What lies beneath: Captain Morgan's final adventure

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

His name is written into the lore of piracy – and rum. Now a salvage team's coup is bringing the details to the surface

Someone certainly wasn't paying attention, and – who knows? – maybe the look-out boys had been hitting the rum on a fateful night in 1671 when the good ship Satisfaction hit a reef off the coast of Panama, sinking with the loss of its entire crew.

The flagship of Admiral Sir Henry Morgan's fleet, which was travelling to the mouth of the Chagres River to capture the Castillo de San Lorenzo from the Spanish, was one of five vessels that disappeared in choppy seas. It sank to the ocean floor, where it lay for the next 340 years being slowly covered by sand and mud.

By the time a team of divers and archaeologists led by Texas State University chanced upon the wreck earlier this year, just two inches of Satisfaction's hull were still visible. After months of digging, they uncovered roughly 50 feet of her starboard side, along with several wooden chests, encrusted with coral.

The find was announced this week by Frederick "Fritz" Hanselmann, the leader of the research team, who said it had been like chancing upon a "needle in a haystack". Mr Hanselmann hopes the Satisfaction will help to shed light on an inglorious chapter in British adventurism. In March, Mr Hanselmann's team unearthed six cannon from Morgan's fleet near the mouth of the Panama Canal. But the team is yet to discover treasure.

"For us, the real treasure is the shipwrecks themselves, which can give us the ability to accurately tell the story of a legendary historical figure like Captain Henry Morgan," Mr Hanselmann said. "Discoveries of this nature allow us to study these artefacts and teach others what life was like for these famous privateers more than 300 years ago."

Morgan, a mercenary and (some would say) pirate from Monmouthshire, in South Wales, was employed by the Crown to protect trade routes from the Caribbean. After finding that an advance party of his own men had already captured the Castillo de San Lorenzo, he continued up the Chagres towards Panama City, which he promptly destroyed.

That attack violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, meaning that Morgan was arrested. He successfully pleaded ignorance of the treaty, was acquitted and then knighted by Charles II, and subsequently went to Jamaica, where he became lieutenant governor.

Morgan, who died in 1688, remains a legendary figure thanks in part to the brand of cheap rum named after him. And there is at least a whiff of a PR stunt about the fact that Mr Hanselmann's latest expedition was part-funded by that drinks company, which issued a press release yesterday describing the sponsorship deal as "a natural fit".

The corporatisation of the salvage industry is nothing new, though. In recent years, there has been a huge rise in the number of shipwrecks being unearthed by privately funded marine archaeologists, using cutting-edge undersea exploration technology, such as sonar, magnetometers, and remotely operated submersible robots.

Unlike Mr Hanselmann's non-profit operation, the vast majority of today's undersea explorers are commercial enterprises which operate in great secrecy, leading to fears that valuable historical sites are being plundered. The UN estimates that 3 million shipwrecks litter the ocean floor, and the value of their sunken cargo runs to tens of billions of pounds. Under the 1989 International Convention on Salvage, wrecks in international waters are there for the taking, provided they are not sovereign vessels. Interpreting that law can be complicated. A US company called Odyssey Marine Exploration is locked in a legal dispute with the Spanish government over the discovery of 500,000 gold and silver coins, weighing 17 tons, near Portugal. Spain insists the haul, worth some $500m (£310m), was from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a frigate sunk by the Royal Navy in 1804. Odyssey insists otherwise.

Such firms insist that, in the absence of government funding, private salvage is the only way to uncover and preserve important artefacts. Odyssey has in the past struck deals with the British government to share profits and preserve important pieces from three UK vessels it discovered: HMS Sussex; RMS Laconia; and HMS Victory, the predecessor to Nelson's flagship, which was found some 60 miles off Alderney in May 2008. Odyssey has also worked with US museums to allow the public to see the remains of ships such as the SS Republic, a steamship from Baltimore which sank in a hurricane in 1865.

The Satisfaction, along with any other remnants of Captain Morgan's fleet that Mr Hanselmann discovers, will end up informing the public. Mr Hanselmann said yesterday all his finds will be donated to Panama's National Institute of Culture.

Famous shipwrecks

The Mary Rose King Henry VIII's flagship vessel was raised to the surface in 1982, after 437 years at the bottom of the Solent. More than 10,000 artefacts from the ship's last voyage (to meet the French in battle in 1510) were recovered. The ship is on display in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The Titanic An American-French expedition rediscovered The Titanic in 1985, 73 years after the infamous liner hit an iceberg and sank on 15 April 1912, killing 1,503 passengers and crew. Experts believe it would be impossible to raise the wreck from its resting place 2.5 miles (4 km) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bismarck The 45,000-ton battleship was once the German Navy's pride and joy during the Second World War, before it was sunk by British torpedoes in 1941 along with 2,900 crew members. Now, its remains lie around 600 miles west of Brest, on the French coast, at a depth of almost 4,790 metres (15,700 feet).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'