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tormentress

HMS Lutine (1779)

The Lutine was a Magicienne class frigate of the French Navy, launched in 1779, captured by the Royal Navy, recommissioned as HMS Lutine, and lost in 1799. The Lutine Bell from the ship is preserved at Lloyd's of London.

Lutine was originally a French naval ship, launched at Toulon in 1779, with 32 guns. Her name is the feminine form of Lutin (translation: "the tease" or "tormentress" or more literally "imp"). This was ten years before the French Revolution; on 18 December 1793, she became one of sixteen ships handed over to a British fleet under Vice Admiral Lord Hood at Toulon by French royalists. In 1795, she was rebuilt as a (fifth-rate) frigate with 38 guns. She served thereafter in the North Sea, blockading Amsterdam. She sank on 9 October 1799 carrying a large cargo of gold, the majority of which remains unsalvaged.

Acquisition of the Lutine

On 27 September 1793, the authorities in Toulon surrendered the city, naval dockyards, arsenal, and French Mediterranean fleet to a British fleet commanded by Lord Hood. The French vessels included: seventeen ships of the line (one 120, one 80 and fifteen 74s), five frigates and eleven corvettes. In various stages of refitting in the New Basin were four ships of the line (one 120, one 80, and two 74s) and a frigate. Mainly in the Old Basin and, for the most part, awaiting middling or large repair, were eight ships of the line (one 80 and seven 74s), five frigates and two corvettes. The Lutine was one of the ships from the Old Basin.

During the siege of Toulon, the Lutine was converted to a bomb vessel, firing mortars at the besieging French artillery batteries (commanded by Napoleon Buonaparte). With the fall of Toulon on 19 December, the Lutine was commissioned into the Royal Navy.

Service in Northern Europe

The loss of the Lutine occurred during the Second Coalition of the French Revolutionary Wars, in which an Anglo-Russian army landed in the Batavian Republic (now the Netherlands), which had been occupied by the French since 1795. (The French had captured the Dutch fleet the previous year in a cavalry charge over the frozen polders.) Admiral Duncan had heavily defeated the Dutch fleet in 1797 at the Battle of Camperdown and the remainder of the Dutch fleet was captured on 30 August 1799 by the Duke of York.

During this period the Lutine served as an escort, guiding transports in and out of the shoal waters around North Holland.

In October 1799 she was employed in carrying about £1,200,000 (equivalent to £81,176,969 in 2007 ) in bullion and coin from Yarmouth to Cuxhaven in order to provide Hamburg banks with funds in order to prevent a stock market crash and possibly also, for paying troops in North Holland. In the evening of 9 October 1799, during a heavy north-westerly gale, the ship under Captain Lancelot Skynner, having made unexpected leeway, was drawn by the tidal stream flowing into the Waddenzee, onto a sandbank off the island of Terschelling, near Texel. There, she became a total loss. All but one of her 240-odd passengers and crew perished in the breaking seas.

The loss was reported by Captain Portlock commander of the British squadron at Vlieland, who wrote to the Admiralty in London on 10 October:

Sir, It is with extreme pain that I have to state to you the melancholy fate of H.M.S. Lutine, which ship ran on to the outer bank of the Fly [an anglicisation of 'Vlie'] Island passage on the night of the 9th inst. in a heavy gale of wind from the NNW, and I am much afraid the crew with the exception of one man, who was saved on a part of the wreck, have perished. This man, when taken up, was almost exhausted. He is at present tolerably recovered, and relates that the Lutine left Yarmouth Roads on the morning of the 9th inst. bound for the Texel, and that she had on board a considerable quantity of money.

The wind blowing strong from the NNW, and the lee tide coming on, rendered it impossible with Schowts [probably schuits, local fishing vessels] or other boats to go out to aid her until daylight in the morning, and at that time nothing was to be seen but parts of the wreck.

I shall use every endeavour to save what I can from the wreck, but from the situation she is lying in, I am afraid little will be recovered
( Three officers, including Captain Skynner, were apparently buried in the Vlieland churchyard, and around two hundred others were buried in a mass grave near the Brandaris lighthouse in Terschelling. No memorials mark these graves. A lake outside Terschelling is known today as the "Doodemanskisten" (dead men's coffins), allegedly because it is also close to the place from which the wood for the coffins originated; an alternative explanation is that the name is a corruption of "d'Earmeskisten", meaning a pauper's grave.

Captain Lancelot Skynner came from Stamford on the Hill Nr Stamford where his father was the curate for many years. A plaques on the rectory and also in the church commemorates this and Captain Skynner)

Another Captain Lancelot Skynner a cousin who commanded the HMS Bideford also lost his life in a action in the Bay of Biscay.

Yet another Lancelot Skynner also died at sea. He was the RN Navigation Officer on the HMS Hampshire, a WW1 Cruiser which hit a mine off the north of Scotland while taking Kitchener to Russia in 1918. He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Navel Memorial and the HMS Hampshire Memorial at Winchester Cathedral.

The failure of the gold to arrive precipitated the very crisis that it had been designed to prevent.

The site of the wreck

The site of the wreck, the Vlie, was notorious for its strong currents and the danger of storms forcing ships onto the shore. The area is composed of sandbanks and shoals, which the currents continuously shift, with channels through them: in 1666, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Admiral Holmes had managed to penetrate these shoals and start Holmes's Bonfire, surprising the Dutch who had considered the shoals impassable. The depth of water also constantly changes, and this has caused much of the difficulty in salvage attempts.

The Lutine was wrecked in a shallow channel called the IJzergat, which has now completely disappeared, between the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. Immediately after the Lutine sank, the wreck began silting up, forcing an end to salvage attempts by 1804. By chance, it was discovered in 1857 that the wreck was again uncovered, but covered again in 1859. The wreck was probably partially uncovered between 1915 and 1916, although no salvage was attempted because of the war.

The gold

The gold was insured by Lloyd's of London, which paid the claim in full. The underwriters therefore owned the gold under rights of abandonment and later authorised attempts to salvage it. However, because of the state of war, the Dutch also laid claim to it as booty.

Captain Portlock was instructed by the Admiralty on October 29 to try to recover the cargo for the benefit of the persons to whom it belongs ; Lloyd's also sent agents to look over the wreck. The Committee for the Public Properties of Holland instructed the local Receivers of Wrecks to report on the wreck, and F.P.Robbé, the Receiver on Terschelling, was authorised in December to begin salvage operations. All three parties had drawn attention to the difficulty of salvage due to the unfavourable position of the wreck and lateness of the year. At this point, the wreck was lying in approximately of water.

In 1821, Robbé's successor as Receiver at Terschelling, Pierre Eschauzier successfully petitioned King William I and by royal decree received the sole right to attempt the further salvage of the cargo of the English frigate, the Lutine, which foundered between Terrschelling and Vlieland in the year 1799, proceeding from London and bound for Hamburg, and having a very considerable capital on board, consisting of gold and silver coins, believed to amount in all to 20 million Dutch guilders. In return, the state would receive half of all recoveries. Eschauzier and his heirs therefore became the owners of the wreck by royal decree and thus are known as the 'Decretal Salvors'.

Eschauzier's attempts spurred Lloyd's to approach the British government to defend their rights to the wreck. In 1823, King William revised by subsequent decree the original decree: everything which had been reserved to the state from the cargo of the above-mentioned frigate was ceded to the King of Great Britain as a token of our friendly sentiments towards the Kingdom of Great Britain, and by no means out of a conviction of England's right to any part of the aforementioned cargo. This share was subsequently ceded back to Lloyd's.

The gold was apparently stored in flimsy casks bound with weak iron hoops and the silver in casks with wooden hoops. Within a year of the wreck, these casks had largely disintegrated, and the sea had started to scatter and cover the wreck.

Lloyd's records were destroyed by fire in 1838, and the actual amount of the gold lost is now unknown. In 1858 Lloyd's estimated the total value at £1,200,000, made up of both silver and gold. Despite extended operations, over £1,000,000 remains unsalved. An uncorroborated newspaper report in 1869 referred to the Dutch crown jewels being on board.

Initial salvage attempts

In August 1800 Robbé recovered a cask of seven gold bars, weighing and a small chest containing 4,606 Spanish piastres. Over September 4-5, two small casks were recovered, one with its bottom stoved in, yielding twelve gold bars. There were also other, more minor, recoveries, making this year the most successful of all the salvage attempts; however, the expenses of the salvage were still greater than the recoveries by 3,241 guilders.

In 1801, although recoveries were made, conditions were unfavourable and the wreck was already silted up. By 1804 Robbé reported: that the part of the wreck in which one is accustomed to find the precious metals has now been covered by a large piece of the side of the ship (which had previously been found hanging more or less at an angle), thus impeding the salvage work, which was otherwise possible. Salvage attempts appear to have been given up at this point.

In 1814, Pierre Eschauzier was allocated 300 guilders for salvage by the Dutch King and recovered 8 Louis d'or and 7 Spanish piastres fished out of the wreck of the Lutine.

In 1821, Eschauzier put together a syndicate with the intention of using a diving bell manned by amphibicque Englishmen. However, Mr. Rennie, the engineer died that year; in 1822, the bell arrived at the end of June, but operations were frustrated by bad weather and silting-up of the wreck; at this stage the wreck was reckoned to be under the sand. Although salvage attempts continued until 1829, little was gained and the bell was sold on to the Dutch navy. In 1835, the sandbank covering the Lutine shrunk and moved southwards, with the depth of water being and further desultory attempts at salvage were made. Further attempts to raise capital were largely unsuccessful.

In 1857, it was discovered by chance that [...] a channel had formed straight across the Goudplaat sandbank, leading over the wreck, so that the latter was not merely clear of sand but had also sunk further below the surface with the channel [...] the bows and stern, together with the decks and sides, had come completely away, leaving only the keel with the keelson above it and some ribs attached to this [...]. Recovery work immediately recommenced, now using helmeted divers (helmduikers) and bell divers (klokduikers), the latter using a bell called the Hollandsche Duiker ('Dutch diver'). However, a large number of unauthorised salvors also displayed an interest, which led to the Dutch government to station a gunboat in the area. Over the course of the season approximately 20,000 guilders-worth of specie was recovered.

The 1858 season was hampered by poor weather but yielded 32 gold bars and 66 silver bars. In 1859 it became apparent that the treasure had been stored towards the stern of the ship, and that the stern was lying on its side, with the starbord side uppermost and the port side sunk into the sand. This area, however, only gave up 4 gold bars, 1 silver bar, and over 3,500 piastres. By 1860, the depth of the wreck had reached and the quantity of salvage was declining. Nonetheless, over the four years salvage worth half a million guilders had been recovered: 41 gold bars, 64 silver bars, and 15,350 various coins, and the syndicate paid a 136% return; attempts were finally ended in 1863 as the wreck again silted up.

In 1867, an inventor, Willem Hendrik ter Meulen, proposed using a 'zandboor' ('sand drill'), a device which forced water into the sandy sea bed in order to clear a way for a helmet diver and signed a three-year contract, subsequently extended for another three years and then a further twenty years. The plan was that when the depth of water reached , the machine would be used to excavate the same depth of sand down onto the wreck. Ter Meulen bought a steel-hulled, paddlewheel-driven 50 h.p. steam tug, the Antagonist. The engine was modified such that it could be disconnected from the paddlewheels and used to drive the centrifual 'whirlpool' pump. The pump was capable of pumping water at a rate of a minute, but tests showed that was sufficient, and the 'zandboor' took only a couple of minutes to penetrate through to the wreck. It was also found that the sand did not collapse once the diver descended through the drilled hole into the cavity excavated by the machine.

Unfortunately, the wreck remained heavily silted up, with the depth of water varying between a high of (in 1873) to a low of (in 1868 and again in 1884). However, ter Meulen was responsible for re-establishing the landmarks used for taking transits of the wreck site and for establishing its position: 53° 21' 33" 974 North, 5° 04' 41" 804 East.

Other salvage

In 1886 a cannon was salvaged and presented by Lloyd's to Queen Victoria: it is now on display at Windsor Castle. Another was offered to the City of London Corporation and is on display at the Guildhall, London. A final cannon was passed to the Lloyd's sports club in Essex. More are on display in Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, and at least four are in Terschelling.

The two bower anchors, carried at the ship's bow, each weighing were recovered and put on display in Amsterdam in 1913. Consideration was given by Lloyd's to setting the anchors up as a monument behind the Royal Exchange in place of a statue to Sir Robert Peel, but this was not carried out and only the wooden stocks, marked Lutine were forwarded to Lloyd's.

The Lloyd's Act, 1871

A brief history of the loss and salvage attempts is given in the preamble to the Lloyd's Act, 1871:

And whereas in or about the year 1799 a vessel of war of the Royal Navy, named the Lutine, was wrecked on the coast of Holland with a considerable amount of specie on board, insured by underwriters at Lloyd's, being members of the Society, and others, and Holland being then at war with this country the vessel and cargo were captured, and some years afterwards the King of the Netherlands authorized certain undertakers to attempt the further salvage of the cargo on the conditions (among others) that they should pay all expenses, and that one half of all that should be recovered should belong to them, and that the other half should go to the Government of the Netherlands, and subsequently the King of the Netherlands ceded to King George the Fourth on behalf of the Society of Lloyd's, the share in the cargo which had been so reserved to the Government of the Netherlands:

And whereas from time to time operations of salving from the wreck of the Lutine have been carried on, and a portion of the sum recovered, amounting to about twenty-five thousand pounds, is by virtue of the cession aforesaid in the custody or under the control of the Committee for managing the affairs of Lloyd's: [...]

And whereas it is expedient that the operations of salving from the wreck of the Lutine be continued, and that provision be made for the application in that behalf, as far as may be requisite, of money that may hereafter be received from those operations, and for the application to public or other purposes of the aforesaid sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, and of the unclaimed residue of money to be hereafter received as aforesaid [...]

The ownership of the remaining, unsalved, gold is vested in half shares between the 'decretal salvors' and the Society of Lloyd's, Lloyd's ownership being governed under the terms of the Lloyd's Act, 1871, s.35:

Salvage operations as to wreck of Lutine

The Society may from time to time do or join in doing all such lawful things as they think expedient with a view to further salving from the wreck of the Lutine, and hold, receive, and apply for that purpose so much of the money to be received by means of salving therefrom as they from time to time think fit, and the nett money produced thereby, and the said sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, shall be applied for purposes connected with shipping or marine insurance, according to a scheme to be prepared by the Society, and confirmed by Order of Her Majesty in Council, on the recommendation of the Board of Trade, after or subject to such public notice to claimants of any part of the money aforesaid to come in, and such investigation of claims, and any such barring of claims not made or not proved, and such reservation of rights (if any), as the Board of Trade think fit.

The Lutine Bell

The ship's bell (engraved "ST. JEAN - 1779") was recovered on 17 July 1858. The bell was found entangled in the chains originally running from the ship's wheel to the rudder, and was originally left in this state before being separated and re-hung from the rostrum of the Underwriting Room at Lloyd's. It weighs and is in diameter. It remains a mystery why the name on the bell does not correspond with that of the ship. The bell was traditionally struck when news of an overdue ship arrived - once for the loss of a ship (i.e. bad news), and twice for her return (i.e. good news). The bell was sounded to ensure that all brokers and underwriters were made aware of the news simultaneously. The bell has developed a crack and the traditional practice of ringing news has ended: the last time it was rung to tell of a lost ship was in 1979 and the last time it was rung to herald the return of an overdue ship was in 1989.

During the World War II, the Nazi radio propagandist Lord Haw-Haw asserted that the bell was being rung continuously because of allied shipping losses during the Battle of the Atlantic. In fact, the bell was rung once, with one ring, during the war, when the Bismarck was sunk.

It tolls when a member of the Royal Family dies and was widely heard after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It is now rung for ceremonial purposes to commemorate disasters such as the 9/11 disaster, the Asian Tsunami, and the London Bombings, and is always rung at the start and end of the two minutes silence on Armistice Day.

The bell has hung in four successive Lloyd's Underwriting Rooms:

There is also a chair and table at Lloyd's made from the rudder of the frigate. The rudder was salvaged on 18 September 1858. This furniture was previously in the Lloyd's writing room and was used by the Chairman of Lloyd's at the Annual General Meeting of members, but is now kept in the Old Library of the Lloyd's building.

References

Further reading

  • Van Der Molen, S. J. (1970) The Lutine Treasure (ISBN 0-229-97482-1)
  • Kindleberger, Charles P. (1978) Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, ch.6. (ISBN 0-471-16192-6)

See also

External links

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