The Museum collection is as diverse in subject matter as it is in material. NMB holds over 75,000 objects, which include historic documents, photographs, plans & maps, art, archaeological finds (including shipwreck artifacts), small watercraft, large cannon, and relics of Bermudian activities spanning over four centuries.
Even the historic military buildings that house the Museum are part of the collection! What ties everything together is that all the objects relate to aspects of Bermuda’s unique cultural heritage.
Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Juan de Bermúdez, a Spanish captain who spotted the uninhabited island on his way back to Spain after dropping off slaves in the West Indies. Bermuda, however, was not colonised for another century, although numerous ships came to grief on her treacherous encircling reefs. This Ligurian blue on blue majolica plate was recovered from the San Pedro, which shipwrecked at Bermuda in 1596 on her return voyage to Spain from Cartagena, Columbia.
After Bermuda’s settlement by the English in 1612, Bermuda was prominently featured in many maps, because it served as a colonial way station. English merchant ships and privateers stopped at Bermuda to re-provision, discharge cargo and passengers, and load colonial products bound for England and the American and West Indian colonies.
This rare map of the northeastern seaboard of America is the first time the name Manhattan was included on a printed map.
This sterling silver mace of the Bermuda Court of Vice Admiralty was made in 1697 by London goldsmith Anthony Nelme, and brought to Bermuda in 1701 by Governor Benjamin Bennett. Bennett, who arrived after a period of lawlessness and weak government, also used the oar in the absence of any other token of his legal supremacy, and it became the ceremonial mace of the Island Council. The Court of Vice Admiralty had jurisdiction over ship and sea related matters, including crimes at sea, piracy, privateering, ship wrecks and other claims against ships and their owners.
This indigenous combat weapon, capable of causing massive head trauma, is thought to be from the coast of Guiana and represents early contact between Europeans and indigenous South Americans. Indigenous weapons were highly prized in Western Europe for their rarity and exoticism and were often sent back with returning European gold and trading fleets.
The San Pedro wrecked on Bermuda’s reefs in 1596 while homeward-bound from Cartagena, Columbia to Cádiz, Spain. The 11-year old, 350-ton nao was sailing in the Nueva Espana Fleet, one of two Spanish fleets carrying most of Spain’s trade with the Americas, and was heavily armed. Her passengers and precious cargo included gold, silver, jewelry, and other New World products and souvenirs.
This bowl represents some of the earliest Chinese export plates and bowls intended to be shipped through the New World to Spain. Unlike fine porcelain produced in imperial kilns for the Chinese Emperor and his court, export porcelains were roughly finished and often feature flaws and imperfections. The base of the bowl bears the Chinese mark meaning ‘beautiful vessel of highest grade’.
Standard gear in the ship surgeon’s kit, mortars, and pestles were used to grind and mix ingredients to make medicine. The Latin inscription around the mortar translates to ‘Peter Vanden Ghein made me in 1561’. Beyond revealing the mortar’s maker to be from a long line of renowned Dutch founders, the mortar offers a terminus post quem—or earliest possible date—for the wreck.
Tobacco was first brought to Britain in 1573 by Sir Francis Drake and was still considered a luxury item in the early 17th century. The small bowl of this pipe reflects the high price of tobacco: as tobacco prices decreased, the size of pipe bowls increased.
The Sea Venture, the flagship of a fleet sailing from Plymouth to Jamestown Virginia with colonists and much-needed supplies, survived a hurricane only to wreck on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609. The castaway crew and colonists spent the ensuing 10 months at Bermuda building two vessels to resume their voyage. Their arrival would save Jamestown, and their accounts of the storm and Bermuda would capture England’s attention, leading to the Island’s permanent colonisation in 1612.
‘Bellarmine’ jugs like these were imported to England from production centres along the river Rhine in Germany. The smaller jug dates to 1580, and the larger to 1600. The stylised face on the jugs came to be associated with Robert Bellarmine, an Italian Cardinal who opposed the Protestant split from the Catholic Church.
Used for medicines, salves, ointments, and plant material. Similar sherds are the most common items found in the earliest parts of Jamestown Fort, Virginia.
Typical of weights used by merchants to measure out bulk goods, this 1 lb weight is marked with a crowned ‘EL’ for the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), and the sword of St. Paul—the mark of the City of London.
The clasped hands or ‘hands in faith’ are symbolic of a contract between two people, representing commitment, friendship, and love.
This is a urethral syringe, used to administer doses of mercury for treating syphilis. Long-term or frequent use led to poisoning, loss of balance, and blurred vision. Larger syringes were used for enemas in the treatment of constipation or dysentery.
Olive jars were mainly used as liquid and small victual shipping and storage containers for items such as olives, grapes and wine. By examining the shape and form of an olive jar, an archaeologist can determine a precise date range of manufacture, making olive jars important tools for dating shipwrecks.
San Antonio, a Spanish nao, sailing home to Spain from Cartagena with a New World cargo of hides, timber, dye and treasure, was driven onto the western reefs during a storm in 1621.
This fine dining salt cellar (salero) would have been used by the elite. Majolica, a blue and white tin-glazed decorative pottery, was quintessentially Iberian, and symbolic of high status in 16th century Spain and Portugal.
Gold signet rings became increasingly popular from the 17th century as the ultimate portable mark of distinction. The ring bears a coat of arms of a crown sitting above a shield and may have been used with sealing wax to stamp letters.
The small, fast, pattachuelo El Galgo and the much larger store ship La Viga, two of the support vessels in the Tierre Firme Flota, were driven onto the Bermuda reefs by a hurricane on October 22, 1639. The 160 survivors stayed in Bermuda until February, and on their return to Europe, told of their treatment at the hands of their Bermudian hosts who charged exorbitant rates for room, board, and passage off the Island.
Trade beads were made in Europe—mainly in Venice, Bohemia (Czech Republic), and the Netherlands—and used as a trading currency in Africa by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly in, the slave trade. African exporters sold products such as ivory, palm oil, and captive humans in exchange for inexpensively manufactured beads. Glass was rare in Africa, making the beads unusual and precious.
The wreck site is named after the number of excavated ‘manilla’ bracelets as no ship remains were found. Based on the material objects from the site, the wrecked vessel is thought to have been involved in the slave trade with the Dutch West Indies Company as an armed escort rather than a carrier of slaves.
L’Herminie was one of the last frigates built before the shift to auxiliary steam power in French warships. She wrecked at Bermuda in 1838 after providing naval support to the French when diplomatic relations soured with Mexico. She was part of a squadron that blockaded Veracruz and other Mexican ports.
Many of her contents spilled onto Bermuda’s reef and included military-related objects, such as this officer’s gorget or ornamental armour collar, marked with an anchor.
Six of 400,000 drug ampules containing adrenaline, anti-tetanus serum, opium, morphine, and penicillin were part of the cargo of the Constellation—a four-masted schooner that transported lumber, coal, and other commodities along the eastern seaboard.
In 1943, the Constellation wrecked on Bermuda’s reefs near Western Blue Cut after attempting an unplanned stop for repairs en route to Venezuela from New York.
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