The San Pedro de Alcantara Shipwreck

Shipwreck of the San Pedro de Alcantra (1788/1788) by Jean-Baptiste PillementNational Museum of Archaeology

After a complicated journey that started in the port of Callao near Lima, Peru involving an extended four-month stay, for repairs, in Rio de Janeiro. The San Pedro da Alcantara whilst sailing off the coast of Portugal destined for Cádis was shipwrecked on a cold winter’s night in 1786. Navigational error was found to be the cause.

Salvage Operation of the San Pedro de Alcantra (1788/1788) by Jean-Baptiste PillementNational Museum of Archaeology

Divers came from all-over Europe to work on the salvage of the ship's goods and equipments.

The impact of this mission which took several years to complete left a profound impact on the local population.

La Desgracia Imprevista y la Felicidad Inesperada (1746/1799) by Luis ParetNational Museum of Archaeology

“Many met their death in the shipwreck, others prosperity. The end result of the salvage operation was a technical success; it went from what was initially a catastrophe to what was to become an exercise of economic exorcism. There were lots of findings, including onboard contraband as shown by the work of the buzos”

Jean-Yves Blot

Saw handle (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

Guided by cables and holding their breath, divers were able to recover valuable goods and equipment (between the years of 1786-88), these were transported by oxen-carts to Lisbon and from there to Spain.

An epitaph kept in the Museu de Peniche contains an inscription relating to the burial of Don Vicente Vargas y Varaes an official who died in the shipwreck. It was the point of reference for a series of archaeological studies carried out between 1985 and 1999 both on land and sea. The dives were carried out by the archaeologists Jean-Yves e Maria Luísa Blot as a project undertaken by the then Instituto Português do Património Cultural (1980-1997), currently the Direção-Geral do Património Cultural and the National Museum of Archaeology.

this StreetView image shows the site of the shipwreck

Drawing of skeleton from the San Pedro de Alcantra shipwreck (1786/1786)National Museum of Archaeology

Amongst the victims were native Peruvian South Americans who, after the Spanish defeat of the indigenous rebellion of 1780 led by Tupac Amaru, were considered political prisoners.

Shackle (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

This is the location of the communal funerary site used to bury the victims of the shipwreck..

The excavation was the responsibility of the archaeologist Maria Luísa Blot in collaboration with Judith Vivar Anaya.

Stirrup (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

This was the object that allowed divers to locate the shipwreck.

“I remember when I looked at the floor of the ocean I saw a strange silver shell. I drew my hand closer and from the sand emerged the head of a faun emerge and then another of the same color” (Jean-Yves Blot)

Canon ball loader 'culatra', two canon-balls, and a plumb bob Canon ball loader 'culatra', two canon-balls, and a plumb bob (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

"Under ‘normal’ circumstances a ship leaving the port of Callao in Peru would reach Cádis in slightly under six months. Something incredibly unusual must have happened during this voyage, making it the ships last.

Jean-Yves Blot

The ship with its 64 canons was built in Cuba, more than a decade and a half before the shipwreck, these objects are an example of the over 750 tonnes of metal carried onboard.

Sabre handles (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

During the excavations arms belonging to the ship’s garrison were also found.

Six coins of Carlos III (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

The ship had over 400 passengers and carried 603 tonnes of chilean copper and two thousand boxes of gold and silver coins, ballast, goods and equipment. The shipwreck claimed the lives of over one hundred people.

Personal objects Personal objects (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

“Personal objects found in the periphery of the site, are a testament to the social status of the ship’s owners. They are decorated ornate relief work”

Jean-Yves Blot

Personal objects Personal objects (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

These gold cufflinks and belt-buckle are some of the several personal items found in the stern of the ship.

Silver ornaments of personal use, From the collection of: National Museum of Archaeology
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Fragments from chalices Fragments from chalices (18th Century)National Museum of Archaeology

"Objects of a scientific nature, such as fragments of plants, wood and a fragment of glass along with small quantities of mercury associated with these ceramics were found in the surroundings of the shipwreck. These items suggest a possible connection between the findings and the collections brought to Europe by the Spanish botanists Ruiz e Pávon scientists that were on mission in Peru and Chile dating 1778” (Jean-Yves Blot)

Maria Luisa Blot (1988/1988)National Museum of Archaeology

In memoriam of Maria Luisa Pinheiro Blot (1946-2014), the archaeologist responsible for the excavation of the ship’s funerary deposit in the Porto de Areia do Norte in Peniche.

 "In my opinion Maria Luisa was an incredible person. She had such generosity and depth of knowledge that her presence irradiated a positive energy that emanated far beyond her physical body. Not only content with sharing her knowledge she united us all through her ‘Vision del Mondo’. There was also something of heroic in her that reminded us of Giordano Bruno, or the intuition of De l'Infinito Universo e Mondi: a humanist who illuminated the greyness of our day to day. Because of this it was a pleasure to hear and know her, Maria Luis holds within me a special place like few others".
(Alexandre Sarrazola) poète, archéologue de la façade fluviale de la ville-port de Lisbonne, 3 Novembre 2015). Extrait de J-YB: BROUILLON NOSTALGIQUE, inédit.

Entrance to the exhibition "Time Salvaged from the Sea" (2014-03-20/2015-09-06)National Museum of Archaeology

“The Time Salvaged from the Sea” was an exhibition that took place in the 1980s, in this exhibit the department of Nautical and Subaquatic Archaeology joined paths. Together they created a joint investigation that contributed to the legal origins of subaquatic archaeology in Portugal.. Of particular note is the important contribution of Francisco J.S. Alves who was responsible for the development of pioneering projects in the field and was the director of the National Museum of Archaeology between 1980 and 1996.”

António Carvalho

Detail from the 'Time Savaged from the Sea' exhibiton (2014/2015)National Museum of Archaeology

Thirty years after the beginning of Subaquatic and Nautical Archaeology in the 1980s the National Museum of Archaeology started to build a small team consisting under the direction of Francisco Alves it consisted of Adolfo Silveira, Mário de Almeida, Emanuel Perez, Paulo Agostinho e Paulo Deodato which undertook the first excavation of the 80 canon french ship “L’Océan” (1759) is Salema, Vila do Bispo, Algarve.

Credits: Story

António Carvalho, Diretor do Museu Nacional de Arqueologia

Conception and texts:
Adolfo Silveira, Museu Nacional de Arqueologia

José Paulo Ruas, Direção-Geral do Património Cultural
Mattias Tissot

Digital production:
Luís Ramos Pinto, Direção-Geral de Património Cultural
Maria Filomena Barata, Museu Nacional de Arqueologia

Luis Ramos Pinto, Direção-Geral de Património Cultural

Textos adaptados de Jean-Yves Blot, in Concerto para mar e orquestra. San Pedro de Alcantara, 1786. Município de Peniche, 2008. 132 pp.; Topologias, vertentes metodológicas em arqueologia do universo náutico. Jean-Yves Blot (com a participação de Maria Luisa Pinheiro Blot).
MARTINS, Adolfo Silveira, com. cient. - O tempo resgatado ao mar. Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Arqueologia; Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 2014. 45-74 p. Catálogo.

DGPC- Direção-Geral do Património Cultural
ADF / DGPC – Arquivo de Fotografia
OTRM – Exposição “O Tempo Resgatado ao Mar”, Museu nacional de Arqueologia, 20-03-2014/06-09-2015.
CNANS – Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática
OTRM – Catálogo da Exposição “O Tempo Resgatado ao Mar”

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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