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Creative Writing Pieces by Work your Way Placement Student

Here we have a series of creative writing pieces about the shipwreck of St Anthony, near Gunwalloe in 1527. These pieces were inspired by Portuguese coins in the RIC collection found on the St Anthony shipwreck and donated to the museum. Each account is a fictional creative writing piece, based on the perspective of an individual who may have been at the site of the ship as it wrecked. The creative pieces were written by Joe Kinsman and Sara Matthews from the Work Your Way programme, supported by Cornwall Rural Community Charity whilst on placement at Royal Cornwall Museum. Photographs were taken by Joe Kinsman.

Setting the scene

The St Anthony (San Antonio) was a mercantile vessel and property of King John III of Portugal, returning from a trading voyage, lasting over 3 months and departing from Flanders and travelling to Lisbon. Carrying a hefty and wealthy ransom of precious metals and artefacts of noble importance, the ship is eventually ship-wrecked on the coast of Gunwalloe Bay, leading to its subsequent looting by the locals.

Perspective of Captain Antonio:

Morning 19th January 1527

The air stank of vibrant salt, a crisp breeze flowing soundly across the quiet lapping waves of the ocean, yet the wind seemed to resonate with something far more ominous. Antonio gripped the planks of the ship with a steady, yet weary tone. Storm surges were unpredictable, even in the most pleasant weather. It was every captain’s duty to succeed to the demands of any king or principled dockmaster, yet for once, Antonio thought only for his crew.

For three months, they had endured steady trade, relief and pleasant travel, avoiding the worst of the oceans most ominous or deplorable aspects. Now though, after being loaded with enough precious metals, decorative harnesses and unique trinkets to please any valued merchant, the tension was ripe to bursting. Even the crew, wayward or hired souls of hardiness, stubbornness and versatility, common to any turbulent or wet wash, felt the tension, eyes quickly flickering between ocean or sky, before returning back to their duties with ample focus.

Antonio, shivering to the freezing chill, couldn’t fault their unwanted nervousness. The voyage, occupied by three former vessels of his Majesty’s personal guard, were but enough to deter any seaborn pirate or wayward smuggler, but the nature of travel, likewise, brought dangers of a more natural and unpredictable fear. He had seen sailors snatched by the sea, dragged, beaten and eventually, drowned. Those who were saved, lived to bear further travel, but those who didn’t, cast out into the maelstrom, found nothing but a watery grave.

The looming mist hadn’t helped, either. It wasn’t common to encounter sea-fog. The seawater had been quite close to freezing at periods, the quiet grip of winter’s thaw languishing upon the water. Yet, sight had been lacking and even his most eyeworthy of navigators, sharp, observant men of stout stature and keen eyesight, hadn’t managed to make any making of their surroundings or signs of navigation. The stars, the most practical choice of navigation for any captain, lay closed off from view, whilst the wind was antagonistic and random, buffeting from one direction to the next. The only ally left, was their keen ears and amidst the lapping winds, sweeping waves and chilling breeze, even that seemed lax at best.

It wasn’t until the sound of cackling gulls, echoed across the portside bow, that a brief smile, flashed across his face. The crew, likewise, shared his joy, faces alive finally with flashes of home and hearth, recuperation from days of tasteless, mundane food, replaced with warming tastes of stewed meats, chopped vegetables and thick gravy, lathered in spices. Of warm, soft beds, wrapped in sheep-wool and soft-cloth of the smoothest touch. The memories comforted him, as the sound of cracking wood, echoed across the ship.


Perspective of Betsy-Maria, aged 10:

Morning 19th January 1527

Mother had sent me to Joshua Jenkins farm to fetch some milk, I di take the long way across the cove for I wanted to watch the winter waves breaking on the shore. When I got there I saw a ship with great masts, she was rolling side on to the beach and headed for the rocks. I ran to my father in the smithy, where he was shoeing a pony. “There’s a ship coming’ in I hollered in a frenzy of nervous excitement. And started running back to the shore before he could stop me, for I know he’d tell me to go on home. He wasn’t running behind me, so I do know he is gone to the village to get the others. The wind was fierce and it was a low tide. I heard the groan and creak of timbers, then a terrifying crunch as the vessel hit the rocks. Men were screaming like scared children, not like the brave men I heard about in stories told by the fire. I could see men standing on the bow, wondering if they should jump or stay aboard.

I turned and saw father with the men, John Chitel was there, grinning with excitement, I must confess I never liked him. Mother always said he was a sly one, even as a boy. He’d did scramble down the rocks to the beach and I did follow at a distance, so as not to be seen.

Our men had sacks. The men on the ship were speaking a foreign language, Spanish was it? I dunno, its hard to tell when they were screeching so. Then I saw one of the

sailors stagger ashore, a strange uniform and skin dark as Amos down Nettle hill, who was said to have Spanish blood.

John went to attack him wit a stick and heard my fathers say, “No deaths. No Violence, John, we are here because last seasons harvest failed, not to take a man’s soul”, “Es and I watched my boy die last year for want of medicine.

It’s true I thought, life was not fair, so why shouldn’t we take what can before it is washed out to sea and is lost on the ocean’s floor forever?

Then I heard father calling, “Betsy Maria, what are you doing here? “ I just wanted to see ‘un go down and what treasure was found”, I replied meek as you like.

His eye gleamed on the morning light, well now daughter, he opened his hand and seven shiny silver coins were revealed in his palm. “There’s more where that came from”, he uttered. “Now get home to your mother and I’ll show you all after tea.”


Perspective of John Chitel:

Morning 19th January 1527

John Chitel grumbled, as he sunk the shovel into the wettest patch of dirt, within the stone-speckled ground of his field. Sweating profusely, his back straining from the arduous labour of tilling and planting, he wiped his brow with the collar of his sheepskin shirt and continued the motion with due haste.

It wasn’t yet harvest or planting season, yet for John Chitel, reaching his own deadline was far better than coming last. Especially, when it came to his debts. Twice, the interest on his loans had steadily increased, his percentage decreasing and his own submission of crops or livestock, barely enough to lighten the load. Predictably, he had pondered on his fate and the outcomes hadn’t been promising.

Most likely, his farm would become somebody else property, divided amongst the nobles or barons and his chances of reclaiming it, all but void. And as for repaying his loans, that was as likely as the sun up and vanishing. He gritted his teeth and swore, silently. He wasn’t a pleasant man, that much he recognised about himself. The village folk hadn’t been his greatest friends, not after his

constant drinking and his periods of swindling or squeezing every ounce of coin from his companions. There was no measure of help from them and he didn’t want to behest to their demands, anyway. After all, he valued his independency and it hadn’t failed him… yet.

A sudden echoing, a sharp, shattering creek filled his ears. John lowered the shovel and shifted his thoughts to the sudden noise. Noise was common in the countryside, even in the more quiet, rural parts of the south. Sometimes it was somebody’s escaped cattle, the sounds of their hoofbeats, noticeable from any distance. Sometimes, it was the barking of dogs or the swaying of trees. But this sound was different. And most importantly, it had come from the cliffs.

He crept near the edge and peeked below. The fog was creeping across the sea and the air was fresh, yet strained with salt. Down below, however, peeking through the lapping waves, was the brow of a ship. John wasn’t a sailor, yet he had seen plenty of ships to recognise that it wasn’t any fishing vessel. It was far to large and bulky, with two vast sails dangling from the top and decks which brimmed with the tiny shapes of sailors.

However, the sounds were not of trade, but voices of fear and distress. Slowly, like the swaying rhythms of a drunk sailor, the vessel pivoted and swung, before floating towards the beach and stopping completely. John couldn’t understand the native tongue of the sailors, even amongst their screams or shouting, but he recognised the opportunity at hand: Profit.

He smiled greedily, watching as the floating giant slowly and arduously floated to its demise. He knew the impacts of robbery and looting, yet for once, he didn’t care. What laid beneath the underbelly of the demised giant, was what most nobles earned more in their lifetime. And he would be damned, if he was going to pass over any opportunity of earning profit… even if he couldn’t do it alone.


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