On today’s date in 1725, the French wooden sailing ship Le Chameau sank 25 kilometres from Louisbourg, which was then a small French settlement near northeast coast of Nova Scotia.
In May 1965, the wreckage of Le Chameau was discovered by three divers that eventually salvaged gold and silver coins worth upwards of $700,000.
Le Chameau’s sailing orders for 1725 were discovered in a memorandum dated May 15. It explained the treasurer placed 176,000 livres in gold, silver and copper coins aboard the ship shortly before its departure.
Divers were sent to search for the wreckage, but because it was already so late in the season, the wreckage couldn’t be reached until the following summer. After another unexpected delay, the search began in September 1726 but was quickly met with bad weather.
According another letter – this from the Minister of Marine the following year – explained the lost cargo amounted to “83,308 livres 11 sols 1 denier, including 27,258 livres 8 sols 9 deniers expended for clothing the troops at Quebec.” By these calculations, the divers who discovered Le Chameau “had made a nearly complete recovery of the funds shipped on the Chameau in 1725”.
The tragedy of the wreck of Le Chameau spurred major advancements in navigation, including the establishment of Canada’s first permanent lighthouse at Louisbourg. Its lantern was first lit on April 1, 1734.
In December 1971, most of the coins and related artifacts were auctioned off by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York, and some are now displayed in the Louisbourg Maritime Museum in Nova Scotia.