Sun, Thursday, July 4, 2002
FOR 350 years the muddy estuary of
the River Tay at Dundee has hidden a blood-tainted treasure
trove worth billions of pounds. But’ today a salvage
team starts a £1 million operation to find a lost
fleet - and the fortune that went down with it in 1651.
Experts believe the fleet’s cargo
included around 200,000 gold coins, now worth up to £10,000
each, and other plunder, including gold and silver and religious
artefacts. The hoard was pillaged from Dundee after the
town was ransacked and its population slaughtered - and
the salvagers believe if it is all still there it could
be worth up to £2.5 BlLLION.
This incredible cargo, known as General
Monck’s Loot, went down when a fleet of 60 ships commandeered
by the general foundered on one of the Tay’s notorious
sandbanks in heavy seas. The fleet is believed to lie just
40ft below the waves somewhere between Tayport and Broughty
Local divers have tried for centuries
to find the wrecks. But the underwater currents run so strong
in the Tay estuary that even divers with modern equipment
have so far found it impossible. But now a team led by Internet
dive site Subsea Explorer believes it has the satellite,
sonar and submarine technology - backed up by historical
information and local knowledge - to succeed. Yesterday
they started a three-day reconnaissance mission.
If they salvage the ships and their
cargoes it will mark the end of a centuries-old story of
rape, murder, betrayal, butchery and poetic justice. The
story of how General Monck gained his loot is bloody and
Dundee was a royalist stronghold. Indeed,
Charles II wrote to town clerk Alexander Wedderburn from
exile in Brussels on July 6, 1649 to thank the clerk and
its inhabitants for their faithful services to the late
Charles I. The walled town was among the safest in Britain
and the city of Edinburgh lodged its gold reserves there.
The wealth of the viscount of Newburgh and the earls of
Tweeddale and Buccleuch were also kept in the town. Dundee's
monarchist stance enraged republican statesman Oliver Cromwell,
who had overcome royalist forces south of the border in
To take revenge, Monck, who was Cromwell's
commander-in-chief in Scotland. laid siege to Dundee in
August 1651 with his Puritan army of 7.000. He recruited
a short young man who, because of his size and appearance,
could join the games of the town's children, inside and
outside the walls, as a cover for spying. He reported that
Dundee's soldiers were usually drunk by lunchtime. So after
breaching the town's northern wall with three days of cannon
fire. Monck waited until he thought the guards were drunk
before he attacked.
To spur on his troops he promised them
they could pillage the town for 24 hours "without licence"
if they got in. The sozzled guards defended the breach for
just 15 minutes before the invaders flooded through. Dundee
governer Robert Lumsden and a band of men retreated to the
town's Old Steeple and made a stand for three days, despite
attempts to smoke them out. They surrendered when they were
promised "honourable terms" but Lumsden and his
men were promptly executed and his head was displayed in
the town on a spike.
Monck's army had by then rounded up
most of the town's surrendering defenders and massacred
them. They then set about pillaging the town, raping the
women and killing men, women and children for three days.
Up to 500 were slaughtered. Stories tell that Monck's conscience
only got the better of him when he saw an infant trying
to suckle on the slashed breast of its murdered mother.
At the end of the attack. Monck decided to take his loot
to Leith and commandeered more than 60 ships from Dundee's
harbour. The treasure-laden vessels set sail in early September
1651. But the closely-crowded fleet did not get far before
disaster struck. Monck's chaplain. Dr Gumble, wrote: "The
ships were cast away within sight of the town, the great
ship. which was one of the biggest, did not sink but he
watched in despair as his treasure was lost ~ with about
200 of his men drowned. And there it is thought to lie today,
sparking this summer's amazing treasure hunt.
The salvage was conceived when the
Dundee branch of the Maritime Volunteer Service met Internet
dive site boss Garry Allsopp, whose firm organises submarine
dives to the Titanic. Brian Collison of the MVS –
a charity set up to preserve maritime skills and educate
youngsters about Britain’s seagoing heritage –
said “We got talking to Gary about salvage and told
him how George Monck’s fleet went down. We said it
would be great if someone came to look for it.
The expedition team, which includes
St Andrews University history student Philippe Cousteau,
grandson of the late deep-sea explorer Jacques Cousteau,
hope their initial high-tech search will pinpoint the wrecks.
They then have just ten weeks to find the treasure before
the end of the summer when the shallow waters of the Tay
are whipped into a treacherous swell. Team leader Gary Allsopp
said: “It is one of the most exciting jobs we’ve
“The history of this wreck is fascinating, the technology
we’ll be using to find it is incredible and the amount
of treasure we think is down there is just mind-boggling.
“This would be the largest find in UK history and
everyone just loves the romance of a treasure hunt.
“But this trip is more than that. It is a search for
heritage and culture and it will be fantastic to be involved
in filling in the blanks of history with the artefacts we
“There are enormous problems in recovering these artefacts
but I am confident we can overcome them
“Although the wrecks have lain out of reach for 350
years. no one has ever used the technology that we have
to try to reach them.”
Dundee East MSP John McAllion says: “Monck’s
visit had a disastrous effect on the city’s economy
I hope this project brings more benefits than Monck did.”