||March/April 2007 issue||
Nova Scotia's shipwreck-filled waters and its laws that allow treasure hunters to keep 90 percent of the valuables they
find have triggered a rush for sunken riches which has archaeologists and historians fuming
Excerpt of story by Heather Pringle
In the late afternoon of Nov. 15,
1761, Luc de la Corne watched a battered
British merchant ship, the Auguste,
break into pieces in a gale off the coast
of Cape Breton Island. La Corne was a
decorated captain in the French colonial army
who was being deported following the French
defeat two years earlier by British forces at
Québec. To escape from certain death aboard
the Auguste, he had thrown himself into the last
lifeboat and made it to shore. But as he huddled with six fellow
survivors around a blazing fire, he couldn't have felt
much relief. One hundred and sixteen others — prominent
French-Canadian army officers, merchants and their families
— remained aboard or in the water with no hope of rescue.
La Corne's own losses were particularly heavy: he could
not account for his two young sons, two nephews or brother.
"It would be difficult to do justice to the horror of the
he later wrote, "the cries of those who remained on
the vessel; the futile efforts of those who, hoping to save their
lives, threw themselves into the sea; the cold and drenching
rain; the certainty I had lost my children."
The splintered ship that delivered so many to their ruin
vanished beneath the waves, settling on the floor of the cold
Atlantic. And there it lay, untouched by human hands, for
more than two centuries. Then, in 1977, commercial divers
found a cannon and several other artifacts from the Auguste
in Aspy Bay near Dingwall, N.S. Lured by talk of a lost fortune
aboard the doomed ship, treasure hunters
have since scoured sections of the sea floor in
search of silver écus and pieces of eight.
The latest assault on the bay began in 2005.
With a licence from the Nova Scotia government,
the Canadian salvage firm Deep Star
Exploration launched a well-funded, multiyear
search. If successful, it will keep nearly all
the valuables it recovers, from silver cutlery
and sword hilts to passengers' gold rings. These
the company may sell to the highest bidder or dispose of as
it chooses — a deal that has aroused the fury of many
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