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Lost Treasure Ships Around the British Isles

Updated on February 1, 2018
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This veteran writer has been on HubPages for a decade and has created over 100 original pieces.

The Untamed Sea.

Great Britain has been a major sea power for over 300 years and the British Isles have an important trading centre for thousands of years. Many tons of cargo has been transported to and around the British Isles. For all the ships that have successfully docked to trade, invade or visit the British Isles, there have been a few unlucky ships have been lost in the often treacherous waters.

Local legends tell of unimaginable treasures lying on the seabed, unimaginable wealth is said to waiting by adventurous and intrepid treasure hunters who are willing to dive on unstable wrecks. Throughout the British Isles there are stories of missing French gold that had been intended to finance the efforts of Scottish rebels. There are also supposed to be thousands of Spanish coins in the hulls of sunken ships that had once belonged to the famous Spanish Armada.

Here are a few famous ships that are believed to lay below one of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe.

The Age of Sail.

Sunken Ships litter the floor of the English Channel.
Sunken Ships litter the floor of the English Channel.

HMS Victory.

Before Admiral Nelson's famous 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 HMS Victory, was returning back from the vitally important naval base at Gibraltar.The vessel had made good time, having reached the Channel on the 3rd of October. But tragedy was to occur, as the Admiral's ships were overtaken by a quick and devastating storm.

HMS Victory was a very steady and robust ship by the standards of the eighteenth century. It served as an Admiral's flagship, so it was meant to be formidable. The HMS Victory was in fact the largest ship in the world when it finished construction at Portsmouth in 1737. HMS Victory represented the peak in ship construction for the British Royal Navy and it was a vessel that the Admiralty had great pride and faith in.

On the 4th of October, due to the storms. HMS 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. It also carried guests of high standing from among British high society. These men and women had paid a hefty sum to be entertained on the pride of the nation's vessels.

It is speculated that the Victory 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 any other boats to go out to either lend assistance or search for the Victory. With the ship consigned to the depths of the sea, so perished the finest ship of the British Navy at that time.

When the Victory sank, large amounts of wealth went down with it. We know that 100-110 bronze cannons were on the ship before it left Gibraltar and over £400,000 in gold coins were taken on in Lisbon. The gold was lost to the British treasury along with the personal effects and miscellaneous cargo that the ship carried.

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 of the Merchant Royal. The Merchant Royal went down off the coast of Dartmouth, on 23 September, 1641 AD. The vessel was returning to the British Isles with a definite king's ransom in Spanish treasure. Her sinking in bad weather was another great loss to the exchequer of the land. The sinking witnessed by another vessel in its company, reported the location of its demise as 21 miles off the coast of Lands End. Although shifting currents and navigational error could have mistaken its eventual resting place.

This naval vessel was carrying thirty-six bronze cannon. In her cargo hold was over £300,000 in silver, £100,000 in gold, and a collection of gemstones whose value would easily dwarf that of the missing precious metals. It is also estimated that wooden chests held in the hull, would perhaps value more than half a million pounds worth of Spanish silver pesos. There was also hundreds of 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 Continental Europe, as the Merchant Royal also carried personal effects and jewellery belonging to the elite of Europe.

Many nations have lost vessels in the waters around the British Isles.
Many nations have lost vessels in the waters 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 all the alleged treasure.

To fully investigate a shipwreck site and acquire the salvageable items is a legal minefield as some foreign governments may still have claim on the lost ships. The North Sea and English channel have violent currents and have been the undoing of many, the numerous wrecks on the ocean floor are ample proof of that. There are companies that actively search for maritime treasure, but there costs are often more than they will ever recoup from their standard finds. But some still actively hunt down the hidden riches as it is in our nature to gamble against incredibly slim odds.

© 2010 Andrew Stewart


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    • CMHypno profile image


      8 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


      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      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


      8 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


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