Mar 10, 2011 - Sale 2239

Sale 2239 - Lot 8

Price Realized: $ 24,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 8,000 - $ 12,000
RECOVERED FROM A 16TH CENTURY SLAVESHIP (SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) EARLY ENGLISH SLAVERS, JOHN HAWKINS, ET AL. Carved "Ballast stone," recovered from the wreck of a 16th century slave ship. Ovoid ballast stone, approximately 8-3/4 x 5-1/2 inches, weighing 15 pounds; the face of an elephant carved into the hard surface. Little Bahama Banks, 1570-1575

Additional Details

This very unusual carved "ballast stone" was recovered in 1992 from one of two wrecks found on the Little Bahama Banks by veteran diver Herbert "Herbo" Humphreys. It is carved with the face of an elephant that bears a strong resemblance to the elephant masks of the Guro people of West Africa (now the Ivory Coast.) "Herbo" Humphreys and his team had been searching for the stern portion of a known Spanish wreck, the "Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas" that went down in 1656. The ship carried over five million ounces of gold and silver plundered from the Aztec nation. Instead they discovered two entirely different wrecks. One, later dubbed the "tumbaga" wreck (for a type of Spanish gold bar found there,) and the other, an early English slave ship. Both of these vessels can be dated with some precision because of objects recovered from them. The Spanish ship yielded coinage dated 1525. A cannon found on the English ship was made by the noted English Owynn Brothers, dated 1543, and bore the coat-of-arms of King Henry VIII. In addition to the cannon, the remnants of shackles and two ivory tusks were recovered from the wreck. It is probable that the mask-like image was scratched on the surface of this stone by a slave during the long middle passage.
The earliest organized slave traders were the Spanish supplying their plantations in the New World. The English were quick to realize the economics of the trade. Admiral Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) is credited with being the first to establish the "triangular" trade as it came to be known. Hawkins began his first voyage to the African coast with three vessels in 1555, capturing a Portuguese slaver and selling her 300 slaves to the Spanish in Santo Domingo. He continued with four major voyages, each with multiple vessels, carrying hundreds of slaves well into the last decade of the 16th century. It is quite likely that this wreck was one of his or his other captains' ships. The Bahama Banks are a well-known graveyard for unlucky ships.