On October 25, 1859, the Royal Charter crashed into rocks off the coast of Wales during a horrendous hurricane. With over 450 lives lost, it remains one of the biggest maritime disasters in history. Charles Dickens himself visited the site and wrote about it in his short-story collection, The Uncommercial Traveller. The other day, divers shocked the world when they announced the discovery of treasure while searching the shipwreck. How much did they find? And is there more?
The Royal Charter Disaster
In late 1859, a steam clipper by the name of Royal Charter set sail from Melbourne, Australia to Liverpool, England in what should’ve been a sixty day journey. Historians estimate that it carried 371 passengers, 112 crew members, and other employees. As the ship rounded Anglesey, a force 12 hurricane struck the area.
Powerful wind slammed into the ship. Massive waves crested against its side. The crew attempted to anchor but the chains snapped. As the gusts drove the Royal Charter towards shore, the crew cut the masts and revved the steam engines. But it was to no avail. After crashing into rocks, gigantic waves, driven by one hundred mile winds, battered the Royal Charter into pieces. Twenty-one passengers and eighteen crew members, all men, survived. The rest, an estimated 459 people, perished in the destruction.
Charles Dickens & The Royal Charter
At the height of his fame, the author Charles Dickens visited the site and reported on the tragedy. His words, initially published in his magazine All the Year Round, helped memorialize the horrible disaster.
So tremendous had the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in which also several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced there. – Charles Dickens
Lost Treasure on the Royal Charter?
Recently, a team of divers led by Vincent Thurkettle announced the discovery of over two hundred artifacts as well as substantial amounts of gold dust, nuggets, and coins. It turns out that some of the passengers who sailed on the Royal Charter‘s last voyage were gold miners. At the time of the storm, they carried over 79,000 ounces of gold. Today, this treasure is estimated to be worth about $125 million dollars.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
The Royal Charter‘s story is a sad one. Ordinary people as well as miners who’d struck it rich were on the verge of returning home after a long, two-month voyage. But with just a few hours to go, a vicious, merciless storm ended most of their lives and forever changed those of the survivors. However, it wasn’t all for naught. The destruction of the clipper led to the first gail warning system, improved weather forecasting, and the development of other safety measures.
Today, the remains of the Royal Charter lay under ten to fifteen feet of water, a solemn reminder of nature’s fury. It is believed that about twenty percent of the ship’s gold remains with the wreck. If so, then close to twenty-five million dollars of treasure, buried under a thin layer of sand, still waits to be recovered.