DURING the past summer season efforts were, renewed to recover more treasure from the wreck of the old British frigate “Lutine.” This waterlogged hulk has been a fascinating speculation for a good many years, and the alluring part of the project lies in the fad that no one knows just how much specie and bullion the ship carried when lost. What is known, however, is that something like half a million dollars worth of gold and silver bars and coins have been reclaimed in the course of the past century. There is every reason for the belief that the frigate had many times this treasure on board when she sailed from England on thE 9th of October, 1799, and this belief has inspired the efforts made from time to time to bring to the surface the buried riches. In the last years of the eighteenth century, plodding Hamburg awoke one morning, so to speak, to find herself the principal commercial port of northern Europe, and this sudden prominence came when she was fnancially unprepared to meet the exigencies of trade. Her bankers were unable to provide the funds for the prompt honoring of bills of lading, and exchange involved a discount of even as much as thirty per cent. Business could not be pushed at this rate without a ruinous loss, and the merchants of London, with the assistance of British bankers determined to relieve the stress by shipping funds to the German port. At frst, it was intended to send the money in a merchant craft suitably convoyed by an armed ship; but news of this relief movement rapidly spread among the London traders and it was finally decided to dispatch the gold and silver in a man-of-war because of the amount involved. It was believed that in this way the menace of the French cruisers could best be avoided and the treasure more speedily and safely delivered in Hamburg. Accordingly, Adqiral Duncan, then commanding the British North Sea fleet, detailed the frigate “Lutine"-a ship captured from the French some years before-for this service. The “Lutine” was loaded with her precious cargo secretly in order that the enemy across the Channel should not know of her mission. This secretiveness has been principally responsible for a large measure of the uncertainty which has since existed in regard to the quantity of bullion and specie dispatched. On the 9th of October, 1799, the “Lutine” sailed from Yarmouth Roads and headed north for Hamburg in the teeth of a heavy wind. By the time the ship reached the North Sea the wind had grown into a gale blowing directly toward the Dutch coast. In the gloom of that fateful night and under the pressure of the wind and the treacherous sweep of the North Sea currents, the “Lutine” struck the Dutch coast near the entrance to the Zuyder Zee. It is quite probable that none of her officers knew of her danger. She hit the sands at full speed, and immediately was thrown over on her beam's end. At the time, she carried quite three hundred persons aboard, but so sudden was the disaster that but two of this total number survived.: • The morning after the “Lutine” struck, the ship had substantially disappeared from above water save for the wreckage which littered the beaches of the near-by islands of Terschelling and Vlieland. There was no one to tell how the ship happened to be out of her course nor anything as to the extent of her precious cargo. At that time, the Dutch government was an ally of France, and claimed the wreck as spoils of war so that it was quite impossible for the British to do anything toward salving the sunken property. Without going into the history of the matter, the specie aboard the frigate and most of the gold and silver bars had been insured at Lloyds' of London, and those underwriters promptly paid up. A year or two after the “Lutine” went ashore, the King of Holland gave official sanction to salvage operations upon the wreck. At that time, the hulk was not embedded in the sand and it was easy to reach it at low tide. The work was pursued by guarded fishermen using oyster tongs and other primitiVe implements. However, despite these handicaps, the government recovered treasure to the value of nearly $280,000. The sea did not intend to give up her riches readily, and toward the end of 1801 the wreck was completely buried by a bank of sand, which put an effectual stop to further salvage operations by means of the facilities then available. It was not until 1814 that efforts were renewed to recover the remaining treasure, but the undertaking was unsuccessful. In 1821, a company, known officiaIly .as The Decretal Salvors obtained a royal concession from Holland upon the understanding that fifty per cent of the value of whatever fhould be salved should be paid to the Dutch government. This enterprise was composed of Nether-landers, and is still in existence. In 1823, the British underwriters, stirred by the efforts of the Dutch company, appealed through diplomatic channels to the King of Holland. The latter, to show his friendly regard for the King of England, donated his interest in the wreck to King George IV., who, in turn, made over this gift to Lloyds' committee as a part indemnification for the loss, that Association had suffered in the wrecking of the “Lutine.” This point is ofc present concer.ll because all salvage operations, since 1823, by BritIsh subjects, have been authorized by Lloyds' of London and, to· that extent, backed by that Association. The Decretal Salvors still have their right in fifty per cent of the values recovered. In 1857, the swirling currents at the entrance to the Zuyder Zee swept the hulk clear of sand, and at once salvage operations were renewed: diving dress being employed for the first time in the undertaking. It was not until the following year, however, that any substantial results were obtained. By the middle of October, 1858, gold and silver bars and specie were brought to the surface amounting to a value of $140,-000. It did look as though the- buried riches were surely to be reclaimed, but the North Sea decided otherwise, and once more hid the hulk under a heavy blanket of sand. The Decretal Salvors stuck to the task from year to year with varying results, and by the end of 1860 they had to'their accumulated credit a total recovery of $220,000 worth of treasure. The bulk of this was found around the stern of the wreck and within. an area sheltered by the ship's rudder, which was still in position. The salvors remained passive until 1867, and between that tirie and 1886, the results were too meager to pay for the labor involved. In 1886, steam, suction, shell-dredgers were engaged in the work for the first time. It was believed that it would be possible in that way to remove the overlying sand which had increased in depth over the hulk. Work in this way was pursued for the next three years-yielding various coins to the combined value of $4,600. The shell dredgers were operated each season for the following four years, but none of the treasure was brought to the surface. The various other efforts made since 1893 and until the National Salvage Association took over the task during the present year have been without result. The present salvors have attacked the problem from a new point. Heretofore, all of the money and bullion reclaimed has been found lying outside of the contour of the stern of the wreck and on the side upon which the hulk rested. The National Salvage Association believe the bulk of the gold and silver to have been stowed amidships in the shot lockers adjacent to the main cable-roam-the cannon balls being piled on top of the treasure. It is hard to understand what foundation exists for this opinion. As the midship section in Fig. 2 shows, the cable-room and shot lockers occupy a large space freely open to the crew by reason of the exigencies of service, and it is difficult to justify the placing of such riches in an exposed place of this sort. On the other hand, the after magazine of those old frigates was a carefully guarded room, and either that compartment or one of the divisions lying in the same after section would have been the likeliest place to hold valuables that called for continual surveillance. The fact that all of the gold and silver bars and most of the coins so far recovered have been found buried in the sand about the stern bears out the belief that the treasure was housed in the magazine or nearby.
This article was originally published with the title "Pumping Gold Bullion from the Sea" in Scientific American 105, 22, 473 (November 1911)