Six ground-breaking shipwreck treasure seekers responsible for locating and salvaging thousands of artefacts are being celebrated in a new exhibit unveiled at Charlestown’s Shipwreck Treasure Museum.
This band of early undersea explorers began locating shipwrecks and salvaging their contents in earnest in the 1960s. The museum owes its existence to the pioneering adventurers who brought long-lost artefacts back to dry land that provide an incredible insight into the past.
Four of the six original adventurers – Richard Larn OBE, Bridget Larn, Peter McBride and Rex Cowan – attended the official opening of the feature recognising their hazardous exploits at the museum.
Former Royal Navy diver Richard Larn and his wife Bridget are no strangers to the Charlestown attraction, which they established in 1976 and ran until 1998. The couple are regarded among Britain's leading historic shipwreck experts and have written more than 65 books on the subject.
Diving enthusiast Peter McBride met Richard Larn whilst posted at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and became hooked on finding shipwrecks and their treasures. One of Peter’s notable discoveries was the wreck of the Santo Christo de Costello in 1969. The Genoese merchant vessel was driven ashore near Mullion Cove in a storm on its maiden voyage from Amsterdam to Genoa in 1667.
Swapping a career in law in the 1960s for treasure hunting, Rex Cowan sought the most difficult to find wrecks. He worked alongside his late wife, Zélide, who was also an expert on the history of diving and wrecks.
One of Rex and Zélide’s substantial recoveries in 1971, after a meticulous three-year search, was the Hollandia, a Dutch East Indian Company ship that sank off the Isles of Scilly in 1743.
Highly regarded archaeologist Dr Margaret Rule CBE, who died in 2015, completes the six pioneers. Margaret led the project to salvage the Tudor war ship Mary Rose. Margaret’s son Nick represented her at the event.
Lynné Raubenheimer from the Shipwreck Treasure Museum said: “The museum is home to Europe’s largest private collection of shipwreck artefacts and for more than 40 years the thousands of items on display have provided an incredible window to the past for our visitors.
“However, the new Pioneers Gallery focuses for the first time of these six daring men and women who broke new ground in underwater archaeology and exploration. Painstakingly hunting down centuries old shipwrecks and risking their lives to liberate their secrets.
“We were so pleased to welcome the four surviving pioneers, along with Nick Rule, to the unveiling of our new exhibit that celebrates their amazing lives and historic finds.”
The Shipwreck Treasure Museum is open daily from 10am – 5pm, pre-booking of timed entry tickets is recommended at www.shipwreckcharlestown.co.uk
The photograph shows the pioneering shipwreck hunters at the official opening of the Pioneers Gallery at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, Charlestown, Cornwall. From left: Rex Cowan, Peter McBride, Bridget Larn, Nick Rule (Margaret Rule CBE’s son), Alex Cowan (Rex and Zélide Cowan’s daughter) and Richard Larn OBE.
Photo credit: Mike Davey Photography