Could Captain Morgan be about to resurface?

Panama wreck might solve mystery of the 17th-century buccaneer

He was one of Britain's most bloodthirsty buccaneers whose raids up and down the Spanish Main made him the scourge of the Caribbean, but now archaeologists might be about to cast new light on the dark legend of Sir Henry Morgan.

Morgan has become the stuff of legend, the sort of pirate immortalised by Hollywood in such films as the 1930s Errol Flynn vehicle Captain Blood. However, scientists believe a wreck being explored by divers close to the mouth of the Panama Canal could help separate fact from swashbuckling fiction.

Divers at the wreck, which is thought to be Morgan's flagship, Satisfaction, have unearthed ancient swords, wooden chests and coral-encrusted barrels. The Satisfaction sank in 1671 during an ambitious mission to capture Castillo de San Lorenzo, a key fortress which Morgan hoped would help unlock the treasures of nearby Panama City, reputed to be one of the richest in the world.

Accounts differ as to how the vessel sank. In one version, Morgan used the ship to lure out and destroy the Magdalen, the Spanish boat guarding the entrance to Panama City. Another version has it running aground in shallow water. Morgan's attack was successful and he plundered the city before razing it to the ground.

However, the attack violated a peace treaty between England and Spain and sparked a diplomatic crisis that would later lead to Morgan's arrest by the British authorities. He was put on trial but pleaded ignorance of the treaty and was cleared. King Charles II knighted him and later sent him to become Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.

Other finds include six iron cannons as well as the 17th-century wooden hull's starboard side. Over the next six months, scientists will strip the artefacts of their calcium carbonate coating and attempt to uncover their origin. They will also try to open the chest that they believe could contain evidence which would illuminate an inglorious chapter of British adventurism.

There remains fierce dispute over Morgan's precise role in the destruction of Panama City. "For more than 20 years, archaeologists have excavated the ruins," said Fritz Hanselmann, the leader of a research team from the University of Texas. "Apart from some carbon scoring along a number of burnt items, there is little indisputable evidence to suggest that Captain Morgan had even been there."

Professor Chris Bellamy, director of the Greenwich Maritime Institute, said: "The discovery could fill crucial gaps in British history – particularly concerning English involvement in Panama at a time when a peace treaty was in place. These will tell us a lot about operations on the cusp between piracy and irregular warfare sanctioned by nation states.

"These operations occurred at a time when increasingly powerful nation states were beginning to secure a monopoly on organised violence," he said.

All the discoveries that are brought to the surface will be donated to Panama's National Institute of Culture.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable