Skip to main content

Lost Treasure Ships Around the British Isles

This veteran writer has been on HubPages for a decade and has created over 100 original pieces.

Unclaimed treasure upon the sea floor

Great Britain has been a major sea power for much of its existence and the British Isles were also an important trading centre for thousands of years. Over the course of human history; countless tons of cargo have 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 many unfortunate ships that have been lost in the treacherous waters that surround this northwestern outpost of Europe.

Throughout the British Isles, local legends tell of unimaginable treasures scattered across the seabed. Unimaginable wealth is said to waiting for adventurous and intrepid treasure hunters who are willing to dive down to these elusive and unstable wrecks. In many settlements, along the east coast. There are stories of missing French gold that had been intended to finance the efforts of Scottish rebels in times of conflict.

There are also supposed to be thousands of precious Spanish coins in the rotting husks 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...

Lighthouses scatter the coastline of the British Isles in an effort to keep those at sea safe.

Lighthouses scatter the coastline of the British Isles in an effort to keep those at sea safe.

The HMS Victory.

Many will be aware of this ship's illustrious name, but before Admiral Nelson's famous flagship was built, there was another ship that had been christened as 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 HMS Victory, was returning back from the vitally important naval base at Gibraltar. The vessel had made good time, having reached the English Channel on the 3rd of October ahead of schedule.

But tragedy was to occur, as the Admiral's ships were overtaken and consumed 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 the Admiral's flagship, so it was meant to be both formidable and durable.

At that time, this HMS Victory was the largest ship that Great Britain possessed. It had been constructed in Portsmouth in 1737 and the Victory represented the peak of ship construction for the British Royal Navy. The Victory was a vessel that the British Admiralty had both great pride and faith in. It was not expected to fall to unfavourable weather.

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 a thousand sailors, plus a complement of Royal 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 flagship.

It is speculated that the Victory struck upon a ridge of rocks off the coast and eventually sunk into the depths of the English Channel. This is the current theory as evidence was pieced together from the testimonies of the inhabitants of the Island of Alderney.

At the time, the weather was too dangerous to allow any other boats to go out to either lend assistance or search for the unfortunate vessel. 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.

Scroll to Continue

We know that around a hundred bronze cannons were on the ship before it left Gibraltar and over £400,000 in gold coins had been taken onboard in Lisbon, Portugal. This gold was lost to the British treasury along with the personal effects and miscellaneous cargo that the ship had carried.

Dangerous waters

Violent storms were the undoing of many mighty ships throughout history.

Violent storms were the undoing of many mighty ships throughout history.

Suspected British Naval Wreck

Loss of unimaginable riches

Possibly the greatest hoard of sunken treasure still waiting to be found on the seabed around the British Isles is that of the 'Merchant Royal'.

The 'Merchant Royal' went down off the coast of Dartmouth, on the 23rd September 1641. The vessel was returning to the British Isles with a proverbial king's ransom in Spanish treasure. Her sinking in bad weather was another great loss to the exchequer of the land. The sinking was witnessed by another vessel in its company. In the Captain's report, it gave the location of the Merchant Royal's 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 cannons. In her cargo hold, it is believed that over £300,000 in silver, £100,000 in gold, and a collection of gemstones whose value would easily dwarf that of the missing gold and silver.

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 were also hundreds of heavy bars of gold and thick ingots of silver among the inventory not listed in official records.

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 elites of Europe society.

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

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

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 these older times, it would be expensive to track down all of the alleged treasure ships.

To fully investigate a shipwreck site and acquire the salvageable items is a legal minefield as some foreign governments may still have claims on these lost ships. The North Sea and the 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 their costs are often more than they will ever recoup from standard finds.

But some companies still actively hunt down the hidden riches as it is in our nature to gamble against incredibly slim odds.

The Age of Sail.

Sunken Ships litter the floor of the English Channel.

Sunken Ships litter the floor of the English Channel.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Andrew Stewart


CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on October 13, 2010:

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

Rob from Oviedo, FL on October 11, 2010:

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.

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on October 11, 2010:

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

Related Articles