Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

Divers discovered cannons from Britain’s “richest” shipwreck

Nikola Budanovic

The Queen Mother of British shipwrecks ─ the 17th-century merchant ship the President ─ which lays scattered on the seabed in Mount’s Bay at Loe Bar, just off Cornwall, was once again visited by an expedition of divers.

The ship belonging to the East India Company set sail from India in 1684, carrying a precious load of diamonds and pearls, but met with a horrible storm, causing it to be wrecked against the cliffs just before reaching its port in Cornwall.

After a valiant struggle, the boat was dragged to the bottom of the ocean, along with most of its 120-strong crew. It is claimed that only two men managed to escape a watery grave.

Loe Bar. Photo by David Gibbins

Loe Bar. Photo by David Gibbins

The two survivors later filed a written testimony about their ordeal in which they claim that the merchant ship was harassed by pirates on its way home.

The pamphlet written by the survivors tells a tale of a great sea battle taking place off the Malabar Coast of India, when six pirate vessels attempted to subdue His Majesty’s merchant ship, carrying unspeakable wealth.

Mark Milburn with an anchor on the wreck. Photo by David Gibbins

Mark Milburn with an anchor on the wreck. Photo by David Gibbins

Thanks to its 36 guns, the President managed to warn off the invading corsairs by penetrating one of the powder magazines aboard an enemy ship, causing it to explode.

Underwater archaeologists are waiting for a permit to excavate the area around the seven cannons they have discovered. Photo by David Gibbins

Underwater archaeologists are waiting for a permit to excavate the area around the seven cannons they have discovered. Photo by David Gibbins

But thirst and hunger started to plague the crew on its 11-week-long journey home.

The seamen were allegedly starved to such extent that they even ate the ship’s dog ─ a gruesome event, described by the authors of the testimony as “a delicate Banquet.”

The location of the wreck of the President marked on a map of Cornwall by Van Keulen of the late 17th-century. Photo by David Gibbins

The location of the wreck of the President marked on a map of Cornwall by Van Keulen of the late 17th-century. Photo by David Gibbins

In the account, they also mention that even after they barely reached the shore, two Cornish robbers tried to take advantage of the exhausted sailors, thinking they might be carrying something of value, but failed in their attempt.

They were saved by another gentleman who found himself nearby and hurried to their rescue.

Close up of one of the cannons. Photo by Mark Milburn

Close up of one of the cannons. Photo by Mark Milburn

The President sinking and taking with it the “very rich lading, modestly judged of no less than a hundred thousand pounds … with much treasure of pearl, and diamonds,” was considered such a great loss at the time that a Dutch cartographer tasked with mapping the Cornwall coast even marked the spot where the ship was believed to have sunk.

One of the cannons from the wreck. Photo by Mark Milburn

One of the cannons from the wreck. Photo by Mark Milburn

The value of its precious cargo is deemed to be worth around $10.7 million by today’s standards.

The cannons were found in water just 23 feet deep. Photo by Mark Milburn

The cannons were found in water just 23 feet deep. Photo by Mark Milburn

Centuries later, using advanced underwater technology, the remnants of President were finally discovered. The first expedition took place in 1998 when divers found 17 cannons and an anchor clearly belonging to the unfortunate merchant ship.

In 1999, the site was put under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, meaning no excavation is allowed to take place without a permit.

6 of the Biggest Treasure Troves Ever Discovered

In the most recent dive, which took place in June 2018, seven more cannons were discovered. The men behind this new historic find are Mark Milburn, a professional diver, and David Gibbins, novelist and archaeologist, both of whom represent Cornwall Maritime Archaeology.

The President sank with a “very rich lading, modestly judged of no less than a hundred thousand pounds.”

The President sank with a “very rich lading, modestly judged of no less than a hundred thousand pounds.”

In an interview for the Cornwall Live, Gibbins described the difficulties which come with the troubled waters around the Loe Bar:

“Loe Bar is usually a dangerous place to dive – the entry and exit are treacherous even with the smallest of waves. The recent period of calm weather has allowed us to get in for the first time in months.”

“Cannons are common finds on the wrecks of merchant ships from the Age of Sail, a time when most ships were armed.” said David Gibbins one of the underwater archaeologists. Photo by Mark Milburn

“Cannons are common finds on the wrecks of merchant ships from the Age of Sail, a time when most ships were armed.” said David Gibbins one of the underwater archaeologists. Photo by Mark Milburn

Milburn added that the shingle seabed makes it extremely difficult to find the President’s treasure, as billions of tons of shingle are constantly moving in what he called a “fluid environment.”

Since centuries have passed from the time of the event, it is most likely that all the diamonds and pearls are scattered around the Atlantic Ocean, never to be found again. Even if they were somehow still concentrated around the coast, it would be next to impossible to spot them, as diamonds tend to blend in with the water, while the pearls could easily pass as shingle.

Two cannons on the wreck. Photo by Mark Milburn

Two cannons on the wreck. Photo by Mark Milburn

Still, hope exists. The underwater archaeologists are waiting for a permit to excavate the area around the seven cannons they recently discovered, promising more interesting finds.

The cannons were found in water just 23 feet deep, which made Millburn and Gibbins suggest that this might be the start of the trail from which the ship’s remnants and artifacts start to unravel across the seabed.

Chances are they will bump into concretions of items, which form when an iron object corrodes in water, causing a reaction that absorbs sand together with other nearby items into a dense layer around the object.


Nikola Budanovic is a freelance journalist who has worked for various media outlets such as Vice, War History Online, The Vintage News, and Taste of Cinema. His main areas of interest are history, particularly military history, literature and film.