Friday, May 29, 2015

5/29/15 Report - Shipwreck Salvage in the Colonial Period. Bells, Barrels and Bullion.

Written by the TreasureGuide for the exclusive use of

Treasure hunting didn't start with the invention of the metal detector.  There was a treasure hunting boom that started in the 17th Century.  The man who started that boom was William Phips, a New Englander born in Maine.  The event was the salvage of the Concepcion and 26 tons of silver in 1687.

Of course salvage began much earlier than that.  It is an activity that is nearly as old as man. It is natural to retrieve anything of value lost, whether on land or in the water.  The excitement of treasure hunting must go back to the beginning of time.  No less than Shakespeare wrote about gold, anchors, and jewels spread upon the ocean floor.  I don't doubt that it is the expression of a basic survival instinct.

Before magnetometers and air tanks men found a way to do it.  Pearl divers who could free dive to great depths played a large roll, but men soon found ways to supply air to the deep.

One of the biggest difficulties in the colonial period was simply finding a wreck.  Unless time hadn't elapsed and you knew where a wreck was or you could see the masts protruding, one of the primary methods of locating a wreck was by fishing.

Above is shown two ships dragging a buoyed line to snare the wreckage.  Then free divers went down to investigate.

For deeper wrecks and longer time on the bottom, other methods were used.  Here is a diagram of an early diving bell.

And for air supplied from the surface, below is shown an early Brownie of sorts.

To retrieve something from the bottom, you don't always have to be there.  There were other techniques such as these tongs.

In 1565 an attempt was made to lift the wreck of the Mary Rose with pontoons and wires.  At slack tide wires secured to twp ships acting as pontoons were slipped under the wreck at slack tide with the hope of lifting the wreck with the change of tide so that the wreck could be towed to more shallow water.  That effort failed.

Below is a picture of that.

My intent today is to point out that shipwreck salvage has been going in for a long time.  Hundreds of years ago there were investors and salvage contracts.  Salvage is natural.  You might say that it is close to a basic instinct.  It is an extension of the will to survive.  It inspires thought and problem solving.  It excites creativity.  It leads to invention and solutions, much like the space program.

Another thing I wanted to accomplish by presenting this is to show that there are always alternative methods.  Not all of those will succeed, but some will.  When you see some of the methods men used hundreds of years ago, you might think of other ways of doing things today.  If metal detectors were banned, treasure hunting wouldn't stop.  Other approaches would emerge.

ABT  Always be thinking.

I hope you found this interesting and perhaps a little inspiring.

This material, along with the pictures and diagrams, came from the article, Balls, Barells and Bullion: Diving and Salvage in the Atlantic World 1500 to 1800 by John Ratciffe. published in the Nautical Research Journal, no. 26, vol. 1, Spring 2011.

Here is the link.

Happy hunting,