Recovering The Treasure Diving

The cargo, however, was insured and being of such great value (the equivalent of several million pounds by today’s standards), Lloyd’s immediately dispatched Captain Henry Grant to take charge of a salvage operation. On arrival in Suez – and with only one Diver available to him, Grant was informed that the Carnatic had sunk in over 40 fathoms (over 70m!) and later admitted he almost turned back. Having come this far, however, he decided the least he could do – was take a look.

He arrived at the scene on 29th September and, chasing away some local Arab boats, was heartened to find the Carnatic in quite shallow water at the bottom of a Reef with some of her features still visible above the surface.

Working from the Egyptian vessel “Tor,” Grant’s one and only Diver was Stephen Saffrey from Whitstable (a name still common in that town) but, adverse weather conditions delayed his first descent until 15th October. Grant had been informed that, in readiness for an “orderly” evacuation, Captain Jones had ordered the specie moved to the Mail Room and this is where the search began. A body was recovered, mail bags were sent to the surface and pocket watches removed from the safe, but no gold.

Next to the “Mail” Room, was a “Post Office” but this necessitated the removal of a large internal bulkhead which separated the two. Working for long hours on his own, this task took Saffrey several days. Finally, he was through and, on the 24th recovered another 16 mail bags – just in time for them to be handed to a passing steamer and resume their own journey to Bombay.

The first box of bullion was then brought to the surface on the 26th and this was followed by a steady stream of heavy boxes until the task was completed on November 8th. In the meantime, local Bedouin free Divers had recovered over 700 sheets of fine-grade copper that was still destined for India’s Mint. Official reports record that the entire cargo of “specie” was in fact recovered and, having been found in a very secure and undisturbed part of the ship, no other outcome was ever likely.

That said, we all enjoy stories of “missing treasure” and the Carnatic has spawned one or two of its own such tales over the years. Today, however, the real treasure is found the vessel’s beautiful lines – still a magnificent sight, even after almost 130 years underwater.

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