National Museum Book Showcases Shipwrecks

April 17, 2015

Three hundred-plus shipwrecks shed light on 500 years of history in a new coffee-table book published by the National Museum of Bermuda Press.

Shipwrecked: Bermuda’s Maritime Heritage, by Dr. Gordon Payne Watts Jr, traces the island’s role as the “shipwreck capital of the mid-Atlantic” and describes “the intimate partnership” Bermuda has enjoyed with the sea during the course of human history here.

Designed by Brimstone Media, the large-format, full-colour, 278-page Shipwrecked is divided into six chapters detailing the island’s maritime history, from Bermuda’s discovery in 1505 by Juan de Bermúdez to the advent of steamships and on to shipwrecks of the 20th century.

The book offers hundreds of photographs depicting artifacts from the Museum’s extensive shipwreck collections, artworks of well-known ships, scenes of Bermuda landscapes and ports through the centuries and ships both on—and under—the water. It also contains numerous archaeological drawings of wreck sites from the Museum’s archives.

“We hope this book will help to nurture a wider appreciation by Bermudians, residents and visitors alike for the extraordinary heritage that is represented by the 300-plus shipwrecks on the reef platform of the ‘Isle of Devils,’ as Bermuda was known to the mariners in its early decades,” said Dr. Edward Harris, Executive Director of the Museum.

“The island has depended on the ocean for resources, commerce and defence—but the tradeoff has been lost lives and hundreds of vessels claimed by the Island’s necklace of barrier reefs. Some of the victims have included trading vessels, Portuguese and Spanish treasure ships, while others were sloops-of-war and ships of the line.

“Although most were ensnared before the advent of GPS and modern navigational instruments, ships did fall victim to Bermuda’s dangerous waters even in the late 1900s. But it was the discovery of Sea Venture in 1958 that caught the attention of underwater archaeologists worldwide—launching a vibrant period of wreck discovery and investigation.”


“The book’s author, American archaeologist Dr. Watts, has a long track record of investigating shipwrecks and is an esteemed scholar in the field. Having studied wrecks in Jamaica, Panama, Mexico, France, Dominican Republic, and the United States, Dr. Watts visited Bermuda in 1982 to examine the Island’s most historic wreck, the Sea Venture.

“With Dr. Harris, he launched a long-running cooperative programme to investigate Bermuda shipwrecks, starting in 1984 with the Confederate blockade-runner Mary Celestia.”

Dr. Watts describes Bermuda as “the most incredible classroom in the world” and Shipwrecked backs up that claim with illustrative chapters that lay out the history behind each drowned vessel and the archaeological and research efforts to unearth both artifacts and the backstory of each.

Such discoveries, both priceless and personal, are showcased in the volume that pays tribute to Bermuda’s underwater history. It also honours many individuals, such as diver Brian Malpas and others, whose resolute passion for their work has paid dividends for museum visitors and history books like this one.

Dr. Harris gives special thanks to former National Museum chairman and Trustee, Robert Steinhoff, whose sponsorship made such a book project possible.

“Bob has worked for decades to support the study, protection and management of the island’s natural and cultural underwater heritage,” said Dr. Harris. “This book is a credit to his efforts and those of others who have worked for so long to help preserve and study Bermuda’s maritime heritage.”

Shipwrecked: Bermuda’s Maritime Heritage is available at the Museum and bookstores island-wide for $75.

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