Return to the Grosvener

by E.R. Cross



Oceanic shipwrecks and associated treasures have been a reason for diving for a very long time. Centuries ago early divers relied on their physical condition, ability and experience to dive to considerable depths in treasure recovery.

The transoceanic waterway that had the greatest number of lost ships and treasures was the turbulent route between Europe and the Spice Islands of Asia. The voyage from European countries and the Mediterranean down the West Coast of Africa, around the stormy Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean and to China and the Philippines, was an eight month voyage. At 16,000 miles it was also the longest. Dangerous reefs and tempestuous typhoons were the cause of many wrecks. Overloading also resulted in lost vessels. During some periods more than half of all vessels that set sail from European ports failed to return. Many of these wrecks are stacked up on the East Coast of Africa. One of the classic wrecks of this area, and of this era, is the East Indiaman frigate Grosvener.

In the January issue of SKIN DIVER there was a brief discussion of the Grosvener. Technifacts requested any additional information readers could provide. Don Cables responded: At present, most of my efforts are armchair research on treasure. When I retire that will all change. I have been scuba diving since 1958 and reading about sunken treasure since I was a teenager. Later he added, Additional information on the Grosvener is enclosed. Dons information will be of interest since it details some, probably most, of the cargo and treasure on board the vessel when it was lost. Also outlined are some of the many salvage methods attempted since she went down in 1782.

According to the data sent by Don, the Grosvener was an unwieldy square-rigged vessel of about 700 tons. She was launched in early 1770 and sailed on her first voyage to the Far East later the same year. Only 120 feet long, she must have had a great beam and a deep draft. In 1782 she made her final voyage, fully laden with merchandise and treasure. Also on board were about 150 passengers and crew and consignments by passengers of gold and gems amounting to what was believed to be one of the richest treasure shipments ever to leave India. During the voyage the vessel was attacked by a French squadron. The Grosvener put into Trincomalee in Ceylon to escape the attack.

The treasure laden vessel sailed from Ceylon in mid June. The steady, moderate monsoon winds soon gave way to storm conditions. She was off Africa by August 3. In the early dawn of August 4, the Grosvener grounded. Most of the passengers and crew gathered on the foredeck. In a matter of a few hours the vessel broke in two. The bow, pushed toward shore by huge waves, washed into shallow water, allowing personnel to land safely. The stern sank quickly in 30 feet of water, carrying the cargo and treasure to the sandy bottom.

No manifests exist describing her cargo. Only second hand accounts describe her treasure. Late 1780s accounts in newspapers and letters indicate she carried treasure of about $1.6 million. In addition, she reportedly had in her strong rooms 720 gold ingots worth $2.1 million and 19 chests of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and other gems valued at $2.6 million. She also carried coinage valued at $3.6 million. And, if the stories about the golden peacock throne of India are true, add another $10 million. Add another million or two for private treasures, such as gold and jewels, and the total value possibly exceeds $20 million.

There were no serious attempts at salvage until 1840, owing primarily to war conditions in the countries that owned the cargo. Certainly the value of the cargo was high enough to tempt salvage by several nations. To date there have been at least a dozen attempts to recover her cargo. Twice tunnels have been punched beneath the seabed to come up beneath the treasure. One attempt at tunneling failed when the expedition ran out of money. A second failed when the roof of the tunnel caved in, nearly drowning the work crew. In 1892, two salvage companies recovered gold coins and other treasure valued at perhaps $1 million. A small amount of treasure was also recovered in 1896. In 1907, one salvor tried to use helmet equipped divers. This attempt was halted within a couple of months. One of the divers died when his air hose was severed. Some cannons and cannon balls were recovered in the early 1900s. Also, recreational divers reportedly have brought up at least two cannons from the same vicinity. If even part of the reported treasure is true, this is a dream wreck.

SEARCH FOR DIVERS

A Technifacts reader is trying to locate two divers who served on board the USS Dobbin in late 1941. George Brooks wrote: Commander H. E. Haynes was in charge of all diving operations. Don Hall, chief metal smith, was in charge of the diving locker. Perhaps an old time diver might know their whereabouts. Send information to E. R. Cross, co Technifacts, SKIN DIVER Magazine, 6420 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515.

WRECK DIVING HAZARDS

A Technifacts reader who lives in Washington recently wrote, I would like to dive some of the Northwests nearly intact wrecks. What are the potential hazards of diving large, mostly intact shipwrecks?

In any diving there are two potential hazards. One is the diver himself. The second is the environmental or natural hazards. For this Technifacts we will assume the diver is well trained and qualified for the wreck diving being considered.

Potential hazards of the wreck and associated environment might include effect its depth might have on the diver. For example, nitrogen narcosis in open areas might not be serious. Inside a wreck, with confusing passageways, reduced visibility and other factors, even slight nitrogen narcosis might be hazardous or even fatal. Because wrecks attract large concentrations of fish, which attract fishermen and their nets, lines and steel leaders, these become potential hazards owing to possible entanglement.

In older but still intact wrecks, such as the wreck of the MV Diamond Knot in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, falling objects within the hull become natural hazards. Even outside the wreck there is a potential for falling masts and entanglement in moving wire rigging. Generally, these potential hazards are greatest during periods of strong currents and surge across the wreck. When arriving at the site, stop all activity and listen to the sounds of the wreck. Most wrecks are noisy places owing to things being moved or broken loose by the action of current and surge. Rapid silting caused by movements of the divers can also become a threat to safety. Good buoyancy control and moderation in movements will help reduce this potential hazard.

Divers having specific questions regarding wreck diving are invited to write to E. R. Cross, co Technifacts, SKIN DIVER Magazine, 6420 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515. An association with wrecks can be an exciting experience. Go wreck diving;carefully. You will be glad you did.

Sere-Ni-Wai joins the Aggressor Fleet: The luxury dive yacht, Sere-Ni-Wai (Fijian for Song of the Sea), is now an Aggressor approved vessel. She will follow Aggressor Fleets standard operating procedures and feature the amenities and high level of service provided on all Aggressor Fleet vessels.

The Sere-Ni-Wai has a 22 foot beam, is 101 feet long and cruises at 10 knots. Launched in January 1995, she comfortably accommodates 10 divers in five elegant cabins that feature individual climate control and ensuite bathrooms. Each room has a large double bed with a single bunk above it, with the exception being the middle deck honeymoon suite, which has one very large bed. There is a lounge and dining area. Meals are prepared in a kitchen below decks and brought up to the dining area. Delicious American and Fijian cuisine is served and special dietary requests can be accommodated.

The diving facilities are the finest available. Most diving is done directly from Sere but a skiff is available for diving remote sites.

With the addition of the Sere-Ni-Wai, Aggressor Fleet can offer divers even more coverage of Fijis beautiful waters. The Fiji Aggressor (due this summer) and Sere will offer a variety of routes.

To receive more information or to book a trip, call Aggressor Fleet, Limited, at (800) 348-2628, e-mail divboat@aol.com or 103261.1275@compuserve.com or visit the Web site at www. aggressor.com.