We’ve all heard stories about people finding treasures from ships that sailed the seas centuries ago.
Indeed, the mere prospect of finding our very own buried treasure is a thrilling one, but for pretty much all of us, it’ll remain an unattainable dream.
Usually, the best we can hope for is stumbling across a rusty old safe in our backyard:
Well, recently archaeology divers discovered some of the remains of Britain’s wealthiest shipwreck.
The merchant ship, President, was coming back from India in 1684 packed with pearls and diamonds – worth about $10 million in today’s money – when it sank.
It was a trading ship which belonged to the East India Company, and it was the site of a number of fierce battles against 17th-century pirates.
The crew onboard were actually on the brink of starvation before the tragic catastrophe. In fact, they were so desperate that they ate the dog on the ship, which was described as “a delicate Banquet”.
Unfortunately, all but two of those on the ship died when a storm sank the ship in Mount’s Bay at Loe Bar near Porthleven, Cornwall, England. The two survivors were then attacked by two Cornishmen who tried to steal from them on the beach.
Parts of the shipwreck were discovered about two decades ago, but recent storms have uncovered some of the larger fragments.
Archaeology diver David Gibbins, who has been investigating the site with Mark Milburn, managed to retrieve a 334-year-old cannon and an anchor from the shipwreck.
“The site was first reported by divers twenty years ago and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973,” Gibbins said. “Mark and I are licensed by Historic England to monitor the wreck, but for many years it has been covered by sand.”
“Loe Bar is usually a dangerous place to dive – the entry and exit are treacherous even with the smallest of waves. The recent period of calm weather has allowed us to get in for the first time in months.”
Unfortunately, the actual treasure has not yet been found. Milburn, who also runs Atlantic Scuba in Penryn, added: “The diamonds and pearls were never recovered. They’re down there somewhere.”
Incredibly, some people have risked their lives to get their hands on buried treasure:
“During our dive we were thrilled, to discover seven cannons and an anchor at the site, only a few meters from shore in less than seven meters depth,” Milburn said.
“We were exploring an area where artifacts had never previously been recorded, and we realized we were looking at new finds. With every storm, the sand can shift to reveal new treasures. It was incredibly exciting to see something that nobody has ever seen before.”
The loss of the ship was such that it was even marked on the map of Cornwall produced by the renowned Dutch cartographer Van Keulen.
According to Cornwall Live, this find is a pretty groundbreaking one in the field of maritime history.
“Now the rediscovery of the site thought to be this wreck opens up a new chapter in the maritime history of Cornwall, linking these shores to a time when huge fortunes were made and lost in the ‘Enterprise of the Indies’.”
The final voyage of the President has been recorded in a great deal of detail due to the fact that a pamphlet, including testimonies from the survivors, was published some months after the tragic ordeal.
The pamphlet was titled: “A full ACCOUNT Of the late Ship-wreck of the Ship called The PRESIDENT: Which was cast away in Montz-Bay in Cornwal On the 4th of February last, As it was deliver’d to HIS MAJESTY, (both in Writing and Discourse) By William Smith and John Harshfield, the only Persons that escaped in the said Wreck’.”
It describes in detail the sea battle with six pirate ships off the Malabar Coast of India.
“Cannons are common finds on the wrecks of merchant ships from the age of sail when most ships were armed,” Gibbins added.
“But it’s very unusual to know that guns on a merchantman were actually used, especially in such a colorful action and on the very voyage on which the ship was wrecked. It gives a special excitement to seeing these guns for the first time underwater.”
However, the President’s success in defeating the pirates was not repeated in the crew’s battle against the storm on the return voyage.
It is, nevertheless, incredible that hundreds of years after that very storm, parts of the ship are still being uncovered. Hopefully, diamonds and pearls will be also be recovered in the not-too-distant future.