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Secrets of the ship that sank with PS120m worth of gold on board; SCUBA DIVER HONOURED AFTER DECADES EXPLORING WRECK OF THE ROYAL CHARTER.

Byline: KELLY WILLIAMS Daily Post Chief Reporter kelly.williams@trinitymirror.com kelly.williams

A SCUBA diver has been honoured for his work after spending years exploring one of Wales' most important shipwrecks - which was sunk in a storm while carrying PS120m worth of gold.

Author Chris Holden has been appointed as one of Britain's first 'wreck champions' by the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), which is the UK governing body for snorkelling and scuba.

The accolade is in recognition of decades of dedication to the wreck of steam clipper The Royal Charter, which sank off the beach of Porth Helaeth in Dulas Bay, on the north-east coast of Anglesey, more than 150 years ago.

Chris 68 Highe Ki t Chris, 68, of Higher Kinnerton in Flintshire, spent years researching the history and human tragedy behind the story of the ship, which sank on October 26, 1859, with the loss of at least 459 passengers and crew.

His book 'Life and Death on the Royal Charter', written with his wife Lesley, is considered a definitive work on the wreck and the tragedy. He has presented many lectures on the wreck over the years.

"I've dived on the Royal Charter well over 50 times since 1982," said Chris.

"My interest at first was centred on the gold it was carrying, but I have never recovered any myself, although I am aware that other divers have found nuggets and sovereigns.

"My attention turned from the gold to the people who died when she sank in the storm."

h h k i th t " The Royal Charter was returning from Melbourne to Liverpool, laden with gold from the Australian gold fields, when she smashed against rocks off Moelfre, Anglesey, during a Force 12 storm.

The wreck has been a source of huge interest for treasure hunters. Last year a gold panner from Norfolk reported he had found what is thought to be Britain's biggest gold nugget from the wreck, worth PS50,000, near Moelfre on Anglesey in 2012.

He had to hand it over, as the shipwreck is Crown property.

Chris, who took up diving in 1971 and is a BSAC advanced instructor and first-class diver with Chester Sub-Aqua Club, said: "There isn't a great deal to see any longer, in fact very little - just iron plates and ribs.

"The sand moves from year to year and day to day and will uncover parts of the wreck that have been covered for a good while, and the next day the same area will be covered again.

"Visibility is so up and down, anything from zero to five metres, and she lies in very shallow water. In fact at low tide I have stood on part of the wreck and my head has been out of the water."

The Royal Charter was built at the Sandycroft Ironworks on the River Dee and was launched in 1855.

Her passengers included many gold miners, some of whom had struck it rich in Australia.

A large quantity of gold was said to have been thrown up on the beach at Porth Helaeth, with rumours some local families became rich overnight.

Chris says he is delighted to be appointed as one of BSAC's first wreck champions, a network of ambassadors appointed to help raise awareness of the UK's fascinating underwater heritage.

They will also help spread the word about how people can get training and advice through BSAC to safely and responsibly dive wrecks for themselves.

He added: "I really enjoy looking at a shipwreck and thinking of the stories behind it. I enjoy the research and learning all I can about the lives of the people involved."

To find out more about BSAC visit www.chestersubaquaclub.co.uk
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 23, 2016
Words:619
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