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The Visionary Shadow: A Description and Analysis of the Armaments Aboard the Santo Antonio de Tanna.

Alison Darroch
Thesis: December 1986
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program


This thesis concerns the armament collection from a shipwreck in the Old Harbor of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. The wreck is that of the Santo Antonio de Tanna, a Portuguese vessel that was sunk in 1697 during an attempt to relieve Fort Jesus.

In the 17th century the Portuguese were under threat in the Indian Ocean, and their ability to withstand attack and wage war at sea was crucial to their survival. The decline of Portuguese power is clearly illustrated by the story of the siege of Fort Jesus, and this study indicates the range of weaponry that the Portuguese were using at the time.

The history of the siege is given first to set the shipwreck in its historical context. Then, a brief description of the excavation is followed by a catalog of the armaments and related artifacts found during excavation. From the objects described in the catalog some conclusions are drawn about the range of armaments on the Santo Antonio de Tanna. The question of the vessel type is also discussed in the conclusions.

Research into the various categories of armaments made it clear that many of the artifacts, while conforming to a general pattern, are unique to the wreck, and have no parallels in museums or other collections. This is especially true of the smaller wooden objects. I suggest that this is because they were fairly standard naval issue of the time and that because they are lacking in aesthetic appeal or intrinsic value they have not been preserved.

Only five guns were found on the site, and this restricts our understanding of the Santo Antonio de Tanna's ordnance. Because of the absence of guns that projectiles, cartridge moulds, and powder ladle have been analyzed in order to predict what types of ordnance the Santo Antonio de Tanna probably was carrying.

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