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Lost Treasure Ships of the British Isles.

Updated on March 28, 2013

British Naval Power

As Britain has been a sea power for over 500 years and an important trading centre for even longer, tons of cargo has been transported around the British Isles. For all the ships that have attempted to trade, invade or visit the British isles, a few unlucky ships have been lost in the sometimes treacherous coastal waters.

Local legends tell of unimaginable treasures lying on the seabed waiting to be found by adventurous and intrepid treasure hunters. Throughout the British Isles there are stories of missing French gold intended for Scottish rebels, and thousands of Spanish coins in the hull of sunken ships of the Spanish Armada fleet.

Sunken Ships in the English Channel.
Sunken Ships in the English Channel.


Before Admiral Nelson's flagship was built, there was another ship christened the HMS Victory. This vessel had a different and more tragic history to its more famous successor. In 1744 Admiral Sir John Balchin, whose flag was flying on board the Victory, was returning from a voyage from Gibraltar.The vessel having reached the Channel on the 3rd of October, was overtaken by a quick and devastating storm. HMS Victory was a very steady and robust ship by the standards of the eighteenth century, and it was the largest ship in the world at the time of its construction at Portsmouth in 1737. HMS Victory represented a peak in ship construction for the British Royal Navy. On the 4th of October, the Victory was separated from the rest of the returning British fleet, and was never heard of again. The ship had on board close to 1,000 sailors, plus a complement of marines, and guests of high standing in British high society.

It is speculated that she struck upon a ridge of rocks off the Caskets and eventually sunk into the channel. This is pieced together from the testimony of the inhabitants of the island of Alderney, the weather was too dangerous to allow boats to go out to the assistance of the Victory. With the ship consigned to the depths of the sea so perished the finest ship of the British Navy. With the sinking of the Victory 100-110 bronze cannons and £400,000 in gold coins taken on in Lisbon were lost to the British treasury along with the personal effects and miscellaneous cargo of the ship.

British treasure wrecks

Sunken Treasure Ships

Possibly the greatest hoard of sunken treasure still waiting to be found on the seabed around Great Britain is that which went down in the Merchant Royal, off Dartmouth, on 23 September, 1641 AD. Returning to Britain with a definite King's ransom in Spanish treasure, her sinking in bad weather was a great loss to the British treasury. The sinking witnessed by another vessel in its company reported the location of its demise as 21 miles off the coast of Lands End.

The vessel was carrying thirty-six bronze cannon, in her cargo hold was £300,000 in silver, £100,000 in gold, and as much again in jewel.It is also estimated that wooden chests held perhaps more than half a million Spanish silver pesos, 500 heavy bars of gold and thick ingots of silver. In some reports the hold also held vast amounts of rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls. The loss of so much treasure was a shock to most of Europe, as they had personal effects and jewellery on the ship.

All nations lost vessels in the Sea's around the British Isles.
All nations lost vessels in the Sea's around the British Isles. | Source

Wrecks are everywhere

If you were to check in any coastal town along the British coast there is so much folklore and legend with regard to lost bounty underneath the waves. Due to the difficulty in pinpointing wrecks from a century or two ago, it would be expensive to track down the treasure.

To fully investigate a shipwreck site and acquire the salvageable items is a legal minefield as some foreign governments still have claim on the lost ships. The North Sea and English channel are violent seas and have been the undoing of many, the wrecks on the ocean floor is ample proof of that.


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    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting Hub on sunken ships and lost treasure. I wonder how much of it still survives and is salvageable today?

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Sunken treasure is one of those magical images that we grow up hearing about. There's a mystical quality to it. Sadly, there aren't any sunken ship here in Brooklyn, NY.

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Fascinating stuff...As a scuba enthusiast, I have dove on wrecks in the Sea of Cortez and off the California coast...Found lots of fish in these man-made reefs but nary a peso or pound...

      Thank you for this brief and interesting history of a couple of ships that have gone down to the sea and rest now in Davy Jones locker, without the key...Larry