Blackbeard's Ship

Off the coast of North Carolina, nautical archaeologists, historians and scientists study the artefacts of a 300-year-old shipwreck...

This is the story of the ship captained by the infamous 18th century pirate, Blackbeard. Discovered 15 years ago by salvage divers off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, we follow a team of nautical archaeologists, historians and scientists who comb through the artefacts of the 300-year-old shipwreck to piece together what can be learned about the exploits of the Blackbeard when at the helm of his flagship Queen Anne's Revenge. Ultimately, our investigators attempt to unlock the mystery of how the ship came to end up on the ocean floor.

First, the team of experts and historians must determine that the shipwreck is indeed Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge. Using historical records and charts, they determine that when Blackbeard seized the ship in 1717 off the island of Bequi in the Caribbean, it was sailing under the name La Concorde. From the remains of the wooden planking and French measurement markings on the ship's keel, our investigators decode its French construction. They go on to uncover the ship's shameful history as one of Europe's most prolific slaving operations. In the wreckage, the investigators find African gold beads and a slave manacle.

The documentary determines that Blackbeard did not seize the ship for its human cargo - but for its size, speed and majesty. By consulting depositions made by the former French crew, we learn that Blackbeard offloaded the crew and the slaves - and proceeded to arm the vessel to the teeth. He outfitted the ship with up to 40 cannons and set off to terrorise the eastern seaboard of North America, where he would capture up to four ships a week. It was Queen Anne's Revenge that would make Blackbeard the pirate king.

Examining cannons brought up from the ocean floor, our investigators use large-scale x-ray technology to reveal that the cannons on-board were loaded and ready for action. Some of the cannons contain "dirty bombs" - a collection of spikes and shot that when fired at close range, wrecked havoc and destruction.

Investigators decode recently discovered strange markings on the cannon covers through which we learn about Blackbeard's pirate crew: their background, their former trades and their superstitions and fears.

Finally, the investigators are divided as to whether Blackbeard intentionally grounded his ship and marooned his crew in order to make off with pirate booty, or whether the ship accidentally ran aground in the shallow, shifting shoals of the North Carolina coast.

Blackbeard's Ship airs Friday 26, 7.30pm on SBS ONE.

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