ODN Press Release

OD Press Release May 5 2004

"Three of Sir Henry Morgan’s Ships located"

A worldwide campaign to protect a vital area of maritime history in the Caribbean is being launched in Jamaica following the discovery of three 17th Century English warships believed to be from the fleet of Henry Morgan.


These ships were lost off the southern coast of Haiti off a picturesque tropical island. Morgan’s main base was at Port Royal, Jamaica, which was the key strategic centre in the New World during the 17th Century. Now, the international team discovered what appears to be the remains of 3 frigate class ships. An archaeological survey has to determine if one of these wrecks might be Morgan’s flagship the HMS OXFORD that fought in the 1665 Battle of Lowestoft.

Peter Goodwin, curator of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, examined pictures of the anchors found at the dive site said. “The design of those found at the site indicates they are British Naval Warship anchors of that period. The Oxford would have been about two-thirds the size of HMS Victory and these appear to be in proportion.”

Brass furniture fitting 

Artefacts from the ships discovered so far, fit the vintage of Morgan’s presence in the area. Initial forensic and archaeological research on small artefacts taken from around the fossilised ship and its cannons; indicate these wrecks are most likely the ones Morgan lost during a hurricane in 1670 or 1669 on the night before his most daring raid on the South American Port of Maracaibo. A major archaeological survey of the shipwreck site is now planned for later in the year.

Oxford was destroyed in a cataclysmic blast January 2nd 1669. The result of an explosion believed to have been ignited by gunner error during a celebratory pig roast. The 34-gun ship had been sent to Morgan by King Charles II following his appointment as Admiral in Chief of the Confederacy of Buccaneers.

Having previously gained a fearsome reputation as a naval strategist and ruthless pirate operating against Britain’s enemies, Spain, France and Holland, Morgan eventually became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He died there in 1688.

Rick Haupt, Sylvia Krueger of Ocean Discovery (OD) and Bruce Leeming of Ocean Dreams led the team that discovered the three ships lying in relatively shallow water at 12 feet depth.

In the best pirate tradition, the final clue which led them to the site was discovered hidden in an old chart. The team found already several other cannon wrecks in 1999, which lead them to search for the OXFORD.

The dive equipment manufacturer MARES was one of the sponsors of this Expedition. The Expedition Team discovered the site in a methodical manner. Following extensive research they looked closely at the island of Isle a Vache near Haiti, where the Oxford was anchored with other ships meeting for the next attack. Since 1999 the team eliminated systematically all areas which would have been unsuitable for such a large fleet. Finally locating three English shipwrecks which one could be the Oxford.

Research, and funding for the search, was partly undertaken by the co-production partners of a one hour documentary on the discovery, ITV1 Wales, S4C and S4C International. The programme, filmed back-to-back in English and Welsh, will be broadcast later this year.

A full archaeological survey of the site is due to take place, while OD is now lobbying the United Nations to help with the establishment of a permanent Marine Park encompassing the area. For several years Rick Haupt and Bruce Leeming have made efforts to develop a historical Marine Park around Isle A Vache in order to better protect all the wreck sites and to preserve this magnificent cultural heritage for the people of Haiti.

Filmmaker Rick Haupt said: “The discovery of three 17th century frigates and possibly the HMS Oxford is an event of real historical significance, particularly to the Caribbean. It’s any divers dream coming true.

“While today the site resembles a large coral reef littered with cannons and thousands of artefacts, it’s still awe-inspiring. The next step is to safeguard the site and undertake further archaeological exploration, while ensuring minimal disturbance.

“We don’t expect to find any of Morgan’s fabled treasure but there are a large number of artefacts such as cannons, drawer handles, muskets, musket balls and powder barrels that will help us accurately date the accident and provide other vital historical information.

UNESCO said: “We welcome this important worldwide campaign to the extent that all project-related organizers and associates have committed themselves to full compliance with the 2001 UNESCO Convention and it’s Annex on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage.”

Owain Roberts of University of Wales in Bangor, a leading Marine Archaeologist said: “This appears to be a significant archaeological site set in coral. It is vital that careful and detailed surveying begins soon, but it must be done in a way, which protects both the artefacts and the fragile coral. This was a Commonwealth ship and remains of these are very rare”

The coral encrusted mound - between 50 and 70 meters in radius has two cannons and concreted gunpowder barrels projecting from it – is the aft section of a major British warship and fits exactly what is expected to remain of the ship which lost it’s forward third when its powder magazine exploded

Stefan Michl, Sales & Marketing Manager of Diving Equipment Manufacturer MARES said: For Mares it has always been a major concern to support scientific diving expeditions and projects, which deal with the conservation of our oceans natural resources and the preservation of cultural heritage sites underwater. OD’s ongoing efforts fit our criteria’s to protect these invaluable sites from looters and salvagers and to create a world heritage site, which would enhance diving tourism and positively influence the general economic situation in the area.

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