Treasures that Never Existed

Treasures always lured people who believed in numerous legends about sunken vessels
A month ago Russian mass media, following South Korean ones, reported sensational news that cruiser Dmitry Donskoy sunken during the Russian-Japanese war was found near Ullyndo Island, near the Korean Peninsula. It was reported that a heap of gold bullions to the sum of billions of dollars was found in the holds of the cruiser. There was hardly a newspaper in South Korea and Russia that omitted the information.

Reporters even said that a special expedition was to be organized with support of strong financial sources. Meantime, well-known expert on the Far Eastern history Yury Filatov says that this time treasure hunters will find nothing, as it happens in 99 instances out of 100.

Treasures always lured people who hunted for them in Pharaoh tombs, in the castles of crusaders and in the caves of Zhiguli Mountains. As soon as people read about treasures at the bottom of Vigo Bay in the books by Jules Vern, they immediately start searching the bottom of a nearby pond for treasures. Can you imagine how people get inspired when they see televised documented evidence proving that the holds of a sunken vessel contain treasures? As soon as information about such treasures appears, people start organizing campaigns to lift vessels containing the treasures.

Let's take the Leavitt Company set by scoundrel Benjamin Leavitt in 1915 for lifting of gold from a sunken vessel Lusitania. Advertising booklets said: "We are working to lift gold from Lusitania. There are five million of pure gold in the vessel's holds. We have identified that in addition to the sum one million of dollars in bank notes and diamonds is kept in the safe of the Lusitania purser. We have diving suits that may help lift the gold easily. Average earnings of investors will make up 20 to 1. Join us and your name will go down in history."
The shares of the company for $5 each were in great demand. Within a very short period Leavitt and his aides accumulated tens of millions of dollars. To make the business look credible, Leavitt rented an old wooden schooner Blakeley; he promised the owner of the vessel to pay $10,000 with the gold that would be lifted from Lusitania. Journalists of that time turned out to be scrupulous: they found out that there was no gold on board of the sunken vessel; what is more nobody knew the wreck site exactly. Unfortunately, Leavitt managed to get the millions and escaped by the time the information spread. Lusitania was found in 20 years, in 1935 by the Orphir English rescue vessel.

The same concerns gold that allegedly remains in the holds of Dmitry Donskoy cruiser from the 2nd Pacific squadron. The cruiser managed to break away from the Battle of Tsushima but failed to reach the port of Vladivostok.

Dmitry Donskoy was built in 1883 as an armored frigate; the old cruiser ranked among the 2nd class cruisers was included into the squadron for transport guarding. The vessel didn't take part in the fighting of battleships, but it was fired by heavy cruisers. The cruiser defended itself by shooting; it managed to get through the Korean Strait to the Sea of Japan. On its way the Dmitry Donskoy crew had to take part in transfer of Admiral Rozhdestvensky from the Grozny destroyer to the Bedovy destroyer. The vessel took on board over 200 sailors from Oslyabya, a sunken destroyer; and then it received more sailors from a vessel called Buyny and even had to sink the vessel. The procedures lasted for over 5 hours.  

A squadron headed by Admiral Uriu was searching the sea near the island of Ullyndo for Russian ships caught up with Dmitry Donskoy. Although the captain of Dmitry Donskoy was seriously wounded, he maneuvered the vessel to a bay. Sailors from the cruiser were sent ashore. 

Money from the ship cash was divided between those who survived. Several sailors commanded by senior officer Blokhin took the vessel 1.5 miles eastward from the island and sank it. Only dead bodies of sailors killed in battles remained in a battened down messroom. The place where the cruiser was sunk was marked on Russian and Japanese maps.

Let's get back to the recently reported information about gold remaining in the holds of the sunken cruiser. First of all, gold is never accepted for payment, only money will do for payments. Gold is given to banks as guarantees of loans. In the time of war, gold is transported with battleships, but never with those vessels that go for fighting. Ships loaded with gold try to follow a route remote from fighting and go straight to the point of destination.

Second, a squadron that is supposed to make purchases in foreign ports has only hard currency at its disposal; this money is distributed among vessels of the squadron and in this case each vessel gets a small sum of money. Over the whole period of the campaign the captain of the battleship got a bit more than 1,500 pounds. The vessel command settled all payments with suppliers through mediator companies, captains in their turn were given receipts or bank checks.

There was no gold on board of Dmitry Donskoy for one obvious reason: the cruiser followed to Vladivostok, the city linked with Russia with railways. It made no sense to deliver bullions of gold by sea. So, all rumors concerning some gold kept in the holds of the Dmitry Donskoy cruiser are just a legend. It is strange that different people want to believe such legends and start campaigns to lift this illusive gold but none of the countries to which the gold belonged ever started such a campaign. Let's take the legend about gold on board of an English steamer called Black Prince; it was said the vessel was sunken in the Bay of Balaklava during the Crimea War. There were many people who were looking for the steamer, with the exception of England. Hunters for treasures were not confused with the fact that there was no steamer with this name in the English squadron. There was a steamer called Prince that was to deliver 60,000 sovereigns to the command of the English expeditionary corps. That was the gold that treasure hunters were looking for at the bottom of the Bay of Balaklava. And meanwhile, there was a note from English resident in Istanbul John William Smith kept in the Bank of London. It said that the money was unloaded from the vessel in Constantinople; thus it was saved from sinking. This note wasn't officially published, that is why many people who started campaigns to lift the money went bankrupt hunting for the money.

Those who wish may try their luck and hunt for gold on sunken Dmitry Donskoy. However, such people must keep one important fact in their minds: when people start adventures of this kind they lose more than find.

Yury Filatov

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Author`s name Michael Simpson