Royal Gazette: The Riddle of the Crest: A logical and highly entertaining history lesson

Article published June 3. 2010 09:33AM
The Riddle of the Crest: A logical and highly entertaining history lesson:: 

A review by Jennifer Hind

For those who don't know much about history, and even for those who do, LookBermuda's 'The Riddle of the Crest' is a fascinating investigation of a puzzle that has baffled historians for years.

The half-hour documentary is based on an article written by Dr. Philippe Rouja, Bermuda's Custodian of Historic Wrecks, published in the 2009 Heritage issue of rg magazine.

The film outlines the process by which Dr. Rouja came to the conclusion that the wreck on the Bermuda coat of arms is not a fanciful creation of some 17th Century artist but an actual historic wreck – just not that of the Sea Venture.

The film takes the viewer step by step from thesis to conclusion in a logical but highly entertaining fashion, with cinematic "sidebars" on 17th Century naval architecture and ceramics to provide background information on the significance of certain artefacts found on wrecks.

It is beautifully narrated by Nigel Kermode, and the fact that Dr. Rouja is not only knowledgeable but also articulate helps a great deal.

Stunning photography of local waters, including underwater shots and clips taken during Hurricane Fabian, time lapse photography, shots of contemporary paintings, etchings, charts and maps are all used to illustrate the narrative.

The latter includes interviews with Teddy Tucker, Dr. Edward Harris and conservator and restorer William Gillies.

As an aside, it was a little disappointing to note that this aspect of Bermuda's culture is still very male dominated – there were no women featured in the film at all.

Dr. Rouja's thesis is that the wreck depicted on the coat of arms, is that of the ship on which Englishman Henry May sailed when it ran against high cliffs seven leagues off Bermuda in 1593.

For the Somers Island Company laying claim to the archipelago in the 17th Century, the earliest landing of an Englishman, that of Henry May, was more significant than the landing of the Sea Venture survivors, hence its depiction on their coat of arms.

Dr. Rouja surmises that Henry May's first hand account of the wreck is truthful, and sets out to establish the role of North Rock in "one of the most significant wrecking events in Bermuda's history".

To argue that North Rock is the site of Henry May's wreck, four things are needed: a) a wreck, b) a wreck of the right period, c) a wreck of the right origin and d) the cliff described in May's account.

The film takes the viewer along on the treasure hunt, conveying some of the excitement felt with each new piece of the puzzle put in place.

The complexity of the process, involving many different local institutions, and international and interdisciplinary cooperation is fascinating.

The clarity with which Dr. Rouja's methodology is demonstrated leads one to the same conclusion as he.

The film would make an excellent teaching tool for freshman historians and archaeologists, but is entertaining enough and accessible enough for the layman to enjoy as well.

It will make a worthy addition to my collection of Bermudiana.

"The Riddle of the Crest" will be airing regularly on LookBermuda's cable TV channel (CableVision Channel 1). See more about LookBermuda in tomorrow's Royal Gazette.