A review of our November talk - by Beryl Plent

On November 9th 2009 we learnt from Don Allerston of the vast number of shipwrecks scattered on ocean beds around the world, still waiting to be found. Of the 15,600 Spanish ships which travelled to South America, over a period of 300 years, more than 10,000 were sunk! Gold neck chains were used by the natives as money - to barter for goods - and Christopher Columbus sent home at least one ship a week with gold and jewels aboard. Jesuit priests made written records of the cargoes, as the Spanish king and the Catholic church each received 20% of the treasure. This led to melted-down nuggets of gold being hidden in the barrels of tar kept on deck, so passing unnoticed. It was after Cortez got greedy and killed the king that gold started to be made into bars.

It was intriguing to handle a 'piece of eight', knowing it was literally one eighth of a silver coin. Sailors would cut them up, despite the risk of violent punishment if they were caught carrying scissors or clippers. Sir Francis Drake was one Englishman who profited from his exploits at sea, owning a London house as well as a 200 square mile estate on the coast.

In 1859 the steam ship 'Royal Charter' foundered off Anglesey, with the loss of 450 passengers and the sovereigns aboard. Lord Kitchener lost his life when the cruiser 'Hampshire', en route for Russia, was torpedoed on 5th June 1916. This is one of many ships which serve as memorial wrecks - the most famous being the liner 'Titanic'. The bell salvaged from the frigate 'Lutine' is rung at Lloyds of London every time a ship is sunk. Jacques Cousteau's invention and use of the aqualung, in the 1950s, made underwater exploration easier and today divers are often sponsored by TV or film companies. There is an archaeological survey planned for an early 'HMS Victory', which sank in the English Channel. Roland Morris, now the owner of a large restaurant 'The Admiral Benbow' in Penzance, has tales to tell of his finding of 'The Association', wrecked in the Scilly Isles.

The delights of metal detecting were discussed, with a reminder that portable antiquities (small finds) would only belong to the finder if worth under £100. Valuable articles are now Government property, under the title 'Treasure Trove'.

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