A HOARD of treasure worth at least £12bn could be buried in the sands of a Scottish firth, a world-renowned marine expert claimed today.
Historians have argued for centuries about the fate of the fleet of Roundhead general Monck, whose troops sacked Monarchist Dundee in 1651 and are thought to have filled several ships with booty.
No trace has ever been found of the fleet, which was hit by a storm, but marine archaeologist Neil Cunningham Dobson believes the vessels may have been quickly covered by the shifting sands of the Tay.
Mr Dobson, who works for a US marine exploration firm and has previously helped find wrecks from both world wars, said new equipment and technology could finally revealed the location of the lost fleet.
Historic Scotland agree it remains “possible” that Monck’s fleet lies on the bed of the Tay and said its discovery would be of “historical and archaeological significance”.
The loot stolen from Dundee is believed to have included around 200,000 gold coins, estimated to be worth £12.5bn at today’s prices. Many of Scotland’s wealthiest families stashed their wealth in the city, wrongly believing it was safe from the Roundheads.
Mr Dobson, 55, principal marine archaeologist with Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, said: “If historical records are investigated and proved to indicate that a fleet of ships floundering leaving the River Tay bound for London, then evidence of their remains and valuable cargoes could be laying under thousands of tonnes of sand somewhere along the south shore of the River Tay from Broughty Ferry out past the Abertay Sands to the east and southeast.
“The treacherous sands to the entrance to the Tay are very mobile and a foundered ship could be quickly covered up and her broken remains and cargoes scattered and moved long distances.”
Mr Dobson, who is based in St Andrews, Fife, added: “During the First and Second World Wars many of the wrecks at the entrance to the River Tay were swept and some cleared so that German U-boats could not hide beside them and attack shipping going in and out of the Tay.
“As a local marine archaeologist I have over the years conducted surveys of the coastline.
“Whilst the sea is eating away at the coastline and claiming much of the WWII tank traps and pill boxes I have not noted any 17th century shipwreck remains.
“However, that does not mean to say that there are no treasure ships out there.
“If the event did happen then they are out there, it’s just that they have not been found yet, and maybe with new technology and equipment the sea will give up her secrets.”
Ten years ago, entrepreneur Gary Alsopp announced that he would attempt to find the site of the disaster but lack of fund meant the project never went ahead.
A spokesman for Historic Scotland said: “The wrecks of Monck’s fleet have been the subject of interest in the past, although we are not aware of any discoveries.
“It is possible that remains of the fleet exist, and if they were found, they would be of historical and archaeological significance.”
He added: “Under Scotland’s new marine legislation, a marine licence from Marine Scotland would be required to carry out excavation work within Scottish territorial waters and to use a vessel to recover objects from the sea bed.
“Historic Scotland would advise Marine Scotland to ensure that investigations follow best practice for underwater archaeology, as set out in the Annex of the 2001 Unesco Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage.
“This is to help ensure that the significance of our most important marine heritage sites can be appreciated by both current and future generations.”
Mr Dobson was a key member of the team that located the wrecks of the Second World War cargo ship SS Gairsoppa and the First World War cargo passenger vessel SS Mantola in the North Atlantic. The finds made worldwide headlines as they are thought to contain silver bullion worth £162m, the largest such find ever at sea.
But not everyone believes the story of Monck’s treasure.
Dundee City archivist Iain Flett says the story of the shipwreck is based on one “suspiciously vague” account which emerged 20 years later. He says the efficient Cromwellian government record would have kept records of such a major shipping disaster.
He said: “To sum up, it’s a great story, part of Dundee’s folklore.”
The city was, without doubt, a Royalist stronghold in the mid-17th Century, when Charles II wrote to the inhabitants, thanking them for their faithful service to his executed father.
The walls made it, in theory at least, one of the safest in Britain, so much so that Edinburgh kept its gold reserves there.
Oliver Cromwell was enraged by the disloyalty of the city, having finally overcome Royalist resistance south of the border in 1649.
Monck’s Puritan army of 7,000 laid siege to the city in 1651. After taking Dundee, most of the defenders, along with many women and children, were massacred and the community stripped of its wealth.
Monck then commandeered 60 ships from Dundee harbour and loaded them with plunder, planning to sail to Leith. The general’s chaplain wrote that the fleet was “cast away” within sight of the town and “the great wealth perished”, along with an estimated 200 men. Monck was aboard one the biggest ships, which survived.