The bronze ornament’s journey to Maine and into the hands of a Yarmouth sailing enthusiast spanned more than 3,500 miles and 143 years.

Now a ship’s bell forged in 1873 in the Canary Islands and belonging to La Verdad, a Spanish cargo ship that was wrecked in 1899, will begin its slow journey back to the tiny archipelago off the coast of West Africa.

The crew of the tall ship El Galeon, which is visiting Portland until Sunday, will take the bell aboard and deliver it to Santa Cruz de la Palma, where La Verdad was built. The bell will be displayed at a maritime museum there upon arrival.

Tom Cox, 72, who purchased the heavy bronze ship’s bell in 1979, was unsure of its origins when he paid $475.12 for it at Marine Antiques on Main Street in Wiscasset. But in the intervening years, Cox has tracked down the history of La Verdad, the ship for which the bell first rang.

“I was intrigued from day one,” he said. “All I had was a name and a year.”

At first, Cox had a practical purpose in mind when he made the purchase.


“I thought it would make a cool doorbell,” he said. “It never got used as that, because it’s so doggone loud we were afraid if we put it out, the kids in the neighborhood would whale on it.”

Interested in uncovering its origins, Cox went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, which maintains a collection of old maritime records from Lloyd’s of London, the famed insurance company that sold policies to countless merchants through the years, an invaluable resource to amateur historians such as Cox.

There he found his first clue: La Verdad, a Spanish-flagged merchant ship that weighed 511 tons and was 132 feet long, was first insured by the company in 1886 and was last recorded in the company’s ledgers in 1898.

La Verdad was the most famous ship built in the Canary Islands. It became a record-holding ship around the end of the 19th century after it sailed across the Atlantic in only 19 days, according to research provided by Cox.

But the ship’s good run ended on Jan. 12, 1899, when it wrecked on a shallow reef north of Bermuda while en route from La Palma to Cuba.

The water was shallow enough that some of the sailors and cargo were saved, according to an item published in the Jan. 23, 1899, edition of the New York Herald.


Cox said he thinks the ship’s location was accessible to enterprising scavengers who likely absconded with the bell, which eventually made its way to the Maine antique shop.

Cox said he believes the bell is authentic. The inscription of the ship’s name and date appear hand-carved, as it would have been done at the time, and the metal appears to be of the correct vintage, he said.

Cox, who used to sail and race in the area, is well acquainted with the part of Bermuda where La Verdad wrecked. He himself would steer clear of the shallow shoals when he sailed, for fear his boat would end up running aground like La Verdad did.

Since he’s purchased it, Cox has kept the bell at his home and at his law office, almost never using it, except perhaps when one of his children was in a mischievous mood.

“It’s just sat on a little stand in the corner of my office. Nobody ever rang it. My kids tried to,” he said. “We had a rule about that.”

When Cox found out that El Galeon, a replica wooden ship, planned to visit Portland, he contacted Tall Ships Portland, the organization that operates El Galeon and other tall ships, and the managers of El Galeon to organize a meaningful, if slow, return trip for the bell.


The bell will be stored on board and included in the ship’s self-guided exhibits before the crew returns to the Canary Islands in February 2017, said Fernando Viota, a project manager for El Galeon.

Cox is pleased to pass the relic on and give it a second life in the process.

“I would have had to ship the bell to Spain, and somehow trust the bell would get from Spain, then on to the Canaries,” Cox said. “That sounded kind of dicey. It seems fairly probable the El Galeon will get there eventually.”


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