Posted 20 October 2016
It’s a diver’s dream, and Vince Thurkettle is the underwater prospector who came across the biggest gold nugget ever found in British waters. He talks to STEVE WEINMAN
Posted 20 October 2016
It’s a diver’s dream, and Vince Thurkettle is the underwater prospector who came across the biggest gold nugget ever found in British waters. He talks to STEVE WEINMAN

I DON’T KNOW IF Vince Thurkettle is much given to reciting poetry, but he did quote the above verse from Robert W Service’s The Spell of the Yukon to me, and it seems to sum up this scuba-diving gold prospector perfectly.

For a man who has dutifully handed over to the Receiver of Wreck his biggest single find, a gold nugget valued at some £50,000, he seems remarkably cheerful.

But as he tells me: “Every little speck of gold I’ve found around the world has been a thrill – the campfires I’ve sat around, the people I’ve met, the places. For me it is genuinely the adventure and lifestyle rather than the desire.

“I’m not a collector. Within reason, when I’ve found stuff it doesn’t interest me any more. I love the adventure of finding it.”

The 23-carat egg-sized nugget he found was far the largest ever found in Britain. He spotted it while diving in 5m of water, 40m from the wreck of the Victorian steam-clipper Royal Charter.

In fact he found it in 2012 and declared it then to the Receiver, who claimed it as Crown property and should pay a finder’s fee in return.

However, a veil of secrecy was maintained while Thurkettle continued to search the area. Only recently did he go public.

The gold would have been aboard the Royal Charter when she sank in a vicious storm in Dulas Bay on Anglesey’s north-east coast, on 26 October, 1859.

The fast passenger ship had sailed from Australia for Liverpool carrying many gold-miners, with their finds brought along both as personal possessions and cargo. These were worth an estimated £120 million at today’s prices.

As many as 450 passengers and crew died in the sinking, making it the most disastrous in history off the Welsh coast.

Norfolk-based Thurkettle was overwhelmed by the storm of media interest that greeted his find, as redtops urged their readers to join the gold rush in north Wales and get lucky. He’s pretty sure they would be wasting their time.

“There’s almost nothing material down there now,” he says. “A hurricane tore the ship to shreds, then the Victorians under the direction of Lloyds spent four years ripping it to shreds again, when they salvaged not only the gold but brass, bronze, anything they could get.

“About a third of the stern was lifted, carried away and broken up. Then we had another 160 years of ad hoc salvage.

“Archaeologists in Wales have asked if the ship should be protected, but I said there’s nothing left to protect. There’s a location, with a scatter of iron and an imprint in the clay where the stern was, but you’re almost looking at a fossil of a wreck rather the wreck itself.

“Still, it’s a fun dive – it’s shallow, it’s safe, there are no currents, nothing nasty, and you can see bits of iron sticking up through the sand and part of the bow up on the rocks.” 

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