What are the Clues?
The Molasses Reef ship was heavily armed with everything from heavy artillery to crossbows, swords and grenades.
Superior armament was a key element in the success of the explorers. Firepower enabled them to impose their will on the peoples they met during their explorations and to defend themselves from similarly-armed privateers and freebooters they often encountered in European waters during the return voyage.
The ships heavy artillery included two breech loading Bombardeta cannons, 15 swivel guns also known as Versos (illustrated) and a number of anti personnel weapons known as haquebuts. It is in fact the haquebut that the best indication of the date the ship sank. After about 1515 haquebuts were longer included in the armament of Spanish ships.
The gun powder for the swivel guns and the bombardetta cannons was stored in a breech chamber. This was a cylindrical item which would be dropped into place after the shot had been put in the weapon. This allowed the weapon to be quickly recharged after firing a shot.
Shot was made aboard the ship. As the shot was round, having too many on deck would be a hazard, especially in rough seas. Large sheets of lead was stored on the ship and when needed the blacksmith would cut pieces. These would then be heated into until it became liquid and in turn this liquid was poured into a bronze mold. When it cooled the mould was opened and the shot removed. The smaller lead shot for the Haquebut and Haquebuz (a portable gun) was made using smaller molds.
There were also grenades which consisted of an an oval hollow iron ball, which was filled with gunpowder through an opening. The opening was then sealed with a fuse.
Crew members would have had their own weapons. The commonest of these would have been daggers and swords. As the ship was excavated only one sword blade and parts of four hilts were found. This is one of the reasons why it is believed the crew abandoned the ship – they would have taken their personal items with them, including the weapons to defend themselves.
Another anti personnel weapon was the crossbow. The timber parts had long rotted away, leaving behind just the metal parts of the crossbow and the arrow heads. The Museum has recreated one of these crossbows and some of the bolts using the original metal pieces as templates.