Secrets of the deep

By Emily Landau - Walrus Magazine

At 40 metres long and 540 tonnes, the Chameau was a powerful frigate, designed to carry people and goods to New France and take natural resources back to Europe.

She was a fast ship but a cranky one; when the weather got bad, she would toss like a toy boat in a bathtub.

On her final voyage, the Chameau was carrying approximately 100,000 livres in gold, silver, and copper — along with 316 passengers, including the newly appointed intendant of New France.

As she approached the coast of Nova Scotia in August 1725, a southeast wind rocked the waters. By nightfall, a squall had brewed, thrashing the vessel. It plunged into a reef, where it broke apart and sank into the depths. There were no survivors.

Most perished in the storm; those who didn’t were either consumed by the undertow, or died from exhaustion after washing ashore near the fort town of Louisbourg.

In 1961, twenty-three-year-old Louisbourg transplant Alex Storm was thumbing through a history of his adopted home, by then a fishing community.

His interest was piqued by the story of the Chameau. A recent émigré from Indonesia, where his family had been imprisoned in Japanese-run internment camps during World War II, he had settled in Nova Scotia and volunteered for a position aboard the Marion Kent.

Taking advantage of the circumstances, he dove near Chameau Rock, the ostensible site of the wreck, and came upon a cluster of some twenty cannons, strewn alongside anchors and guns.

“It was a solemn moment, because I knew that no one had seen it since the night when the ship wrecked,” he recalls from his home nearby.

But the expedition yielded more than history: glinting among the ruins was a single silver four-livre piece, embossed with the year 1724 and a portrait of King Louis XV.

The coin was a small discovery, but one that set Storm on a mission to find the rest of the Chameau’s loot. He took a job with an underwater archaeologist and, in his spare time, familiarized himself with eighteenth-century ships, and gathered weather reports and ocean current data from the night the Chameau went down.

He assembled a team of divers, and in 1965 located the ship’s final resting place.

There, along the gully and the cracks in the bedrock, Storm found his treasure: over 2,000 gold louis d’or coins and more than 11,000 silver livres, which later sold for untold millions at auction.

silver gold frigate Nova Scotia

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