "main reef", cargo and crew saved.
1819 English merchantman, "Vestol", Capt Hutchinson sailing to London wrecked on Corker Key (Caye Caulker), in August, crew and part of cargo saved. See wreck list. One of the two wrecks described off Caye Caulker-Caye Chapel may be from this vessel.
1821 English merchantman, "Barrrosa", Capt. Anderson, coming from London totally lost on Nov. 8 on the "Southern Fourth Reef" (Lighthouse Reef), crew and most of cargo saved.
1822 American ship "Phoebe Ann" sailing to New York wrecked near Belize about April 11.
Chinchorro Wrecks, (The Triangles, immediately north of Belize and included here due to their proximity)
1769 An English merchantman, "Liberty", Capt. Beard, coming from Jamaica, wrecked on the southern end of Chinchorro Reef, but her crew was saved.
1771 American ship, "Andrew", Capt. Passgrove, sailing from Honduras to Philadelphia, wrecked Oct 22.
1773 American merchantman, "Industry", Capt. Glenn, sailing from Honduras, with a cargo of-indigo (logwood) and mahogany.
1776 An Irish merchantman, "Hercules", Capt. Norwood, sailing from Honduras to Dublin.
1821 French ship, "Ceres", Capt. Mourant coming from France was wrecked on July 18, only the crew saved.
The following information is taken from Potter's Treasure Diving Guide.
1792 English ship, "Water Witch", lost offshore Ambergris Caye carrying $1,200,000 in specie.
1785 Spanish galleon lost on the northeastern tip of Turneffe carrying $800,000 in specie (unverified reports indicate the remains of an old ship in this area).
The origins of the name Belize are as subject to speculation as are the origins of the first English settlement. The first non-Maya name for the Belize River was Rio Viejo which means Old River in Spanish. Later historical records often refer to the Belize River and settlement with a variety of names that ail sound very similar. One of the more often proposed origins is that it is a corruption of the name of its founder, the pirate Wallace. Indeed one author has a page of reproductions of the names ascribed to the area in documents from the 1700's: Wallise, Wallis, Walix, Walis, Waliz, Valix, Valis, Balise, Balis, Baluz, Bellese, Bellise and Belize. Others have proposed that the name is derived from the French word balise, meaning beacon, reasoning that the early freebooters set a beacon at the river mouth to aid in navigation.
On some very old maps, in the 1600's, the island now called Ambergris Caye is referred to as Costa de Ambar, Amber Coast in English. Amber is quite a different substance than ambergris and this discrepancy has puzzled some people. Amber is the fossilized resin from trees that was quite familiar to Europeans long before the discovery of the New World, and prized for jewelry. The name ambergris is derived from the Spanish "ambar gris", ambar meaning amber and gris meaning grey, thus the name signifies grey amber. At one time ambergris was treasured as first a remedy in European folk medicine and later in the perfume industry for its unique fragrance. It was found along the seashores in the Caribbean and in the Orient and was an extremely valuable commodity, out its origin was not clearly known. The following is quoted from the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
"AMBERGRIS (Ambra grisea, Ambre gris, or Grey Amber) is a solid, fatty, inflammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour, the shades being variegated like marble, possessing a peculiar sweet earthy odour. It is now known to be a morbid secretion formed in the intestines of the spermaceti whale (Physeter macocephalus), and is found floating upon the sea, on the sea-coast, or in the sand near the sea-coast. It is met with in the Atlantic Ocean, on the coasts of Brazil and Madagascar; also on the coast of Africa, of the East Indies, China , Japan, and the Molucca Islands; but most at the ambergris which is brought to England comes from the Bahama Islands, Providence, &c. It is also sometimes found in the abdomen of whales, always in lumps in various shapes and sizes, weighing from 1/2 oz. to 100 or more lb. A piece which the Dutch East India Company bought from the King of Tydore weighed 182 lb. An American fisherman from Antigua found, inside a whale, about 52 leagues south-east from the Windward Islands, a piece of ambergris which weighed about 130 lb, and sold for 500 sterling. Like many other substances regarding we origin of which there existed some obscurity or mystery, ambergris in former times possessed a value, and had properties attributed to it, more on account of the source from which it was drawn than from its inherent qualities. Many ridiculous hypothesis were started to account for its origin, and among others it was conjectured to be the solidified foam of the sea, a rungoid growth in the ocean similar to the fungi which form on trees, the excreta of sea-birds, &c. The true source and character of ambergris was first satisfactorily established by Dr. Swediaur in a communication to the Royal Society (Philosophical Transactions, vol. lxxiii.) It was found by Dr Swediaur that ambergris very frequently contained the horny mandibles or beaks of the squid (Sepia moschata), on which the sperm whales are known to feed. That observation, in connection with the fact of ambergris being frequently taken from the intestines of the sperm whale, sufficiently proved that is was formed within that creature, and not an extraneous substance swallowed by the whale. It was further observed that the whales in which ambergris was found were either dead or much wasted and evidently in a sickly condition. From this it was inferred that ambergris was in some way connected with a morbid condition of the sperm whale. Ambergris, -men taken from the intestinal canal of the sperm whale, is of a deep grey colour, soft consistence, and a disagreeable smell. On exposure to the air it gradually hardens, becomes pale, and develops its peculiar sweet earthy odour. In that condition its specific gravity ranges from 0.780 to 0.926. It melts at a temperature of about 145 Fahr. into a fatty yellow resinous-like liquid; and at 212 it is volatised into a white vapour. it is soluble in ether, volatile and fixed oils, but only feebly acted on by acids. By digesting in hot alcohol, a peculiar substance termed ambrein is obtained, which deposits in brilliant white crystals as the solution cools. In chemical constitution ambrein very closely resembles cholesterin, a principle found abundantly in biliary calculi. It is therefore more than probable that ambergris, from the position in which it is found and its chemical constitution, is a biliary concretion analogous to what is formed in other mammals. The use of ambergris in Europe is now entirely confined to perfumery, though it formerly occupied no inconsiderable place in medicine. As a material of perfumery its price varies from 15s. to.25s. per ounce; and in minute quantities in alcoholic solution is much used for giving a "floral" fragrance to bouquets, washed, and other preparations of the perfumer. It occupies a very important place in the perfumery of the East, and there it is also used in pharmacy, and as a flavouring material in cookery. The high price it commands makes it peculiarly liable to adulteration, but its genuineness is easily tested by its solubility in hot alcohol, its fragrant odour, and its uniform fatty consistence on being penetrated by a hot wire."
Ambergris, being a very lightweight material, will float and thus washes up on beaches. Large quantities of ambergris nay have washed up on the shores of Ambergris Caye before intense whaling of the-1800's and early 190O's decimated the sperm whale populations. Interestingly, the Bahamas also include an island named Ambergris Caye.
One of the obscure suggestions for the origin of the name, is that the word "ambar" refers to pieces of Mayan stone implements made from a translucent brown flint, which could resemble amber.
In Spanish the word "amba" is a botanical term for "the fruit of the mangrove". Ambar could be derived from this word.
Another dictionary definition for the word ambar follows: ambar. n.m. amber; ambar gris, ambergris: es un ambar, it is excellent; it is very sweet (wine, liquor).
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