Just mention the word “Terschelling” to any lover of stories involving sunken gold and silver, and the name Lutine will crop up next. She is one of the most famous and legendary treasure ships of all time.
La Lutine – “the Tormentor”, but the French name was retained – was built at Toulon in 1785 and fell into British hands eight years later during the Napoleonic wars. From the summer of 1799, the ship was stationed at Yarmouth. A commentary of her short life thereafter reads as follows:
British traders in Hamburg are at the brink of bankruptcy – a financial shot in the arm is urgently needed. A loan is agreed upon from London, which makes 1.5 million pound sterling available, assigning the armoured frigate Lutine to handle the transport. In early October 1799, 1,900 gold and silver ingots plus numerous barrels and chests of assorted bullion are loaded onto the vessel with, according to rumours, 147,000 pounds cash for British troops on the Dutch island of Texel, to be discharged upon the return leg. The British- German trader John Wienholt uses the opportunity to take aboard gold ingots worth 40,000 pounds; the Prince of Orange adds a contingent of diamonds. Heavily insured with Lloyd’s, the Lutine leaves port in the early morning of the 9th of October 1799.
END OF VOYAGE
At 10 pm that day, the voyage is over. Hammered by a raging storm, the Lutine hits the Vliegat sands between the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling and sinks four-and-a-half hours later. All persons aboard perish. AB John Rogers possibly survived the catastrophe. The British Admiralty endeavoured to keep the identity and whereabouts of this man secret, because he might have had knowledge of a navigational error, which would have affected the insurance pay-out.
Lloyd’s indemnify the loss without twitching an eye. Just twelve days after the wreck, another shipment is dispatched and arrives without a hitch. And now the hunt for the enormous treasure begins.
Since the Netherlands are, once again, in a state of war with Great Britain, the Dutch instantly claim possession of the trove. Some fishermen manage to retrieve a small number of gold ingots, but then the wreck disappears in the quicksand. Between 1800 and 1801, salvors recover 58 gold and 99 silver ingots, as well as 41,697 Spanish silver coins.
In 1814, the mayor of Terschelling starts a costly search mission. Official result: 17 coins. In 1838, British divers give the wreck a go-over. They report zero success, but observers suspect foul play. The divers were seen dancing triumphantly about on their tender.
A few years later, the islands seem to be getting well off, with new houses being built everywhere. Official explanation: none. In the summer of 1857, a favourable current partly exposes the wreck and underwater works start at the double. The divers retrieve several cannon, 44 gold and 64 silver ingots, plus 15,028 Spanish coins. Entire fleets of fishermen also make their appearance, but what they pull out is not on record.