THE ATOCHA SHIPWRECK OF 1622: A RARE SPANISH COLONIAL GOLD CAPTAIN'S WHISTLE, CIRCA 1620,*1)

The whistle of conventional form, but fitted with a folding toothpick, nail cleaner and earwax scoop, suspended from a substantial chain of circular links, unmarked
The first combination whistle and multitool to exist. 

Gold Buson whistle and Multitool, whistle museum archive

Background


Gold whistles such as this were precious objects, worn as emblems of office in the Spanish fleet. This example may have belonged to the captain of the Atocha, or to the Vice-Admrial of the Tierra Firma Fleet, Don Pedro de Pasquer, knight of the Order of Calatrava, who was travelling on the Atocha. A similar but plainer gold whistle was found in the wreck of the Atocha's sister ship, the Santa Margarita, illustrated by Eugene Lyon, "Santa Margarita: Treasure from the Ghost Galleon," National Geographic 161, no. 2 (February 1982), p. 237.

Gold and silver from the American colonies was the fuel for Spain’s rise to power in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each autumn, the Tierra Firme fleet sailed for Spain loaded with passengers, cargo, and the precious metal essential for the Spanish economy, the King’s treasury, and the European bullion markets. It became a must-have for Spanish jewelers.

Particularly after the mine at Potosi was opened in 1545, the supply of silver to Europe was greatly increased. Spanish silver entered the English market legitimately as payment for English cloth exported to the Netherlands, and in even greater quantities as the result of privateering. Sir Francis Drake’s expedition of 1577-80 relieved Spanish galleons of treasure to the value of £1.5 million, releasing the raw material into the English treasury and onto the market (see Philippa Glanville, Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England, pp. 70-71).

Nature could be as great an enemey as foreign privateers, and in 1622 the sea claimed several of Philip IV’s richly-laden galleons from the autumn fleet. Nuestra Señora de Atocha, named for a shrine in Madrid, had been ordered new in 1616 from Havana shipbuilder Alonso Ferrera. Contracted for July, 1619, she was not delivered until over a year later, the haste incurring shortcuts such as substituting mahogany for oak and using fewer nails. The Atocha sailed from Spain in March, 1622, and arrived at Portobelo on May 24 to wait for the South Sea Fleet bearing the production of the Peruvian mines. However, it took until mid-July to transfer the cargo to the Tierra Firme fleet, which took on more bullion in Cartagena and copper and indigo in Havana. The passengers on the Atocha included Don Diego de Guzmán, governor of Cuzco; Fray Maestro Pedro de la Madriz, an Augustinian who was the King’s Visitor to Peru; Martin Salgado, secretary of the court of Lima, with his family; and a whole company of infantry under the explorer Captain Bartolomé García de Nodal.

It was well into hurricane season when the fleet was ready to sail for Spain. On Sunday, September 4, the 28 ships sailed from Havana towards the Florida Keys. By the next day, the convoy was in the throes of a storm; after struggling through the day, the winds drove the Atocha onto the reefs of the Keys. Laden with over 47 tons of silver, 500 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of copper, 20 bronze cannon, tobacco, indigo, and 268 people, she sank within minutes on the morning of the 6th. Three nautical miles away and within sight, her sister ship the Santa Margarita also broke on a reef and sank.

While the Spanish would try in 1626-27 to recover part of the Margarita’s treasure, the Atocha remained lost until 1971, when Mel Fisher and his Treasure Salvors, Inc.found her anchor and a trail of artifacts. In 1980-81 the company found the Margarita, then in 1985 the motherlode of the Atocha.


Bosun's whistle, Boatswain's Call, Bosun's whistle, Boatswain's Whistle, Bosun's pipe, Boatswain's pipe some of the name used for that Sailor's whistle type.See Wikipedia.

*1) I had decided to put this whistle under bosun's whistles category , tho construction wise it belongs more in the combination whistle category .
A fascinating whistle with a fascinating story.
The notes I bring here are from the original listing.
The whistle appeared on ebay for the price of $ 40,000 and there were no Buyers, the whistle was sold at an auction (sothebys), a month later to an annonimous buyer, for the price of $ 60,000, this is the picture that apeared on the auction site.


Whistle museum archives Notes and research A. Strauss All rights reserved.

 

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