REDISCOVER THE HISTORY OF THE BAHAMAS
Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas
What kind of ship was the Maravillas?
The Maravillas was a two-deck Spanish galleon armed with 36 bronze cannons. In 1654 it was serving as the Almirante (vice-flagship) of the Tierra Firme (Mainland) fleet when it sank. It was carrying ‘treasure’ to Seville, both as royal tax and private property.
Where was the Maravillas traveling to and why?
The Maravillas followed the well-established route between Spain and the Americas to pick up silver ‘treasure’. The ship left southern Spain on July 10, 1654 and reached Cartagena in Colombia on August 22, 1654. Fleets waited there for word that silver from Bolivia and Peru had reached Portobello in Panama. Due to an unexpected delay after the treasure ship supplying the 1654 fleet, the Jesus Maria de la Limpia Concepción of the South Sea Armada, sank on a reef off Ecuador on October 27, the Maravillas was forced to spend the winter in Cartagena to avoid hurricanes, pick up the Jesus Maria’s salvaged silver and await a fresh cargo. The Maravillas sank off the Little Bahama Bank on January 4, 1656, after the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción flagship collided with it.
How did the Maravillas sink?
The loss was caused by a navigational error. Near midnight on January 4, 1656, the Capitana (flagship), Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, collided with the Maravillas. Its planks broke between the top of the waterline and the holds. In under 30 minutes after the collision, the Maravillas violently struck a coral reef and sank.
How many people died?
The majority of the 650 people on the galleon grabbed hold of floating debris and drifted away, never seen again. About 150 clung to pieces of the galleon still above the water. Most died from exposure during the night or were eaten by sharks. Only 45 people survived. Around 600 people were lost.
How important is the wreck of the Maravillas?
The Maravillas was one of the great treasure-laden Spanish galleons. It was unusual because it was transporting a double cargo: both its own consignment of silver, as well as silver salvaged from the wreck of the Jesús María de la Limpia Concepción that was supposed to supply the 1654 fleet but sank off Ecuador in October 1654. The majority of the treasure – an estimated 3.5 million pieces of eight – was salvaged between 1656 and the early 1990s.
The importance of the Maravillas to Allen Exploration are the personal belongings of officers, crew and passengers that may be preserved and let the team reconstruct daily life at sea. Ceramics show how the crew and officers ate and stored foodstuffs, while shoe buckles and tobacco pipes reveal how they dressed and passed time.
The wreck of the Maravillas dates between the well-documented remains of the 1622 and 1715 Spanish fleets, both sunk off Florida. King Philp IV ruled between 1621 and 1665, and the Maravillas offers an opportunity to study the end of the Golden Age of Spain that drew to a close with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 after the Franco-Spanish War. The wreck of the Maravillas is a sunken porthole into the consumer tastes of Spain in a very tight and crucial period in the country’s history and into its colonial relationship with Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia in the Americas.
What does the wreck look like?
The wreck is heavily scattered. No coherent mound or intact section of hull survives after centuries of heavy salvage. Stone ballast defines where the hull foundered. Artifacts are scattered along a debris trail extending over 13 kilometers. They tend to be found under dense sands, often lying on dead coral reefs. Allen Exploration believes that the sterncastle broke off the Maravillas when the ship sank and floated away. Its latest discoveries are thought to come from the missing end of the vessel.
Who owns the wreck?
Under the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Act (Amended 2011), all wreckage in Bahamian waters is the property of the Government of The Bahamas. Allen Exploration was granted a survey license in 2019 and an excavation license in 2020. Finds are divided between the Government of The Bahamas and AllenX. Allen Exploration has proven its commitment to keeping its collection together for the public good by sponsoring the build, opening and running of The Bahamas Maritime Museum. There are no intentions to split up the collection or sell it.
When was the wreck first discovered?
The wreck was quickly relocated after sinking in January 1656. In June that year, Juan de Somovilla Tejada identified the wreck as a dark shadow in the shallows. By July 1658, Spanish records show that the wreck was completely buried under sand. Many Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Bahamian and American salvors later tried their luck on the Little Bahama Bank, seemingly with little success. In the modern era, the Maravillas was rediscovered by Robert Marx in 1972 who heavily salvaged remains. Further remains were salvaged by Herbert Humphreys between 1986 and the early 1990s.
Where does the wreck lie?
The Maravillas sank on the western side of the Little Bahama Bank, over 70 kilometers offshore. The wreck is scattered across an area of at least 18 by 8 kilometers. Allen Exploration does not publicly release information about its position to protect the remains.
What finds have been
discovered by AllenX?
The team has recorded stone ballast, iron fasteners that once held the hull together, and iron rings and pins from the rigging. Far down in the debris field a wing nut from a bronze navigational astrolabe has been discovered. The rest of the astrolabe, and numerous others, must still lie undetected underwater. Shipboard dining is reflected by Spanish transport jars used to mass store foodstuffs and parts of exotic Chinese and Mexican plates and dishes. Whether officers and passengers only ate from these fancy wares or sailors below decks is being researched.
Silver and gold coins and emeralds and amethysts, as well as an 75-pound silver bar recovered, are believed to be illegal contraband consignments, unauthorized by the Spanish Crown. Personal belongings range from the silver sword hilt of the soldier Don Martin de Aranda y Gusmán to a pearl ring, two glass wine bottles and four pendants worn by knights of the Order of Santiago.
What’s left to discover?
What is preserved after heavy-duty salvage and centuries of hurricanes is anyone’s educated guess. Many experts believe the wreck has been pounded into oblivion. Allen Exploration’s archival research, combined with database profiling of over 8,800 magnetometer targets, suggests that the sterncastle broke away from the stricken ship in 1656 and floated away. AllenX is currently exploring the debris trail left behind by this feature and whatever was stored within it.
Is there treasure on the wreck?
Many Spanish galleons returning to Spain from the Americas were designed to be giant treasure chests securing the wealth of the New World. Spain called them Flota de la Plata, Silver Fleets. Homeward-bound galleons were intended to transport gold and silver ingots and coins or what the modern world calls ‘treasure’. One-fifth of the treasure, the quinto, was earmarked as royal taxation for King Philip IV. All finds discovered by AllenX, from potsherds to silver bars, are respected equally as cultural artefacts that have striking stories to share with the world.