The Beeswax shipwreck, a local mystery born from blocks of beeswax and shards of Chinese porcelain found along the shores of the Nehalem Spit, is the subject of the Oregon Historical Society’s newest quarterly journal, “Oregon’s Manila Galleon.”
The first article, by author Cameron La Follette and a team of archivists, takes a deep dive into the Santo Cristo de Burgos. The Spanish galleon left Manila in 1693 loaded with Asian trade goods headed for Acapulco, Mexico. Researchers have long theorized the ship, which disappeared, is the wreck near Nehalem Spit.
La Follette had been searching the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum’s website for something else in 2015 when she came across a talk about the Beeswax wreck and looked it up. She later connected with the Beeswax Wreck Project, an archaeological study of more than 10 years looking for the shipwreck.
Fascinated by the Spanish galleon trade and the people who risked their lives to bring goods across the Pacific Ocean, she started an archival study of records in Spain, Mexico and the Philippines related to the Santo Cristo de Burgos.
“Archives often have the most surprising things,” she said. “Documents get deposited there, and then all knowledge gets lost over time.”
Her team’s research uncovered information about the captain, Don Bernardo Iniguez del Bayo, from the Basque region of Spain. The General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, had a complete manifest of the estimated 235 passengers and crew aboard the ship.
Researchers also found a partial cargo manifest, including 2.5 tons of mercury that may help with identification of the wreck, and were able to link the markings on some of the beeswax blocks found in Oregon to shippers in the Philippines part of the galleon trade.
“I hope that our archival research will help the archaeological team in locating the wreck,” La Follette said. “I would also like other people to do genealogical research of the people on the passenger and crew list.”
Other articles in the quarterly recap the Santo Cristo de Burgos’ crew and cargo, along with the Spanish galleon trade across the Pacific Ocean and the tradition of treasure hunting around Neahkahnie Mountain and the Nehalem Spit. One recaps the research by the Beeswax Wreck Project, started in 2006 to ascertain the nationality, port of origin, destination, name and final resting place of the ship.
The Beeswax Wreck Project has since been folded into the Maritime Archaeological Society, a nonprofit based in Astoria and focused on documenting shipwrecks in the Pacific Northwest. The group last searched for the shipwreck last summer, deploying side-scan sonar and an underwater robot to explore rocky outcroppings along Oswald West State Park.
Scott Williams, lead researcher with the Beeswax project, said the archaeological society is hampered by a lack of money for the expensive underwater archaeology equipment. The group will dive near the Beeswax search area this summer in search of an unrelated anchor chain, but needs a new magnetometer to help find metal deposits from artifacts such as the cannons the Santo Cristo de Burgos would have been carrying, he said.
But Williams is excited about the potential interest La Follette’s work could generate.
“I think it kind of kicks it up to another level of scholarship,” he said. “Having this out will really raise awareness.”
La Follette, who is active with the Oregon Coast Alliance, will present her team’s findings July 8 at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. Copies of the Oregon Historical Quarterly are available at the historical society’s museum store, and starting next week at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.