The Treasure of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion
La Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion struck the Los Abrojos reef, 60 miles north of Haiti after being severely damaged in a hurricane in 1659. Her cargo: one hundred tons of silver and gold coin and bullion.
A survivor of wreck passed the location of the Concepcion's resting place to an Englishman named William Phips.
Phips, sponsored by King Charles II, set off to locate the wreck of the Concepcion in 1683. Arriving at Los Abrojos reef he realised that he wasn't the only person searching for treasure, other ships were already there.
Realising that his small ship and crew would be unable to fight off the other ships that had gathered in search of the treasure, Phips returned to England to try and secure a heavily armed war ship to escort him back to the Los Abrojos reef. He found several wealthy backers including the Duke of Albemarle who provided him with a total of three ships, two of which were heavily armed.
The three ships reached Haiti in 1686. One of the ships, the Henry, was sent to the search area immediately, the others stayed behind at Porto Plata. On the first day of the renewed search at the Los Abrojos reef, a member of the diving team paddling a canoe over the site spotted a strange looking sea plant amongst the coral below him, diving down to retrieve it, he saw several bronze canon. Search operations ended and salvage began.
In the days that followed the divers recovered thousands of silver coins and a number of silver bars.
The Henry returned to Porto Plata with the treasure and Phips ordered all three ships to the site to begin full scale salvage of the Concepcion's precious cargo.
When Phips eventually returned to England, he carrying treasure worth �300,000. That's �300,000 in the money of 1687, it would be countless millions today. The bulk of the Concepcion's treasure was still on the sea bed, Phips had only managed to recover one third of the Concepcion's registered cargo.
Phip's primitive tools were not up to the challenge of cutting through the growth of coral that had covered the wreck site. Try as he might, he couldn't break into the Concepcion's Plate Room - where the vast majority of the silver was stored.
In 1967, Ted Falcon-Barker, an Australian treasure hunter and two companions arrived at the site to try their luck at locating the wreck and breaking into the Plate Room with modern explosives. They found 96 gold gold coins (all the coins were from the reign of Ferdinand & Elizabeth 1497-1516), a solid gold crucifix and a life sized solid gold finger, possibly from a statue the Concepcion was believed to be carrying.
The treasure hunt ultimately ended in disaster. Whilst on route to Port Royal for repairs to their boat and to pick up supplies, the crew dropped anchor over night in a small bay on the coast of Haiti where they were boarded by thieves. One of the crew, Hugh MacDonald, received a stab wound that would later prove fatal.
Falcon-Barker shot one of the boarders with a harpoon gun before firing on the rest of the would be pirates with the shotgun he had onboard, but it was too late for poor Hugh, the damage was already done, the knife had punctured his lung and so far from proper medical care he didn't stand a chance.
Falcon-Barker wrote a book about his attempts at salvaging the treasure of the Concepcion (Devils Gold, Nautical Publishing Company, 1969) which is well worth getting, if you can find it.
Alexandre Korganoff was another treasure hunter who went in search of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion...