Island’s most renowned explorer, Teddy Tucker dies at 89
Acclaimed diver and explorer Teddy Tucker, whose treasure-hunting exploits inspired books and a Hollywood film and brought him worldwide fame, has died at 89.
Premier Michael Dunkley last night hailed him as “one of the great Bermudians of our time”.
Mr Tucker discovered more than 100 shipwrecks in Bermuda waters, and was a founding member of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI).
His friend and author, the late Peter Benchley, once described Mr Tucker as the man who “brought the world to Bermuda, and Bermuda to the world”. His adventures inspired the Jaws author to write his second novel The Deep, which in 1977 was filmed in Bermuda and included Mr Tucker in the cast.
Sources close to the family told The Royal Gazette that Mr Tucker passed away on Monday afternoon in Somerset.
His maritime career, which began with his first job at the Bermuda Aquarium, made international headlines in 1955 when he discovered one of the most precious treasures ever recovered from the sea.
Dubbed the Tucker Cross, the gold and emerald crucifix, taken from the Spanish wreck San Pedro, was featured on the cover of Life magazine.
“I picked it up, and the sun hit the emeralds,” Mr Tucker later recalled of his discovery. “It was just like they had lights in them.”
The Tucker Cross was an international attraction until 1975, when it was noticed that it had been stolen and switched with a replica.
Mr Tucker found the San Pedro wreck in tandem with Smithsonian Institution curator Mendel Peterson, with whom he collaborated on the grid method of underwater archaeology. He also discovered the six-gilled shark in local waters and, in 1983, helped found the Beebe Project, dedicated to the study of deep-sea life.
His friend and fellow diver, former Premier David Saul, said the Island had lost “a true national treasure” with his passing.
“Teddy Tucker was recognised as one of the fathers of modern marine archaeology, and was revered by scientists, academics and divers on every continent,” Dr Saul said.
“If it had not been for the Second World War, in which he served in the navy and was an underwater demolition expert, he would have made a phenomenal university professor: his knowledge of ships, history, dates and numbers was incredible — one could literally spend all day and night, as I have done on all-night fishing trips, just listening to his stories. His marine knowledge, including fish big and small, from invertebrates to whales, was encyclopedic.”
Dr Saul added: “It is a little-known fact that Teddy earned, over a five-year period after the war, more foreign exchange for the Government of Bermuda than all international business and tourism combined. He had been contracted by the Treasury to collect as much scrap metal from ships that had been wrecked around Bermuda over the previous decades. The amount of copper, brass and other metals that he raised earned millions for Bermuda — a critical contribution to the local economy at a very difficult time.
“What was in that man’s head was astonishing. He is a great loss to the Island. My heart goes out to his wife Edna, and his daughter Wendy at this sad time.”
Born on May 8, 1925, Edward Bolton Tucker grew up by the waterside at Hamilton Harbour and Mangrove Bay, and began diving on shipwrecks locally and internationally in the late 1940s.
“His father, mother and uncles had a keen interest in the ocean, which led him to working at the Aquarium,” said Wendy Tucker.
“He was a very special father, because he included me in his marine world for as long as I can remember — which made me very lucky. I travelled with him on many of his overseas projects.”
In the early days, she said, she and her mother were often “the only females on the boat”.
“It was a very different era than today, and my father made sure that we were included.”
Ms Tucker added: “He had an excellent memory and a wonderful sense of humour that all ages could appreciate. He never lost his vitality or enthusiasm for what he did and it became infectious.
“His experience from years of research and travelling around the world as a young man, gave him an insight into both the sea and land environment that most people do not experience or appreciate.”
As Mr Tucker’s reputation flourished, his West End home became a gathering spot for visiting scientists.
He appeared frequently in the pages of National Geographic magazine, which covered the Beebe Project’s discoveries. According to his daughter, Mr Tucker most recent work with National Geographic was last year.
“They are expected to come down in a couple of weeks to complete the project and I will assist in any way I can,” Ms Tucker added.
“He was also working with the Geological Survey of Canada on the Bermuda Sea Level Rise and we hope to continue that with a meeting in October.”
Premier Mr Dunkley said: “Teddy, as he was known to everyone, was a Bermudian original whose adventurous life and profound knowledge of the waters around Bermuda brought worldwide attention to the Island for more than six decades.
“Mr Tucker’s accomplishments were almost incredible in their breadth. He was a sailor, diver, explorer, treasure hunter, lecturer, archaeologist, historian and author. He was also an extraordinarily successful promoter of Bermuda’s history, culture and character, inspiring Hollywood films, best-selling novels and articles in major magazines from National Geographic to Life.
“Mr Tucker’s amazing knowledge of Bermuda’s waters began with his first jobs as a boy aboard local fishing boats and never stopped. He inspired writers and scientists, schoolchildren and students. He was always approachable and ready to work with the curious, imparting his first-hand knowledge with simplicity, precision and enthusiasm.
“Teddy Tucker enriched the life of Bermuda and brought the most positive worldwide attention to the Island. He made us proud to be Bermudian.”
Mr Tucker was a member of the Explorers Club, as well as a Charter Member of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology. In 1991 he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the Underwater Society of America, and he was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal in 1994 by the Queen.
In 2000, the New York Explorers’ Club awarded Mr Tucker with the Lowell Thomas Award.
A BUEI spokeswoman said the organisation wouldn’t exist without Mr Tucker, adding: “We’ll miss him and our hearts go out to his family.”
And Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences president Bill Curry said: “It is with a sad heart that we acknowledge the passing of Teddy Tucker, Bermuda’s most renowned explorer and globally recognised historian, artist, and lecturer.”
Ms Tucker said her father had requested “no funeral or memorial — and my mother and I are respecting his wishes. He lived his life to the fullest and made each day count.”