The Beeswax wreck of Nehalem

May 6, 2008
Manzanita, Oregon, United States-A team of scientists, archaeologists and divers are planning a dive this week with the goal of locating information, or even proving the identity of what is known as “the Beeswax wreck” of Nehalem.
They are hoping for some cold, hard facts in order to separate the vast amount of fiction surrounding one of the oldest known shipwrecks on the Oregon coast.
Chunks of beeswax dating from as long as four centuries ago have been washing ashore on Oregon beaches. Some as recently as this past Winter.  A piece found in Gold Beach, Oregon in December, 2007, is likely from the shipwreck off of Manzanita.
The origin of the wreck near Nehalem is most probably a Spanish “Manila” galleon, either the Santo Christo de Burgos or the San Francisco Xavier, traveling eastbound and off course when they met their fate:
“The galleon “San Francisco Xavier”, General Don Santiago Zabalburu says, sailed from Cavite in August. “Nothing is known of its fate; not a fragment, no object whatever, large or small, has ever been found to serve as evidence or support for even a conjecture as to its fate, whether it was shattered on some unknown rock or was swallowed by the waves, crew and all—commander, seamen, and passengers, among whom were whole families of high rank. The ocean has kept the secret of this terrible tragedy.””
(quote taken from the Beeswax project website)

Other past speculations as to origin have included Chinese or Japanese origin of the
wreckage found at Nehalem. beeswax from a Nehalem oregon shipwreck

                                                                                                                  Frank J. Kumm of the Tillamook Historical Museum holds a chunk
of beeswax found on
the Nehalem Peninsula

The evidence, however, strongly points to the San Francisco Xavier, whose last known voyage from the Phillippines was in 1705. Laden with silk, porcelain from China and spices, she had also been carrying 75 tons of beeswax.

dead reckoning shipwreck chart by bill brooks of nw limited in astoria oregon
Detail of the stamp displayed on NW Limited‘s Dead Reckoning of the
Pacific Graveyard
shipwreck chart, published in 2007

One of the reasons for the beeswax wreck’s likelihood to be the Xavier rather than the Santo Christo de Burgos is the tsunami of January, 1700, which would have forced the remains of any wreck in existence at the time further inland than the site of the current location.
Beeswax in itself helps to date the wreck, as well as locate its origin.
There were no native bees in the New World. Any beeswax, which was favored among Catholic churches in Mexico, would have come from Asian honeybees. This was proven to be the source of the beeswax originating from the Nehalem wreck.
Radio-carbon dating of the wax and wood from the site confirms 17th-century origin. The porcelain and miscellaneous wood also found near the site dates to around 1638.
How did that beeswax arrive as far south as Gold Beach, Oregon?
Simple: The wax was traded up and down the coast by native people.
The impact of a shipwreck to local surroundings was not always measured in the worth of its cargo, however.
When Lewis & Clark arrived here in 1805, they observed a young male living among the native Clatsop tribe who appeared to them to be half-white. 
Was he perhaps a descendant of a survivor of the very same beeswax wreck?

Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard” for sale by NW Limited…History in VogueTM
(pictured above-click for larger) includes the beeswax wreck of Nehalem in its listing of shipwrecks.
The chart, completed in late 2007 by Astoria’s Bill Brooks of NW Limited, is the newest, most complete list of shipwrecks on the north Oregon and south Washington coasts, including the mouth of the Columbia River, the area known as the Pacific Graveyard.
His research spanned more 3 years and 8 months, from concept to publication. Local museums, noted shipwreck authors and historians as well as local residents helped to confirm the facts, and has resulted in the most complete, unique and beautiful sunken ship chart ever published for this region.
Each chart is numbered in an edition of 500, and hand-built beginning with the lithograph.
When finished, they are custom-framed and ready to hang.
Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard is the ultimate collection of shipwreck facts and lore, and the framed variation includes lost fishing vessels as well as US Coast Guard tributes.
For more information, or to purchase Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard, call 503-338-6056 or click bill@nwlimited.com

Links:
NW Limited…History in VogueTM
Beeswax is not typical treasure hunt October 25, 2008 article at the Olympian newspaper
The BeesWax Project
Columbia River Maritime Museum
Scientists Search for Buried Treasure off the Oregon Coast
The Manila Galleons (Treasure Expeditions)

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  1. […] Broadcasting tonight The Oregon Public Broadcasting network will air a feature about the Nehalem Beeswax Wreck on Oregon Field Guide.  Beeswax stamp from Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard shipwreck […]


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