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Tales of Hope and Courage

Shipwreck Times

Newspaper Date July 30, 1989

Coins, Divers and Dusty Records Save Mystery Ship From Anonymity:

The Lord Western Is Revealed


Lord Western Braved Seas Around the Globe
It is telling the Lord Western did not go down on her voyage to Mecca. Nor did she quail at journeys to Bombay and across the Indian Ocean to China. Instead, the three-masted bark, fitted with square rigging and a figurehead carved in the form of a man, sank in the Graveyard of the Pacific. More specifically, the remains of the Lord Western descended to the bottom of Sidney Inlet, near Estevan point on Vancouver Island.

It is not known if sailors grasped at the mahogany masts in an agonizing wait for rescue, or if the captain was a seaworthy skipper during the wreck. The local newspapers do not have eyewitness accounts of crashing waves, piercing rocks or burning timbers. This story is narrated by worm-eaten timbers, coins, dedicated divers and staunch researchers.

Divers Find Wreck Remains
In July of 1957, divers discovered the remains of a large ship. The mystery had begun! The Canadian Navy arrived on the scene in 1959 with the minesweeper HMCS James Bay and the naval auxiliary vessel the Laymore. They carried a team from the RCN diving school. The hunt was on, and the men suited up to dive.

Island’s Mystery Wreck Intrigues Navy
The Naval divers returned in 1960, this time with the minesweeper and diver tender the HMCS Mirimichi. These descents to the wreck resulted in the raising of an anchor, a windlass, a bronze gudgeon, copper sheathing, rivets and a capstan. Yet, there were still no clues as to the name of the ship. Intrigued, the circle of researchers grew wider, and they turned to numismatics. Numismatics? What did the study of coins have to do with a Vancouver Island shipwreck?

It seems that a copper penny had been placed under the main mast. It was a superstition among the English to place a coin on the ship during construction. Would this be the key to the origins of the “Mystery Wreck”? The coin was sent to the Smithsonian Institution for identification. The results came back. It was just such a penny, minted before 1859.

Next, the timbers of the hull were examined and carbon-14 dated. These were not English trees! They were most certainly not Vancouver Island trees! It was teak! The speculation began anew. Perhaps the vessel was built in Asia— India to be exact. Then there would be a silver nail to indicate the shipbuilder. Could divers find a single, lonely nail amongst the wreckage and 100 years of silt? There was no nail. It was back to the scientists for answers.

The information piled up, experts contributed what they could, and records were scoured: Lloyds of London; the shipyards of Rangoon; the Greenwich Maritime Museum. There was no trace of such a vessel, with hulls made of teak and carrying a cargo of Douglas Fir logs, listed in the records they consulted. They despaired of ever finding the identity of their wreck.

Underwater Archaeologists Take On Search For Answers
Who better to take over the quest for shipwreck knowledge than underwater archaeologists! In 1987 and 1988, the Underwater Archaeology Society of British Columbia swam into the fray. They began to put the pieces into place. Research was their most powerful ally! They discovered that a ship was built in Scotland with hardwoods from Southeast Asia and launched March 5th, 1840. Trade with India was to be the occupation of the two-decked vessel. After years of work, it was condemned and repaired, and eventually moved to a Pacific run. It reported for a cargo voyage to take pilings, timbers and salmon from Sooke to San Fransisco. But it never completed the sailing! Lloyd’s List said this vessel “was fallen in with near Nootka Sound, December 4, waterlogged and abandoned, crew saved.” This ship had wrecked in 1853. It was called the Lord Western.

Coins and dusty books have saved the “Sidney Inlet Mystery Wreck” from being anything less than the regal Lord Western.

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