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The Mariner’s Mirror Vol. 94 No.

2 (May 2008), 175–86

THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ
ON 8 JUNE 1708: AN EXERCISE IN HISTORICAL
DETECTIVE WORK
By Carla Rahn Phillips, John B. Hattendorf and Thomas R. Beall

I
n 1708 Spain’s Bourbon king Philip V was engaged in a desperate struggle to
retain his throne and Spain’s American empire. The king’s main supporter in
Europe was his grandfather Louis XIV of France, against nearly every other
European power. For several decades Spain, the Netherlands, England and other
states had challenged Louis’s attempts to expand French hegemony in Europe and
abroad. Nonetheless, the dying Habsburg king of Spain chose a Bourbon prince to
succeed him in 1700, gambling that French power would prevent the dismantling of
the Spanish empire, though at the cost of giving France extraordinary influence on
both sides of the Atlantic. The rest of Europe was not willing to accept the Bourbon
accession in Spain and went to war in 1701.
The War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted until 1714, seriously disrupted
Spain’s Atlantic trade. Although several merchant fleets sailed to New Spain
(Mexico) during the war, only one fleet sailed to the northern coast of South
America, known as Tierra Firme in Spanish usage.1 Protected by an escort squadron
of galleons under Don José Fernández de Santillán, first Count of Casa Alegre, the
fleet left Spain on 10 March 1706. It reached the port of Cartagena de Indias on 27
April after an uneventful crossing.2 The fleet carried merchandise sent to revive the
Portobelo [English usage: Portobello] fairs on the east coast of the Isthmus of
Panama and to re-establish regular contact between Spain and the Viceroyalty of
Peru, sources of revenue that the Bourbons urgently needed. Everything hinged on
the ability of the squadron to escort the merchant vessels from Cartagena to the fair
in Portobelo, and then bring back revenue from Peru and Portobelo to Cartagena.
From there, the fleet and its escort would follow the established route to Havana and
then cross the Atlantic to Spain.
The English, as the main naval force in the anti-Bourbon coalition, were well
aware of the movement of what they called the ‘Plate Fleet’ and of its importance to
the Bourbon war effort. Moreover, English naval officers knew that revenues from
Peru and merchant profits from the Portobelo fair would make an extraordinary
prize, if only they could seize it. Under English law, ships and goods captured at sea
became the property of the captors, after adjudication in a prize court, even if the
captors were naval officers on board a state vessel during wartime.
The presence of the English, and the unwillingness of merchants in Lima to
travel up the Pacific coast and across the Isthmus of Panama to Portobelo, delayed
the Tierra Firme fleet in Cartagena from 1706 to 1708. The Portobelo fair finally
took place in May of 1708. It was not as rich as many previous fairs. Nonetheless,
upwards of 12 million reales’ worth of gold, silver, and other valuables was probably
176 THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

Fig. 1 Battle of Cartagena, 8 June 1708. Logged positions of British ships* and probable area where
San José was sunk
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ 177

loaded in Portobelo on the capitana (Admiral) of the Spanish escort squadron, the
galleon San José. An equal amount was loaded onto the almiranta (Vice-Admiral),
the galleon San Joaquín. The galleon Santa Cruz also carried some valuables, as the
gobierno (Rear Admiral) of the squadron.
On the trip from Portobelo, San José under Captain General Casa Alegre carried
64 guns and just over 600 men. San Joaquín, under Don Miguel Agustín de
Villanueva, Casa Alegre’s second in command, also carried 64 guns and about 500
men. Don Nicolás de la Rosa, the Count of Vega Florida, commanded Santa Cruz,
which carried some 300 men and 44 guns during the battle, with eleven more guns
stowed in the hold.3 Two other ships in the fleet also carried significant armament on
the trip from Portobelo. The first was a large hulk (urca) owned by Don Francisco
Nieto, which was outfitted with 34 guns and about 140 men. The other was a French
frigate and former privateer named by the Spaniards Santi Espíritu, which carried 32
guns and about 300 men. The English knew Santi Espíritu in its former privateer’s life
as Gosport. Twelve additional vessels, including merchantmen and dispatch vessels,
brought the total in the Spanish fleet to seventeen. Two of the twelve were armed: a
Biscayan dispatch ship called Nuestra Señora del Carmen carried 24 light guns and
about 150 men, and a French merchant ship carried 24 guns and about 200 men.4
Having left Portobelo on 28 May (NS), and almost within sight of the entrance
to Cartagena’s harbour at Boca Chica on 8 June, the Spanish fleet encountered the
English squadron of Commodore Charles Wager, which had been patrolling the
coast on and off for nearly three months in anticipation of their return.5 Wager sailed
on Expedition, a 70-gun warship. The other members of his squadron were the 60-
gun Kingston, the 50-gun Portland, and the fire ship Vulture. In the battle that
ensued from the evening of 8 June to the early morning hours of 9 June, San José
sank with nearly everyone on board, and the English captured Santa Cruz. The 12
merchant ships and dispatch vessels made it safely to Cartagena, as did San Joaquín
and Sancti Espíritu. On 12 June, when the officers on Nieto’s urca realized they
could not reach Cartagena without confronting the English squadron alone, they
deliberately grounded and burned their ship rather than have her fall to the enemy.
All the men on board made their way safely overland to Cartagena.
Given the magnitude of the disaster, it comes as no surprise that local Spanish
officials took statements from dozens of witnesses shortly after the battle.6 Several
key issues permeated the testimony: Had anyone seen Wager’s squadron in the area,
and, if so, had that information reached Captain General Casa Alegre in Portobelo?
Did the captain general convene meetings (juntas) of senior military and civilian
officials to discuss the departure of the galleons, and if so, what happened in those
meetings? Why did Casa Alegre decide to leave Portobelo for Cartagena when he
did? How did the battle unfold? Under what circumstances did Santa Cruz
surrender? Above all, what happened to San José?
The testimony made clear that the Spaniards were well aware of an English
squadron in the area; the captain general had chosen to depart for Cartagena anyway.
The bulk of the testimony concerned the ill-fated voyage and the ensuing battle.
Various Spanish vessels sighted the English squadron to the north by about midday
on 8 June and recognized them as enemies. At about 16:30 hours, facing a headwind
from the north-east on the approach to the harbour, Captain General Casa Alegre
signalled his fleet to prepare for battle. That meant that the five principal armed ships
178 THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

manoeuvred themselves into a line of battle facing the English squadron. The
merchant ships and dispatch vessels got behind the five principal ships, according to
their instructions. Once the fighting began, at about 17:30 or 18:00 hours, Casa
Alegre’s San José engaged Wager’s Expedition, exchanging gunfire for about an hour
and a half. At that point, a fire broke out on San José, and almost immediately
thereafter she sank.
No one knows exactly what happened that night, or where the disaster occurred.
English participants on various ships later testified that San José blew up. Nearly all
the Spanish testimony explicitly discounted the notion of an explosion; only one
witness mentioned hearing an indistinct noise to accompany the visible fire.7 The
most likely explanation of the discrepancy in the English and Spanish testimony is
that Spanish witnesses may not have been in a position to see or hear clearly. The
disaster occurred at about 19:30 hours, when it was already dark. Moreover, the
Spanish line of battle was ragged and greatly extended, probably stretching for
several miles. Most of the Spaniards who testified about the battle were far from San
José, and the few men who survived the sinking said that they were on the ship one
moment and in the water the next, without any clear idea of how they got there.
The ship went down so fast that nothing could save her; nearly all of the 600
soldiers, sailors, officers, and official passengers who had boarded her in Portobelo
went down with the ship. The loss was a disaster not only to the Spaniards but also
to the English. Commodore Wager had planned to capture what he thought to be a
very rich prize, perhaps the richest prize ever seen. Instead, when San José sank, he
gained a military victory but suffered a personal disappointment at the same time.8
Where did she go down? The legendary treasure of San José has caught the
imagination of treasure hunters and other dreamers at intervals over the centuries
and even now holds its fascination. The most promising possibility for finding the
site of San José’s demise lies in reconstructing the movements of the two fleets in the
days before and during the battle. Spanish records mention the names of familiar
places along the route from Portobelo to Cartagena. They include the Punta de San
Blas, a landmark east of Portobelo; the Islas de San Bernardo, where the fleet spent
the night of 7 June; and the Islas de Barú south-west of Boca Chica, known to the
English as the Friends Islands and now known as the Islas del Rosario (Appendix 2).
Several Spanish witnesses mentioned the need to round the island of Tesoro in the
Islas de Barú, in order to follow the ideal course into Boca Chica, but they rarely
provided compass headings. Spanish officers and crews knew the area too well to
need precise records of their whereabouts.
The English faced a different situation. Although many English officers, Wager
and his pilots among them, had considerable experience in the area, they were not
sailing in home waters. As the four ships of Wager’s squadron patrolled the track
from Panama to Tierra Firme in the month before the battle, they had to know
exactly where they were day by day. Sometimes they sailed together, but, more
often, Expedition and the fire ship Vulture sailed together, while Kingston and
Portland patrolled elsewhere. If any of them sighted another vessel or the Spanish
fleet, they had to be able to report positions when the squadron next came together.
Knowing the position of his own ships, and knowing when the Spanish fleet left
Portobelo, Commodore Wager could gauge their likely course and decide upon an
opportune moment to attack.
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ 179

One of the key landmarks for Cartagena was a hill behind the city where the
monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Popa dominated the vicinity. The English logs
render Spanish place-names in an impressive variety of spellings, some no doubt
designed to mock Catholic sensibilities, but whether they called it ‘Mother La Pope’
or ‘Nostra Sinior de la Pappa’, the references to the prominent landmark are
unmistakable. Other Spanish place-names in the English logs are more ambiguous.
Nonetheless, by carefully reconstructing the positions of Wager’s four vessels during
the battle, we hope to narrow down the likely location where San José sank.

ASSUMPTIONS AND METHODOLOGY
The challenge in determining where San José rests stems from the ambiguity of the
ships’ logs and the relative crudity of navigation in the early eighteenth century.
Magnetic compasses were primitive instruments that were prone to deterioration
during long sea voyages. Moreover, navigational charts lacked accuracy because
hydrography was in its infancy, and naval officers were only just becoming aware
that their profession required the development and practice of high standards in
scientific navigation. Offsetting these limitations was the undoubted seamanship of
both English and Spanish naval officers. They knew their ships, they knew the sea,
and, through constant observation, even Commodore Wager’s officers knew the
geography and hydrography of the area in which they were operating.
Given the difficulties of interpreting early eighteenth-century logs, and the
crudity of navigational techniques at the time, it is not possible to determine the
exact location of San José from the available documentation. It is possible, however,
to narrow the field of search to an area of roughly 25 square nautical miles (NM),
west of modern-day Isla Barú and south-west of the city of Cartagena. To do this,
we used the English logs in an attempt to discover the location of the English ships
at the time of the battle on the evening of 8 June 1708 (Fig. 1).9
Each English ship’s position was logged by the ship’s captain and/or master at
noon each day and, in some cases, in the morning and evening as well. The log
entries included compass bearings, noting points, half-points, and quarter-points,
and estimated distances in leagues from geographic positions sighted; one league
equals three NM. We converted compass points, half-points, and quarter points to
degrees, a sample of which we list in Appendix 1.
In some cases, the logged bearing did not correspond to a standard modern
compass point, half-point, or quarter-point. For example, on 8 June the master of the
Kingston wrote in his log, ‘At noon Nostra Sinior de la papa EbN 1⁄2 N dist 7 leagues’.
As there is no standard half-point ‘EbN 1⁄2 N’, the half-point was determined by
subtracting one half-point from EbN, which made it equivalent to ENE 1⁄2 E or
73.13°.
Expedition, Kingston, and Vulture estimated their positions at 18:00 hours as
bearings and ranges from a geographic point that Expedition logged as ‘Little Brue’,
Kingston logged as ‘Little Brew’, and Vulture logged as ‘ye Brue’. Because all three
ships were within visual signalling range (as inferred from their logs), we assumed
they were observing the same location. To identify this location on the modern
chart, we compared the place-names in the log entries with contemporary Spanish
usage and with modern designations (Appendix 2). We also assumed that navigators
would have used a single familiar point that was high enough to see from several
180 THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

miles to seaward: in other words, the highest point in the immediate vicinity of the
place named (Appendix 3). Based on these assumptions, it is reasonable to conclude
that the position they were sighting (which we will call ‘Little Brew’) is the point 75
metres above mean sea level on the south-west end of Isla Barú at 10° 09.5' N / 075°
40.2' W.
At 18:00 hours, Expedition logged ‘Little Brew’ as bearing EbS (101.25°) at two
leagues (6 NM). Kingston also reported that ‘Little Brew’ bore EbS but at four
leagues (12 NM). Vulture logged that ‘Little Brew’ bore SE (135°) at four leagues (12
NM). With the logged information and the assumptions set forth above, we
estimated the area in which San José sank as follows:

1 We focused first on Expedition’s and Kingston’s positions, assuming that their
logged bearings to ‘Little Brew’ were true bearings. That is a reasonable
assumption: compass variation (the arc of the difference between magnetic north
and true north at a given place at a given time) was well understood at the time.10
Edmund Halley had most recently observed the variation throughout the
Atlantic in 1699–1701, while in command of HMS Paramore. If Expedition
accurately sighted ‘Little Brew’ on a true bearing of 101.25° at 6 NM, her
position at 18:00 hours would be 10° 10.6' N / 075° 46.2' W. Kingston’s position
at 12 NM on the same bearing would be 10° 11.8' N / 075° 52.3' W. We plotted
these positions (and all subsequent positions) on the modern chart.
2 It is not clear, however, whether the log entries are in true or magnetic bearings.
If magnetic, it becomes more difficult to plot estimated positions on a modern
chart of the region, because local variation on a modern chart differs from local
variation on 8 June 1708. To estimate the latter, we turned to Edmund Halley’s
1701 chart of variation throughout the Atlantic, in which he estimated variation
in the region of Cartagena to be 9° East. Therefore, if the log entries are in
magnetic, we can add 9° to the observed bearings to ‘Little Brew’. Expedition’s
and Kingston’s estimated positions under the assumptions that logged bearings
are magnetic are 10° 11.6' N / 075° 45.9' W and 10° 13.7' N / 075° 51.6' W,
respectively.
3 Although Kingston’s position at 18:00 hours plots in open water, Expedition’s
position plots on land or in shoal water near Isla Grande. It is reasonable to
assume, therefore, that Expedition’s range estimate (6 NM to ‘Little Brew’) was
inaccurate and that she was farther seaward. It is likely that the closest she (and
Kingston) could have been to ‘Little Brew’ was about 8.5 NM, in deep water just
to seaward of the aforementioned shoals. Expedition’s estimated position, if her
logged bearing to ‘Little Brew’ was true, would therefore shift to 10° 11.1' N /
075° 48.7' W and, if her log entries were in magnetic, would shift to 10° 12.4' N /
075° 48.3' W.
4 Kingston’s range estimate was likely inaccurate as well. Since both ships sighted
‘Little Brew’, the farthest to seaward either could have been was about 25 NM.
It is reasonable to conclude that they were closer, however, and that Kingston
was farther to seaward than Expedition. If Kingston’s range estimate erred by 20
per cent (an admittedly arbitrary number), she may have been as much as 14.4
NM from ‘Little Brew’. Her estimated position, if her logged bearing was true,
would therefore shift to 10° 12.2' N / 075° 54.5' W and, if her logged bearing was
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ 181

in magnetic, to 10° 14.4' N/075° 53.7' W.
5 We also considered the likelihood that both ships’ bearings were inaccurate
because of compass deviation (the error in a ship’s compass resulting from
residual metal in the ship itself), deterioration of the instruments over time or
careless reading by the watch officer. If we assume that this error was as much as
10° then we can draw bearing lines on either side of 101.25° (the logged, assumed
true, bearing line to ‘Little Brew’) and 110.25° (the bearing line corrected for
variation if the logged bearing is magnetic) – in other words, at 091.25° and
120.25° respectively.
6 Having considered this range of possibilities, we plotted the area where San José
was likely to have sunk. We did this by:
a Plotting a point 8.5 NM from ‘Little Brew’ (the closest the ships could have
been) on the outermost bearing lines, 091.25° and 120.25°. These points are 10°
09.5' N / 075° 48.9' W and 10° 13.8' N / 075° 47.6' W.
b Plotting a point 14.4 NM from ‘Little Brew’ (the farthest the ships could have
been) on the outermost bearing lines, 091.25° and 120.25°. These points are 10°
09.6' N / 075° 54.7' W and 10° 16.8' N / 075° 52.6' W.
c Drawing an arc between the two innermost points and then an arc between
the two outermost points between the reciprocal bearings of 271.25° and 300.25°.
Since Expedition was closest to San José when she sank, and Kingston was
nearby, the area thus defined, which takes into account the ambiguity arising
from the logs and the likely errors in piloting and use of the compass, is most
likely where San José blew up and sank.

Finally, we should consider the location of Vulture. If we plot her position using
a similar methodology to that used to plot Expedition and Kingston, we find that she
falls 3–7 NM to the NNE of Kingston. Since all the English ships were within visual
signalling range and Vulture was reported in company with Expedition, we infer that
San José probably sank in the portion of the plotted area nearer Vulture’s estimated
position. This area (approximately 25 square NM) is inscribed by the following
geographic points:

10° 11.1' N / 075° 48.7' W 10° 13.8' N / 075° 47.6' W
10° 12.2' N / 075° 54.5' W 10° 16.8' N / 075° 52.7' W

Our estimated location is consistent with accounts of the battle. English and
Spanish logs all indicate that the winds were from the east to north-east on the
afternoon of 8 June. Several of the Spanish witnesses noted that their fleet was unable
to round the Isla del Tesoro, one of the Islas de Barú, in the afternoon and clear to
the north-east, since their desired heading was too close to the wind.11 W.L. Clowes
briefly described the ensuing battle in his 1898 history of the British Royal Navy.
Confirming the Spanish accounts, he noted that the Spanish fleet:
. . . finding that they could not weather a small island which lay between them and
Cartagena, leisurely formed some sort of line of battle . . . It was a fine evening, and there
was a light gale from the N.N.E. The enemy (Spanish) to the southward, had tacked, and
stood towards the N., to weather the island of Baru. Finding that the Kingston and
182 THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

Portland did not comply with his instructions, but kept too far to windward, Wager
hoisted the signal for the line of battle, and, at about sunset, got within gunshot of the San
Joséf [sic] and soon engaged her at close quarters. After an hour and a half’s action she blew
up. It was then very dark, and from the Expedition but one other vessel of the enemy was
visible.12

AFTER THE NIGHT BATTLE
Following the sinking of San José, the English appear to have headed west to north-
west, where all four English ships engaged Santa Cruz until the early morning hours.
The Spanish almiranta San Joaquín, crippled in the first few hours of the battle, had
drifted from the vicinity. Nieto’s urca and the French frigate Santi Espíritu were
elsewhere as well, the urca having sustained serious damage in the initial encounters.
Santa Cruz surrendered to Commodore Wager about 02:00 hours on 9 June.
As noted earlier, the problems arising from relying on recorded data derived
from primitive navigational equipment and techniques make estimating the location
of San José’s wreck speculative at best. Nonetheless, the mystery of the final resting
place of the vessel and her men provides a compelling reason to have undertaken this
modern exercise in nautical detective work.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Sample compass bearings

Sample bearings in English logbooks Modern bearings
North 0
East by North (EbN) 078.75°
E 1⁄2 N 084.38°
East 090°
E 1⁄2 S 096°
E 3⁄4 S 098°
East by South (EbS) 101.25°
East South-east (ESE) 112.5°
South-east by East (SEbE) 123.75°
South-east (SE) 135°
South South-east (SSE) 157.5°
South by East (SbE) 168.75°
South 180°
South South-west (SSW) 202.5
West 270°
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ 183

Appendix 2: Spanish and English place names compared

Spanish English Modern Probable location and description
Isla de Barú 1 Grand Brew/Baru/ Isla de Barú Large island or peninsula running
Bruwe and other south from Boca Chica at
variants Cartagena harbour, separated from
the mainland by the Pasaje de
Caballos (modern Pasacaballos)
Isla de Barú 2 Little Brew/Baru/ Isla de Barú Southern tip of Isla de Baru.
Bruwe and other Spanish usage did not distinguish
variants between the large northern and
the small southern end of the
Isla de Barú.
Isla de Bastimentos Isla de Bastimentos Unclear if this is Island just off the Panamanian
the modern Isla de coast near Portobelo and Nombre
Bastimentos,which de Dios
seems too far west
Islas de Barú Friends Islands Islas del Rosario Small islands (5+) running E–W,
about 1.5 miles off the coast of
the Isla de Barú
Islas de San Bernardo Islas de Small islands (7) running E–W, off
San Bernardo Islands San Bernardo Point Rincón, Colombia, lat.
9° 45' N
Punta de la Canoa Point Canoe Punta Canoas Point on the mainland NNE of
and variants Cartagena
Río de la Gayra Gairo/Gayra/ Río de la Gayra River and bay west of Santa Marta
Guira/Guery on the northern Colombian coast
and other variants
Santa Marta Saint Martha Santa Marta Port in Colombia, north-east of
and variants Baranquilla

Appendix 3: Location of places in English logbooks

Points referenced Geographical feature Latitude / Longitude
in English logbooks
Point Canoe Point 129 m above mean sea level 10° 34.5' N / 075° 27' W
Nuestra Señora Point 120 m above mean sea level 10° 25.2' N / 075° 31.5' W
de la Popa
Little Brew Point on Isla de Barú 75 m above 10° 09.4' N / 075° 40.2' W
mean sea level
Grand Brew Point on Isla de Barú 74 m above 10° 14.2' N / 075° 34.6' W
mean sea level
Appendix 4: Excerpts from English logbooks
184

Date(NS) Time Ship Officer Excerpt from log entry Modern compass bearing and distance
8 June 06:00 Expedition Master at 6 this morning Mother la Pope bore E 06:00 = Monastery sighted at 09:00, distance 18 NM;
6 leagues and the Litle Brew SSE. Little Brew sighted at 157.5°
8 June 09:00 Expedition Captain at 9 saw 9 sail bearing SSW.t at 10 saw 09:00 = sighted 9 Spanish ships bearing 202.5°
16 ditto at noon saw 17 sail. At 10:00 sighted 16 Spanish ships bearing 202.5°;
at 12:00 saw 17 ships
8 June 12:00 Expedition Master Mother LaPope bore E 1⁄2 S; The Little Brew 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 095.63°; Little Brew
bore SSE 4 leagues sighted at 157.5°, distance 12 NM
8 June 12:00 Expedition Captain At noon Mother La Pope bore E 1⁄2 S; ye Little 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 095.63°; Little Brew
Baru SSE 4 Ls; ye ships bearing S & SbW sighted at 157.5°, distance 12 NM; ships bearing S
(180°) & SbW (191.25°)
8 June 18:00 Expedition Master About 6 at night we had the Litle Brue EbS 18:00 = Little Brew sighted at 101°, distance 6 NM
of us 2 leagues.
9 June 06:00 Expedition Captain At 6 this morning saw 4 sails to ye Eastw’d. 06:00 = Sighted 4 Spanish ships at 090°
9 June 12:00 Expedition Master ‘The Little Brew ESE 7 leagues 12:00 = Little Brew sighted at 112.5°, distance 21 NM
7 June 18:00 Kingston Master At 6 Nostra Sinior de la papa E 1⁄2 N, distance 18:00 = Monastery sighted at 084.38°, distance 18 NM
6 leagues.
8 June 06:00 Kingston Captain Engaged the Spanish Fleet of Galleones. 06:00 = Monastery sighted at 084.38°, distance 18 NM.
At 6 this morning Nostra Seniora de la Pappa, The log entry is contradictory and erratic as to timing,
E 1⁄2 N dist. 6 Ls. but the 06:00 bearing, at least, is repeated by the Master.
8 June 06:00 Kingston Master At 6 this morning Nostra Sinior de la Pa E 1⁄2 N 06:00 = Monastery sighted at 084.38°, distance 18 NM
distance 6 Leagues.
8 June 12:00 Kingston Master [At noon Nostra Sinior de la papa] EbN 1⁄2 N 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 75.94°, distance 21 NM
dist 7 leagues
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

8 June 12:00 Kingston Captain Ingaging the Spanish gallions. At noon 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 75.94°, distance 21 NM
Nostra Seniorade la Pappa EbN 1⁄2 N dist.
7 leagues.
8 June 18:00 Kingston Captain At 6 this evening Litle Brew EbS dist. 4 leagues. 18:00 = Little Brew sighted at 101.25°, distance 12 NM
9 June 12:00 Kingston Master Little Brew E 26d S distance 20 miles 12:00 = Little Brew sighted at 095.63°, distance 20 miles,
[Is this E 1⁄2 S?] assuming that the entry is E 1⁄2 S
9 June 12:00 Kingston Captain At noon Little Brew E 2 b S, dist 20 Mile. 12:00 = Little Brew sighted at 095.63°, distance 20
miles, assuming that the entry is E 1/2 S
Appendix 4 contd

Date(NS) Time Ship Officer Excerpt from log entry Modern compass bearing and distance
9 June 18:00 Kingston Master At 6 pm little Brue EbS distance 4 leagues 18:00 = Little Brew sighted at 101.25°, distance 12 NM
9 June 18:00 Kingston Captain At 6 in ye evening D[itt]o . . . ESE. [Is the 18:00 = Little Brew sighted at 095.63°, assuming that
noon bearing E 1⁄2 S?] the entry is E 1⁄2 S, distance 20 miles. See Master’s
entry for possible alternative bearing.
7 June 12:00 Portland Captain At noon Mother Pope bore Et 5 leagues 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 90°, distance 15 NM
7 June 18:00 Portland Master At 6 last night (i.e., 7-June) Mother Le pope 18:00 = Monastery sighted at 101.25°, distance 15 NM
bore EbS 5 leagues.
8 June 10:00 Portland Captain this morning about nine 9 of the clock made 09:00 = Spanish fleet of 15 sail sighted at 180°;
the Spanish fleet from the masthead containing 10:00= Little Brew sighted at 168.75°, distance 12 NM
15 saile bearing S.o.; At 10 in the morning ye
Little Brew SbE 4 leagues
8 June 11:00 Portland Master at 11 this forenoon we made 15 saill of ships. 11:00 = Sighted 15 Spanish ships
8 June 12:00 Portland Master At noon Mother Lepope bore E 1⁄2 N 5 Leagues; 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 084.38°, distance 15 NM;
Little Bru SbE 4 Leagues Little Brew sighted at 168.75°, distance 12 NM
[Was sighting of Little Brew simply copied from
the Captain’s observation at 10:00?]
9 June 12:00 Portland Master Satterday May 29th on this day at noon Little 12:00 = Little Brew sighted at 101.25°, distance 36 NM.
Bru bore EbS 12 Leagues
7 June 12:00 Vulture Captain At noon E 1⁄2 N 6 leagues [to Monastery?] 12:00 = [Monastery?] sighted at 084.38°, distance
18 NM
8 June 10:00 Vulture Captain at 10 ys morning saw severall saill to ye 10:00 = Spanish fleet sighted at 090°.
E.tward;
8 June 12:00 Vulture Captain At noon E.t 8 leagues [to N. S. de la Popa?] 12:00 = Monastery sighted at 090°, distance 24 NM
8 June 17:45 Vulture Captain At about 3⁄4 past five they began to engage, 17:45 = [Little?] Brew sighted at 135°, distance
THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

ye Barue bearing SE 4 lea/s distant: 12 NM, as the battle began.
9 June 12:00 Vulture Captain At noon ye Barue E 10 leagues 12:00 = [Little?] Brew sighted at 090°, distance 30 NM.
185
186 THE SINKING OF THE GALLEON SAN JOSÉ

References
We are grateful for the comments and sug- Admirals of the Eighteenth Century (London,
gestions of the anonymous referees. 2000),109–11.
1 From the early sixteenth century, Spain’s 6 AGI, Indiferente General, legs.
Atlantic fleets were named for their destin- 2609–2610, and AGI, Santa Fe, leg. 293.
ations: the New Spain (Mexico) fleet and the 7 AGI, Indiferente General, leg. 2610, fol.
Tierra Firme (South America) fleet. They 1062v.
followed separate routes and separate time- 8 C.R. Phillips analyses the full history of
tables but habitually came together in Havana the Spanish fleet, its officers, crews, and passen-
for the return trip to Spain. gers, in her book, The Treasure of the San José.
2 Spanish documents relating to this article Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish
referred to dates in the New Style (NS or Succession (Baltimore, 2007).
Gregorian) calendar, used in Spain since 1582. 9 The logbooks are at The National
English documents referred to dates in the Old Archives of England and Wales, Kew, (here-
Style (OS or Julian) calendar, which after 1700 after, NA). See NA ADM 51/4233; NA ADM
was eleven days behind the New Style calendar. 51/4294; NA ADM 51/4386; NA ADM I/5267;
All dates in this article are in New Style (NS). NA ADM 52/161; NA ADM 52/202; and NA
Readers consulting English documents for this ADM 52/ 257. Carla Phillips transcribed the
period should be aware that the dates therein pertinent logs. Thomas Beall then calculated the
are in Old Style (OS). likely positions of each English vessel and
3 Josiah Burchett, A Complete History of plotted them on Defense Mapping Agency
the Most Remarkable Transactions at Sea, from Chart 24504 (1992).
the Earliest Accounts of Time to the Conclusion 10 See A.T.R. Jones, ‘Magnetism: Geomag-
of the Last War with France (London, 1720), netism’ in J.B. Hattendorf, ed., The Oxford
707. Encyclopedia of Maritime History, 4 vols, (New
4 Information regarding the composition York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 2, 430–6;
and armament of the fleet comes from the and A. Gurney, Compass: A Story of Explor-
Archive General de Indias (hereafter AGI), ation and Innovation (New York, 2004), 87–98.
Indiferente General, legajos 2609–2610; and 11 AGI, Indiferente General, leg. 2609, and
AGI, Santa Fe, legajo 293. Santa Fe, leg. 293.
5 Various English sources mention the 12 Clowes, Royal Navy, 2, 374–5.
battle, including the Calendar of State Papers:
Colonial Series. America & West Indies. June Carla Rahn Phillips is the Union Pacific
1708–1709, C. Headlam, ed., (London, HMSO, Professor in Comparative Early Modern
1922; repr. 1964), 40; Burchett, A Complete History at the University of Minnesota. John
History of the Most Remarkable Transactions at B. Hattendorf is the Ernest J. King Professor
Sea; and W.L. Clowes, The Royal Navy: A of Maritime History and Chairman of the
History (London, 1898), 2, 374–5. Details Maritime History Department at the Naval
regarding the battle are somewhat confused in War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and a
these sources, however, primarily in member of the Editorial Board of Mariner’s
misidentifying one or another of the armed Mirror. Captain Thomas R. Beall (US Navy)
Spanish vessels. A brief modern description of has served as ‘Lead Instructor for Navigation,
the battle can be found in D.A. Baugh, ‘Sir Seamanship, and Ship-handling’, at the USN
Charles Wager, 1666–1743’, in P. Le Fevre and Surface Warfare Officers School. He recently
R.H. Harding eds, Precursors of Nelson: British joined the faculty at the Naval War College.