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Treasure Hunt UK

In 2007, the 62,000 tonne ship MSC Napoli ran aground off the South Coast and broke her back. Almost immediately containers full of cargo began to spill overboard and wash ashore. What followed was reminiscent of the ‘wreckers’ of centuries ago: large hoards cracked open the containers and carted off the contents for themselves. One or two won the jackpot and found a BMW motorbike. A latecomer only managed to fill his car with disposable nappies. Soggy Pampers may be a modern-day phenomenon but ships loaded with valuable cargo certainly aren’t.


Over the centuries, Britain’s status as a global power and importance to trade has made it a port of call for vessels returning from the Mediterranean, Far East and New World of the Americas. Many of those ships carried precious gold, silver and jewels – and many of those foundered in storms. Some of these wrecks are in shallow water and potentially still contain their valuable cargo – treasure! It’s worth mentioning here that special permission is required to dive wrecks with protected status, and finds should be declared. Just scooping up gold coins off the seabed is likely to land you in big trouble – even supposing it were that easy. However, ally yourself with the right bunch of marine archaeologists and there are treasures a-plenty, lost in shallow water, just waiting to be discovered. Here are five UK sites that may yield riches… 


Royal Charter, Anglesey The Royal Charter was a steam clipper returning to Liverpool from Melbourne when she was wrecked off Anglesey on 26 October 1859. Of the approximately 500 people on board, many were gold miners who had struck it rich in Australia and were bringing back gold with them – not to mention the separate consignment of booty stashed in the hold. Divers have found gold bars in the wreckage and sovereigns are reportedly washed up after big storms from time to time. 


Hollandia, Scilly Isles It was in 1743 that this Dutch ship left Holland headed for the Dutch East Indies, became separated from the rest of the fleet and smashed into rocks off the Scilly Isles. She took 276 lives with her to the bottom, as well as a considerable consignment of silver. Fast forward to the late sixties and London attorney (and keen diver) Rex Cowan took it upon himself to locate the wreck – which took him three years. His persistence paid off though, in the form of 35,000 coins which his team managed to salvage. Another 95,000 remain unaccounted for… 


Tobermory Treasure Galleon, Isle of Mull Like all good mysteries there’s a bit of conjecture and supposition on this one. Did a damaged Spanish Armada vessel carrying treasure flee from the fight with the English in 1588 and end up sheltering in the bay of Tobermory? Did a local clan chief then board the vessel and blow up the gunpowder magazine, or did she sink from damage sustained in the fight? The facts are sketchy, but over the years numerous artefacts including silver coins have been recovered from the Duque di Florenzi – if that even is her real name.


Salcombe cannon wreck The remains of an unidentified armed vessel lie in the Erme Estuary off the Devon coast, and are believed to date from around 1630. The cannons have long been known about but back in the 1990s, sands shifted to reveal many other artefacts including gold. Marine archaeologists have since determined the treasure to be Moroccan in origin, in the form of ornate jewellery and Islamic coins. There could well be more riches to find, but it’s one for the archaeologists: this site is protected now and strictly off-limits to divers. 


HMS Lutine Ok, not technically in UK waters, but she was a Royal Navy ship so gets a pass. The Lutine was headed for North Germany loaded with more than £80 million in bullion and coins when she sank in a storm off a Dutch sandbank in 1799. Salvage attempts began almost straight away but the bulk of the precious cargo remains lost – due in part to fearsome currents in the area and constantly shifting sands. There’s another link to the UK: HMS Lutine’s bell was recovered and hangs in Lloyds of London, the out-of-pocket insurers of the vessel. Until recently, the bell was rung whenever a ship was reported lost. No doubt they winced every time.