Sunday, 28 August 2011

Fishing for Gold

Once again Alan has managed to locate a Verrill story that I could never find. Alan's file is a PDF (portable document format). Someday I hope to understand this file structure; when I started to render the images into acceptable web format for this blog, Adobe, the creator of the format, insisted that no images existed! But I did work around this problem.

* There just may be two versions of this same title since one reference to this title indicates that a treasure map is one image! (The Boston Herald, Sunday, July 30, 1933, section B, p. 4.)

Fishing for Gold on the Ocean's Floor

Improved salvaging methods have stimulated treasure hunting

by A. HYATT VERRILL

The Sun; Jan 1, 1933; The Baltimore Sun; Collected by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2011.

WHEN more than one hundred antique coins and a number of pieces of valuable jewelry were washed by a storm upon the beach at Old Lyme, Conn., a few weeks ago, it was at once assumed that they were from some long-forgotten wrecked vessel or from some pirate's hoard.

Had the valuables been found upon the beach at Southampton, L. I., it would have been far more probable that they had come from a pirate's hoard, for back in 1531 Charles Gibbs—as conscienceless and as villainous a pirate as ever flew the black flag—buried $25,000 in gold in the beach at Southampton. And, as far as is known, not a dollar of the treasure ever has been recovered.

But, as there are no records of pirates having buried loot at Old Lyme, it is highly probable that the miniature treasure-trove did come from some wreck near shore.

*

Whatever the truth of the source of the coins and jewels, the incident has renewed the interest in sunken treasures, an interest which has been steadily increasing during the last few years. No doubt this interest is partly the result of the depression and men seeking new means of acquiring wealth; even more it is because of the success that attended the salvagers of the Egypt, who secured about $5,000,000 from the sunken ship off the coast of France; but, most of all, perhaps, it is due to the fact that with modern methods and apparatus the salvaging of sunken treasures is no longer a romantic adventure or a gamble, but an engineering problem and a business proposition. Though the public hears little of what is going on fathoms beneath the waves, expeditions are constantly at work, lifting long-lost treasures from rotting hulks and battered wrecks.

For months past Simon Lake and his company have been working on the Lusitania, sunk, with her millions in specie and gems, during the World War. Another expedition has been laboring during the last summer on the Merida, on the Virginia Capes. Now comes word from Lewes, Del., stating that the British sloop-of-war De Braak with her $10,000,000 in specie has been located near Cape Henlopen. The De Braak went down in 1798 and the divers who have found and surveyed the 134-year-old hulk report that it is buried to the level of the main deck in the sand. But that is good news to the salvagers, for it means that the ship's cargo and treasure will no doubt be found intact when the old wreck is lifted, floated and brought ashore.

Even the Japanese have taken a hand in wresting treasures from their resting places beneath the sea. A dispatch from Tokyo states that two groups of Japanese salvagers have located the hull of the Russian cruiser Nachimov, which, with over $53,000,000 in gold, was sunk by the Japanese fleet at the battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War. There are a number of modem salvaging devices which should make the recovery of the Russian navy's pay-ship a comparatively easy matter.

At last the sea is yielding up its lost and sunken riches; but there are countless millions still beneath its surface to tempt the treasure seeker. Much of it lies in the rotting hulls of treasure ships whose stories are well known and whose locations arc established facts.

*

For example, there is the Don Carlos III that went down about 1812 after striking a reef off Cuba, carrying with her a treasure well worth getting. As she struck the coral the panic-stricken crew strove madly to save their doomed ship. Cannon lashings were cut and the guns thrown into the sea. Round shot, ammunition, everything movable followed. And when all efforts failed and there was no longer hope, the crew took to the boats and left the proud old Don Carlos III, with all her treasure, to her fate.

Today, during calm weather in December, January and February, one may peer down through the clear water and see the wreck resting on the coral reef barely five fathoms beneath the surface. Scattered about, partly overgrown with coral and sponges, are the ancient muzzle-loading cannon, the iron round shot, the wheels of gun carriages and piles of the ship's iron ballast—all jettisoned by the crew in their effort to lighten their ship and free her from the reef. And in one spot, embedded in the brown, yellow and lilac coral growths, is an iron-bound treasure chest.

For over a century the wreck of the Don Carlos III has lain there with her treasure almost intact. From time to time the native divers have gone down, and little by little they have recovered some 2,500 pieces of eight—good silver coins bearing the dates 1794, 1810 and 1811. Still, the bulk of the treasure remains undisturbed.

*

Almost as accessible as the wreck of the Don Carlos III is that of a far older Spanish ship that was sent to the bottom with a much greater treasure in her holds.

Up from Cartagena and Maracaibo came sailing the great plate ship Santisima Concepcion with tons of silver and gold in her hold. In her strong rooms, in iron-bound chests and casks, were hundreds of thousands of minted gold and silver coins, blazing gems and priceless holy vessels. Upon her decks were cavaliers, richly gowned women, grandees and soldiers, and tonsured, sandaled friars, for the Santisima Concepcion was homeward bound to Spain from the Indies and Panama. She was headed for Margarita Island, there to take on the year's catch of pearls and to join a fleet of galleons under convoy of heavily armed ships of war.

Manned by a crew of more than one hundred men, with a full company of troops on board with her twenty guns, her falconets and carronades, the Santisima Concepcion was practically a war vessel herself. But when she was nearing Margarita a strange ship sped out from its hiding place under the land. The Spanish captain's face paled, for he recognized the stranger as a buccaneer craft.

*

Heavily armed as his ship was, Capt. Hernando Ferara had no intention of battling with pirates if he could avoid it. His vessel held a vast treasure, it carried men and women of exalted rank and station, and he was responsible for their safety and the safety of the treasure. So, as long as he could run for it, run he would; with the harbor and the convoy only a few leagues distant, he might reach safety before the pirates came within cannon shot.

But the oncoming vessel was a far speedier craft than the Santisima Conception. Each moment she drew nearer, and presently from her bows there was a flash and a puff of smoke. A round shot plunged into the sea a scant hundred yards from the plate ship's quarter.

Five minutes, ten, passed, and now ahead rose two small rocky islets separated from the main island by narrow straits or bocas. Hope rose in Captain Ferara's breast. Beyond these, almost in sight, lay the harbor and safety. His ordinary course was well outside the rocks; but to round the islets and their surrounding reefs meant making a wide detour and tacking about, and he knew that long before this was accomplished the buccaneers would be alongside. But there was a chance—a rather dangerous chance, yet the only chance of escaping his foes—and that was to sail through the bocas.

It was a narrow, crooked, treacherous channel, filled with reefs and shoals, barely deep or wide enough for the great ship to pass through. Never, under ordinary conditions, would he have dared attempt it. But Captain Ferara knew the boca channel, and he decided to take this last chance to save his ship. Shots were falling fast about the plate ship's stern; one carried away a ten-foot section of ornate scrollwork from the lofty stern castle, and at any moment a shot might cripple the vessel.

*

The captain bellowed his orders. With a cheer the crew sprang to their guns. With a deafening roar the broadside thundered out, and through the smoke those on the plate ship saw great rents torn in the straining sails of the buccaneer craft; they saw her lateen mizzen yard break and fall in a mass of tangled rigging. But she still held her course, and cannon belched from her sides as she luffed into the wind and delivered a broadside in return. Screams, curses, groans, prayers arose from those on the Spanish ship. Dead, dying and wounded were sprawled upon her decks; two guns were dismounted and her bulwarks were in splinters. But her spars were intact, her hull was undamaged; she had gained several hundred yards and the entrance to the boca was just ahead. Seizing the great tiller in his own hands, the captain guided his ship between the treacherous fangs of coral. With uplifted faces the priests upon the stern gallery chanted thanks to God for their deliverance from the pirates.

*

Baffled, realizing it hopeless to pursue the plate ship through the narrow channel with the convoy just beyond, the buccaneer captain—the infamous Dutchman, "Wooden Leg"—luffed his vessel sharply, cursed the Dons and to ease his mind and express his feelings fired a parting shot from his long bow gun.

Perhaps it was mere chance; possibly it was an exceptionally good shot. But, whether guided by fate or the gunner's aim, the screeching round shot mowed down the knot of friars, tore through the superstructure of the stern and shattered the Spanish ship's rudder post.

*

instantly she yawed. Before an order could be given she struck the reef with a terrific crash. Her masts went by the board. Struggling to free themselves from the wreckage of spars and rigging, insane with terror, passengers and crew fought madly to gain the one undamaged boat. Few ever reached shore. Sharks accounted for many. Others were dragged down by their armor or their weapons, and many were unable to swim. It was a terrible catastrophe and could not have been worse had the Santisima Concepcion fallen a prize to the Dutch buccaneer. And it would have been far better for Captain Ferara had he fallen in battle. Driven insane by the tragedy, he was taken in chains to Spain; but despite his mental state be was tried, convicted and beheaded!

Three centuries have passed since the loss of the treasure-laden Santisima Concepcion. But beneath the waters of the boca the galleon's timbers, her gaunt ribs, the broken stumps of her masts may still be seen. And somewhere, deep, in the old coral-covered bulk, is all that great treasure, all the gold, silver and precious stones that escaped the buccaneers only to sink to the bottom of the sea.

*

Another treasure ship whose location is known, and which was lost under similar conditions, was the Todos Santos, which fell a victim to that romantically inclined, picturesque, quixotic and deeply religious buccaneer-cavalier, the Sieur Raveneau de Lussan. Cruising off the Ecuadorean coast in the hope of picking up a prize, De Lussan sighted a Spanish ship close inshore. The Dons knew that the buccaneers were about and were taking as few chances as possible by hugging the coast, so that, if necessary, they could dodge into some port. But the Sieur de Lussan knew the coast as well as the Dons did. He knew there was no convenient harbor the Spaniard could reach without proceeding on his northward course, and that the nearest refuge to the south was so far off that the ship could not make it before his own vessel could overhaul her.

So, instead of shifting his course in pursuit of the fat-bellied galleon, De Lussan continued on his way and broke out the Spanish colors. But little by little he edged inshore, and, as his ship could sail two knots to the galleon's one, he soon forged ahead and, as he planned to do, gained a position to intercept the other vessel if she continued on her course. De Lussan flattered himself that the Spaniard was very neatly trapped.

But De Lussan was ignorant of the fact that the Todos Santos was in command of a seaman as clever and wily as himself—a renegade Englishman, one Thomas Gage, an ex-pirate, who was as familiar with the buccaneers' tricks as any hairy-chested old tar who ever sailed out of Bristol. De Lussan might hoodwink the Dons by hoisting a Spanish flag and nonchalantly sailing on his course; but he could not fool Gage, who had read Sieur Raveneau's intentions the instant he saw the vessel edging toward the land. He realized that he could not hope to run away, nor could he pass the pirate craft without a battle, in which he was certain to be the loser.

*

But he still had an ace up his sleeve, as one might say; an ace of which De Lussan was ignorant; for, although De Lussan knew the coast, he did not know there was deep water between the mainland and an island which, from the sea, appeared like a portion of the shoreline itself.

Having waited for the approaching galleon to appear from behind an outjutting cape, Sieur Raveneau became troubled and suspicious when she failed to materialize. Perhaps, he thought, the Dons had recognized his ship and had turned about while he had been lying in wait, hidden from them by the point of land. The more he thought of it the more certain he became that this had occurred. At last, fearing he would be too late to overtake the retreating galleon, he crowded on sail and went dashing southward.

But as his ship weathered the supposed cape he stared astounded, almost unable to believe his eyes. The other ship had vanished completely. To the pious and superstitious Frenchman it savored of a miracle or the supernatural. But being a practical chap, he sent men aloft, and presently a shout from one lookout drew all eyes astern. Above the guano-coated rocks of the islet loomed the topsails of the galleon, appearing as though she was sailing over dry land.

*

There was a pretty how-do-you-do. While the Frenchman had been looking for the Dons they had slipped by, and now were miles farther on their course and that much nearer safety. De Lussan saw the channel, but he dared not risk his ship in waters he knew nothing about.

But he was not one to give up without a struggle. There was one other chance remaining. He might be able to cripple her by shooting across the narrow island, and then sail around, come alongside and have things all his own way. So, ordering his gunners to aim high and shoot away the galleon's rigging, he fired a broadside at the rapidly retreating ship. But the old-fashioned, smooth-bore guns were far from accurate. The round shot, instead of slashing through sails and rigging, crashed into the galleon's hull and riddled her between wind and water.

Ignorant of what damage he had done, De Lussan squared away and bore around the island again. Then he rubbed his eyes in bewilderment. No dripping, crippled ship awaited him. Once more the Todos Santos had vanished! But this time there was nothing mysterious about her disappearance; her masts, with rent sails and yards askew, rising like crosses from the water, told plainly of her tragic fate.

*

Instantly Raveneau became transformed from a buccaneer to a life saver. Scores of men were struggling in the water, others hung to masts, spars and rigging and floating wreckage.

When the pirates' boats had saved the last man Sieur Raveneau fell to his knees and thanked God there had been no greater loss of life and requested the Spanish chaplain, who had been saved, to offer prayers for the repose of the souls of those who had died—for Sieur Raveneau de Lussan was, as I have said, a religious, pious and gentlemanly pirate.

Inwardly, however, be must have felt anything but prayerful when he learned that the Todos Santos had been laden with 200 tons of silver bars, besides quantities of gold ingots—all of which still lie at the bottom of the passage that became her grave.

Another Spanish ship with an even greater treasure lies not far from the ill-fated Todos Santos. During one of the temporary lulls in hostilities between England and Spain this treasure ship went down near Guayaquil, Ecuador.

At that time matters were topsy-turvy in England and King Charles was struggling to regain the throne. So the Spaniards, perhaps fearing the spread of the Commonwealth and of Protestantism as much as we today fear the spread of Sovietism, decided to forget old scores and lend a helping hand to England's royalty. Money talked as loudly in those days as at the present. So Peru, which was Spain's richest colonial possession, was ordered to make King Charles the princely present of some $13,000,000 to help his cause along.

History fails to mention the name of the ship selected to carry this vast treasure from Lima to Panama. But she never reached the Isthmus. She struck on the rocks off the Ecuador coast, and went to the bottom.

The wreck with its thirteen million is still there. It is neither far from shore nor in deep water, for after every heavy sea or storm pieces of eight and ten gold pesos and doubloons are washed up on the beach, where, first and last, several hundred have been picked up. But what are a few hundred, compared to the millions remaining, ready to be had for the taking?

*

And if one does not care to turn salvager, or hasn't the capital that is needed to charter a vessel, purchase equipment and employ divers, there is Plate Island, only a few miles from the sunken galleon of Chanduy.

Here, in the snug little harbor of the island, Sir Francis Drake anchored his ship after having sacked the Spanish towns and Spanish ships along the South American coast, his raid culminating in the taking of the treasure ship Cacafuego. Finding his Golden Hind was so overladen with precious metal that she could not put to sea with safety, Sir Francis tossed overboard more than forty-five tons of silver coins and silver plate.

From time to time sailors whose ships have anchored in the harbor have passed the time fishing for Drake's jettisoned treasure by means of tallowed sounding leads. Altogether, a couple of thousand pieces of eight have been recovered. But the greater part of the forty-five tons of silver still lies there, in about ten fathoms of water, on a hard bottom, awaiting anyone who wants it badly enough to go and get it. To be sure, forty-five tons of silver is not a great fortune at the present market value of silver bullion. But even $350,000 is not to be sneezed at, and Drake's silver would be worth far more than its value as bullion.

But perhaps the best of all is much nearer home—between the Bahamas and Santo Domingo, where, on the Silver Shoals, sixteen treasure-laden galleons went down. Moreover, there is no guesswork about these sunken millions. There they lie, and that they can be salvaged is proved by the fact that one of the wrecks was salvaged—to the value of some $2,000,000 worth of gold, silver and precious stones.

*

This was accomplished in 1656, when Capt. William Phipps, who had formed a salvaging syndicate with the King of England as a partner, recovered the $2,000,000, and in return for having done so well and nobly for himself and the crown he was knighted and made Governor of Massachusetts.

Considering that Phipps depended entirely upon native Indian and Negro divers, who could remain but a few minutes under water, and he possessed no salvaging equipment, he certainly did amazingly well. And just as certainly he salvaged only a portion of the treasure in the sunken galleon. In fact, he missed fully as much as he recovered, if the records of the vessel's cargo are at all accurate. At any rate, a sizable fortune is still resting on the bottom where Phipps did his treasure fishing, and with modern methods and equipment it should be fairly easy to get it.

Moreover, it must be remembered that sixteen treasure-laden galleons went down on the Silver Shoals, and that Phipps found and salvaged only one of these. So there must be fifteen left.

*

Even closer to our own shores there are plenty of sunken treasure ships to keep salvagers busy for years to come. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Ward liner Merida, which was sunk in a collision off the Virginia Capes. The Merida is popularly credited with having carried a fortune in gold, as well as the crown jewels of Maximilian. But it is questionable if she will pay expenses when, if ever, she is salvaged, for, according to the records of the Ward Line, the Merida actually carried less than half a million, including valuables and the jewels of passengers. Finally, for those treasure hunters who do not care to go far afield, there is a sunken treasure ship actually within the limits of New York city. Strange as it may seem, she lies in shoal water in prosaic East river close to Randall's Island, and within one hundred yards of the shore.

*

For the story of this local treasure wreck we must hark back to the days of the Revolution, when the Hussar, a British frigate, left New York for Newport, carrying gold with which to pay off the British army and navy engaged in fighting the Continental forces under George Washington. But the Hussar never went far. For while passing up East river and threading the dangerous waters of Hell Gate she struck a rock near Randall's Island and went down.

As far as is known, no one ever has recovered a single penny of her precious cargo, yet up to I850 her masts—or rather, their stumps —were buoyed as menaces to navigation.

To be sure, various attempts have been made to salvage the Hussar. The first was in 1815; but the equipment employed consisted of oyster-tongs, iron grapples and a crude sort of diving bell. Only guns, an anchor, a bell and other fittings were secured.

*

Just how much treasure is contained in the wreck of the Hussar is rather uncertain. Rumor and tradition place it anywhere from $2,000,000 to $4,000,000; but a document in the British Admiralty Office, which gives a detailed account of the frigate's loss, states that she carried but £20,000. On the other hand, one historian records the following:

"Reaching New York from England on September 13, 1780, came the frigate Hussar with a cargo of a large sum of money in copper, silver and gold coin. The British forces had not been paid for a long time and this money was to still their complaints. Another British vessel, the Mercury, had also left England with £350,000, and the conclusion is that this was transferred to the Hussar."

But even if the unfortunate frigate carried but £20,000, and a part of that in copper coins, it is a tempting bait with no danger of hurricanes to interrupt operations, no sharks or giant catfish to attack the divers. And withal so conveniently situated that the salvagers may sleep in their own homes, dine in the metropolitan restaurants and cafeterias, patronize their favorite speakeasies, spend their evenings on Broadway and devote their remaining hours to lifting money from a sunken British frigate.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.