ANOTHER "OLD TRAVELER ARTICLE" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
ANTIGUA, AN ISLAND WITH A PAST -
FOUND IN ANTIGUA BOTTLES
The day was warm, the sun burned brightly on a sea so
calm one could see clearly to the distant horizon. Yet an air of
uneasiness floated across the tiny ship and its crew. Little was
known of these waters and no maps existed. The captain of
the Mariagalante was cautious, yet optimistic about what might be
found. This was Christopher Columbus's second trip to the West
Indies, so named one year earlier in his belief that he had
discovered the western route to India.
Columbus now steered his small flotilla of vessels along the western edge of what was a growing chain of newly discovered islands. Later these islands were to become known as the Antilles, derived from the word Antilia, a word ancient writers called an imagined land situated in mid-ocean between the Canary Islands and India.
Captian Horatio Nelson was naval Commander-in-Chief at English Harbor from 1784 to 1787. In 1805, as an Admrial, he would defeat the French fleet of Napoleon at the battle of Cape Trafalgar, one of the most famous naval battles of all time.
On his first voyage Columbus discovered several large islands, the natives called one Cuba, another Haiti, which he named Hispaniola because it reminded him of Spain. This second voyage had taken a more southern course and the islands found were much smaller. The first discovered he named Dominica, Lord's Day in Spanish, so named because it was discovered on a Sunday. Next an island he named Guadeloupe, then Montserrat. Passing close by a small island he named Rebonda, Columbus could easily see to the East a larger island. He would not approach this new discovery but would give it the name Antigua, after Santa Maria la Antigua, a famous miracle working virgin in the Seville Cathedral, where he had prayed prior to his voyage. Columbus continued North; it was November 11th, 1493.
December 15, 2001. Our 45-minute flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico was, as usual, uneventful. Small, white puffy low hanging clouds lay across most of the Caribbean Sea and an occasional island could be seen. Our captain calls out their names, St. Martin's, St. Eustatius, Sabo, St. Kitt, Nevis, all part of a chain of islands starting southeast of Puerto Rico, ending 600 miles father south in Trinidad, just a few miles from the coast of South America
It was a good time of the year to travel to the Caribbean, the dreaded hurricane season was over and the heaviest part of the tourist season has yet to begin. Our plane is in its final approach now, I see the island capital of St. John's pass on our left, and in another minute we land at VC Bird International Airport, on the island of Antigua.
Later that afternoon, while enjoying a Wadatli, a local beer brewed on the island, I look out across the great expanse of the blue-green Caribbean Sea. It is not our first time here, my wife and I have traveled to this paradise island in the sun almost yearly since 1989. This trip however is to be different, as we are on a quest to find as much history as we can of the island in the form of its antique bottles.
The history of Antigua is like most of the islands in the Antilles chain. All were discovered and named by Columbus during his four voyages to the New World, (1492 to 1504). For the next 100 years Spain did little with the smaller islands he discovered, colonizing only the larger ones of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico to the north, and Trinidad to the south. Spanish ships dominated the Caribbean Sea, it was their private lake, and they let the rest of the European countries know it.
Built in 1855 it was originally a Naval Officer's and Clerk's House.
Today it houses the Antigue and Babuda Museum in English Harbor.
June 20, 1567. John Hawkins was nervous, although this was his third voyage to the New World danger lurked everywhere. This was Spanish territory and even though the Spanish colonists he would meet were eager to trade, the Spanish government forbid it. If caught he knew that he and his cousin, Francis Drake, who also manned a ship on this voyage, would have to fight to avoid being captured by the Spanish and put into irons. Before setting sail for the New World, Hawkins and Drake left England, sailing to the coast of West Africa to secure 600 slaves. They would be traded to the labor starved colonists of the West Indies for hides, sugar and pearls to be sold in England at great profit. It was the beginning of the great movement of African slaves to the New World, which would last for the next 250 years!
From as early as 1625, when the island of Antigua was first taken under the protection of England, to present, it has almost always been under its control. In that time the population has grown from 750 people in 1646 to over 60,000 today. In olden days battles were waged on both land and sea between the English defenders and the French and Dutch who tried in vain to capture the island. Eventually Antigua would become one of the most fortified islands in the Caribbean. The British Navy would build and man the Royal Navy Dockyard at English Harbor with its wharves, administration and work buildings and heavily fortified harbor entrance.
Started in 1725, English Harbor would become the most important British Naval facility in the entire Caribbean Sea, reaching its zenith during the Napoleonic Wars that ended in 1815. Although declining in importance it remained under naval control until 1906, when it was handed over to the Antigua Government. Today it is Nelson's Dockyard National Park, named after the famous British Admiral Horatio Nelson, who as a captain, was naval commander-in-chief at English Harbor from 1784 to 1787.
Most all the original buildings of Nelson's time remain today, some in their original state, others restored. It has become one of the island's major tourist attractions, and is still used by a fleet of modern sailing vessels that come from all over the world to enjoy the island's excellent sailing conditions.
Two original capstans sit along English Harbor. Capstans were used for careening down ships so repairs to the hull and removal of barnacels could be done.
One of the buildings in Nelson's Dockyard is the old Naval Officer's and Clerk's House, built in 1855. Today it is one of two museums operated by the Historical and Archaeological Society of Antigua & Barbuda. It would be here that our search for the history of Antigua in bottles would begin.
Small in size, situated on two floors, the museum in Nelson's Dockyard gives one a grand idea of the history and importance of the dockyard during Colonial times. Many of the artifacts on display were excavated in or around the dockyard while reconstruction work was being done.
In a glass case on a far wall we find several seals from early bottles. A dark green bottle seal approximately one and one-quarter inch in size has the initials "W.W." across it. These initials stand for William Whitehead.
June 1787, English Harbor, Antigua. It was very hot and humid, even for this time of year. Captain Nelson was up unusually late into the evening, a whale oil lamp burning in his quarters could be seen by many in the harbor. Some who viewed the light wondered what could keep the Captain up this late, others, who were more informed to the goings on around the city of St. John's, knew.
Earlier in the day, one William Higgins of Wapping Lane, St. John's, had a secret meeting with Nelson. It seems Higgins was in possession of a number of books and papers belonging to a William Whitehead, also a merchant in St. John's and former partner of Higgins and his friend William Wilkinson. For a number of years Whitehead was Agent-Victualler to the Royal Naval Hospital on Antigua, and Higgins sensed something was wrong. Nelson listened with interest as Higgins explained that these records clearly showed vast frauds perpetrated by Whitehead against the Antigua Customs Office, taxes not being paid, instead finding their way into Whitehead's personal accounts. As Agent-Victualler, Whitehead was in charge of purchasing all supplies for the island's naval hospital, along with a considerable amount of wine and other spirits. The amount purchased being so large, much to the delight of Whitehead's selected suppliers in England, that they considered Whitehead special, even adding his initials "W.W." to many of the items shipped to him.
In days to follow, after reading in length Whitehead's records, and having interviewed Higgins and Wilkinson repeatedly, Nelson decided they were both shrewd sensible men, and so proceeded to investigate. Later, being convinced of Whitehead's fraud, Nelson would send writings to the Comptroller of the Navy, the First Load, the Master General of the Ordnance, the Duke of Richmond, even the Prime Minister. Despite Nelson's attempt at justice, the results were disappointing. After two years and three months the matter came to an end with the Duke of Richmond's words: "with respect to yourself, I can only renew the assurances of my perfect conviction of zeal for his Majesty's Service which has induced you to stir in this business."
Broken pieces of early English pottery excavated in the vicinity of Shirley Heights.
Once a military fortification overlooking English Harbor.
It would seem that Whitehead's peculators in England were too influential and powerful to let this plum in the Caribbean dry up, so no proceedings were ever taken against him. Two years later, and with Nelson no longer on the island, Higgins and Wilkinson found themselves caught in an inquiry that eventually ending in both being placed in irons.
In another museum wall case several seals found at the old naval hospital in English Harbor could be viewed. Some seals had the letters "G.R. on them, others an anchor, still others had both the letters "G.R." and the anchor.
Desmond Nicholson, curator of the museum at Nelson's Dockyard explains. "The letters 'G.R.' stand for 'Georgius Rex', or King George, III of England, (1760 - 1820), and the anchor denotes government property. During its time the anchor was known by the working class as the 'devil's claw', this anchor would convict a person found with any item thus marked in his personal possession."
September 4, 1790. Hospital surgeon Colin Young stood just outside the front door of the Naval Hospital, looking worried as the sky continued to darken and the winds increase. All day, naval ships have been anchoring in English Harbor, to wait out the impending storm. Since the days of Columbus, sailors were aware that mid-summer to late fall was a dangerous time to sail the Caribbean. This was the time of year when great storms would suddenly rise out of the East bringing with them highly destructive winds and rains; years later these great storms would be called hurricanes.
The hospital, was located on the north side of the harbor on what was commonly referred to as, "Hospital Hill". It had am impressive view, but its location made it prone to damage from high winds, which Young would learn all too quickly.
All three of these seals were found during the excavation of an area in English Harbor near the old Naval Hospital.
with the initials "G.R." for Georgius Rex,
or King George, III of England
seal embossed "Navy Hospital"
with an anchor in center.
|This seal has a very intricate anchor, but lacks lettering.|
The winds and torrential rains increased throughout the night. Great waves drove ships that were not able to get into the protection of the dockyard, onto the reefs around the island with great loss of life. By 2 am Young began to fear the worse. The roof of the hospital was partially gone and rain poured in. Young wondered, could the hospital walls stand against a wind that he calculated was now at over 100 miles per hour?
By morning light it was over, the hurricane had passed, only the damage was left behind. A number of buildings in the dockyard were heavily damaged, as for the hospital, it was completely gone. All that was left was a pile of stones, timber, broken bottles and other apparatus, and dozens of dead or injured patients. As one observer reported; "leveled to the ground, crushing in its fall the unfortunate patients and their attendants".
Desmond Nicholson continues, "Most all the seals in this museum were discovered on June 6, 1980, when a bulldozer was preparing a private house site overlooking English Harbor, under the brow of Hospital Hill. To clear the bush, a layer of approximately 20 feet of soil was removed exposing a few artifacts. A car turnaround was then cut in the side of the hill nearby, exposing more refuse. Archaeological Society members managed to persuade the bulldozing to stop for a day, in order to allow as many artifacts as possible to be recovered. Unfortunately there are no antiquity laws in Antigua, so the site was destroyed the next day, without proper scientific investigation."
Two of the original wind powered sugar crushing mills at Betty's Hope, currently under reconstruction.
I thanked Mr. Nicholson for his help, and inquired about other bottles on the island. "We have several groups here in the museum", he said, "as well as in our museum in St. John's. Most are bottles from the middle 1800's to the early 1900's, found when a minor dredging operation was being carried out along a 100-yard stretch of shore on the inner arm of English Harbor, known as Tank Bay. A pier was being built for a new police station, dredging was done with a grab crane. As the mounds of mud were deposited on shore many interesting artifacts were recovered including bottles."
After a slight pause, he continued, "Several early seals are in the museum, not on display as here, but in the study collections in the upstairs library. I think you'll be interested in the one marked Col. John Gunthorpe. It was found years ago on the island of Barbuda, among the ruins of the old Highland House and dates to the time when the Codrington family owned the island."
The Codringtons arrived in Antigua from the island of Barbados in 1674. They had been granted by the British Parliament, Betty's Hope, the island's first sugar plantation, founded twenty-four years earlier by then Governor of the island Keynell. Under Codrington ownership Betty's Hope was soon transformed into one of the most efficient sugar plantations on Antigua, making the Codrington's among the wealthiest owners on the island.
In years to follow two successive Christopher Codringtons would serve as Governors General of the Leeward Islands. Later heirs would be among the most influential and prosperous planters during the colonial era. Betty's Hope was a large plantation and like others of its type had a substantial slave population, supervised by a handful of white overseers. By the middle 1800's sugar sales were in decline, and with the depression of the late 19th century, Betty's Hope declined in importance, eventually being abandoned to ruin.
Ruins of the plantation manager's house at Betty's Hope.
Today, Betty's Hope is under reconstruction which, when finished, will become a major West Indian heritage monument.
In 1685 the Codringtons took over the lease of Antigua's sister island Barbuda from William Willoughby, then Governor. The lease consisted of 'one ear of corn' per year.
Worthless as a sugar-producing island because of the poor quality of the soil, it did supply the Codrington estates on Antigua with sheep, cattle and horses, as well as fish, vegetables, lumber and leather goods. These same goods were also sold to the Royal Navy.
The Codrington lease of Barbuda continued for the next 200 years, with the island eventually becoming their private property. As the Codrington estates declined in Antigua, so they did on Barbuda. In 1860 the British Parliament ordered that the Island of Barbuda be annexed by Antigua, creating the government of Antigua & Barbuda that remains today.
After a short 10 minute drive from our hotel, Roger, our taxi driver, drops us off in front of the Antigua & Barbuda museum in St. John's. We meet with a very helpful museum assistant, explaining to her what we are looking for and of our conversation with Desmond Nichelson one-day earlier. She says, in the style of English spoken by most native Antigens, "You can ave a look upstairs in da cases, you maybe find what you looking for".
Entrance to the Antigue & Barbuda Museum located on Long Street in St. John's.
Several tall wooden cases having numerous pullout drawers house the museum's study groups consisting of all sorts of artifacts found on the island. In the drawer marked Glass & Bottles we find what we are looking for, seals from early bottles. The first seal I recognize, is the seal for Pyrmont Mineral Water. Although badly worn you could make out the wording around a coat of arms. Seals marked Vieux Cognac were in the drawer, as well as seals off early French wine or champagne bottles. The drawer contained the broken pieces of bottles ranging in date from the middle 1700's to as late as 1920. Under one of the bottles we find what we are most interested in. The slightly oval seal was about one and one-quarter inch in length, and though badly faded you could still make out the name in three lines. "Col. I(J)ohn Gunthorpe."
1730, the Island of Barbuda. William Codrington sits on the front porch of "Highland House" his family home while on Barbuda. Codrington was glad he chose its location 10 years earlier. At an elevation of 120 feet it was on the highest point of the island, giving one a perfect view across most of it.
Codrington was in a jovial mood, and with good reason. His old friend Col. John Gunthorpe had recently returned from England and Codrington was interested in learning news of the country and the state of condition of his home in London, which he gave Gunthorpe full use of while in England.
Gunthorpe knew his friend's interest in his London home and would report to him that his competent staff was maintaining it properly. He was also aware of his old friend's fondness of wine. While in London he had procured several cases of a fine wine tapped from a keg recently imported from France. Knowing he would be taking this wine back to Barbuda, and of his and Codrington's love for "getting one up on the other" Gunthorpe had an idea. He approached an agent for the Bristol Glassworks to make a special order of bottles for his wine. They were to be in the traditional squatty form, which, in the words of the glassblowers who made them, 'looking somewhat like an onion'. They were to be of dark olive green glass, each having an applied glass seal on the side with his rank and name 'Col. John Gunthorpe' stamped in. He knew Codrington would be quite envious of these bottles, as nothing like them had ever been seen on Barbuda.
The original seal, on the right, was found on the Island of Barbuda during an archeological excavation in the vicinity of "Highland House". Though badly deteriorated the words Col. Iohn Gunthorpe can be read. A copy made out of plastic is on the left.
It was now June 15 of the year of our Lord 1735, and a great celebration was to take place on Barbuda. The marriage of Anne Gunthorpe to William Byam would take place in the town of Codrington with many dignitaries from both Barbuda and Antigua attending. Anna was the daughter of Col. John Gunthorpe and no father could be prouder of his daughter's choice. William Byam came from good stock and owned a plantation on Antigua. He had been on Barbuda arranging a lease of the island from the Codrington family when he first met Anna.
The wedding celebration was a joyous affair with the newlywed couple receiving many expensive gifts from relatives and friends alike. John's old friend William Codrington presented to the newlyweds one of the finest, taking this opportunity to announce the leasing of the Island of Barbuda to William Byam starting in the year 1746 when Codrington himself would return to his home in England. John Gunthorpe, in an attempt to upstage his old friend, now brings out a bottle of the wine that bears his seal. It was his last one, saved for just this special occasion. He presents the bottle to his new son-in-law wishing him forever happiness and love of his daughter.
A grouping of bottles, circa 1880 - 1910, on display a the museum in St. John's.
some of the bottles found while diving in English Harbor.
December 22, 2001, the Coconut Grove beach bar and restaurant, Dickerson Bay, Antigua. Our search for Antigua's history found in antique bottles is at an end. To our knowledge, although few in number, we have seen all the early bottles found to date on the island. Yet many must remain, unfound around the ruins of the once numerous old sugar plantations, or still laying in the remains of the island's many ship wrecks. And then, of course, there are the waters of the once mighty Royal Naval Dockyard at English Harbor where for several hundred years debris from all manor of ship would have found its way overboard, to sink into the thick soft mud at the bottom. I had asked Desmond Nichelson if there had ever been a serious attempt to excavate any part of the Dockyard. "No", he said, "all the artifacts you see in the museums found in the dockyard are from the Tank Bay shoreline dredging, or, some years earlier when a few Canadian divers, working on a new charting of the island, found a few things by a docking pier."
An English "round bottom" soda or mineral water bottle found in the waters of English Harbor.
As the sun sets across the Caribbean Sea we close the book on this story of the history of Antigua found in its bottles. But, in those famous words of General MacAuther as he left the Philippines in 1942, "I shall return." And why not? After all, Christopher Columbus was given a second chance, and found an island - November 11th, 1493.....
This story is based mostly on truth, with a reasonable amount of fiction mixed in for affect. All the people and places mentioned existed in the approximate times they appear in.
Special thanks must be given to Desmond Nicholson as well as staff members of both the Antigua and Barbuda museums in Nelson's Dockyard National Park, and St. John's, Antigua without whose help this story could not have been written.
Also to Wesley Dyer, head bartender and all around conversationalist, at the Coconut Grove beach bar and restaurant. Who, along with Dave, kept us in the correct 'mood' in the evening to carry on with this story during the day.
Antigua, Barbuda, Redonda - A Historical Sketch, by D.V. Nicholson
Mud & Blood: Artifacts from Harbour Dredging and the Naval Hospital at English Harbour, by D.S. Nicholson
Heritage Landmarks of Antigua and Barbuda, by D.V. Nicholson
The Story of Our Islands, (book 2), by E.H Carter, G.W. Digby and R.N Murray
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