Ship's Fittings & Equipment
By Mike Jasper, 2012
In the summer of 2010, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) began what would become a multi-year excavation of an 18th-century shipwreck in the waters off St. Augustine, Florida. Between June 2010 and August 2011, a remarkably diverse assemblage of artifacts was recovered and cataloged, including numerous examples of cargo, equipment, weaponry, and personal affects. This paper focuses on the preliminary discussion of several the ship’s fittings and equipment including the ship’s bell, a lead deck pump, bricks that may have formed the galley hearth, and concretions containing tools and rigging components that may collectively form the bosuns locker.
During a routine site-monitoring dive in December 2010, divers were surprised to note that a portion of the site previously obscured by sand had been uncovered by erosion, revealing the ship’s bell, with most of its timber headstock intact, nestled between several cannons. This newly uncovered area lay several meters north of the units excavated during the summer of 2010. These artifacts were exposed in the volatile environment of winter storms, and the principal investigator made the decision to recover the relatively fragile bell that day. It was assigned Field Specimen No. 10S-064 upon recovery (Meide et al. 2011:132-144).
| Two views of the ship's bell shortly after its recovery. Note the light layer of encrustation on the bronze bell, which flaked off readily when handled by divers.
The bell, cast of bronze, was only lightly concreted with a corrosion product that readily flaked off when handled by divers. A small portion of the bell was covered by more durable iron concretion. CT scans revealed this concretion to be surrounding a spoon missing its handle (10S-064.1). As is the case whenever a ship’s bell is found, researchers were optimistic that the artifact might have markings identifying the ship or its date. To the team’s disappointment, no such inscription was found when the light layer of concretion was removed from the bell. The use of a generic, unlabeled bell, however, is probably consistent with the working hypothesis that this wreck is of a merchant vessel. It can be envisioned that a thrifty merchant looking to maximize profits on a maiden voyage would decline to pay for a custom-cast bell, opting instead for a cheaper, unadorned piece. While most divers consider finding a bell to be the most reliable way of identifying a shipwreck, the practice of inscribing bells with the ship’s name and launching date was far from ubiquitous before the 19th century. There appears to be no casting or maker’s mark present on the bell either; the only decoration is two narrow bands, one at the transition from the shoulder to the head, and the other just above the soundbow.
| Two views of ship's bell, after cleaning.
The bell itself is about 20.6 cm tall from base to the top of its head, and around 27.7 cm tall including its crown. It measures roughly 30.7 cm across at its rim. Table 1 enumerates detailed measurements for various features. The Storm bell has nearly identical proportions to other contemporary ship’s bells, including that from the General Carleton shipwreck lost in 1785 (Wróblewska 2008:151).
The Storm Wreck bell has much of its wood headstock still attached, indicating that it was indeed in service when the ship wrecked, as opposed to being cargo or spoil. When the bell was first encountered, one arm of the headstock was missing, but it was recovered nearby in the following season of excavation. X-ray analysis indicates the bell is attached to the headstock with two iron bolts running vertically from the crown, fastened with square nuts into the headstock. Two iron straps in a V-shaped arrangement are also present, binding the crown to the headstock. Analysis of a sample from the headstock performed by Dr. Amy Mitchell-Cook at the University of West Florida indicated that it is a hardwood but was inconclusive as to the specific species. The iron clapper was also missing upon the initial discovery of the bell, but like the headstock arm it was subsequently discovered during the 2011 season, concreted to a nearby cannon recovered that year. The bell, taken together with its headstock and clapper, represents a remarkably complete specimen, and is believed to be the only ship’s bell ever recovered by archaeologists in Florida waters (as opposed to a handful of examples recovered by treasure hunters).
Bells are considered by many to be the holy grail of shipwreck artifacts. This moniker can be attributed to their rarity and diagnostic potential, but perhaps also to their importance to the daily function of the ship. It is believed that bells became standard equipment on Northern European vessels by the 15th century, and the bell served the practical duty of signaling the passage of time through the day, indicating the start and end of watches (Wede 1972:1; Wróblewska 2008:155). The bell was also used to sound the alarm for impending danger, such as enemy attack or shipboard fire, and in times of heavy fog or low visibility, the it was struck to alert nearby vessels of the ship’s proximity.
Ship’s bells also had religious significance. The bell would call the crew to Sunday services, and the superstitious seamen of the time had faith that the bell’s noise would ward off sea monsters and storms (Wróblewska 2008:155). Children born while underway were traditionally baptized in the ship’s bell. Ship’s bells were often cast in the same foundries that cast church bells, and bells from wrecked ships often found their way into the belfries of nearby churches, as was the case with the SS Atlantic (1846) (Wede 1972:6-7).
Bells were struck in one of two ways. In the most simple of configurations, the crown of the bell was strapped rigidly to the ship, and a short length of cord (the “bellrope”) was used to slam the clapper into the side of the bell (Wede 1972:5-6). Another more sophisticated configuration is one in which the bell is strapped to a pivoting headstock in a belfry. The bellrope in this case is affixed to the end of an iron arm, extending from the headstock. As the headstock and bell pivot, the dangling clapper strikes the side of the bell. Iron hardware at the distal ends of the headstock arms suggest that the Storm bell may have been mounted so as to pivot, though further analysis may change this interpretation. Bells could be mounted in a variety of locations onboard 18th-century vessels. Large ships often carried their bells amidships, as in the case with the 1788 frigate Estraela (Wróblewska 2008:156), while smaller ships, such as the Storm vessel, typically had bells mounted further forward, either in front of or on the windlass (Röding 1793:figure 44; Wede 1972:4).
| Depiction of a ship's bell in its belfry attached to the windlass in the bow, an arrangement typical of merchant ships in the late 18th century. From Röding 1793:figure 44.
Bells have traditionally been cast of a form of bronze known as “bell metal,” a two-phase alloy of one part tin to four parts copper. Metallurgical analysis has not yet been undertaken on the Storm Wreck bell.
During field work in the summer of 2011, a large lead artifact was uncovered immediately adjacent to the exposed cannons. The object featured a large funnel roughly 30cm in diameter at its widest, tapering to a length of lead tubing roughly 10cm in diameter, and if stretched out for its entire length would have been approximately three meters long. Originally, excavators believed that the lead artifact was the ship’s pissdale, or head. Such shipboard sanitation equipment began to appear around the late 17th century, and pissdales were often mounted on deck, near the bow, and occasionally had lengths of tubing to carry excrement to the water’s surface (Daniel 2009: 3). However, several details of the lead object from the Storm Wreck did not align with examples of pissdales found on other 18th century shipwrecks. For one thing, the Storm Wreck artifact was cast and of considerable bulk, weighing several hundred pounds. Examples from Queen Anne’s Revenge, Whydah, and Henrietta Marie were formed of very thin sheet lead, bent into a conical shape and soldered at the seam (Daniel 2009; Hamilton 1992:404,411; David Moore 17 August 2011, elec. comm.). For another, the Storm Wreck specimen was overly complicated in design compared to the simple lead cones from these other ships, and features a small spout, 5cm in diameter, located roughly 20cm from the mouth of the artifact. While this was at first thought to represent the intake for a flushing toilet, and indeed the first flushing marine toilets were patented around this time, it was also apparent that the lead tubing was simply too narrow to accommodate solid waste, even with a flushing device. Given the weight and complexity of the artifact, it seemed significantly over-engineered for a toilet that could only accommodate liquid waste, and researchers began to consider other possibilities to explain the function of this object.
Further speculation lead to the idea that perhaps the funnel-like apparatus was not intended to vent liquid from the ship into the sea, but to draw water up from the sea into the ship. This hypothesis was validated when a literature review lead to the discovery of a lead deck pump which had been recovered from another 18th-century shipwreck, the Spanish San Jose wrecked in 1733 (Oertling 1996:35-38; Skowronek 1984a:78,83). The San Jose pump, while missing the lower length of lead intake tubing, was virtually identical to the Storm Wreck object, except that it featured a square reservoir or cistern at its upper end rather than a cylindrical one. Another lead deck pump was recovered from HMS Swift lost in Patagonia in 1770, also similar in design save for the square reservoir like that of San Jose. A lead deck pump with a cylindrical reservoir, virtually identical to the Storm Wreck specimen, is pictured in Boudriot’s Seventy-Four Gun Ship and described as a “head-pump” (1986:151-152). It was situated at the head of the warship with its intake tubing extending three feet below the waterline, was operated by an iron brake or handle pivoting on an iron bracket, and was particularly useful for filling empty water casks with seawater. The identification of the Storm Wreck apparatus as a deck pump was confirmed upon the observation of striation marks within its body, from the up and down action of the valves within the piston tube when used historically to pump seawater.
| Lead deck pump, during initial cleaning after recovery.
One interesting aspect of the lead pump body is the presence of numerous and obvious cut or hack marks at various locations, clearly imparted by some sharp tool such as an axe. The intake tubing was repeatedly cut and severed in more than one location, and the piston tube also features severe damage that seemed deliberate. The main body of the pump and its intact tubing was also found bent roughly in thirds, which might be the result of natural site formation processes, but seems more likely to have been done deliberately by the ship’s crew. The hack marks and apparent folding of the object are best explained as representing the hurried or frantic removal of the heavy pump from the fabric of the ship, in order to jettison it overboard in an attempt to lighten the vessel after running aground. The distribution of cannon and other heavy objects such as nail casks adjacent to the final resting place of the pump suggest that other heavy objects were also pitched overboard in an attempt to save the ship.
One other object, within concretion 10S-045B recovered during the 2010 excavation, was identified in 2011 as a pump component. X-ray analysis of the concretion revealed a solid, triangular wooden object attached to a forked iron rod. Upon initial observation, researchers believed that it might represent a component of the ship’s rigging, but further analysis lead to the identification of this object as the upper valve body, with the partial remains of the iron spear (rod), from a suction or common pump. It is not certain if this valve was from the ship’s bilge pump, or if it was associated with the lead deck pump described above.
When originally in service, the wooden body likely had a check valve, formed from a leather claque, below the square mouth that would allow the pump valve to fall in the pump housing on the down stroke. On the upstroke, the claque would be forced shut by the water pressure, allowing a vacuum to form under the valve, drawing water up the pump tube and out at its top. Further down the pipe, a “lower valve” served as a check valve to prevent water from draining on the down stroke. The upper valve, sometimes referred to as the “upper-box” or upper piston, was connected to the spear, the upper end of which was attached to the brake, which served as the lever forcing the spear and upper valve up and down inside the pump tube (Oertling 1996:23-29).
The common pump system with its design of paired valve bodies remained remarkably consistent over the centuries and across national borders. Similar valves from common pumps have been reported from a variety of shipwrecks, including la Belle (French, 1686), San José (Spanish, 1733), Machault (French, 1760), Auguste (French, 1761), and Defence (American, 1779), and all were similar to the wooden components still in use in terrestrial pumps in early 20th century Ireland (Oertling 1996:24; Meide et al. 2011:178).
Four red clay bricks were recovered during the 2011 excavation season. Two of the bricks appeared to have dark charring present on their long sides, while two had similar darkening present on their ends. This apparent charring lead researchers to believe that the bricks originated with the ship’s galley firebox as opposed to being ballast or cargo. The bricks are roughly 25cm long and 11cm wide, slightly larger than a typical American colonial brick of the 18th century (Noël Hume 1969: 81). Seakins and Smith (1965) assert that firebricks were commonly larger than a standard common brick, close textured, and hard, all of which are true of the Storm bricks. There are no frogs or brand marks present on the bricks to identify them with, though firebricks were often not marked with a brand (Pfalser 1974). Little can be said about the origin of bricks based purely on its size. While it is true that formal standards for brick sizes have existed through time, adherence to those standards seems to have been inconsistent at best (Meide 1994:13-14). South (1964) asserts that evidence “from Jamestown and Williamsburg has indicated that the size of bricks is generally of little value as a sensitive indicator for dating.” Variations in manufacturing processes and in firing temperature, or simply plain disregard for standards, meant that literally countless variations of brick size existed, even into the present century.
There are countless examples of ships’ galleys being “fireproofed” with bricks. Johnson (1982:28) describes the galley on the Swedish Wasa as being “a simple cookhouse with fore and aft walls of brick and a 45 gallon cauldron suspended between them on an iron rod. The cauldron was heated over an open fire . . . ” In the case of a small merchant ship with few mouths to feed, food preparation needs might have been met by a modest brick hearth or a “caboose,” a portable wooden structure equipped with a small stove or brick hearth designed to fit over a hatch (Broadwater 1996:L14-L15). Examples of bricks associated with shipboard cooking facilities have been observed on British, French, American, and Spanish wreck sites (Bratten 2002:190; Pearson and Hoffman 1995:149-151; Skowronek 1984b:29; Switzer 1998:191; Waters 1998).
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Explore the links below to learn more about this shipwreck and the research that has been conducted to date:
- Discovery of the Storm Wreck (article from Spyglass magazine, Winter 2009/2010 issue)
- Historical Background—The Loyalist Influx
- Photo Gallery
- Video Gallery
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