Treasure hunters who recovered a £250 million bounty from a shipwreck off Cornwall may have left the most valuable haul behind.
An American salvage crew has landed 17 tons of loot from the wreck of the Merchant Royal, including 500,000 silver coins, using remote-controlled submarines.
But The Mail on Sunday has learned that the vessel's greatest treasure of gold coins and bullion, at least some of which was held in a locked chest on its lower deck, is still languishing on the ocean floor.
Salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration conceded there was more treasure to be recovered but proved coy about offering further details. It has so far declined to say precisely where the wreck was found, citing security reasons, but insists the location is in international waters.
|Bounty: American treasure hunters examine coins recovered from the wreck|
"The coins and bullion are likely to be worth much more than what they have already found," shipwreck researcher Clive Gardener said.
The chest's existence is revealed in a remarkable pamphlet entitled Sad News From The Seas, written within weeks of the sinking of the Merchant Royal, known as the Eldorado of the Seas, in September 1641.
Drawing on survivors' accounts of the disaster, it describes how seven seamen made a foolhardy attempt to retrieve the chest as the ship containing "300,000 pound in ready bullion and 100,000 pound in gold" sank.
As they tried to break it open, they drowned. Most of the crew were picked up by the Merchant Royal's sister ship, Dover Merchant.
The tract records that the Merchant Royal's captain, John Limbrey, was also saved but only after he stayed with his ship to the end, heroically refusing to "forsake" it.
On landing back in England, Captain Limbrey "repaired to his house and family with a handkerchief about his neck, and will not be seen or spoken with (as yet) by any, his grief is so great".
The author of the tract is unknown but his account was published in a pamphlet sold in the streets, probably for a few pence, to a public desperate for news about one of the great maritime disasters of the age.
Its survival is due to George Thomason, a London bookseller of the time who collected thousands of pamphlets, covering all the important military, political and social issues, and bound them together in 2,000 volumes.
|Old news: Text from the 17th century pamphlet, reproduced with its original spelling and the frequent use of 'f' in place of 's', presented as we might have reported it at the time. Click image to enlarge.|
Known as the Thomason Tracts, his collection is an invaluable guide to the turbulent period of the English Civil War and its violent aftermath.
After Thomason's death in 1666, there were various attempts to sell the collection but all failed, probably because of the high price being demanded.
For almost a century the pamphlets remained in private hands, ignored by historians.
But in 1762 they were sold to the Marquis of Bute, acting on behalf of the young George III, who presented them to the British Museum.
They are now kept at the British Library. The library's Curator of British Books 1501-1800, Giles Mandelbrote, said: "The Merchant Royal was a famous ship and its sinking would have caused great distress to ordinary people.
"This account was probably rushed out and may have been on sale within a few weeks of the disaster.
"The Thomason Tracts are a major source of knowledge for historians of the mid-17th Century and are written in a way designed to catch the public's eye."
© 2007 Daily Mail