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 -
FOUNDIN ANTIGUA BOTTLES
Columbus now steered his small flotilla of vessels along thewestern edge of what was a growing chain of newly discoveredislands. Later these islands were to become known as theAntilles, derived from the word Antilia, a word ancient writerscalled an imagined land situated in mid-ocean between the CanaryIslands and India.
Captian Horatio Nelsonwas naval Commander-in-Chief at English Harbor from 1784 to 1787.In 1805, as an Admrial, he would defeat the French fleet ofNapoleon at the battle of Cape Trafalgar, one of the most famousnaval battles of all time.
On his first voyage Columbus discovered several large islands,the natives called one Cuba, another Haiti, which he namedHispaniola because it reminded him of Spain. This second voyagehad taken a more southern course and the islands found were muchsmaller. The first discovered he named Dominica, Lord's Day inSpanish, so named because it was discovered on a Sunday. Next anisland he named Guadeloupe, then Montserrat. Passing close by asmall island he named Rebonda, Columbus could easily see to theEast a larger island. He would not approach this new discoverybut would give it the name Antigua, after Santa Maria la Antigua,a famous miracle working virgin in the Seville Cathedral, wherehe had prayed prior to his voyage. Columbus continued North; itwas November 11th, 1493.
December 15, 2001. Our 45-minute flight from San Juan, PuertoRico was, as usual, uneventful. Small, white puffy low hangingclouds lay across most of the Caribbean Sea and an occasionalisland could be seen. Our captain calls out their names, St.Martin's, St. Eustatius, Sabo, St. Kitt, Nevis, all part of achain of islands starting southeast of Puerto Rico, ending 600miles father south in Trinidad, just a few miles from the coastof South America
It was a good time of the year to travel to the Caribbean, thedreaded hurricane season was over and the heaviest part of thetourist season has yet to begin. Our plane is in its finalapproach now, I see the island capital of St. John's pass on ourleft, and in another minute we land at VC Bird InternationalAirport, on the island of Antigua.
Later that afternoon, while enjoying a Wadatli, a local beerbrewed on the island, I look out across the great expanse of theblue-green Caribbean Sea. It is not our first time here, my wifeand I have traveled to this paradise island in the sun almostyearly since 1989. This trip however is to be different, as weare on a quest to find as much history as we can of the island inthe form of its antique bottles.
The history of Antigua is like most of the islands in theAntilles chain. All were discovered and named by Columbus duringhis four voyages to the New World, (1492 to 1504). For the next100 years Spain did little with the smaller islands hediscovered, 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 privatelake, and they let the rest of the European countries know it.
Built in1855 it was originally a Naval Officer's and Clerk's House.
Today ithouses the Antigue and Babuda Museum in English Harbor.
June 20, 1567. John Hawkins was nervous, although this was histhird voyage to the New World danger lurked everywhere. This wasSpanish territory and even though the Spanish colonists he wouldmeet were eager to trade, the Spanish government forbid it. Ifcaught he knew that he and his cousin, Francis Drake, who alsomanned a ship on this voyage, would have to fight to avoid beingcaptured by the Spanish and put into irons. Before setting sailfor the New World, Hawkins and Drake left England, sailing to thecoast of West Africa to secure 600 slaves. They would be tradedto the labor starved colonists of the West Indies for hides,sugar and pearls to be sold in England at great profit. It wasthe beginning of the great movement of African slaves to the NewWorld, which would last for the next 250 years!
From as early as 1625, when the island of Antigua was first takenunder the protection of England, to present, it has almost alwaysbeen under its control. In that time the population has grownfrom 750 people in 1646 to over 60,000 today. In olden daysbattles were waged on both land and sea between the Englishdefenders and the French and Dutch who tried in vain to capturethe island. Eventually Antigua would become one of the mostfortified islands in the Caribbean. The British Navy would buildand man the Royal Navy Dockyard at English Harbor with itswharves, administration and work buildings and heavily fortifiedharbor entrance.
Started in 1725, English Harbor would become the most importantBritish Naval facility in the entire Caribbean Sea, reaching itszenith during the Napoleonic Wars that ended in 1815. Althoughdeclining in importance it remained under naval control until1906, when it was handed over to the Antigua Government. Today itis Nelson's Dockyard National Park, named after the famousBritish Admiral Horatio Nelson, who as a captain, was navalcommander-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 oneof the island's major tourist attractions, and is still used by afleet of modern sailing vessels that come from all over the worldto enjoy the island's excellent sailing conditions.
Twooriginal capstans sit along English Harbor. Capstans were usedfor careening down ships so repairs to the hull and removal ofbarnacels could be done.
One of the buildings in Nelson's Dockyard is the old NavalOfficer's and Clerk's House, built in 1855. Today it is one oftwo museums operated by the Historical and Archaeological Societyof Antigua & Barbuda. It would be here that our search forthe history of Antigua in bottles would begin.
Small in size, situated on two floors, the museum in Nelson'sDockyard gives one a grand idea of the history and importance ofthe dockyard during Colonial times. Many of the artifacts ondisplay were excavated in or around the dockyard whilereconstruction work was being done.
In a glass case on a far wall we find several seals from earlybottles. A dark green bottle seal approximately one andone-quarter inch in size has the initials "W.W." acrossit. 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 lateinto the evening, a whale oil lamp burning in his quarters couldbe seen by many in the harbor. Some who viewed the light wonderedwhat could keep the Captain up this late, others, who were moreinformed 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 inpossession of a number of books and papers belonging to a WilliamWhitehead, also a merchant in St. John's and former partner ofHiggins and his friend William Wilkinson. For a number of yearsWhitehead was Agent-Victualler to the Royal Naval Hospital onAntigua, and Higgins sensed something was wrong. Nelson listenedwith interest as Higgins explained that these records clearlyshowed vast frauds perpetrated by Whitehead against the AntiguaCustoms Office, taxes not being paid, instead finding their wayinto Whitehead's personal accounts. As Agent-Victualler,Whitehead was in charge of purchasing all supplies for theisland's naval hospital, along with a considerable amount of wineand other spirits. The amount purchased being so large, much tothe delight of Whitehead's selected suppliers in England, thatthey 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, Nelsondecided they were both shrewd sensible men, and so proceeded toinvestigate. Later, being convinced of Whitehead's fraud, Nelsonwould send writings to the Comptroller of the Navy, the FirstLoad, the Master General of the Ordnance, the Duke of Richmond,even the Prime Minister. Despite Nelson's attempt at justice, theresults were disappointing. After two years and three months thematter came to an end with the Duke of Richmond's words:"with respect to yourself, I can only renew the assurancesof my perfect conviction of zeal for his Majesty's Service whichhas induced you to stir in this business."
Brokenpieces of early English pottery excavated in the vicinity ofShirley Heights.
Once amilitary fortification overlooking English Harbor.
It would seem that Whitehead's peculators in England were tooinfluential and powerful to let this plum in the Caribbean dryup, so no proceedings were ever taken against him. Two yearslater, and with Nelson no longer on the island, Higgins andWilkinson found themselves caught in an inquiry that eventuallyending in both being placed in irons.
In another museum wall case several seals found at the old navalhospital in English Harbor could be viewed. Some seals had theletters "G.R. on them, others an anchor, still others hadboth the letters "G.R." and the anchor.
Desmond Nicholson, curator of the museum at Nelson's Dockyardexplains. "The letters 'G.R.' stand for 'Georgius Rex', orKing George, III of England, (1760 - 1820), and the anchordenotes government property. During its time the anchor was knownby the working class as the 'devil's claw', this anchor wouldconvict a person found with any item thus marked in his personalpossession."
September 4, 1790. Hospital surgeon Colin Young stood justoutside the front door of the Naval Hospital, looking worried asthe sky continued to darken and the winds increase. All day,naval ships have been anchoring in English Harbor, to wait outthe impending storm. Since the days of Columbus, sailors wereaware that mid-summer to late fall was a dangerous time to sailthe Caribbean. This was the time of year when great storms wouldsuddenly rise out of the East bringing with them highlydestructive winds and rains; years later these great storms wouldbe called hurricanes.
The hospital, was located on the north side of the harbor on whatwas commonly referred to as, "Hospital Hill". It had amimpressive view, but its location made it prone to damage fromhigh winds, which Young would learn all too quickly.
Allthree of these seals were found during the excavation of an areain English Harbor near the old Naval Hospital.
|A seal with the initials "G.R." for Georgius Rex, |
or King George, III of England
|A rare 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 theprotection of the dockyard, onto the reefs around the island withgreat loss of life. By 2 am Young began to fear the worse. Theroof of the hospital was partially gone and rain poured in. Youngwondered, could the hospital walls stand against a wind that hecalculated was now at over 100 miles per hour?
By morning light it was over, the hurricane had passed, only thedamage was left behind. A number of buildings in the dockyardwere heavily damaged, as for the hospital, it was completelygone. All that was left was a pile of stones, timber, brokenbottles and other apparatus, and dozens of dead or injuredpatients. As one observer reported; "leveled to the ground,crushing in its fall the unfortunate patients and theirattendants".
Desmond Nicholson continues, "Most all the seals in thismuseum were discovered on June 6, 1980, when a bulldozer waspreparing a private house site overlooking English Harbor, underthe brow of Hospital Hill. To clear the bush, a layer ofapproximately
Two of theoriginal wind powered sugar crushing mills at Betty's Hope,currently under reconstruction.
I thanked Mr. Nicholson for his help, and inquired about otherbottles on the island. "We have several groups here in themuseum", he said, "as well as in our museum in St.John's. Most are bottles from the middle 1800's to the early1900's, found when a minor dredging operation was being carriedout along a 100-yard stretch of shore on the inner arm of EnglishHarbor, known as Tank Bay. A pier was being built for a newpolice station, dredging was done with a grab crane. As themounds of mud were deposited on shore many interesting artifactswere recovered including bottles."
After a slight pause, he continued, "Several early seals arein the museum, not on display as here, but in the studycollections in the upstairs library. I think you'll be interestedin the one marked Col. John Gunthorpe. It was found years ago onthe island of Barbuda, among the ruins of the old Highland Houseand dates to the time when the Codrington family owned theisland."
The Codringtons arrived in Antigua from the island of Barbados in1674. They had been granted by the British Parliament, Betty'sHope, the island's first sugar plantation, founded twenty-fouryears earlier by then Governor of the island Keynell. UnderCodrington ownership Betty's Hope was soon transformed into oneof the most efficient sugar plantations on Antigua, making theCodrington's among the wealthiest
In years to follow two successive Christopher Codringtons wouldserve as Governors General of the Leeward Islands. Later heirswould be among the most influential and prosperous plantersduring the colonial era. Betty's Hope was a large plantation andlike others of its type had a substantial slave population,supervised by a handful of white overseers. By the middle 1800'ssugar sales were in decline, and with the depression of the late19th century, Betty's Hope declined in importance,eventually being abandoned to ruin.
Ruins ofthe 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 sisterisland Barbuda from William Willoughby, then Governor. The leaseconsisted of 'one ear of corn' per year.
Worthless as a sugar-producing island because of the poor qualityof the soil, it did supply the Codrington estates on Antigua withsheep, cattle and horses, as well as fish, vegetables, lumber andleather 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. Asthe Codrington estates declined in Antigua, so they did onBarbuda. In 1860 the British Parliament ordered that the Islandof Barbuda be annexed by Antigua, creating the government ofAntigua & Barbuda that remains today.
After a short 10 minute drive from our hotel, Roger, our taxidriver, drops us off in front of the Antigua & Barbuda museumin St. John's. We meet with a very helpful museum assistant,explaining to her what we are looking for and of our conversationwith Desmond Nichelson one-day earlier. She says, in the style ofEnglish spoken by most native Antigens, "You can ave a lookupstairs in da cases, you maybe find what you looking for".
Entranceto the Antigue & Barbuda Museum located on Long Street in St.John's.
Several tall wooden cases having numerous pullout drawers housethe museum's study groups consisting of all sorts of artifactsfound on the island. In the drawer marked Glass & Bottles wefind what we are looking for, seals from early bottles. The firstseal I recognize, is the seal for Pyrmont Mineral Water. Althoughbadly worn you could make out the wording around a coat of arms.Seals marked Vieux Cognac were in the drawer, as well as sealsoff early French wine or champagne bottles. The drawer containedthe broken pieces of bottles ranging in date from the middle1700's to as late as 1920. Under one of the bottles we find whatwe are most interested in. The slightly oval seal was about oneand one-quarter inch in length, and though badly faded you couldstill make out the name in three lines. "Col. I(J)ohnGunthorpe."
1730, the Island of Barbuda. William Codrington sits on the frontporch of "Highland House" his family home while onBarbuda. Codrington was glad he chose its location 10 yearsearlier. At an elevation of 120 feet it was on the highest pointof the island, giving one a perfect view across most of it.
Codrington was in a jovial mood, and with good reason. His oldfriend Col. John Gunthorpe had recently returned from England andCodrington was interested in learning news of the country and thestate of condition of his home in London, which he gave Gunthorpefull use of while in England.
Gunthorpe knew his friend's interest in his London home and wouldreport to him that his competent staff was maintaining itproperly. He was also aware of his old friend's fondness of wine.While in London he had procured several cases of a fine winetapped from a keg recently imported from France. Knowing he wouldbe taking this wine back to Barbuda, and of his and Codrington'slove for "getting one up on the other" Gunthorpe had anidea. He approached an agent for the Bristol Glassworks to make aspecial order of bottles for his wine. They were to be in thetraditional squatty form, which, in the words of the glassblowerswho made
Theoriginal seal, on the right, was found on the Island of Barbudaduring an archeological excavation in the vicinity of"Highland House". Though badly deteriorated the wordsCol. Iohn Gunthorpe can be read. A copy made out of plastic is onthe left.
It was now June 15 of the year of our Lord 1735, and a greatcelebration was to take place on Barbuda. The marriage of AnneGunthorpe to William Byam would take place in the town ofCodrington with many dignitaries from both Barbuda and Antiguaattending. Anna was the daughter of Col. John Gunthorpe and nofather could be prouder of his daughter's choice. William Byamcame from good stock and owned a plantation on Antigua. He hadbeen on Barbuda arranging a lease of the island from theCodrington family when he first met Anna.
The wedding celebration was a joyous affair with the newlywedcouple receiving many expensive gifts from relatives and friendsalike. John's old friend William Codrington presented to thenewlyweds one of the finest, taking this opportunity to announcethe leasing of the Island of Barbuda to William Byam starting inthe year 1746 when Codrington himself would return to his home inEngland. John Gunthorpe, in an attempt to upstage his old friend,now brings out a bottle of the wine that bears his seal. It washis last one, saved for just this special occasion. He presentsthe bottle to his new son-in-law wishing him forever happinessand love of his daughter.
A groupingof bottles, circa 1880 - 1910, on display a the museum in St.John's.
These weresome 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 inantique bottles is at an end. To our knowledge, although few innumber,
AnEnglish "round bottom" soda or mineral water bottlefound in the waters of English Harbor.
As the sun sets across the Caribbean Sea we close the book onthis story of the history of Antigua found in its bottles. But,in those famous words of General MacAuther as he left thePhilippines in 1942, "I shall return." And why not?After all, Christopher Columbus was given a second chance, andfound an island - November 11th, 1493.....
This story is based mostly on truth, with a reasonable amount offiction mixed in for affect. All the people and places mentionedexisted in the approximate times they appear in.
Special thanks must be given to Desmond Nicholson as well asstaff members of both the Antigua and Barbuda museums in Nelson'sDockyard National Park, and St. John's, Antigua without whosehelp this story could not have been written.
Also to Wesley Dyer, head bartender and all aroundconversationalist, at the Coconut Grove beach bar and restaurant.Who, along with Dave, kept us in the correct 'mood' in theevening 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 NavalHospital 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 andR.N Murray
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